- Kirk Degiorgio looks back on that most erotic acid house classic.
- 1989, the "second summer of love," the year of orbital raves and acid house, had its fair share of iconic tracks. In terms of singularity, one stood out from the crowd. The entire year and beyond, Lil Louis's "French Kiss" boomed out of turbo sound rigs across the UK, flooded illegal raves across Europe and soundtracked underground scenes in Chicago and Detroit.
Released on an independent US label called Diamond Records, the credits gave away its Chicago origins as a "subsidiary of Warehouse Records." Warehouse was of course the legendary Chicago club that had launched a label releasing acid house EPs by owner Armando Gallop. It boasted a striking image of an androgynous profile with the proclamation "House Music Is Here To Stay," followed in small print by "You Are Invited To Expand Your Total Self." The whole EP stood out from the generic logo-plus-credits format most releases followed at the time.
The original four-track vinyl begins with the ten-minute odyssey that is "French Kiss." A repeating five-note riff with a tension-building high string laid over a simple 4/4 beat sets the mood, before a hooky chord stab pattern completes the jacking vibe. A heavy clap on the two and four enters after two minutes, joined by another short arpeggiated riff. The main riff is transposed down and up again midway through to break up the monotony, before the infamous sexual moans and groans enter to mark the start of an audacious slowing of the tempo. The result is a huge three-minute build-up of orgasmic tension and release, before the track speeds up again for the final two minutes.
"French Kiss" quickly became ubiquitous on the rave scene. Pirate radio stations playing house music put it on heavy rotation. UK DJ Ben Sims first heard it played on East London pirate Centreforce Radio and immediately ordered a copy from JIF Records store in Chadwell Heath. Sims laughs as he remembers going to collect it and them having it under the counter in a paper bag, like a dirty magazine. (This was probably more to do with JIF's aversion to house music rather than the erotic nature of the EP.)
B12's Mike Golding was going by the name DJ Ace and playing on the pirate station Fantasy FM back then. He told me about when he first heard "French Kiss" at East London's infamous Dungeons venue: "When it started slowing down I genuinely thought the rave had been busted and someone had switched the deck off, such were the illegal raves in East London In 1989. I asked DJ Lindon C, who was playing it, what it was. 'New this weekend,' he said. Monday morning I had to make a trip to West London to track a copy down. I still have it today."
Outdoor raves, from Sunrise to Energy to Biology, played "French Kiss" multiple times each weekend. It became a staple of rave DJ sets, although it became most associated over the following years with Derrick May, who played it relentlessly for decades, often displaying his DJ skills by mixing in a track while French Kiss was speeding up again after the breakdown—not an easy feat.
In Chicago, "French Kiss" was somewhat overlooked in favour of the EP's other tracks, "War Games" and "Jupiter." Legendary Chicago DJ Derrick Carter recalls: "I remember working at Importes, etc. when it was being promo'd. Way before it was licensed to any major labels. Louis would bring in boxes of white labels of his Diamond release. Personally and city-wide, 'Wargames' was what people were really after. 'French Kiss' was a Euro/techno-sounding also-ran."
The Euro-techno also-ran confirmed Lil Louis as a maverick house talent. He went on to make From The Mind Of Lil Louis, with the underground hit "Blackout," followed by one of the most accomplished albums ever made by a house artist, Journey With The Lonely, for the major label Epic. He's one of the few artists to successfully make the transition from rough, lo-fi house to high-end soulful production.
A1 French Kiss
A2 New York
B1 Wargames (Remix)