30 years ago history was made in Chicago when Acid House was born, it came straight from the ‘Phuture’ and revolutionised dance music. DJ Pierre a pioneer and a visionary steered the Yamaha TB – 303 into the history books and into the minds of every dance music producer on the planet, with his co-creation (with Spanky) ‘Acid Trax’….
Iconic Underground: Man, is so great to be speaking with you, thank you! Your Acid Tracks EP with Phuture is considered seminal in the history of House music and often referred to as the first Acid House record. What was influencing you at that stage?
DJ Pierre: An amazing journey it has been and yes-it is the first acid house record. Basically, the creativity level in Chicago at the time was amazing. People used actual day to day tools to create sound effects like washing machine’s man. My family was a huge influence as well. My uncle played with Duke Ellington and I played in Symphonic Winds for my school, I had a curiosity of how things worked, and it all played a part in the way I approached creating music.
IU: That EP is famous for the first significant use of that Acid House trademark, the Roland 303 squelchy bassline. Had you heard that sound used on anything before then and if not, how did you come across it?
DJP: Well yes and No. I heard the songs that had the 303 in it before ‘Phuture’ did what we did with it, but it was not pronounced. It didn’t stand out. The first time I heard it was in a track at my friend’s Jasper G’s house. He had it just playing in a track and I heard it…it tugged at my ear and I asked him what he used to create that sound that was tickling my ear.
IU: Obviously House music developed in your home town of Chicago and many of your friends and contemporaries are listed amongst the originators of the scene. Given that the scene was still fairly underground in the US at that stage, was it a surprise when you started to hear that the likes of Hot Mix 5 member, Farley “Jackmaster” Funk, were having hits with house music in the mainstream charts on this side of the Atlantic?
DJP: Man, I had no idea we were being exported as a body of work and actual physical bodies.
I thought House Music centred around Chicago, Detroit, and NY. That’s it.
I saw how big it was when a reporter from your end came over and looked me up and said ‘’Pierre this acid track is huge in Europe”! So that was in 89/90? So the labels here did the best they could to keep that info from us and the few who were travelling somewhat kept that under wraps you know. Lol. It was the age of no internet man so information was not at the tip of our finger tips. But all in all,
what Chicago collectively was able to do is truly inspiring when you really think about it. This City created all of this man. There are so many superstars I can’t even begin to name them.
IU: At the time, it seemed like there was a perfect storm with this new style of music being perfectly suited to the explosion of clubs, raves and the corresponding Ecstasy explosion in the late 80’s in the UK and Europe. How aware were you of just how big the scene was getting over here in comparison to the States?
DJP: Again I was totally clueless until I actually experienced it for myself.
Europe has always been on the cutting edge of House music.
To this day I have 20-year-old promoters booking me saying ‘Hey DJ Pierre I grew up listening to you….and they name track after track. They are younger than my eldest its mind blowing how informed and connected the kids in Europe are. I’m trying to cultivate that when I am in the states. Dropping the classic with some new stuff. Bait them in, you know.
IU: Once you discovered how big the scene that you helped create had got in Europe, was it long before you were able to get to Europe and play?
DJP: Once that reporter found me and I became aware…I immediately was booked all over Europe. I lived in London for months at a time. Europe is still my #1 market. Acid House though was quieting down by the time I really started touring. BUT, as the years went on we decided to really push the story and try to influence as much as we could.
Acid House has seen several comebacks over the years and ‘Phuture’ has been on the forefront. So the story is still being told. RIP Spank.
IU: I know you’ve played in Ireland in recent years but did you ever get to play over here when the scene was at its height in the 90’s?
DJP: Yes I did. The one that stays with me is a gig
I played when there was a huge riot in Belfast
I left the day it started and later on when I got home I found out the riots broke out! That night when I left the club I saw armoured vehicles and dudes in riot gear so I knew something was up but I had no idea it was going to be what it turned into.
IU: Have you any stories you can share with us about your initial experiences playing in Europe?
DJP: First impression was…wow..white folks are getting down to this…how and why? Because back then the audience was mostly black you know. So I’m a naive kid coming to London and they are like Pierre we love your music and look how it makes me move and how it makes me feel you know. So that was amazing to see it crossing colour barriers. That was my first initial experience. It made me see race and other races differently coming from a very segregated time and place. Chicago was a tough one growing up black in a white suburb you know. So I was grateful for that experience because it stretched me. It opened me up. The music did that.
IU: What were your favourite clubs to play in, both home and abroad?
DJP: Loved a lot of them man. MOS was up there, Fabric, Panorama Bar, Queen Club, Rex Club, Melkweg. I can go on. I like IBOAT in Barcelona I think, and a few newer clubs now. Paris and Lyon have been amazing the past 2 years.
IU: We were really sorry to get the sad news last year that your fellow Phuture member, DJ Spank-Spank, had passed away. How much of an influence had he on you and have you any memories that you’d like to share?
Spank was my brother. He was the one who saw my full potential before I did.
He would always tell me in school (we attended the same high school) that we are going to start a group. So ‘Phuture’ was his vision and I added the creative side to it. He was my brother. We loved and fought like brothers. I miss him very much. Recently I was going through a tough time because I opened this venue in Atlanta and it became a bit of work for me…and it was frustrating because I didn’t have the time to create…that was needed. I need to create. In those moments I would call ‘Spank’ and he would send me a track from his vault, he collected music man. And he would say vibe off that. So yeah, I miss him.
IU: Getting taped copies of BBC’s Essential Mix was very important to me back in the 90’s in terms of getting exposed to new music and the show is still going strong today. I really enjoyed listening to your mix in January this year for the show, how much did you enjoy doing it?
DJP: I actually liked that mix. Usually, I do a mix and I let it go. I let it do what it’s supposed to do spiritually and I hardly listen to it again. But this one I can jam to it often. So I really dig it. Shows who I am. No boundaries, you know.
IU: When you started your career, a DJ generally had to put in some seriously long hours and dedication to learn the skills required to beat match and mix vinyl. Now with the advent of digital decks and beat matching software, are today’s electronic DJ’s at a disadvantage or advantage?
DJP: Man, we put in work. And we loved it! The dedication and skill level we got from truly knowing how to beat match is priceless. Chicago DJs are some of the best in the world man. You will always see a level of skill from them. That’s the way it was.
You had to be better than you were yesterday to play the game, so we were always challenging each other.
That caused each person to expand as an artist you know. Today…that is missing to a certain degree. Back in the day, you had to think on the fly…I started out mixing with 3 turntables. My first name was Scratchin” Pierre so I learned how to be a creative and technically sound man. Today yeah the kids are at a disadvantage. I’m mentoring 2 DJs now, BEYUN and DJ One FIve and I encourage them to truly learn how to produce and learn how to DJ on vinyl….they will always have an advantage.
IU: Do you think it’s more difficult to carve out a signature style using this modern technology?
DJP: Absolutely it is. Too easy for DJs now. Cookie cutter syndrome is happening because the work is not being done. So there are these copy cats.
The OG’s are the ones who have their thing…their style, because they had to…we, had to develop that out of nothing basically. But it’s not only in our world…you see the same thing all over. Technology IF not used correctly will dumb a society down. Some people just want fame and fortune now and they don’t want to work or study the craft. The passion isn’t even there anymore. You can hear it in some sets or productions.
IU: Are there any up and coming DJ’s that have recently caught your attention?
DJP: BEYUN is an amazing talent and person. She is from all over. Her story is very interesting but I met her when she booked me for her night in Boston. Carlo Lio is dope. Working with him on a remix of one of my tracks. DOORLY is great as well. He puts the work in man. Gerd Janson is good as well. He’s outta Germany. He’s remixing one of my projects. Heidi gets down to man! Holding it down for the females.
IU: You also had a stint working and doing A&R for Strictly Rhythm, another hugely influential label, responsible for introducing the likes of Armand Van Helden and Josh Wink to a bigger audience, for example. How different did you find working for a label in comparison to playing and recording music yourself?
DJP: I somehow was able to bring who I was as an artist to the table. AlyUS was working on “Follow Me” and no one liked it. BUT as a DJ I said I would play that. So I convinced the owner of Strictly to let me executive produce it and get it to that point. He agreed but warned me saying if it didn’t work it’s on me.
It became the #1 selling vinyl for them to date.
IU: Is your first love DJing or making your own tracks?
Before Spanky convinced me that we need to make our own music-DJ ing was my first love. Once I started producing and exploring, and attacking it with the sky is the limit mentality ….producing is now my love. I would say Producing is sticking its neck out in front of DJing.
IU: Finally, what have you upcoming in 2017 and will we see you in Ireland at all?
DJP: Working on an EP with Getting Physical Records. Looking forward to that. Have a few amazing gigs coming up and yes I’m sure we can get over to Ireland this year. Think I was there last year with my brother Robert Hood.
Interview – Mike Mannix / Tony Considine
Design / Editing Mike Mannix