Like everyone else, I have some terrible records in my collection. In my case, that rotten core seems to include truly anaemic house that would have seemed dated in 1991, boring route one techno so simplistic, so without any spark of funk, you suspect it must have been put together as a technical demo for a drum machine or synth, and a lot of acid techno. A lot of bad acid techno.
The problem with acid techno is that is was so seldom either. Most of it was borderline trance that had heard half a Hardlfoor EP and considered its education complete, bought a tie-dye T-shirt and wondered beyond passport control into a land of distorted 150 bpm drums and screeching leads. It was a genre where the dark grooves of acid house and the sonic promise of techno were relegated to the back, in favour of a sort of direct-to-ooftcha literalism and formulaic stomp that seemed to rely on the 303 as a blunt instrument which was always at the front, never dropping too far into the low-end where it does its real, serious business.
This isn’t to say there wasn’t some great acid techno out there. As with any genre, the trick is to dig diamonds out of the mud. Of all the acid techno records I still have, the ones I would hang onto until they could play no more are those by Acid Junkies, an outfit out of the Netherlands who did some stellar work on Djax-Up-Beats in the nineties – a decade that was the high water mark for the genre.
I’ve talked at length about Djax-Up-Beats before; for a period of about four or five years there probably wasn’t another label in the world that matched them for quantity of quality, or brought so many amazing Detroit and Chicago producers to the ears of European audiences. They were a hugely important part in the evolution of techno and that’s a fact that shouldn’t be forgotten regardless of how distant all of that seems to be nowadays.
Acid Junkies always seemed a little bit different from a lot of the other acts kicking around at the time. I can’t deny that they had their fair share of screaming bangers, but they always seemed ready to drop things off into darker, more interesting territory, cutting back the thumping beats and letting a little swing in on the act, approaching something akin to the simmering funk of Armando or Mike Dunn. Early tracks like Acid Inferno rolled with a loose insouciance that showed a deep understanding and love of the original Chicago blueprint. Even better was their occasional marriage of acid to breakbeat, creating a hybrid that could give Direct Beat a cheeky run for its money.
Control, from 1998’s 303, was like a souped up version of Phuture; it was almost an homage, in fact, but one that seems to have understood from the start what it was that made Phuture so good – that palpable sense of menace, of machine funk married to organics gone bad. Between the dispassionate vocals, the tight 303 which is never allowed to get too far out of sight, to the fact that the drums are just at that point between a wonky shuffle and a proper take-off, and that peel of midnight synth which draws the atmosphere tight around it, Acid Junkies reached out beyond the rest of the bang-bang merchants to the near past to bring acid’s malicious heart forward in time, and Chicago’s soul across the North Sea.