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Ive always been a big fan of Acid House music it was the soundtrack to the Summer Of Love in 1988. It was a huge movement within electronic music that spawned many imitators, many raves and parties and left many people with hazy memories indellibly etched into their minds. Of course it was also frowned upon by the authorities with huge illegal raves in fields and the drug culture seen as a sign by some that society was coming apart at the seams. The pioneer of this timeless sound was DJ Pierre, AKA Nathaniel Pierre Jones, who formed the group Phuture with his friends Spanky (Earl Smith Jr.) and Herb J (Herbert R Jackson Jr.). The threesome were responsible for creating Acid House and Pierre went on to work alone on many more productions using the infamous 303 synthesiser from which the Acid sound came. Still making music and producing 24 years on, I was privileged enough to have a chat with Pierre
So, Pierre what I wanted to know first of all was what inspired you in your formative years?
Lots of stuff, from jazz Count Basie, Bennie Goodman, all those guys my father was a jazz musician, so was my uncle John Coltrane all that stuff got me into the rhythm side of things. Id sit at home and bang on pots, pans, whatever I could find around the house, I just wanted to be a drummer.
How old were you then?
I was like five or four, there are pictures of me when I was three just playing a piano I was doing that stuff. Also, other people like Joe Tex that was my mums favourite Harry Belafonte, Nat King Cole, Smokey Robinson all of the Motown people. My father was the jazz guy and my mum was the RnB/Soul influence. Then I got to fourth grade (aged nine to ten) and my parents bought me a clarinet, so I played that fourth grade to seventh grade and in seventh grade I switched to the drums. I played in the school marching band. My musical influences when I reached about 13 were more RnB, funk previous to that I was into soft rock, more light-hearted music. Then my sister was playing more difficult stuff, I remember thinking that was too deep it wasnt commercial enough I guess. I was too young..
Yeah, you need a certain level of maturity to appreciate some music.
Exactly, so those were my influences growing up in school.
So how the acid house thing all come together? Because its quite a jump going from playing drums in the high school marching band to experimenting with 303s
You know what happened, I got interested in being a DJ and, once I caught that buzz, I was just interested in all things electronic.
And, where did the interest in DJing come from?
I went to a party, a school dance, a DJ was there and I just remember looking at the guy playing music and I dont even know if I was interested in the music at the time I was just curious that he was doing what he was doing. I knew he was touching the records but I wasnt hearing the music stop, so Im like OK so I see him touching the other record and I said Man, that beat sounds exactly the same! So he was extending a break, and I thought Wow, thats hot how he does that and from that moment I wanted turntables then came the whole music bug and producing I wasnt curious about making dance music, I just wanted to be a DJ. But I remember when Spanky said I wanna get a drum machine and I was like A drum machine, what does that do? and he said it stores drum beats in it, drum sounds. And then I was curious again, I was wondering what that looks like I hadnt seen a drum machine, but I played the drums and I wondered how the hell they got that into some little box because thats how he described it, a little box. Im such a technical person I have to visualise things to grasp them so once he came with the drum machine I was like How do they get the sounds in the box?! How do you capture the drum sound and have it on a button to press, that doesnt make sense!
Its like magic!
Right! I couldnt even get my head round that! So when he came with it and I was hitting buttons and they had drum sounds on them I was OK! I guess they can put it in a box! [Laughs] After that point I was more excited to mess around with the drum sounds.
And what kind of music were you aiming to produce when you messing around with the drum machine?
By this point, there was already stuff out there like Time To Jack there was house stuff out there. I was aiming to make drum beats, drum tracks it wasnt so musical yet. Then came voices. When I heard Time To Jack, I was like Whoa, wait a minute, howd that guy do that?. Everybody was saying Its this thing called a sampler, you can put your voice in a drum machine, so I was like How the heck do you get your voice in a drum machine?! and I went off again, I wanted to get the machine that does that. I was mainly playing acapellas over drum beats and Spanky was making drum beats, we were trying to make music like Robert Owens, but that was very difficult. Spanky didnt know to play keyboard, the other guy in the group didnt know how to play keyboard and, although I could play keyboards to a degree, I wasnt a pianist I played the clarinet and drums, but since I know music I knew notes and when somethings in key and all that stuff. But I didnt want to be the keyboard player so I was making sure everything came together, more of the overall producer. I would fix things, Spanky was good at making drum beats, I could make drum beats, or I could play the keyboard or I could write lyrics and make sure things were in key but with Herb I would really have to do his stuff for him. But it was ok.
So how did the sound that everyone identifies as the Acid sound come about?
Well, we decided to use a 303 because we didnt like what we were coming up with. My friend made a track and I heard it and thought That sounds hot but he wasnt making acid with it, he was just using the 303 for a bassline. You know like No Way Back (by Adonis) its not really Acid, its just a bassline. I said Damn the texture of that sounds good, if we had that we could make hot basslines! You need the right tools to a degree, but the funny thing is once we came out with Acid I could make a good bassline on any keyboard! It just seems like sometimes you just need the confidence.
Would you say confidence played a big role in your development as an artist then?
Oh yeah definitely because then I knew what I was doing. I knew that what I believed was good, was really good and thats the thing, sometimes you dont believe something is good until somebody validates it. You need that outside validation to propel you to the next level.
Where did that validation come from? Did you test your stuff out in clubs or
Yeah we did, before Acid Tracks came out, when it was just being played on cassette or reel-to-reel, we saw how crazy people were going so once we seen that we were like Yo, we got something hot we got something that people are going crazier over than all the established producers out there so that gives you a certain level of confidence.
That must be a great feeling.
Trust me, theres nothing like it in the world.
So when you were making your music was it always the intention to rock a club, or did you need to satisfy yourselves first?
Never really to be self-satisfied, only doing something with the vision of people going crazy for it. The only track I made that was a self-satisfying track was the Horn Song when I made that I didnt care about anybody.
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