The unique and unmistakable sound of acid has risen steadily in popularity since the 1982 release of the Roland TB303, after scores of house and techno producers discovered the raw and abrasive sounds that were possible from simply programming in basic melodies and then heavily tweaking filter cutoff and resonance knobs. Combined with samplers, distortion FX units, and the Roland TR909 drum machine – electronic artists found themselves in possession of hardware that could not only produce a fully fledged techno track for the club, but also be dragged out to a house party or warehouse rave and used for a heavy duty live performance.
Acid has always had its own special place in the heart of techno, house and the rave scene in general – with the 1990’s in particular being the golden era of the genre. Whilst there are hundreds of quality tracks a listener could choose from, I’ve decided to review six track selections from the past 20 years that have not only made a mark on me as a DJ and avid techno fan, but also are deserving of special attention from those wanting to further investigate the genre.
1. DJ HMC – 6AM (1996)
DJ HMC is an Australian techno artist who was one of the main players behind Juice Records, a label that helped put Australian techno on the world map from around 1991 onwards.
Released in 1996, ‘6AM‘ is a track with a sound that definitely fits its name.
It’s 6AM. You’ve been up all night, dancing to DJ’s unleash wave after wave of banging techno tracks that have made your knees weak from dancing, heart racing from the thumping waves of sound, and your mind has been destroyed from the barrage of furious and confronting rhythms.
And then, the DJ plays 6AM..
A heavy rolling bassline and thumping kick are swiftly joined by clean, no-nonsense 909 high hats as a heavily filtered acid synth riff evolves over the first minute.
A crisp clap pattern is introduced alongside them, as the growling acid pattern pumps forward more and more. Creating an aural sensation that’s almost as if listener is being sucked into each oscillation of the speaker cone moving in and out. Whilst the acid riff is filtered up and down, each of the percussive elements are selectively muted and brought back into life.
This track is 90’s acid techno all over.
Simple, clean, straight forward.
But ever so hypnotic. And ever so danceable.
2. Star Power – X-Ray O.K. (1997)
Released in 1997 by Star Power, ‘X-Ray O.K‘ starts off with a kick drum that’s heavily enshrouded in reverb – somewhat reminiscent of someone banging a drum in an empty cement corridor.
A raw acid riff growls and evolves in unison to the brooding kicks, and then coming up to the 2 minute mark, a newly introduced lo-fi vocal stab announcing “X-Ray O.K” comes into life.
This vocal addition rolls on as a secondary acid sound joins the fray: a very sharp & resonant, staccato 303 stab which combines with the original growling acid riff for a nice layer of melodic complexity. Flourished high hats jump into life, as the acid sounds imbue a sense of anticipation in the listener.
Resonances are tweaked as the track powers on. Extra synth stabs join the mix as the acid surges on and on, building up into the second half of the track. The vocal “X-Ray, X-Ray, X-Ray” loops over and over, culminating into a frenzy of sounds in the final few minutes as every element drives itself into a frenzied pace.
3. Dirty Blonde & D.A.V.E. the drummer – Cunning Stunt (2001)
You’d be hard pressed to look back through 90’s acid techno and rave tracks without coming across D.A.V.E the drummer at least once. And, Despite this track being released in 2001, this collaboration between him and Dirty Blonde has all the hallmark flavours of that raw, energetic and distinctly 1990’s sound that has become a staple of acid techno.
Introduced with a swelling synth noise and a dirty filtered vocal stab that repeats all throughout the track, ‘Cunning stunt‘ jumps into life with a solid thumping mid range kick that is accentuated by sharp and crisp 909 percussion. The forward driving rhythm is cemented nicely with the pairing of a tightly layered drum loop and surging bassline, which, on its own could make for an impressive and energetic track.
But, then we come to the pièce de résistance and main focal point: the 303 riff.
A fat distorted 303 pattern repeats over and over, with the filter cutoff and resonance being tweaked gradually as the underlying bassline makes its prominence felt more and more, surging ahead with a furious anger. This is a massive tune and would send any 90’s raver into waves of nostalgia and foot stomping glory.
4. Minimum Syndicat – Acid Trojan (2008)
Edging closer towards more recent techno, ‘Acid Trojan‘ is a fantastic release from Minimum Syndicat from their ‘3615 Rave‘ EP. Minimum Syndicat is a French DJ & Producer collective (also a record label) who are dedicated towards oldschool Techno, Rave and Acid House tracks – and have a handful of amazing releases available in their back catalogue.
‘Acid Trojan‘ just shouts “acid” from its very onset. A reverb-laden, heavily filtered acidic synth riff loops over and over in relative complexity until it is met by a heavy, booming kick drum 30 seconds in. The high hats in the track are spacious and deep, but very clear and precise, and they balance quite nicely alongside the kick drums, bassline and 303 patterns.
The second half of ‘Acid Trojan‘ sees the introduction of a growling and rumbling synth bass sound, as the percussion tracks cut in and out, and low and high pass filters are automated on the original 303 patterns. ‘Acid Trojan‘ is a very deep, hypnotic and infectious tune, and it is quite surprising to hear such well produced Acid techno come out of a country like France – a country that wouldn’t instantly spring to mind if you thought “303”.
5. MPIA3 – WTTP (2012)
As a techno artist on the Berlin/London based Avian record label, MPIA3 released ‘WTTP‘ back in 2012: a noisy, industrial work of techno that contains heavy, booming & overdriven kick drums, distorted percussion patterns and caustic, tempestuous acid riffs.
The initial high hats are very distorted high-pitched synthesized noise samples which are heavily filtered, and are paired up later on with a swung closed high-hat pattern (which is again, distorted) – all being fed through a modulated low pass filter.
Although ‘WTTP‘ follows very simple progression, a feeling of depth and complexity can be felt throughout the track primarily due to the nature of the arpeggiated 303 synth stab patterns.
Patterns which are fed in and out of both delays and modulated reverbs, and are being supported by relatively simplistic, high-pitched plucked synth melodies – which occasionally are fed into their own delay effects, also.
Whilst somewhat simpler and quite a bit rougher around the edges than some of the other tracks on this list: ‘WTTP‘ is true to the acid name and it maintains that biting rawness that the 303 is well known for.
6. Unknown Artist – 303.003 [PLANETRHYTHM303] (2016)
‘303.003‘ is the most recent release in this list, having only been released on the 19th of March of this year!
The stylistic differences between this and a 90’s acid techno track can be heard instantly: Huge, deep, heavy kick drums that are drenched in reverb, lush and spacious shuffled high hats, the use of lots of background noise and atmospheric sounds – ‘303.003‘ has a massive amount of depth to it. If you were to hear this on Funktion-1 PA speakers you’d almost want to try climb in them.
The density of sounds is so thick, the dance floor would feel as if it had been covered in a form of sonic treacle or aural quicksand.
But, true to the name, the driving influence of the track is a thick & fat, slightly chorused, 303 synthesizer pattern. One which is incredibly hypnotic, mesmerizing and instantly memorable.
Intelligently placed orchestral strings also give rise to some nice additional atmosphere in the latter half of track. All of these hand crafted musical elements combine together to create a well and truly immersive piece of techno.