You won’t hear it in Ibiza, it receives little media attention and doesn’t trouble the download charts; but acid techno is the soundtrack to raves and festivals – legal and illegal – all over the world. Mixmag investigates how the genre keeps going – and keeps growing
Welcome to the alternative. Unfeted, unfashionable, and yet undaunted, for the past 23 years the fiercely underground genre of acid techno has been smashing up clubs, free parties and festivals across the globe. Having ebbed and flowed during its double-decade lifetime, the sound is currently on the rise, with new labels springing up everywhere from Norfolk to Japan. No longer only the soundtrack to squat and free parties, just this year in the UK, acid techno has featured at festivals like Boomtown, Symmetry, Illusive, No Man’s Land, Surplus, Beat-herder and Bearded Theory. Two recent nights in London saw established acid techno promoters and labels team up with London Warehouse Events (better known for running parties with Cocoon, Drumcode etc) to pull in thousands, while overseas, big events like the Acid Resistance parties in Colombia, Tekno Mulisha in Australia, La Cova in Barcelona, Transformer Sounds in Ireland, Fierce Sounds & Mass in Japan and the Kazanatip festival in Georgia have all showcased the genre. Popular with old-skool ravers, punks and, increasingly, younger people who are just discovering electronic music, the acid techno scene is thriving – yet remains largely ignored by mainstream media.
The musical style was born in the early 90s and took inspiration from Chicago acid house, hard techno and punk by those who felt ‘bored by minimal and electro’ and the other electronic music on offer. Developed by a group of DJs from the London squatter scene, many of whom were also in punk bands, the genre always had anti-establishment overtones. In 2014, acid techno is far removed from the purely squat or traveller identification yet still actively maintains its message of anti-fascism and anti-capitalism.
Technically, the acid sound is unique and distinctive. Using Roland’s classic TB-303 bass synthesizers alongside drum synthesizers TR-808 and TR-909 and a range of other equipment originally built for guitarists to create demos or accompany themselves, acid producers turn the levels up to overdrive in order to create that powerful distorted electronic sound which forms the backbone of all acid techno tracks.
Two tracks from different decades that really encapsulate the sound are 1997’s ‘London Acid City’ by Lochi and 2006’s ‘One Night in Hackney’ by Dynamo City (and all its many subsequent remixes). Propulsive, distorted and atmospheric, they race along at a typical BPM of 150–155, but with a paradoxically playful energy.
Every weekend, huge acid techno warehouse raves are put on in London by soundsystems such as Stinky Pink, Manic, Hard Sounds, Malfaiteurs and Hackney Sounds. This is as well as events in clubs like Brixton Jamm, the Black Swan in Bristol, The Waterfront in Norwich and 69 Below in Glasgow to name a few – and that’s just in the UK. There are regular events as far as Australia, Colombia, USA, Poland, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Spain and Portugal.
Having celebrated its 100th vinyl release, underground acid techno label Stay Up Forever is still sovereign when it comes to spreading the message of fat 303s, full-on rigs and a fuck-you attitude. Set up and run by Chris and Aaron Liberator (with DJ Rachel Rackitt managing the DJ agency side), the SUF label takes acid techno to a professional level, never failing to sell out of a new vinyl release. 909 London is SUF’s digital cousin, giving DJs and fans the choice between wax and download.
Anyone with even a passing knowledge of acid techno will have heard of the founders of the label, the Liberator DJs. Chris, Aaron and Julian have pushed the genre relentlessly over the past two decades, gigging regularly across the world. “The only other underground genre that has maintained that same level and impetus is psy-trance,” says Chris. “It has the same quality of global reach and appeal to a wide demographic.”
Sterling Moss is another key name in the genre. Once resident at Dance Valley in Holland, his repertoire also includes playing funky techno in the clubs of Ibiza, working alongside Roland Japan as an official programmer for their MC-909 Groovebox, releasing sample packs and a solo electro blues project, Reverend Rockwell. Moss has current residency of the Harley Davidson festivals. “I’ve been playing eclectic sets for Harley Davidson all around Europe for nearly a decade now – not acid, eclectic beats, but showing we have diversity in our sound throughout the collective,” he says. Of course, Moss is most famous for his acid techno productions, headlining some of the world’s most prestigious venues: Berlin’s Berghain, London’s Fabric and La Cova in Barcelona. Like the Liberators, he continues to play small club nights and parties despite his global success. It’s a feature of the genre, says acid techno fan Sasha Robinson, 31: “There are no egos with the DJs in the scene and they are not put on pedestals by the punters.”
But while Moss and the Liberators have been at the apex of the scene for many years, a new wave of younger DJs has been developing across the UK, often increasingly far away from the squat party epicentre of the Capital. The SUSS twins, based in Swansea and aged 25, are playing a big part in the progression of the Welsh scene, having run Subversion Techno for the past five years. Ceri and Robi SUSS’s style is fast, 150bpm rolling acid and Ceri is due to have a track released on a new label run by OB1 and Tassid, Techno Against Fascism. Ceri feels that the new wave of younger producers is really positive. “The new, up-and-coming acid techno DJ’s/producers are making a good impression on the scene, getting new labels running and developing new styles of acid techno.”
Benji303, 20, is an acid techno producer from Manchester who was introduced to techno and DJing by his Dad. He’s won a following in the North playing clubs such as Beaverworks in Leeds, The Wagon & Horses in Birmingham and 69 Below in Glasgow, as well as hundreds of warehouses and fields up and down the UK. He’s now set up his own label, 303 Alliance, featuring his own tracks and stuff from other young artists like Josh Inc and AP.
The genre has been a solid influence on many new experimental underground rave styles that are now popular in their own right. Jungle Tek producer Mandidextrous now runs her own sub-label, Amen4Tekno, on 909 London. “The acid techno movement is a huge inspiration to me day in and day out,” she says. “It’s an honour to be part of it.”
But perhaps the de facto figurehead of the scene, Chris Liberator, should have the last word. “I think the reason for the longevity and accessibility of acid techno lies in the fact that it’s hard, fast and rebellious in its musicality and lyrical content, background and the lifestyle that goes with it, so it appeals to youth subculture (ie the ‘underground’) – but at the same time the music itself isn’t obtuse or dark. It’s fun, accessible and one of the best and most uplifting forms of rave music on the planet. It literally is life-changing,” he says. Here’s to another two decades.
[Photos: Sophia Whitfield