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.