I’m too young to have experienced Acid when people still took whistles to Autechre gigs, so I probably first encountered its digested, intellectualised and regurgitated form through the likes of AFX and Luke Vibert just over a decade ago.
Many of the canonical ‘IDM’ producers had grown up dancing to Acid before reaching a more mature age, at which point they began adapting its sounds to fit a fractured and complex structure less amenable to 24-hour raves. Since then, I don’t think it’s had much of a real presence other than among nostalgics and crate-diggers, but enough time has passed to allow a new set of ears to interpret the genre’s legacy, reintroducing the 303 to the dancefloor.
While German sub-genres springing from the early 80s (Wave/Electro/Neue Deutsche Welle) have always been a source of inspiration for experimental producers, their Belgian generic counterparts (New Beat, EBM) have less often been credited as forebears.
These lesser known genres are currently enjoying a bit of renewed attention in the underground however; The Sound of Belgium (TSOB) – a film chronicling the development of Belgian dance music through to its acidic climax – was released a few years ago, and labels like Diagonal, Berceuse Heroique and Light Sounds Dark have championed Acid squelches with a nod to its Belgian heritage for a while now – a harder sound than other European variants of Acid with a jacking rhythm more in keeping with the original house sound of Chicago.
As a result, that Belgian lineage through Punk>EBM>New Beat>Acid is being investigated as a parallel to the well-trodden German Punk>Industrial>Techno>Acid route. Familiar Acid tropes are regularly being incorporated into contemporary left-field dance tracks that retain something of the New Beat rhythm and palette, infected with the visceral brutality of techno (a mangled style referred to by 14tracks as New Beta).
Listening to the soundtrack that accompanies TSOB, you can hear why we left some of that Euro-shit behind; a lot of classic Acid House (particularly from the Continent) emptied out the weird, gritty punk aesthetic that New Beat had held onto, possibly as artists sought crossover success but also, presumably, as a product of more affordable technology allowing for a glossier sheen, as well as a move towards a more melodic focus at the expense of repetitive, pattern-based texture .
The result can be a bit bland and lacking in sonic tension, as bright synth lines and soft pads merge into generic 808 beats. Now, however, new producers are isolating Acid’s filthier, rhythmic, confrontational edge (try this) and merging it with a contemporary techno/wave aesthetic.
The three-headed beast
One such example is the project of Manchester’s Ste Spandex, ‘Cerberus Future Technologies‘, which has been releasing lo-fi cassette mixtapes under the title ‘Frequency Adjustments’ over the last few months.
The familiar 303 synth patterns and clipped, high-pitched vocals are ever-present but there’s a rougher, overdriven edge to the sound and an avoidance of the dreary, manufactured ‘euphoria’ of build-up and breakdown that blights a lot of unimaginative dancefloor fodder.
Some of the more adventurous tracks in the recently released Volume 3 are built on a dissonant and detuned spine, peppered with abrasive stabs – the overall mix is busy, sometimes bordering on disorientating, as the ramshackle structures threaten to veer off into formlessness. It’s intoxicating.
Weirdly, all this is coloured with a shimmering, almost psychedelic, glam aesthetic that fits well in Manchester’s hedonistic heritage and is becoming CFT’s signature.
There’s a heavy use of phasing not often associated with Acid and occasional forays into the sort of whimsical absurdity more commonly found in 60s psychedelia (a track by ‘Kindred Dicks’ is called ‘One Tree Which Ruled the Planet’), albeit backed by pitch-bent synth workouts rather than Hammond organ noodling.
It’s an interesting development; as underground dance genres become saturated and commercialised, there’s usually a subsequent reassessment of the style through postmodern and cerebral lenses – that is, the genre’s characteristic sounds are detached from their original vital context and examined as cultural artefacts in a retrospective fashion.
This happened to Acid (and D&B) through IDM, but we’re seeing a quite different reassessment of Acid here – it’s almost a genealogical exercise. By going back further and looking at alternative routes to the Acid sound, producers are breathing new life into the genre situated in its original context: the club.