The relationship between pop culture and counter culture in the late ‘80s was a curious thing. Back in 1988, having Hacienda co-founder and Joy Division/New Order manager Tony Wilson sporting a rather unflattering wetsuit, wading in a swimming pool and talking about acid house on terrestrial TV must have sounded like a good idea to someone. Taking his arts and culture programme ‘The Other Side Of Midnight’ to Manchester’s Victoria Baths, the cameras documented a rather bizarre evening of 303s and inflatables, but most significantly, it also marked A Guy Called Gerald’s first live performance on British TV.
Gimmicky and gaudy, the concept has been a subject of derision for many but you can’t disregard the importance of breaking down pre-existing barriers at a time before YouTube and social media. Now, almost three decades since, global broadcasting platform Boiler Room are set to re-create the aquatic-themed party, complete with some of the original players. Talking to one of the DJs from that iconic evening, former Hacienda resident Jon Dasilva laughs, hoping that “health and safety are involved this time!”
Like that event at the Victoria Baths, Dasilva’s ‘Hot’ parties toyed with aquatic themes. “To be frank, all those thing all disappeared within weeks because they became superfluous. There was still the Hot sign above the stage but the swimming pool was gone within a couple of months and because it was lethal. You can imagine people jumping in and out and glasses and stuff like that. And it sprung a leak as well so it wasn’t much fun to walk around the main floor.” In stark contrast, Dasilva recognises that for modern venues catering to underground scenes, “the sound system is all.” It does feel like those gimmicks are best left to the history books when you can draw parallels with the production efforts of commercial, big room promoters like Elrow but to truly understand why that evening was significant, you need to cast an eye back to the formative years of acid house in the UK.
Britain in the 20th Century witnessed the emergence of various subcultures, but the explosion of acid house was simultaneously one of the most exciting and polarising; demonised and sensationalised by the popular press on the one hand and capturing the imaginations of a generation of British youth on the other. “It just had a so much of a darker edge than anything else,” Dasilva recalls. “A lot of house music is almost song-orientated and all of a sudden you have something that’s much more experimental and darker. It’s like opening the gates of Hell,” he adds jokingly.
Still in its formative years, the Hacienda served as an incubator for the music and its surrounding culture as a developing Manchester scene found its feet. Of all the clubs past and present with a colourful history, the story of the Hacienda stands out as one of the most unique. It’s also difficult to argue its place in the history books alongside storied institutions like Liverpool’s Cavern Club. It certainly served as the venue for many iconic moments. Ahead of A Guy Called Gerald’s live Boiler Room performance, Dasilva fondly recalls “being the first person to play ‘Voodoo Ray’ in the Hacienda… and this is Gerald coming to the DJ booths door, handing it to me and he was walking back down the mezzanine, he wasn’t even down the stairs into the main club before I had it on the decks.”
Even at the time, Gerald was considered an “almost mythical person.” To see such a mysterious figure playing this new and totally alien-sounding music on mainstream television must have captured the imagination of young people up and down the country. At a time when MTV felt incredibly whitewashed and alternative music of African-American and Afro-Caribbean origin was often marginalised, it was noteworthy. Especially so considering that acid house wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms by all when it first arrived on British shores.
On Wednesday, October 19th 1988, The Sun ran the headline ‘Evil Of Ecstasy’ as the tabloids waged their misinformed and ignorant war on a much-maligned musical revolution. In light of that, presenting acid house on such a public and mainstream platform as ITV just a month later must have played a part in shifting attitudes. Resident DJ at the Hacienda during the so-called Second Summer of Love between 1988 and 1991, Dasilva was there to witness it all first-hand. “I think the penetration of the scene into the mainstream was quite quick…” he says over Skype, but the increasing awareness, or lack of, via the tabloids to the genre was more harmful than anything else. “You’ve got the papers and the uproar about parties, and of course it’s called ‘acid house’ which doesn’t help.” There was clearly work to be done – something highlighted further when some punters told Mike Pickering he was playing “faggot music” at The Wag in ’88.
“I don’t remember any fanzines at that point” says Dasilva, further highlighting the importance of any positive exposure at the time. Combining dated attitudes, a fractured society in the late ‘80s and all the negative press, how it spread has become something of an enigma. “It’s hard to fathom because we had so many people coming from all over the country for the Hot night that either went on to run clubs or went on to become internationally famous DJs, and everyone from Daddy G of Massive Attack to Slam to James Bailey from Venus Deluxe and Stealth. It managed to draw in so many people and I don’t really know, maybe it was just the power of the Hacienda because it had a very distinctive image, a very distinctive club to party in and that more than anything played in galvanising the scene at the time and basically everyone went away and wanted to do their own thing in their own cities.”
Cliches aside, the rest truly is history. Contributing to the evolution of dance culture and DJ culture from the days of Northern Soul, nothing since has resonated with British youth quite like acid house. Many dispute Tony Wilson’s overall vision and his commitment to the music, but if he hadn’t given it a chance, there are serious doubts on whether thousands would be tuning into a live, acid-themed broadcast three decades on. Some may even suggest that its longevity is owed Wilson’s efforts, like documenting that cold October evening when A Guy Called Gerald visited the Victoria Baths.
Tune into The Other Side of Midnight Acid House Pool Party w/ A Guy Called Gerald, Jon Dasilva, Danny Rampling, Artwork and MNLTH today between 15:00 – 19:00 BST.