Music

The Mover Goes Back to the Future

German DJ Marc Acardipane helped define dance music in the Nineties. Now he’s arrived in 2018.

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At the dawn of the Nineties, a Brooklyn DJ named Leonardo Didesiderio stood on a Frankfurt street clutching his record box in the rain. The organizers of the party at which he’d just played had failed to fix up a hotel for him. A local DJ noticed his plight and offered him a place to stay. That night the 22-year-old German played his guest a track he’d made: “We Have Arrived,” a stampede of pounding techno with distorted kick drums and a blasting blare of a riff. The American sat there for hours playing it over and over, then announced to his host that the track was the future of electronic dance music and that he would put it out as the debut release of a record label he’d been planning to start.

True to his word, Lenny Dee — as he’s better known — launched the Brooklyn-based label Industrial Strength Records in 1991 with “We Have Arrived,” credited to Mescalinum United, coupled with the double-A-side track “Nightflight (Non-Stop to Kaos),” credited to the the Mover. Both aliases belonged to Marc Acardipane, the DJ who’d rescued Lenny from the downpour. A native of Frankfurt — Germany’s bustling and modern-looking financial center and, in the early Nineties, the country’s leading city for electronic dance music — Acardipane had apprenticed in punk, moved into industrial, even dabbled in hip-hop. By the start of the Nineties, though, he’d noticed that techno was turning into a computer-era update of rock, based on similar sonic principles: distorted riffs and mid-frequency noise, attack, and attitude. Acardipane decided to push those tendencies further. Push them to the limit.

Although New York club music was already shifting into a harder-faster mode, thanks to epochal techno tracks by Brooklyn’s own Joey Beltram like “Energy Flash” and “Mentasm,” the style that Acardipane developed was a quantum leap forward into a cold, dark, future-rave sound. Reminiscing in the comments section of Discogs’s entry for that debut Industrial Strength 12-inch single, Lenny Dee’s associate Frankie Bones hailed Acardipane as a foundational figure: “We built our scene in the Brooklyn Undergound from tracks like this. Music made for large spaces. It…made perfect sense in an old warehouse.… Tracks like this did not sit well with most people that were playing house music. Way too abrasive, loud, and gritty. The beats were relentless. They held back for nobody, consuming everything in [their] path.” 

New York producers like John Selway, Oliver Chesler, and Sal Mineo hurled themselves down this pummeling new path for techno, and by 1992 they were releasing tracks on Industrial Strength under names like Disintegrator, Temper Tantrum, DJ Skinhead, and Strychnine. Many came from industrial music or hardcore punk backgrounds rather than the dance scene: What they made wasn’t club music so much as music that clubbed the listener. At the harder East Coast parties like Storm Rave and Mental, dance floors started to resemble mosh pits.

Meanwhile, back in Frankfurt, Acardipane and his business partner, Thorsten Lambart, released “We Have Arrived” and a torrent of belligerent, high-velocity tracks via their own label, Planet Core Productions, a/k/a PCP. Alongside an insane volume of music (hundreds of tracks, scores of releases), Acardipane created a legion of alter egos — Ace the Space, Rave Creator, Freez-E-Style, Protectors of Bass — that would eventually number in the region of ninety. Each fictitious persona had its own distinctive style. Alien Christ tracks like “The Art of Shredding,” for instance, were inspired by Suburban Knight’s twitchy Detroit techno classic “The Art of Stalking.” T-Bone Castro specialized in lewd, crude tunes like “Bitches” (off 1993’s Sex Drive EP), while his “brother” Nasty Django slammed out rowdy anthems like “Let It Roarrrr!” and the Lemmy-from-Motörhead-sampling “Ey Fukkas!” Acardipane and Lambart even resorted to using an Atari computer and police software designed to construct identikit images of suspected criminals to create imaginary faces for their roster of nonexistent artists.

The partners also spun off from PCP a miniature swarm of sub-labels, each with a subtly different sound and concept. Dance Ecstasy 2001 was their populist outlet for “peak of the night” anthems. Cold Rush, conversely, was for cognoscenti: a cavernous and glacial sound that lived up to the imprint’s slogan, music “created somewhere in the lost zones.” Speaking over the phone from his current home in Hamburg, Acardipane tells me that “with Cold Rush, my idea with that was that if you were dying on the dance floor, these would be the last tracks you heard!”

For a long while, virtually every release via the PCP label cluster was entirely made by Acardipane or featured him as a co-producer. But then spiritual kinsmen turned up. From France came Guillaume Leroux, whose work under names like Renegade Legion and Dr. Macabre married brutality and atmosphere in a way that rivaled Acardipane’s own productions. And there was also Miroslav Pajic, a Frankfurt man with a Serbian name, whose collection of alter egos rivaled Acardipane’s but whose most cinematic and haunting tracks came out under the name Reign.

The artist names and track titles were crucial, framing the music and creating pictures in your mind (invariably dystopian or desolate) before you even dropped the needle into the groove. Most of the titles came from the non-musician Thorsten Lambart, whom Acardipane describes as “a genius,” even though their partnership fell apart in the late Nineties owing to an undisclosed personal disagreement.

But back in its mid-Nineties heyday, PCP was an unstoppable force. Crowd-pleasing monsters like “Stereo Murder” and “Six Million Ways to Die” made the label hugely popular in the Netherlands, where an entire subculture called “gabba” had sprung up in the wake of “We Have Arrived.” Punning artist aliases like Pilldriver indicate how PCP targeted the Ecstasy-gobbling hordes of Northern Europe. But the label explored more experimental directions too. Having started with a banger, Mescalinum United veered off into abstract noise with the Symphonies of Steel EPs, eventually abandoning the beat altogether for what Acardipane called “sick ambient”: a vaporous sound that he says was an attempt to conjure the inhospitable surface of a planet like Jupiter.

In Germany itself, PCP had been hip early on, but by 1994 Acardipane and Lambart found themselves languishing in a sort of no-man’s-land. Their sound was too doomy and aggressive for the rave mainstream of fluffy trance associated with rave promoters like Low Spirit and the annual Love Parade in Berlin. But it was also too pulpy in its horror and sci-fi references to be acceptable in the snooty world of German minimal techno. After PCP disintegrated, Acardipane did record a Mover album for the ultra-hip label Tresor, 2003’s Frontal Frustration. But any credibility he might have garnered through that was thrown to the winds when he teamed up that same year with the pop-rave outfit Scooter for a remake of his Marshall Masters’s shout-along “I Like It Loud.”  The single “Maria (I Like It Loud)” went Top 5 in Germany and Hungary and reached No. 1 in Austria. Its Oompa Loompa–like chant also became a jock-jam crowd inciter at a number of European soccer stadiums. In the glossy big-budget video for the Scooter remake, Acardipane appears at various points, looking slightly awkward, as if inwardly contemplating the underground’s reaction to seeing its hardcore hero on MTV Europe. Still, the smash single earned him a sustaining stream of publishing money that carried him through a 21st century that proved to be much quieter than his hectic, hyperproductive Nineties.

Unlike the Industrial Strength release, the PCP version of “We Have Arrived” featured a different tune on the flipside: a sinister track titled “Reflections of 2017.” That year — impossibly far off and futuristic in 1990 — became a running theme through Acardipane’s work. “See you in 2017” was the Mover’s slogan. And sure enough, after a long period of near-inactivity, last year saw Acardipane get busy again: He played raves as the techno equivalent of a “legacy act” and reissued some of his best-loved Mover tracks in remastered form. An all-new album, his first in fifteen years, was also planned for 2017. But dissatisfied with his first attempt at the comeback record — he felt it was “too polished sounding” — Acardipane scrapped it completely. Finally, bearing the somewhat stilted title Undetected Act From the Gloom Chamber, the long-player was released in late March this year.  

The spur to remobilize came in 2016 when a promoter fixed Acardipane up with a rare date in Berlin. The setting — an old crematorium — was perfect for the Mover’s reverb-soaked sound and mournful melodies. Acardipane discerned a renewed appetite for techno’s harder and darker side in the young crowd, most of whom would not have been born yet when PCP got started. Gamely, he’d brought along specimens of contemporary electronic music that he liked. But he noticed that when he drew from his own tunes from back in the day, “the kids really went wild. It became like a real rave. If I play something like ‘Nightflight,’ the people go nuts.”

Acardipane feels that these young ravers are “looking to the past because they don’t like the new stuff.” His nickname for today’s electronic dance music is “highway techno”: There’s a sort of cruise-control quality to it. The production and sound design glisten with intricately textured detail, but there’s no propulsive drive, no hard core to these tracks. “People like me want back the energy, the futurism, the darkness, the power, the emotion.”

Undetected Act is a strong restatement of the classic Mover sound. Motored by a Moog synth bass grind, “Stealth” — one of the highlights — harks back to Acardipane’s baptismal rave experiences in Frankfurt clubs like the Omen and Dorian Gray. Laced with lachrymose piano, “Lost” — another gem on the album —  took awhile to find the atmosphere he sought. A prototype version was “not lonely enough,” he says.

Acardipane played that piano motif himself. Surprisingly, given that the barbarian style of techno he did so much to spawn is regarded by many even within the EDM world as anti-music, his conventional training runs deep. As a boy he sang in a professional choir for several years. Between the ages of eight and eighteen, he studied classical guitar. He also received electric guitar lessons from a member of the Frankfurt punk band Strassenjungs. After forming several punk groups himself, Acardipane started to dabble with synths and drum machines in the mid Eighties, during the heyday of industrial and Electronic Body Music.

But there were also attempts at hip-hop, an enduring passion: Acardipane loved Public Enemy, and to this day he hero-worships Dr. Dre for his sound engineering. “But there came a time when I had to look in the mirror and realize, ‘You don’t come from Compton!’ ” he says. “We had to look for the street sound of Europe.” Acardipane found it in, of all places, Belgium, which around the turn of the Nineties was spawning a baleful and bombastic hybrid of house rhythm and industrial textures. The ignition point for the Mover vision really lies with forgotten Belgian producers like the Mackenzie, 80 Aum, and T99, whose tunes were like lobotomized rave updates of “Ride of the Valkyries” and Carmina Burana’s “O Fortuna.”

It was around this time — end of the Eighties, start of the Nineties — that Acardipane began to have a recurring dream. Not exactly recurring: He describes it as like a movie or TV series, with each dream as the next episode. The dreams were set in 2017. That’s where “Reflections of 2017” came from, and the whole Mover mythos of that remote-in-time year. 2017 seemed to figure for him as a sort of imaginatively projected singularity pulling him and his music toward the future like a tractor beam. Now that Acardipane has gone right past his Year of Destiny, he sometimes sounds a little bemused by what his role might be today. 2017 certainly turned out to be apocalyptic, and 2018 may yet top it, but it’s not how we imagined things, back in the early Nineties. Meanwhile, the electronic dance culture has spent much of the 21st century succumbing to technostalgia, revisiting genres from the Nineties and even exploring the prehistory of rave culture, with a huge resurgence of interest in Eighties industrial and EBM. In such temporally confused circumstances, the Mover can be forgiven for going back to the future rather than trying to reinvent it.

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