Phuture, Pfantasia, Phantasy Club, Photon Inc, Audio Clash, Darkman, Doomsday, P-Ditty, The Don… all past aliases for Nathaniel Pierre Jones, better known as DJ Pierre, the man credited with kickstarting a movement in 1987 with ‘Acid Tracks'. Although a seismic claim to fame, this happened over a quarter century ago, most recently reactivated on Terry Farley's monumental 'Acid Rain' box-set. But, since then, Pierre has continued to chart one of the most idiosyncratic paths in house music, undyingly committed to developing new sonic mutants to send crowds bananas on his punishing schedule of globe-trotting DJ gigs.
2013 finds Pierre hailed as both innovator and elder statesman but still looking to inject new twists into the way house music is played, releasing his own work plus new producers on his Afro Acid imprint. (Let’s not forget, Pierre introduced Felix Da Housecat and Roy Davis Jr to the world 20 years ago). Pierre’s latest single, ‘Save the World’ (relaunching Caus-n-effect’s “baby label” Deeplay), shows he’s lost none of the freaky fire which ignited his best work as a preacher’s crowd-stirring testimonial thunders over charging acid colliding with Wild Pitch dynamics. The label enlisted Moodmusic’s Sasse, Martin Brodin and Sweden’s Alec Sonite for remixing duties, but Pierre’s original remains harder than the rest.
“I felt like I had a message but I had no plans to put it out, but when they approached me I figured they would know what to do with it. So far it’s getting great responses,” Pierre says. He’s also revived the Wild Pitch tag for a merciless treatment of Bali Family’s Balearic romp ‘Rain & Shine’ on Southern Fried.
Pierre is currently developing another new sound for the future, while also hoping to come full circle when the long-awaited new Phuture album comes to fruition, having recently played some “off the hook” gigs in the US. “We have to get our dance down and tight… and create a masterpiece.” Although asked about it in every interview, he remains tirelessly proud of Phuture‘s ‘Acid Tracks’ as being where everything started. The track famously happened “by accident” when Pierre and homeboys Earl ‘Spanky’ Smith and Herb Jackson were trying to master their newly-acquired second-hand Roland TB-303 bass synth in 1985. All they wanted to do was create a track which their idol Ron Hardy could play at the Music Box, the 1200 capacity space in a downtown Chicago underground car park where the DJ drove his fried and fired-up crowd nuts with techniques that would still be considered audacious today.
Their self-confessed “ignorance, not knowing how to work the damn 303” produced the epic alien squelch juggernaut which they called ‘In Your Mind’ and gave Hardy on cassette. He hammered it to the extent it became known as ‘Ron Hardy’s Acid Tracks’, now the greatest surviving testament to the unparalleled inferno that was the late DJ's club. “The Music Box was like nothing you have ever experienced, and I can be sure of that,” states Pierre. “You arrived with your back-pack because you know it’s an all-nighter and you know you will need a change of clothes. When Ron got on, we were like his minions, just waiting to hear where he would take us. We were devoted to him. ‘Acid Tracks’ took off because he broke it.
People after hearing it the fourth time said, ‘Heck, if Ron is playing this track yet again, then it’s gotta be hot! So Phuture owes a whole lot to him. The man had balls, man.
“The way I DJ is largely due to the style of Ron Hardy. He was bold enough to go anywhere. He didn’t stick to one sound all night. He took you on a journey. It really left a mark on who I am today. There needs to be a Ron Hardy month in our world!”
At that time, Chicago's fledgling dance record industry mainly revolved around Larry Sherman's newly-formed Trax imprint, manufacturing records at his pressing plant. After producer Marshall Jefferson slowed 'Acid Tracks’ from 126bpm to 120bpm (so New York DJs would play it), it was finally released in 1987.
The flip’s often overlooked ‘Your Only Friend’ went against the Music Box grain by sending a chilling anti-drugs message, revisited in 1992 as ‘Rise From Your Grave’. Phuture released further singles after ‘Acid Tracks’, including 1988’s ‘The Creator’ and booming ‘We Are Phuture’ (flipped by 'Slam’, which named Glasgow’s mighty DJ duo), followed by further refinements of the sound such as ‘Inside Out', ‘Mental Breakdown' and ‘Spirit', colliding with acolytes Hardfloor in 1998 for ‘Hardfloor Will Survive'. Meanwhile, Pierre had started releasing acid tracks under his own name, including the manic 'Box Energy’ and others with a ‘P’ for Pierre, such as Pierre’s Phantasy Club, of ‘Dream Girl’ fame (revisited in 1993 as ‘All Night Fantasy' for UK label Vinyl Solution); another 'Acid Rain' highlight, along with Phortune’s unearthly 'String Free’. 1989’s ‘Come and Fly With Me’ marked a piano-driven club hit (and steamy dub), but stifling relationship with Jive Records.
Pierre entered the '90s in fighting mood, his acid trailblazing stifled by Chicago’s degeneration into an empty house ghost town after many artists fled after not getting paid by labels. Following the likes of Frankie Knuckles and Robert Owens, Pierre landed in New York, taking an A&R position with legendary deep house imprint Strictly Rhythm which, after launching in 1989, defined a new strain of deep house with the likes of Roger Sanchez and Wayne Gardner.
“Strictly Rhythm was a launch pad for me. Looking back I see and value the relationship I had with them,” Pierre recalls. “I didn’t see it then, but being wiser now I see they truly helped to propel me. The head of Strictly bought my contract out with Jive as I was stuck with them as a producer. They had me under contract but had me in the doghouse. I’ve been planning on reaching out and saying thank you, just haven’t picked up the phone. But I will. Never too late.” Pierre initially enjoyed huge club success on Strictly as Photon Inc when ‘Generate Power’ unveiled his new creation, the Wild Pitch mix. Named after the parties held in New York by promoter Greg Day and soundtracked by Bobby Konders and crew, Pierre's new house beast was a twisted take on the traditional dub, stripping tracks to bare bones then adding elements until they became cathartic groove monoliths. He took this writer to one of these events in 1992, witnessing a Wild Pitch mix mass hypnotise the crowd into speaking-in-tongues-style lunacy, a simple hi-hat shift enough to incite screaming and climbing of walls. “I had just moved to New York from Chicago and was being introduced to the scene. The vibe was really energetic, so I wanted to make a track that emulated the vibe of those parties. So I went about layering my first Wild Pitch track and allowing it to build to a wild… pitch. Once I had my first track, I named it Wild Pitch in honour of the parties where I got inspired to make this style of music.”
Pierre continued refining the concept with a devastating rework of Yo Yo Honey’s previously-harmless ‘Groove On’, further Photon Inc tracks, an undercover epic as Shock Wave for Nervous, 1993’s Joint Venture and Audio Clash projects, his own named ‘Blazing Inferno’ and many more, while record companies hired him to turn innocuous tracks into Wild Pitch monsters. Nottingham party squad DIY found themselves with a massive Wild Pitch mix of their ‘Hothead’ after Pierre called their number by mistake and they persuaded him to come up to their studio for the day. Although capable of experimental mayhem bordering on avant garde with a groove, Pierre also harboured a desire to break into the mainstream, producing Cynthia M’s sublime ‘Love Storm’ for short-lived vocals sub-label Strictly Rhythm Blue in 1992. By 1993, Pierre had left his Strictly day-job but returned to the label over the years, while releasing fearsome missives such as ‘Atom Bomb’ on Tribal America.
He started spending more time working in the UK, producing and playing DJ sets notable as panoramic riots of garage, tracks, anthems, acid tracks and Wild Pitch mayhem. He continued releasing underground tunes through the rest of the decade and 2000s on various labels, returning to Strictly with Phuture-voiced Spanky and chomping 303 in 1995 for the relentless ‘I Believe’, as Photon Inc in 1997, with the screaming Wild Pitch mayhem of ‘Everybody Freedom' and ‘The Horn Song’ as The Don.
Deciding the new bloods needed educating about house music’s founding fathers, Pierre released ‘This Is House’ on Essence in 2005, namechecking Knuckles and Hardy, while declaring, “No matter how far I’ve come, I’ve never lost sight of the people who made house music what it is”. Five years later, he threw subtlety out of the window to declare ‘I Am Acid’ on a pounding 303 guzzler for Slap Jaxx. Pierre launched Afro Acid in 2008 with Timo Garcia’s ‘Deadly Grooves’ and his ‘Da Jungle’ collaboration with Louie Vega, followed by further missives and last year’s ferociously twittering ‘Acid Tracks’ revisitation with Green Velvet. Keeping the original faith and format, Afro Acid Plastik caters to “the vinyl purist” while the digital label shows him riding with technology.
“I am always looking to push the boundaries. That’s how my brain works. If I get a new technology in my hands I end up trying to mess with it and make it do what it was not intended to do.
“With my DJing, you will always get a mixture of sounds. This is what Afro Acid is. Basically, there are no boundaries when I’m in the creative moment of DJing and producing. I don’t arrive with a preset set and the same goes when I produce. I can do a Wild Pitch track this week and straight-up electro the next and feel justified and free. Afro Acid is also the name of my label. Right now we’re putting out Detroit Grand Pubahs, Terry Farley and Stretch Silvester, to name a few.”
There seems to be an inner animal busting to get out in his music. “That’s exactly it!” he enthuses. “An animal instinct drives Afro Acid. Animals have a third eye, a nose for scent and an ear for danger. We, as the most developed species, lost that raw instinct. So, yes, Afro Acid is a raw, natural animalistic style or vibe. Don’t box it in. I am house, I am techno, I am acid. If the moment calls for it, I will adapt and go there. You need the ‘no boundaries’ mentality to operate skilfully in that realm, otherwise you will be like a fish out of water trying to master everything… and conquer nothing.”
Twenty years ago, Pierre introduced this writer to the then-unknown Felix da Housecat and Roy Davis Junior, thne so bad since. Pierre's home city has ebbed and flowed house-wise but he reckons it’s undergoing another renaissance with the bumpty style, as propagated by the likes of Derrick Carter, which he witnesses when he returns to play regular Swing Shift events. “A few years ago it seemed somewhat stuck but I’m getting a new excitement about Chi-town.”
Another link with his early days may come with 'The House That Chicago Built', a movie being shot by ‘French Kiss’ maverick Lil Louis, which Pierre says he’s been asked to be interviewed for. “I think it gives each person the opportunity to express their experiences from the beginning to the now… a reflection of the scene. As classic Louis, he will make strong statements in the editing. I wish him well with it. He gave me my first break as a DJ in Chicago, so is another brick in the wall that built DJ Pierre.”
Now in its fourth decade, DJ Pierre’s career has rode out many trends but his music has stuck to the uncompromising future-shock manifesto inspired by Ron Hardy, combined with a love of dance music's heritage.
Few of his Chi-town contemporaries have maintained such a relentless quest for so long. Time to jack.
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