“We were struggling so hard to make something we thought sounded good,” DJ Pierre says today of the early days of Phuture. “That struggle ultimately lead to us getting a 303. And once we got a 303 and made something, we didn’t know if it was any good – we just knew that we liked it. We didn’t have the confidence that, ‘Oh, this is good, this is going to smash.’
“Once Ron Hardy liked it and played it and once it blew up, I don’t know what else changed. I didn’t go to school to learn how to make music better. I didn’t do anything else. I just had the confidence. It just takes somebody saying, ‘Hey, what you did is good!’ You start to believe in yourself and build on that. That’s why it’s important with little kids, that we believe in them and give them confidence and just praise them to death, you know? Once they believe in themselves, the sky is the limit.”
I talked to Pierre on the eve of his St. Patrick’s Day event at Boom Boom Room at the new Dolphin, on one of his frequent returns to the city where it all began.
You come back here to Chicago a couple of times a year. What’s left of the scene, if you want to put it that way, is kind of what you helped build way back when. What are your impressions of the scene when you come back home?
It’s a shell of a scene compared to what it was when I was coming up, but from traveling around to other cities, it’s not like it’s lagging behind. It’s a different kind of scene. I feel like the scene is still strong in London, even if it’s not as strong as it was in the ’90s when I was traveling there. But you still feel a connection to the music there that you don’t feel here in America because you hear it on the radio and such. I think that’s the most obvious difference – it’s disappeared from the radio. But it’s still here – you get the feeling that it’s bubbling under and that at any moment it could still become even more vibrant – and it’s still a force to be reckoned with.
I’ve been trying to figure out the timeline of Acid in connection with stories I’ve written about James “Jack Rabbit” Martin and Armando. How long did Acid Tracks circulate before it was commercially released?
About a year. It was produced in ’85, but came out in ’86. People asked what we used to make Acid Tracks, but we wouldn’t tell them about the 303. We’d mislead them into believing we used some kind of keyboard. Then we heard either [Armando Gallop’s] “Land of Confusion” or “151”, I forget which. We were like, “Whoa… Dang! This track… they found the 303! Our secret is out!”
I did an interview with Tommie Sunshine a few months back, and he had the most beautiful digression about Acid Tracks. He talked about it being a track you “process”, not a track you just listen to. I’d never heard a record described so passionately, really.
I saw that! Man, I’ve never heard anybody describe Acid Tracks the way he did.
He also mentioned feeling like he’s something of a pariah among those he grew up with in the Chicago House scene, and I’m curious if you feel the same way.
Tommie is maybe talking about people who live in Chicago now, but he knows he gets mad props and respect from me. We talk all the time and we’ve mentioned that sort of thing.
To be honest, I’ve had those feelings as well. Even back in the day, when I first started coming to Chicago as a DJ… Man, those cats did not want me DJing any parties in Chicago. Their favorite term was calling me a “suburbanite”. “Man, you’re not from Chicago, you’re a suburbanite. You don’t know what’s going on in Chicago, Pierre, and you play too fast! You play too many tracks!”
After Acid Tracks, Lil Louis started booking me for the Bismarck parties. Oh, that’s when war really broke out. The next thing you know, the little gigs I was getting in Chicago? The promoters banded together and said, “No, we’re not booking you,” with the excuse that I was with Lil Louis now. They used every excuse they could, but it was straight hatin’.
I’ve heard people say that if you move to New York and become popular in New York, you’re a New Yorker. Among old schoolers here, people still know you based on the cliques you ran with 30 years ago.
New Yorkers don’t really hate on you to be honest. That’s why I moved there. New Yorkers work together whether they like each other or not. It’s, “Okay, let’s do business. I don’t gotta love you, but let’s work together and make some money together.” That’s what they’re all about. When I came to New York, I was welcomed there. They didn’t understand my music of course [laughs] but I was welcomed there.
Chicago is full of energy. We’re very passionate. In our productions, it’s got to have energy and it’s got to have a beat. In New York it’s more musical and a little slower. They like to have more musical, melody-type production. What I was doing was more tracky than what they were used to. When I came to New York I was doing the Wild Pitch sound – well, it started in New York, technically. To be honest, Wild Pitch is a New York sound. If Acid is Chicago, Wild Pitch is New York because the first Wild Pitch record I made, I was in New York. If you listen to it, you’ll hear a bit of New York influence. It was tracky, but it wasn’t as tracky.
When you deploy the Acid sound today, do you use an actual 303 or plug-ins and emulators?
Plug-ins and emulators. The new Phuture album is going to be done with a 303. When I’m doing stuff I’ll just use whatever is easiest, but since Phuture did the first Acid track we’re going to stay true to the straight analog 303.
That’s news. I heard Phuture is doing a tour – there’s a new album in the works as well?
Yeah, I’ve gotten back in the group for the new album. It’s me, Spanky and this guy named Rio The Musician. We’re working on the new album, going back to our roots and blasting off again. It’s all analog and Phuture always had nice lyrical content for the vocal tracks we did. We’re going to keep it raw, keep it real, you know? We already have some dates set up, so we’re putting some stuff together.
For yourself, you’ve been branding for a long time under the “Afro Acid” concept. What exactly does this mean? I remember one of the first things I ever wrote for 5 Magazine back in 2006 was a preview for an album under that name?
The album never really came out though. I was trying to find myself at the time, to really figure out what the album was going to be about. When I started making tracks, I never really found my groove. So Afro Acid became more of a style than an album. It’s a sound that I do, a phrase that describes my style of production and DJing. The “Afro” is what I call Soulful or Deep House – from that side all the way to the Acid side which could be anything from Acid to Techno to Electro. That’s what I mean when I say “Afro Acid”.
But I’m starting to get away from the style of Afro Acid DJing because you get people confused. It’s not like how it was back in the day when people wanted to hear a variety of styles and such. People are pretty much set: they get up and want to hear House, or Techno, or Acid, or this or that.
As DJ Pierre, I’m just going to be most playing House, Tech House, some kind of tracky stuff, some old school House. That’s just going to be me. When I want to play Electro and Techno and the harder acid stuff, I’m going to be AC!D FACE, which is a name I came up with. That’s why I’m putting out tracks under that name. I have one that’s just come out on Dim Mak. I know Dim Mak has a reputation for more of a weird, trendy sound, but the perfect label to let people see this other side of me. It’s called “Selectka” by “DJ Pierre aka AC!D FACE featuring Rory Stone Love”. Rory is a Jamaican dude; Stonelove Sound System is one of the most popular sound systems in Jamaica to this day. So he has a part where he says some words – the track breaks down and he says what he’s saying and then it comes back in. So it’s definitely not a “DJ Pierre” track.
[Pierre plays me the track.] I’m shocked. I never would have guessed that was you.
You wouldn’t have. But I do all sorts of different styles. It’s all about staying relevant and I’ve always been about that. That’s the first thing we criticize producers over – that they don’t stay relevant. When they do something that’s relevant, then you hear, “Why is he selling out?”
I’ve been branching off into labels that are more electronic, but at the same time I’m getting back to my roots in House Music. I’ve started a new label called AA Trax Records – the “AA” standing for “Afro Acid”. Trax never paid me royalties, so I’m going to do my AA Trax Records brand and we’re going to do classic, late ’80s to early ’90s House Music.
How do you feel about nostalgia? At some point, people asking about Acid and Wild Pitch and what you were doing in 1985 must get repetitive, especially when you’re doing new projects all the time.
I’m a born again Christian and I thank God I’m able to do this thing I love to do. To be honest, from Day One until now, I’ve grown so much and I see things in such a spiritual light.
People don’t have to be calling me to DJ anymore. People don’t have to call to ask me to tell them this story about Acid Tracks again. Am I going to start complaining about that? Are you kidding me? When the calls STOP coming in is when I’m going to be complaining! It’s like, God has a plan and obviously that was His plan for me, and I’m just going to walk in the Word and be humble and keep doing what I’m doing, and doing what I love to do. When people tell me, “Oh man, your music touched me…” I think, “Wow. I’m etched in stone in their life.” It’s touched them in a positive way. That right there? Man, that’s humbling! You can uplift someone, and bless them, and cause them to walk away feeling good, or you can crush them. I’m not going to try to crush anyone. I’m going to try to uplift someone. That’s powerful. If you can uplift someone and have them walk away feeling good about themselves, that makes me feel good – that’s amazing, that’s powerful.
That’s immortality right there. That’s the closest humans can get to it.
You’re right about that. In that guy’s life, and then the next guy who got connected to Acid through him – or the people who are making Acid today, right now, who probably don’t even know me. When they dig, they’re going to discover me. When they tell the story of House Music, they’re going to come across Acid House and then the group Phuture. Thirty years from now or however long music is going, it’s going to ring true.
Essentials: DJ Pierre wass interviewed in the April 2013 print issue of 5 Magazine. DJ Pierre aka AC!D FACE’s “Seleckta” featuring Rory Stone Love is out from Dim Mak. You can reach Pierre at afroacid.com and on facebook.