I was the wrong age to remember the acid and acid house scene. What I do remember of that era is viewed through a prism of vastly different priorities. Like Panini sticker albums, playing football with my mates and spending copious hours playing Sensible Soccer and Streets of Rage on the SEGA Megadrive. When viewed retrospectively, and in my case with a detached ambivalence, the majority of late eighties early nineties acid and acid house all seems, a bit, I dunno, shite, especially musically. I understand that this is due to me having no affinity with it whatsoever. Everyone who was there, who was of an age to partake, loved it. They rave about it, excuse the pun, not necessarily for the quality of the music, but for the memories it helps evoke today.
As I’ve never been part of a scene like that, it does pose the question as to whether your experience of music is adversely affected if you haven’t been part of a scene, particularly one which you can identify as belonging to you, in particular with your youth. Not only was there the social element to the acid scene, it was a method of escape, and was, from what I can see, the last earnest attempt at a counter-cultural movement. That Thatcher hated and wanted a stop put to it only adds to its lustre and intrigue for those who missed out. This can be perilous however, as it can lead to revisionism that places a heightened notion of its relevance, musically and culturally, and as consequence can allow a sense of self-aggrandisement for those who were involved.
So what does this have to do with Andreas Tilliander, aka TM404? Well he’s an electronic musician who decided to make an acid record more than two decades after the genre’s inception.
There have, of course, been acid and acid house records released since the acid scene became conglomerated with the wider club scene. If your experience of acid music is external like mine, and without having listened to Tilliander’s record, you might very well be sceptical of its intentions and value. What good is a reverential retrospective of this genre? Or even worse, if you think that’s what it might be and have already had a bad experience with records of its ilk, what then? What if it’s some cheap nostalgia rip off, a phony pastiche, as Zomby’s awful ‘Where Were U In 92’ was?
Thankfully all of these concerns were dispelled as soon as I put TM404 on.
After having listened to it, the clear intention is to make the music the central focus, with as few preconceptions as possible, but you wouldn’t know this going by the album cover. It only has the project’s name “TM404” – I still have no clue what it means, or if it means anything at all – and a picture of a few vintage Roland machines, which, if you hadn’t seen one before, would leave you clueless as to the nature of Tilliander’s project. It’s all very vague, and the accusation can be levelled that it’s willingly mysterious. In my own admittedly prejudiced mind, it occurred to me that this could, rightly, be a conscious attempt to disassociate his music with the original acid label and sound.
As with its façade his last FM profile is also thin on detail, stating that TM404 is an ‘Alias of Swedish electronic musician Andreas Tilliander. Focused primarily on the usage of vintage Roland machines.’ In truth the bio is appropriately minimalist. All the songs are assigned a series of code numbers of the specific make of Roland machine used to create the layers of sound that constitutes each track. The layers of sound can be clearly deciphered and dissected, making it a listening experience that lends itself to sophistication rather than chemical exhilaration.
Add it all together and essentially Tilliander has used the technology of the original acid era to make a contemporary sounding acid record.
This realisation only leads to shift of emphasis and poses different questions, such as; what possessed him to do this? Where did he find the Roland machines? Do they still make them? Most importantly how do you make them work? Or better yet, how does he make them work like this?
The first track of album, ‘303/303/303/606’ offers some clues. It starts off with a deep and abrasive set of beats, rolling steadily and rhythmically. The gaps that remain are incrementally filled in with a two different sets of quicker beats – one of which is higher pitched and I assume from the 606 – that are alternated and faded in and out. Somehow this manages to be monotonously hypnotic and engage and then hold your attention to its changing patterns. It’s certainly not the best sounding track on the album, but it does what it needs to – establish the theme and pattern of what’s to follow.
Given the immersive nature of sound, it immediately becomes clear that this isn’t club music. It’s for the chin rubbers. How and where you’re likely listen to TM404, with headphones, likely reclined, maybe with some chemical assistance, will influence your visual perception of the music.
The videos, unintentionally, add to this notion. You could say that TM404 sells a pre-packaged meme. It makes you want to believe that this is how music like this is made; in a small dark room, with all the machines aligned studiously and thoroughly in formation, while the sound is manipulated easily and effortlessly with occasional twiddling of the dials. If you were capable of doing so yourself, you’d cultivate an acid album in such an environment, wouldn’t you? Or at least I would.
But I suspect the intention of the videos was vastly different. The static camera position leaves the Roland machines in shot throughout, this makes the music the focus, and also mirrors the stripped down ethos and execution of the music. This is a clear departure from the convention for many acid videos, where you had silly kaleidoscopic background effects with some tit wearing a gas mask, like this, which became a symbolic look for the acid scene. Don’t assume that because I think the video is naff for ‘Pakard’ by Plastikman that the song is too, it’s not. It’s marvellous.
By my own confession I’m not nearly qualified to decipher whether ‘303/303/303/303/606’ was the most difficult track to construct. I can say with some certainty that it’s my favourite. Unlike the other tracks there’s no slow build-up of the layers of sound, there’s no gaps or dips in volume at any point. You’re given an immediate wave of three layers of sound, creating an uninterrupted texture, before the other inflections start to arrive. Essentially it’s a structural inversion of the other tracks, in that the longer it runs, the more its flow becomes deconstructed with sudden changes of sound. The initial wave serves as a tapestry for the inflections, who in turn eventually enrich the baseline. Gravy.
The other standout track is ‘202/202/303/303/606’. You’re given the enticing fade in, before the depth of the main beat starts to take over. It crests with the addition of subtle layers that work to elongate it, before a noticeable volume uptick. Then the track starts to deconstruct and the layers are stripped away while a series of different accents are applied. Thankfully its core beat never leaves, the only time it does is when the track ends, and that’s when you hit repeat.
Because TM404 is an acid record that defies many of the cultural expectations surrounding its sound and genre, it probably won’t be considered a classic. No matter, it’ll be niche classic, for those who are fortunate enough to stumble across it and be opened minded enough to try it. Much in the same way Monotonprodukt 07 is, those who are fortunate to know, know. I suspect in ten or fifteen years from now TM404 will be one of the select few albums I’ll return to consistently, as I do now, and perhaps it’ll be to me what the original acid house was to others, musically of course. In my case I doubt it’ll evoke any memories, as it doesn’t belong to a social scene to associate it with. It’s just a terrific record. However, it does make me thankful that there are headphones, and that the best music offers an escape regardless of time and place.