Tag Archives: electronic music

30 Tracks to Celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Acid House


Illustration by Valentina Montagna

Some sounds seem to short-circuit our notions of new and old, future and retro. The gurgles, burps, whoops and warbles of acid are some of the most easily recognizable and timeless—the Roland SH-101, the Roland TB-303 bassline generators and the many, many synthesizers that have tried to copy them. The 303 was only manufactured for two years, from 1982 to 1984, and was little-used at the time; it wasn’t until 1986 that Chicagoan Earl Smith Jr. (a.k.a. Spanky, of house hall-of-famers Phuture), at the behest of his bandmate Nathaniel Pierre Jones (a.k.a. DJ Pierre), sat up late one night exploring the little silver box’s sounds and welding them to a dancefloor drum pattern.

The tune they made from that experiment was played to death that year by the legendary local DJ Ron Hardy, got released the following year as “Acid Tracks,” and went on to change the world. It was the match that lit the tinderbox of ecstasy culture in Europe, creating the explosion of rave genres that would follow. But now, 30 years on from that first night in Chicago, the sound that Smith—who sadly died this year—first wrung from the 303 somehow retains its power to surprise and delight.

No matter how many tunes have been made, no matter how many dancefloors have vibrated to its modulations, acid remains a sound that seems to be wired straight to the nervous system. It is alien and inhuman, yet feels as familiar to us as the human voice. It crops up, constantly, in DJ sets from the most commercial to the furthest underground. It can be ultra-funky, ice cold and industrial, melodic, atonal, or any combination thereof. There is scarcely a sub-genre of dance music that hasn’t absorbed it one way or another, and dance megastars—from Daft Punk to Richie Hawtin—all have it to thank for their success in some measure.

In celebration of 30 years of acid’s inescapability on the dancefloor, here are 30 tracks demonstrating its vitality in the now. Some are ambient, some are industrial, some are funky and some are just damned weird. The majority of these tunes are from 2016, with a few from the last two or three years, but every one is just the tip of another acid iceberg: it will lead you to labels and artists with vast and still-growing discographies—deeper into the strange and elastic world of acid, which is as enthralling now as it’s ever been.

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Tommy ’86 Takes Us Behind the Scenes of His Sci-Fi Epic

Tommy ‘86

Tommy ’86. Photo by Sylvain Clapot.

As Blood Music continues to break new ground in a synthwave scene, it’s easy to forget the Finnish label’s roots in left-field metal like Strapping Young Lad, Sigh, and Emperor’s own Ihsahn. And yet its leading artists—elusive producers like Perturbator, GosT, and Dan Terminus—fit that narrative perfectly, being music that’s both heavy and heady.

One exception is Tommy ’86, a French house fan who grew up cranking Daft Punk, Mr. Fingers, and Marshall Jefferson along with a slew of retroactive sounds that peaked well before the ’90s, from new-wave to synth-pop to Italo-disco. The darker turn his distorted tracks took on last month’s Transhumanism LP had little to do with a long-dormant love of all things harder, faster, stronger. It’s more of a post-Blade Runner production, fueled by fear of an uncertain future, pre-apocalyptic science projects, and paranoid androids.

Or as he explained in an email interview, “A variety of visuals came to mind when I was making the record—a world without flora and fauna, lifeless landscapes, a futuristic city populated by replicants, humanity enslaved, a supercomputer out of control, mind transfer units…If there was a deluxe edition with a small booklet, I think there would be enough to fill it!”

Some liner notes certainly wouldn’t hurt, considering how high concept the album is—something about a “living nightmare” run by robots? And the “L.V.T.H.N. Project”? We asked him to describe it all in detail.

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Back to the Future: the Top Ten Vaporwave Albums of 2016

Best of Vaporwave artwork

Collage by Valentina Montagna.

There’s something odd about writing a retrospective piece on the year’s happenings in the virtual world of vaporwave. Not because 2016 didn’t bring a healthy raft of standout albums and novel development, but because it is, almost by definition, a form of music that seems to have little interest in the passing of time. Judging by its taste for referencing decades-old popular culture, its canonical records play out as if they’re stuck in the ’80s or ’90s, fixated nostalgically on these eras and unwilling to move through history into an uncertain future.

Yet despite this reputation for historical detachment, 2016 arguably saw vaporwave evolve more than it had at any point since 2011, when many of the genre’s definitive albums first appeared. From the strangely hypnotic emergence of S I M P S O N W A V E into the public domain to the growth of hardvapour as a genre-moving force, vaporwave has taken twists and turns in 2016 that hint towards exciting possible future directions. And by way of reviewing the best vaporwave albums of the year, here’s a tentative outline of that future.

More “Best of 2016”: The Best Albums of 2016: #100 – 81

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After Björk: 8 Bands Redefining the Icelandic Sound

The Icelandic Sound

Blame Björk and Sigur Rós. Ever since the two acts hit the international music scene, fans have been predisposed to view Iceland through a lens of “strangeness.” Their albums, which feature lightly-accented voices singing against lush pop orchestrations, with videos that often feature black sand beaches, rolling hills, and more black sand beaches, quickly established an artistic shorthand for the country: Come to Iceland, they seemed to say. We have elves.

At the recent edition of Iceland Airwaves, local acts such as Samaris and múm certainly benefited from the Björk and Sigur Rós legacy; their emotive and atmospheric pop drew crowds as big—if not bigger—than much of the internationally-sourced lineup (which included notables like Conner Youngblood, Julia Holter, and Margaret Glaspy). But during the frantic four days of festival, clubs including Húrra, Gamla Bíó, and the many rooms of the Harpa Opera House hosted a different breed of local musician, focusing on the country’s quickly growing rap, hip-hop, soul, and deliciously indefinable weirdo pop.

Here are a few of our favorite new discoveries, any of which who might one day tip the Iceland’s rep in their direction.

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Genre As Method: The Vaporwave Family Tree, From Eccojams to Hardvapour

Vaporwave Art

Vaporwave isn’t just a genre; it’s an approach and an attitude—not just to music, but to popular culture. Vaporwave is often identified with particular sounds and stylings—slowed arown hits and muzak from the ’80s and ’90s—yet what’s also essential to it is the highly self-conscious, critical stance it takes to its source material. It remodels and repackages it, adding implicit layers of social commentary.

Vaporwave artists have been quick to branch out, rising and falling in popularity until another supplants them. What began as an innocent practical joke early in the millennium has grown into a fully fledged genre that is entirely self-aware. And despite proclamations that “vaporwave is dead” by artists and critics, it seems that new subgenres, from mallsoft to vaportrap, pop up every day. This is why, in a bid to keep up with vaporwave’s expanding universe, we’ve outlined ten of its most pivotal subgenres.

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