Our resident 303 fiend William Warren paid a visit to the final ever edition of the popular ‘I Love Acid’ night at Corsica Studios-ruminating on the current state of the genre and taking time to chat to its founder Josh Docherty about his plans for the future.
The Roland TB-303 is the most famous synthesizer that has ever existed. It is recognisable to almost everyone with an interest in electronic music. It’s even recognisable to many who don’t. Last year I was at an Acid night with a mate who ‘doesn’t really listen to dance music’. He told me that if anyone asked him what he thought of the music he knew nothing about that he’d “smile a lot and talk about how squelchy everything sounds”. It’s because the TB-303 has become so instantly recognisable that it has been upgraded to a rarity in electronic music. It is an instrument. Just as classical composers will turn to their piano or bassoon to get a distinct sound any producer who seeks that Acid sound has one place to turn. This isn’t to say that other bits of kit aren’t instruments; it’s just that with the ever flexible range of sounds most synthesizers can produce the majority are left without a sonic identity. That is why Acid is so unique.
It’s not just the distinct sound TB-303 that has kept Acid in vogue for so many years. The iconography, aesthetic and even fashion attached to the sound, has given the genre a cultural identity of its own. One only needs to view the iconic yellow smiley on a club night’s poster to know what you’re getting yourself in for. Of course producers from many different genres have borrowed the TB-303 to incorporate into their music. Everyone from Aphex Twin to Tin Man have made whole albums dedicated the little silver box. Even pop stars Rhianna and LMFAO have incorporated the instrument into their music (unfortunately I’m yet to find a pisstaking Acid remix of the inappropriately named pop group 3OH!3). It’s precisely because of this dilution of the Acid sound that night’s that focus exclusively on the original Chicago Acid House sound need to exist. I Love Acid was one of those nights. I went along to the last ever I Love Acid to see how whether the spirit of the summers of love were still alive.
We Love Acid
‘I Love Acid’s’ aim was an ambitious one, to ‘blend classic Acid house, jacking Chicago house and Detroit techno anthems’. Promoter Josh Doherty; of AGT Rave Cru and Posthuman fame, set up the night partially to appeal to a wider audience of clubbers. He says that they get a good mix of young and old people through the doors every month ranging from East London hipsters to people who have been following the scene from the very beginning. The diversity of the crowd is matched by the diversity of the acts that have performed at I Love Acid. ‘Braindance’ veteran Luke Vibert (who’s track ‘I Love Acid’ inspired the night’s name) appears alongside new-school Acid House producers Shadow Dancer. It’s not simply DJ sets at I Love Acid though, there’s a push for artists to perform live with real 303′s and vintage drum machines too. This represents a wider trend of promoters seeking live acts because clubbers are once again appreciating the talent and artistry that goes into live performance.
Despite the diverse crowd at the night there’s something decidedly uncool about pure Acid House. While this may initially sound like a criticism it’s in fact of great benefit to the scene. The club is completely free of wannabe trend setters there to jump on the next big thing. Everyone there has a genuine passion for Acid House. As Josh told me, “A lot of women come out and enjoy our nights because they don’t get pressured by guys there. No one comes to our nights to pull; they’re there for the music.” One might also think that it’d be chock a block full of ageing ravers keen to relive the glory days of the late 80’s a la Tom Tom’s. This isn’t the case in the slightest. I had an endearing email conversation before the night with a young promoter who’d wanted to go to the night since it first started, but only could now as he’d been waiting to turn eighteen. The night had the most encouraging crowd I’d seen… pretty much ever! Acid has an actively engaged and vibrant community.
Some of the artists playing that night took a slightly more liberal definition of Acid House. UK duo Shadow Dancer mixed in the occasional Acid track into a primarily straight up Techno set. While I’d hoped for an exclusive Acid set, it worked well juxtaposing the exclusively Acid sets. The other end of the spectrum was neatly filled by Placid who played a vinyl only brilliant old school set. Far from a by the numbers TRAX compilation, Paul Wise brought the formative years of Acid together effortlessly to create easily the best set of the night. With notable 90’s ‘IDM’ heroes on the bill that night there was an interesting juxtaposition between the po-faced and the fun and frivolous side to the scene. Legendary Warp veteran’s Plaid and Luke Vibert took a more clinical approach to their performances whereas Posthuman and Mark Archer’s sets had more of a glowstick vibe about them. Both worked well and provided a go between for ravers who became oversaturated in the one style. The evening worked as a cathartic send off to a unique night with nearly a hundred parties behind its name.
303 4 ever!
The after party lives on though with I Love Acid turning into a vinyl only sub label of Balkan Vinyl. After a successful first release selling out in less than four days Josh Docherty is preparing ILA2’s release. The label has a simple manifesto, each release has only three hundred and three copies printed (the real magic number), all hand stamped with strictly no represses. For Josh it’s important to keep to this strict code. He told me that “in the digital age people feel entitled to all music. By having a limited press it not only re-values the music but makes it more fun”. This enjoyable and refreshing approach is understandable considering that this is the man behind the Star Wars themed ‘Rave Wars’ releases. The Hardcore indeed does strike back!
The musical elephant in the room however was what genuinely new sonic experiences can these releases bring? Some detractors of the Acid sound find it over used or simply out dated. Pioneering labels like Tin Man’s Absurd Records have taken Acid music to slower and more experimental territory, what would I Love Acid do to make things interesting? It’s certainly a criticism Josh has considered carefully. “In no way are we trying to create period music stuck in the 80’s, when you look back it’s the more experimental tracks that really had a lasting impact. That’s the sort of thing we want to put out, thing’s that push the boundaries of where Acid can go.” He complained that many of the tracks by certain artists are fondly remembered just because they’re bangers and not because they did anything particularly interesting. “Anyone can put a distortion pedal on a TB-303 and raise the tempo up by 30bpm. With our releases we’re trying to catch the spirit of the 80’s but at the same time push the boundaries to new interesting places.”
The spirit of the 80’s carries over into the commercial aspects of the label too. Despite selling every record with ease there’s very little commercial interest behind it all. Most involved in the scene haven’t given up their day jobs and see their music as genuine passion projects. This attitude bled over from the club night which was intentionally kept small to create a more intimate setting. There are big ambitions for the label though with the first five releases already being planned out. I joked with Josh that I’ll come make and chat to him after the 303rd was put out.
(Disclaimer: William Warren has worked alongside the team at ‘I Love Acid’ previously)