​the evolution of acid

We eavesdrop on an email conversation between Joe Muggs and Josh Doherty about the past, present and future of acid house and the lasting influence of the 303.

by i-D Staff
29 July 2015, 1:55pm

Boiler Room's Joe Muggs swaps emails with Josh Doherty, one half of acid/IDM act Posthuman, and now half of the resurrected, original ravers, Altern-8, who has put on I Love Acid parties since 2007. The two discuss the on going progression of the sound that horrified middle England when it first emerged in the late 80s….

From: Joe Muggs
To: Josh Doherty

Hi Josh,

I'm doing a thing about acid house, and I'd love you to share your thoughts.

Something that always strikes me about acid as a sound is that it bypasses ideas of cool/uncool, and - though mini acid-revivals are mooted every so often - it's pretty impervious to trends. I was 14 in 88/89 when I first became aware of it, and obviously was not out raving, but even then I remember it coming from all directions. You'd get moments of the really weird stuff on John Peel but then you also had Coldcut and S'Express putting it into the charts, mixed with sample-collage stuff - and there were friends' older siblings going raving, and they'd come back from London with pirate radio tapes, but within all that, acid was just a part of what was going on, nobody was just playing acid on the whole. Can you remember when you first heard 303s?

From: Josh Doherty
To: Joe Muggs

Alright Joe,

Well I guess I first heard acid listening to Orbitalin maybe 92 or 93, 13-14 years old. Then I noticed it in other places, but it just struck me as a cool noise, popping up all over, like distorted guitars in rock: it was just one of the bedrocks of a lot of dance music. It was a long time - late 90s - before I really even knew what the term "acid" actually meant, or even where it came from, and I never connected it to "acid house".

When I finally started being more fascinated to it and linking the dots together, hearing the word "acid" and people talking about the sound and the TB303, it was the kind of intricate Rephlex / Warp stuff that was really grabbing me. For me, the reason acid transcends most other 'genres' is that it's actually not a genre or scene: it's a sound itself. You can find acid in pretty much every other type of music, tweaking 303 lines turn up all over the shop, from sanitised American corporate nu-metal, to 80's experimental Indian raga disco. But it's always acid.

From: Joe Muggs
To: Josh Doherty

Can you sum up the appeal of the sound though? For some people, in the 90s, it became an obsession bordering on - or even tilting fully into - the spiritual. I certainly remember hearing Mr C play an entirely acid set at Glastonbury 1992 before The Shamen came on, and with the charged atmosphere and the Terrence McKenna samples, it was easy to see how people could get a bit "woo" about it. It was definitely hypnotic and sensual. But at the same time, there was starting to be all the Dutch and German acid (Acid Junkies, Labworks etc) which was downright nihilistic in its barrage, and thrilling in a way that was closer to hardcore punk than to any hippie-trippy music. And then later on there was the quite intricate, wigged out Rephlex stuff you mention which had a different appeal still. But what's the connecting factor?

From: Josh Doherty
To: Joe Muggs

Ha, well I never really connected with the Stay Up All Night / Liberator balls-out acid techno... as I say it was the intricate Aphex/Squarepusher stuff that got me. But there weren't many clubs in Manchester playing electronica / IDM in the late 90s - it was all Oasis and shit, and I didn't know many other people into the same music as me - so it was for home listening really.

There definitely was something hypnotic about the sound of the 303 - which is probably why it was seized upon so heavily by the Goa/hippy trance scene - but it was tracks like Rekall by Plastikman that did it for me on that count, not the jugglers and facepaint. It managed to be cool and sophisticated while also being drifting and psychedelic.

I think it's actually the rhythm of the 303: it's just not quite right - and it has this slide to it that feels almost kind of lazy or disconnected. Like the equipment is on heroin, just slightly laid back from the framework of the beat. I think that's the connection - no emulators could ever get it right, nothing else came close - it just had this unique way it moved. It could be intricate and hyper-edited, or just soft and lazy - but it always had its own personality. I spoke to Ed DMX about this once, where he mentioned how if you use a TB303 to sequence another piece of kit it gets that same feel - so while we often focus on the sound, it could be the sequencer itself that makes it.

From: Joe Muggs
To: Josh Doherty

Yeah, the slippery, curved, nature of the acid synths - which is almost always in sharp contrast to squared-off drum machine beats - is what makes the magic. When I reviewed the most recent Stellar Om Source SuddenEP, it struck me that she's so hyper-aware of those contrasts that it's very close to how great abstract painters can play chaos and control off one another. The seeming simplicity can communicate very complex ideas and feelings.

So where does the sound fit today? We've discussed initial impressions, but how does acid abide? With something like the Stellar Om Source record, she's using equipment that was available 25 years ago, but to me it sounds fresh. How do you feel people approached your I Love Acid nights - was there a nostalgia element, did people see it as something new, or was it something else entirely?

From: Josh Doherty
To: Joe Muggs

I don't think it's a strange notion that using classic equipment can bring about new sounds. People are still experimenting with guitars and drums: it's ideas that count, not specific noises! Of course, it helps that the 303 has such sonic range, but it's still what you do with it that counts: there's a lot of shitty acid out there too. Most of it trance. People like Tin Man and Cardopusher really show you can do new tricks with old kit. ...and yeah, that Stellar Om Source album is proper gear.

The I Love Acid nights really started off with a crowd that was approaching it as a new thing rather than a retrospective clubnight - we had fairly eclectic line-ups: it began as an idea to base a night on Luke Vibert's track I Love Acid, which in itself isn't a standard acid track, as it features a vocoder against a slow hip hop break and a really wonky acid line... Luke played the first two parties, but we also had EgeBamYasi doing really hard, heavy acid techno; Doubtful Guest with off-the-wall gabber; Chris Moss Acid doing his hardware thing… we had all sorts. I was booking people who I liked and did stuff with 303s, rather than considering genres. It worked--most of the time, heh heh.

Once Placid joined as resident a couple years in, he brought a sensibility of classic Chicago House and Detroit Techno into the mix; pure vinyl sets done patiently. With that we started getting acid house fans coming to the night as well, and then they would get exposed to the newer and weirder side of things.

I guess that's the thing about acid - it gives you a much broader scope than say a straight up house or techno night, and as a result people are more willing to be open about what gets played at a party. The last night we did, there were people turning up with their passports to prove they were old enough to get in, and then seeing them on the dancefloor, hugging ravers twice their age who remember the original summer of love, with tracks both brand new and 30 years old being played: I'd like to think that was what the ethos of the acid house revolution is about.

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