In Simon Reynolds classic history of dance music and rave culture, Energy Flash, he notes how two distinct genres were borne out of the musical traditions of the cities that bore them. Techno, the original Detroit variety, with its skittering beats and unpredictable patterns was a product of the city’s long-standing love affair with funk. As Reynolds notes, disco never really made it to Detroit, and as a result the grit and swagger of funk found its fullest expression in the 1980s in the weird, uncompromising sounds of Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson and Juan Atkins. It was, and still is, predominantly male music. Chicago, on the other hand, stuck with disco right into the 80s (even riding out the Disco Sucks movement, whose leaders showed how tough they were by ceremoniously blowing up the records they felt threatened by, in an outpouring of white cultural angst not seen since Hitler’s book-burning spectacles of the 1930s). It’s therefore no great surprise that house was born in Chicago, as it’s hard to see classic house music as anything but an updated take on disco with synths and hardware replacing drums and guitars. And like disco’s relationship with funk, house undoubtedly has a cleaner, more metronomic feel than its wayward brother, techno. While techno music was almost always instrumental, house took disco’s diva vibe and utilized female vocal loops, another strand which gave it a less aggressive, more feminine feel.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Chic’s Le Feak, a feverish anticipation of the very best house music would have to offer, a decade in advance. As always, it’s only with the extended version do you really feel the godlike genius of this record. The mid section wrote every trick in the book that was handed down to the acid house pioneers of the late 80s and used to trigger the spine-tingling euphoria of the ecstasy generation. It’s all there; the 4/4 rhythm with the handclaps on the off beat, the layered instrumentation, the teasing bass drop-out that sends the body into involuntary spasms when it slots back in and of course, the glorious rising strings propelling it onward towards its tantelising crescendo. At least this is how it sounds to those who’ve been a part of rave culture I suppose. To others it’s probably just a good song for a wedding or an office party. But those who do find the hairs standing up on the backs of their necks when this record hits the deck, may have to ask themselves the same question Reynolds asks himself in Energy Flash, “whether I’d feel it, viscerally understand it, if my nervous system hadn’t been reprogrammed by MDMA”.