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Rave Legend Mark Archer On Why Frankie Knuckles Reduces Him To Tears

The Altern-8 rave legend talks us through the house track closest to his heart.
September 2, 2014, 7:05pm

DJ and producer Mark Archer was a founding member of Bizarre Inc before he formed legendary techno duo Nexus 21 and one of the biggest names in rave history, Altern-8. We asked Mark which of the records in his collection, which spans three decades of dance, is a true heartbreaker with the power to make grown men well up.

Night Writers' "Let The Music (Use You)," [which was] produced by Frankie Knuckles, always moves me like no other song. I first heard it on a Tuesday night in 1988 in a club in Stoke called Frenzy. I was 19. It was the first acid house do I'd ever been to, and it was pitch black apart from one strobe.

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Before that, in Stafford, where I grew up, you went to a Ritzy-type club where you had to wear shoes and trousers or a skirt, and they played a mix of chart music. Suddenly you could wear T-shirts and trainers, and this kind of music came along which changed everything. "Let The Music (Use You)" really stood out. There weren't many vocal tracks that night—the emphasis was on acid house, all drum machines and 303s—and this was different to everything else they played. The lyrics in it are so motivational and so heartfelt. It was one of those tunes that caught you in the moment, and blew me away totally.

That was the year I started making music with another DJ, Dean Meredith. In Stafford there weren't a lot of people into this sort of music; it was pretty barren. We'd started off putting primitive house tracks together in 1988, influenced by the likes of Farley Jackmaster Funk and Krush, and recording in the newly-opened Blue Chip Studios in Stafford. I was into acid house, but because Bomb The Bass were in the charts (with 1988 single "Beat Dis"), the studio manager wanted us to make hip-hop/sampling tunes. So we put out a few such tracks under the name Rhythm Mode D.

At the time, I didn't have any other plan for life, but I was offered a job in the village of Gnosall, just outside of Stafford where we lived, in the butchers. My dad said, "It's up to you—the country will always need butchers, [so] you'd have a job for life. But if your heart's into making music, and you don't pursue it, there will always be a great big 'what if' in your life." There's not a lot of dads that would let you go off and pursue your hobby instead of a solid career, so I've got a lot to thank him for.

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So, I went into music for the love of such tunes, and the lyrics of "Let The Music…" really moved me that night. They are uplifting, which meant the track stood out from a lot of house records at the time, as it was a fully vocal tune. As well as the verse, chorus/verse/chorus lyrics, the vocalist ad libs were really powerful. The singer is Chicago gospel vocalist Ricky Dillard, who also sang beautifully on "It's U" by Farley Jackmaster Funk.

The production is pure Chicago House and perfect Frankie Knuckles. There's a go-go bell off a little Roland drum machine that goes all the way through the song, which might annoy some people, but I love it. I can hear a Yamaha keyboard and a Roland 727 for the percussion. It was a Latin percussion version of the 707, which most early house tunes that had bongo drums used.

Frankie Knuckles was always a step sideways to what was going on, never seeming to ever follow trends. "Let The Music…" was different to a lot of tunes, one of the biggest house tunes of the year, and all time. Frankie was one of the most important people in house music—everybody at the time thought house music would be just a fad and nearly thirty years on, it's still going strong, [and] it's Frankie Knuckles' legacy.

By then, all the Altern-8 madness was in full swing, and the free rave scene was at its height. If we weren't doing a PA, I was out there at the front, raving with the best of them! But soon after came the media backlash, and the Criminal Justice Bill which clamped down hard on raves, and Altern-8 really bore the brunt of it. That's why we decided to call it a day in 1993. We couldn't go any higher. We'd had lots of fun, released an album, but the media were out to get us. Not many people believe me, as it was assumed that acid house and drugs go hand-in-hand, but I didn't touch drugs. I was purely in it for the music.

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In 1993, the dance scene changed in other ways too. It splintered into house, jungle, garage and all the other spin offs, which I think the dance scene has really suffered from. Back in 1989, you could play anything at a rave from Soul2Soul to Belgian New Beat and anything in between. So I guess when I hear "Let The Music…," it takes me back to a more innocent time, the time it all started for me and many others, 1988—the year everything I knew as clubbing was completely turned on its head. It was the start of the whole thing that became techno and the tracks we put out at Nexus 21, then turned into hardcore with Altern-8.

The reason this song is so special to me is that it brings me back to my entry year into the whole scene. If someone leaves school this year and goes to Ibiza and a big rave, it'll be a special experience for them too - one they'll never forget. I did an acid house gig in Ibiza this summer and DJ Slipmatt played "Let The Music…" and it takes you straight back to when you first heard it. It's a massive buzz to be able to play such a tune now and turn a whole new generation onto it. When you look 25 years before this song, it's the 1960's and there's no music relevant to dance culture. But play this track 25 years after it was released and the whole place goes off! It's still as relevant now as ever.

Connect with Mark Archer on Twitter@mark_archer

Connect with Mark Archer on Soundcloud

Other Moving Tales:
How Rural Raving Made Me The Man I Am Today
Electric Forces: America's Vets and the Healing Power of Festival Culture