Saturday, October 20, 2007

TF5: Acid Michael

Click on the timeline below or here for the podcast.

1987? do you remember? 20 years ago? Many of you were 10 years old. I was 19. it was the beginning of the Acid House explosion, the Roland 808 synth pad was enabling all sorts of house music to be produced in bedrooms. It hit the baleric islands in 88 with “the summer of love”.

In remembrance of dance music’s “ground zero” here is “acid michael”, a remix of “Thriller” and “Don’t Stop” by Mr Jackson, heavily remixed with original and classic acid/techno music. At least I know most of you will recognize and latch onto the classic melody of these 80’s top charting songs so you will be able to appreciate the remix. If at first it feels weird to hear a acid version of your classic favorites don’t be taken aback, keep at it, the new remixed version will soon become the classics in your head, guaranteed. I find myself listening to the originals and longing for the vocals of “Voodoo ray” or the beats of “big fun”.


For the little story, about a week ago 2 DJs known as “Above and Beyond” came through ATL. A friend of mine is invested in the local premium club called Opera and lets
me know when world class talent comes through town. I was lucky enough to hang out with Paavo and Jono both before and during their Trance set at Opera and, most enjoyably for me, the next day, when I got to play acid michael to them.

For guys that do closing parties in Ibiza, have toured the world over, are regularly considered to be one of the top labels of Trance (Anjunabeats) and have played for crowds of 10,000, I find them to be incredibly down to earth. Both in their early 30’s, this fin and this brit, are rather geeky and all they wanted to talk about was tools, magic tricks and the state of the music industry. Jono (top) was obsessed with intellectual property and downright savvy on how to correctly monetize a label. My open source friends will have an appreciation for thorny IP problems. Jono kept talking about a middleware solution to automatically bill clubs for what they played. His other passion is magic tricks, card tricks and the guy really has a dextrous talent for it. I was quite impressed. He also kept talking about the state of metadata in the DJ industry and how poor it was and how difficult it was to get everyone together to agree on standards. I agreed ID3 tags just don't cut it nowadays.

Paavo (with the anjunabeats shirt) talked a lot about the tools and the lifestyle as well as contextual navigation of music websites. He is a savvy hacker. He himself hacks in PHP and mysql, claims Java was always too complicated. Paavo is a remix genius and what gave them their break was a famous remix of Madonna. While they use Ableton in studio, they are still dedicated to CD decks and he finds Ableton too difficult to use in live settings.

I was most fascinated when they were talking about the business of labels. One interesting data point for me was the fact that vinyl, as a format, is as profitable as digital for these two. They explained that Beatport constitutes 50% of their revenues, iTunes another 30% and direct vinyl the last 20%. They explained that making a living at music was a difficult thing in this day and age, that their label made good money but that some of their less successful artists had a hard time. They live full time on it. So much of it reminded me of the struggle of successful OSS developers to support their families while working at their passion. I was glad to hear them talk about the business and money rather than just drugs and parties. In fact one of them is married with children.

But then of course there is the lifestyle. Let me sum it up in two anecdotes. It seems that they live at night, period. The day starts at 5PM and lasts until 8AM. They did this both nights on Wednesday and Thursday. I stayed until 4AM on both nights and was wiped out for about 3 days. Paavo explained that he doesn’t even try to adapt to the jet-lag anymore doesn’t take any Ambien or other sleep drugs. He just travels around the world on London UK time. Listening to them tell anecdotes of parties in Ibiza, Japan, China, Russia as well as insider stories about other legendary DJs like I talk casually about good friends, was an amazing, if slightly demystifying experience.

Then the second anecdote is that guy coming up to me on the second night asking for “candy”. We were at “the Mark” one of my favorite underground spots in ATL See I like to dance old style to underground music, with this bumpy and high energy style. Bottom line is that people come to me assuming I got E with me. As it turned out I did have candy on me, I mean REAL mint candy that I had taken from the restaurant we went to. I reached it into my pocket and gave it to the guy. He was gushing with gratitude until he popped it in his mouth and told me in a disappointing tone “but this IS candy”, at that point I realized what he was after.

Anyway, the highlight for me was definitely the before-party on the second night in their hotel suite. For folks that live the rock-star life with entourage, their hotel suite party was definitely downright geeky with everyone taking out their iPhones (and Paavo proudly showing me his ssh console :) and plugging it in a central laptop. I felt right at home and at ease. Their handler, a LA native called A.J. made sure everyone was at ease. We listened to their radio show and the latest from their label. At some point Paavo asked me to give him my iPod and he played “acid michael”. They liked it, and I must say I was completely stoked. It is funny what does it for me these days. Meeting two world class DJ”s was as gratifying as meeting Larry Ellison.

The second highlight was a bit of wisdom from Paavo. He started saying “I don’t like it when people try to box music in genres”. I said “true, there are really only two kinds of music: good music and bad music”. He corrected me “actually there is music I like and music I don’t like.” He.

Onto the playlist, which is music I like:

(click on it for the podcast)

1- Thriller, Michael Jackson 1982
Do I really need to talk about that one? I really like the final line that starts with “I am gonna thrill you tonight! Thriller, Thriller night!” I can loop that one for hours and not get tired of it. The whole rap is also superb and I had to struggle to find a proper mix line for it. Interestingly enough, no amount of tweaking on that song works for me. I normally heavily EQ these songs, in order to either single out the bass or the chorus or the beats but in the case of thriller I couldn’t take it apart. If I try to take high or low frequencies, the track loses its punch.

2- Big Fun, Inner-city, Dave Spoon remix, 2007
The original Big Fun was released in 1986 and was the first cross over hit of the “belleville trio” of Detroit (Saunderson, May, Atkins). This record launched Detroit Techno for the rest of the world including me. I remember listening to this track on a “this is Detroit Techno”, CD compilation non-stop in Belgium, it was 87, I was 19 year old. It was so... new, so futuristic. This track is periodically remixed. Here it is remixed by Dave Spoon, with a very modern beat track that gives depth to the old Thriller beats and I love the vocal treatment here. I remix it with about 10 cuts throughout the song.

3- Acid Bells, Efdemin, 2007
Big fun devolves into great theoretical techno. Sandwiched in between two giants of pop “acid-bells” feels bare bones, almost minimal, but displays such great sound depth by playing on the sounds of these “acid bells”. Love it so much I manage to leave it about a minute all by itself. It gives a great melodic intro to “Don’t Stop”

4- Don’t stop till you get enough, Michael Jackson 1982
Another big pop classic. No introduction needed. I love the way this one starts on top of the bells melody, it is a shoe-in. It immediately is mixed another acid classic.

5- Voodoo Ray, A Guy Called Gerald, 1987
This one hit me like a freight train the first time I heard it in 1988. It is featured in “24hour party people” as the seminal club track of the acid house explosion. Voodoo Ray was the UK’s answer to chicago acid house music. This track became an instant club anthem with its hypnotic and lucious vocals and space invaders blippy 808 synth sounds. It is un-mistakable and it meshes beautifully with the funk sounding “Don’t Stop”.

I am quite proud of myself for this mix. I hope you enjoy it.


Warren said...

DUDE!!!!!!! I listened to those mixes!!!

I find your obsession with edm seems you, me, Above & Beyond, Dave, Jeff and everyone I hang out with has the exact same problem........Welcome to the family!!!!!!! Seriously.....we had so much fun hanging out with you!!!!!

Marcf said...

yeah, electronic dance music is addictive and should be consumed in moderation. The last 20 years went by in a flash.

I am glad to have found a group of like minded freaks in ATL. I remember you talking about the state of the scene in ATL. It is true that ATL is the world capital of hip-hop but when it comes to electronic music, we pale in comparison to MIA. It is not that bad though, the little family feels like underground resistence: small and dedicated, obsessed as you describe it.

On a related note, Dave just wrote
saying that for Halloween, Carl Cox is booked and coming to Opera and he will try to get the opening DJ to spin "acid michael". It will work for that night.

Bill Pyne said...

Okay Marc, exactly who other than Kriss Kross came out of the Atlanta Hip Hop scene? I've been out of Hip Hop for a while but when I last followed it, NYC and LA were the hot spots.

Marcf said...

Que wha?

Something about the last time you checked the scene "it was LA or NYC" and your reference to "Kriss Kross" tells me the last time you checked was in 1992.

Btw in my search for a new place we visited the house of the kriss kross manager here in ATL, nice place.

But seriously, small names such as Ludacris, Andre3000 outkast, or here will back my claim of "ATL is the world capital of hiphop a bit more".

Bill Pyne said...

I guess my hip hop knowledge is a little dusty! I listened to rap from the days of Sugar Hill Gang and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five until Digable Planets and 3rd Bass both split up. After that, I didn't hear anything creative happening so I tuned out. An employee at a cafe near my house was playing Aceyalone and the Freestyle Fellowship three or so years ago so I'm into them a bit. Other than that, noone sounds like they're expanding the art form. I don't know man, I guess I'm getting old - telling Back in My Day stories. ;-)

Lance said...


As a former club and Mobile DJ, i enjoyed your podcast. I have not tried this software (still have my techniques MK II turntables :-) ) but makes me want to give it a go.


Galder Zamarreno said...

I actually met Above and Beyond at BBC Radio 1's Essential Selection Xmas party at Turnmills in 2004. At the time, I was starting to pull away from my trance roots. That year, they won the best essential mix of year award. It's a classic mix :)


You can download it from:

"freshly mixed is an online community dedicated to the collection and cataloguing of professional DJ mixes". You pay a monthly/yearly fee and u get access to Radio 1 essential mixes, Kiss mixes...the lot!

Galder Zamarreno said...

Seems like tracklistings link got cut. Here's a tiny url for it:

Marcf said...


thanks man, kudos from pros mean a ton to me. Kudos from amateurs mean a ton to me as well. Kudos in general I guess :) Like I said I was over the moon when two kids called "A&B" said it was good stuff.

The software is killer, but it is production software tweaked for live DJ'ing. If all you need is to mix in and out of songs, Live will feel very overkill and you may not like it. Remember that these sessions are studio work representing about 10hours.

On the pure DJ front, tools like Traktor and Virtual DJ are closer to the turntables approach.

Finally since you have your Technics still with you, a simple one is of course "serato" which virtualizes your collection so you play from timecode vinyl plates and drop records on them. Serato is what one of my good friends, a MK2 turntabalist has been using lately.

As I mentioned in the blog, A&B did not even take the Serato step, claiming CDJ'ing already relieved them of the burden of carrying crates and they liked it that way.

Marcf said...


You would have enjoyed A&B given your trance roots then. For me Trance was an alien sound for a long time until very recently actually where it is harder for me to distinguish between some trance and progressive house. I have always been a house fiend and derivatives of house, be it deep or progressive are fine by me. Trance, I only recently starting appreciating.

It was funny when I met Paavo the second day, after the set and he asked "so what did you think of the set". I told him I liked it, very much. He said "give me the truth". I said I really did like it but the vocal girl trance thing was a bit difficult for me, I couldn't totally get it. He said "but that is what A&B is about!". I didn't know what to say.

But then again I thought Drum and Bass was music for teenagers on X until a PSP game (Gran Theft Auto: Liberty Stories) reconciled with the whole genre. Two guys out of the UK put together a killer radio show on PSP. I related the story to A&B and Jono could recite the lyrics of the radio DJ, mimicking his accent and everything, which I thought was really cool.

As Paavo said to me: there is no such thing as good and bad music, only music you like and don't like. If beauty is the ear of the beholder, it seems to evolve with time on top of it.

Galder said...


Exactly. If you look back at Paul Van Dyk's mixes back in 1997, they're great prog mixes!! I have one or two essential mixes that were ace.

Also, Sasha, back in the mid 90s, pure trance. Check out his Ibiza Global Underground. A classic on its own.

Music and people evolve and I totally agree with you.

Music I like: Any form of dance music (breaks, drum n bass, tech house, techno,...etc.), indie...

Music I don't like: R'n'B

For a wicked d'n'b mix, check out the second hour of this mix. It's wicked :)

Tarjei T. Jensen said...

The lack of metadata is a real problem. It makes it hard to find suitable music.

I don't think musicians or record companies realize that metadata could be a form of advertizing. It might be a good way of getting the attention of DJs.

Marcf said...


yeah, I totally agree that tagging is probably the number one low hanging fruit to solve.

However, I have been thinking about this a bit and I am trying to think through what it would take to get such a standard going.

The ID3 tags provide a good basis but they seem to be too linked to MP3, for example WAV has no such tagging structure. That right there is kind of a killer unless you can link XML to a WAV file by some ID (beatport style?).

Fields should probably be:
name of track
cover art (for flow navigation and selection)
The binary should be XML encoding.

Given that ID3 does come with a "comments" field, one can put anything in it, including the XML tree representing the above, and leverage the ID3 format that way.

Then I got to thinking what it would take to publicize this format. See in EE there is the JCP. It gets together decides on these standards and the industry follows.

I don't know of anything like it in the DJ industry... How does the DJ industry "get together". There is WMC and the Amsterdam event it seems. I read the AMST one was actually all pros, so that would be one way.

Then you would need a lot of press support. You would need a lot of tools support. I am not sure there is money in the standard *itself* so that is one of these things that will get time to get done.

I was also fascinated to read how the "rewire" protocol from 'propeller heads' rose to dominance in the industry... a defacto standard is feasible.

Itunes and Beatport, the distributing portals are probably the starting points, now that I think of it. Itunes is unfortunately its own format but Beatport could be just the ticket... they do have primary IDs.

hmmmm, I got to talk to these guys somehow :)

ivarf said...

´..don’t be taken aback, keep at it, the new remixed version will soon become the classics in your head, guaranteed..´

ha, good one marc. and so true.
instant classic.