Looking through Discogs today has been eye-opening. Under its ‘acid’ category are listings for just shy of 37,000 records. That works out as something crazy like 3.5 acid records released every day since Acid Tracks landed way back in 1987 – give or take several hundred represses of Acid Tracks alone. Going through a bunch of them (before my brain burst under the assault of a slew of mid 90s acid-trance stomp-a-thons), I began to take an interest in things I’d noticed before but never paid too much attention to.
Acid house is a remarkably malleable genre. So often thought of as a sound – indeed as a genre utterly dominated by the signature sound of the 303 – the fact is that it has always been broader than that. The genre began to splinter fairly early on into forms that took the basic idea and mashed it into hybrids that were every bit as successful (well, some of them) as the original creation. Acid techno, acid trance, acid bhangra, acid jazz, acid everything under the sun. Outside of the Roland soaked bangers, though, very little of it sounded anything like acid, and the fact is that even early on acid had transcended its limited sonic beginnings to become a byword for a feel, a groove, and – most importantly – an attitude.
These days there has been an interesting swing away from this, and there are a number of artists who have gone back to the sound in an attempt to deconstruct it, to do something new with the basic components. Truth be told, there has alway been music built from the same concepts. It’s a movement that seems to stand out better now though, perhaps because the sheer mass of electronic music, the background static of the scene, doesn’t so much bury anything new and different in its bulk as actually amplifies a lot of the good stuff, magnifies its differences and quarantines it away from the herd. Its reassuring that for every gang of producers kicking out council acid, there are a handful like Bass Clef, Stellar OM Source, Patricia, or Tin Man who have sailed out into brave and weird new worlds where the grooves and the frequencies can set up odd ball colonies at the very, very edge of the genre. We’ve even seen a resurgence, in producers like Casio Royale, TX Connect, or Paranoid London, of a much more classic sound, but one wired in to a psychoed up attitude which captures that authentic acid energy in an entirely modern way.
Machines by Laurent X (the joint project of Mark Imperial and Vinnie Devine, both of whom were responsible for some brilliant house and acid under their own names) still feels like an early attempt to do exactly what these new artists have tried. All the parts are there. Everything about it screams proper acid house but it has never once felt like it wants to play that game. What defines it, and gives its title some real meaning, is the way in which it seems entirely comfortable with moving away any pretense of being organic. Listening back to a lot of early acid house you can be struck by how much of it still clings to a more natural feeling, one that still feels more at home within the traditional structure of the song.
Machines is far beyond that, and owes a large part of its being to the rhythms and sounds of techno even before techno had codified itself into something resembling the modern music. It’s an early example of the crossover, but its going in the opposite direction. The 303s – and there is a lot of 303 – don’t lead, they don’t control the direction. Instead they interlock and create a tight yet wonky mesh which the rest of the tune bounces around on, adding a brilliant swerve to the track’s machine like march.
It’s amazing that a tune from 1988, from the days when acid house was still fresh and expanding, can so accurately gauge the ways in which acid might go. It’s a well-known record, of course it is, but it remains a wonderfully deviant kink in the story of the genre, and no amount of familiarity with it has ever managed to dull that fact. Happy 303 day.