Stream: Acid Circus “Uncle Jak”
Way out east in the warehouses of Los Angeles, Acid Circus oversees a late-night techno empire. Brothers Vangelis and Vidal Vargas (also two-thirds of promoting group Droid Behavior) produce, play live, and remix sci-fi monkey calls into clean minimal beats. This interview by Daiana Feuer.
What’s a song or sample you always play in a set?
Vidal Vargas: DBX ‘Baby Judy.’ There really hasn’t been a set where we don’t use the first four bars of that song. It’s basically a handclap, a hi-hat and a weird conga, like a high-pitched tom. We use that in almost every one of our sets, just for a little bit in the background as a backbeat. We’ve sampled it heavily in a lot of our own tracks. It’s one of my all-time favorite tracks. The whole song itself is pretty basic. It’s one of the first songs we ever heard that had the down-pitched techno vocals. And he’s narrating a fun, weird story. It’s common now to have a guy singing down-pitched some dumb shit over a techno track. That’s nothing new. But that song is from 1994 or ’93—it’s pretty old. We always have to play it. Sometimes we play the whole song. DBX, as a producer, is another big influence. Him and Todd Signs did some records together in the ‘90s.
Have you ever had him play?
Vidal: Almost all the DJs and artists we’ve booked over the last 6 years are big huge influences over our music. It was imperative to bring them to L.A. It was important for us to debut them and showcase them right. We show the crowd—‘This is techno.’ To us, this is what techno is. And we show the artist, ‘These are the people that appreciate it.’
When did you realize your promotion gig was turning into something more?
Vidal: I was probably 18 when we started helping other people promote parties. It wasn’t until we started Droid with our other partner Drum Cell in 2002 where we got serious. We told ourselves and everyone around—we’re going to make a difference. We’re going to build a community.
Vangelis Vargas: What do you think was the defining moment?
Vidal: When we started Interface.
Vangelis: The first time we brought Dan Bell. 2003. That show went really well. We weren’t even expecting a turnout. It was a small place—a sushi bar downtown. And a lot of people turned out and they were really excited to see Dan Bell. The place was just going off. The vibe there was amazing. Sweat dripping off the wall. People were going to the door to get air and coming back into the throng of people. It felt like, ‘Oh, I think we’re onto something here.’ Besides bringing artists who have never been here before, we’re influenced by our early days of going to parties in L.A. The vibes that they had there and the crazy people we met. It left a deep impression on what a proper party is like—leaving memories that you can hold onto while you look forward to the next one.
Vidal: We also have tried to step it up a notch, using current technology to make it more of an updated warehouse show—in the music, the equipment, the sound system, the visual element. Back then they were showing some dumb little film loop and corny strobe light. These days we’re using Max, MSP, Lemurs—doing all kinds of weird visuals on screens we built ourselves.
Vangelis: We’ve been experimenting with mediums that we project onto. We’ll do three screens cut up behind the DJ so you have three different visuals going on at the same time. We’re trying to do some kind of projection on the ceiling. Hopefully it will be like a canopy that comes down over the DJ. It will be a way to get lost in this world and visual realm. For us it’s definitely important to bring the visual element. There’s a million parties every weekend. A lot of them are warehouses. We have to do what no one else is doing. That gives us our edge—our reputation.
What did you have at your very first party?
Vangelis: Oh man, that was raw. The first Interface, we did it at Vine Bar—so we just turned the lights down and brought our own system because the sound there was no good, and we had some guest DJs from Chicago. As soon as we were able to get more people and more resources, that’s when we started building the production level of our shows.
How many toys are in your studio?
Vidal: We have a few! We mostly have software but we have a couple old synthesizers, a Roland Juno 6, an old DX11, the two drum machines, and a few little groove boxes, a Yamaha… Sometimes we’ll sample hardware live—whatever drum machines and groove boxes we have. We’ll play on them then sample them into the computer and process them so they sound even more polished. Or just completely transform them.
Did one of you influence the other one to get into EDM?
Vidal: We got into it at the same time. We’re not very far apart in age. I’m 29 and Vangelis is 31. We’ve done everything together—music, video games, parties, clubs, whatever. We pretty much started doing that at exactly the same time. We went to our first clubs and raves together, started making music, following electronic music, buying records, recording shows off the radio.
Vangelis: Born and raised in L.A. Our parents are Mexican. My dad came here when he was 16, my mom when she was 4.
Is there any trend in music that you think should just go away?
Vidal: There’s good and bad to every trend in music. Definitely some of the more commercial stuff we’re not fans of. Some of the major electronic music is progressive house. A lot of that stuff doesn’t impress us. But even in some of those songs there’s interesting elements going on. Can’t really banish all of it. When I’m not listening to techno, I listen to a lot of hip-hop and R&B, underground or top 40. Vangelis listens to something a little bit different.
Vangelis: I could do without some of that rap. It’s pretty cheesy.
Vidal: He doesn’t like what I like sometimes. In commercial rap music, all the production is electronic. That’s why I like it. It’s very clean and technical so that impresses me. Whatever—I just like the way they sing stuff! It doesn’t matter what they’re saying. I get the pop appeal.
What else do you disagree on often, being family?
Vidal: Trying to bring the conflict out in us, huh?
Vangelis: Sometimes our taste in songs can be conflicting. When we produce together, we’re pretty critical of each other. We’re certainly not afraid to tell the other person, ‘This sucks.’ We work together when we produce music and sometimes we’re at odds, but that’s how it works out.
Vidal: We do a lot of other things as Acid Circus and as members of Droid Behavior, our label and production group. That definitely gets complicated. Whose ideas are taken more into consideration, what gets executed, what songs we’ll play, what DJs we’ll play, whoever’s trying to call the shots. Droid Behavior’s a big part of what we do—it’s our label, our movement. As far as Acid Circus goes, Vangelis will complain to me that I’m not working enough in the studio on certain songs or tasks, whether it’s putting together our live set or putting together our music. Or remixing or editing other people’s music. We do a digital style of mixing our own samples and our own effects, along with heavy edits of other people’s music. When we play, the stuff pretty much ranges from the last 20 years of electro-house and techno music. We’ll throw it all in the mix. We conflict a lot on that. He complains a lot: ‘You need to go in the studio and work on music stuff, do promoting or whatever, or doing other stuff for Droid.’ That happens almost on the daily.
What’s the smallest sample you’ve ever used?
Vidal: The smallest sample I made—this week—is from Christian Bale’s freak-out. I cut the whole thing up and use tiny snippets, just tiny vocal samples. People probably can’t even tell what it is.
Vangelis: We’ve had some weird stuff. I remember sampling the monkeys from 2001: A Space Odyssey. I like sampling movies a lot.
Vidal: We incorporate everything in our sets—techno, house, and electro from the last 20 years. Even some of the nu-rave stuff, I’ll sample a little bit. Bridge the gap between our core audience and I guess almost the mainstream. A lot of people going to clubs right now listen to that stuff. Especially in L.A. Also to show that the music they’re listening to now has been influenced by the music we’ve been into forever. We try to incorporate stuff that’s been influenced, and also that’s influenced techno. Like we’ll include stuff from Tangerine Dream.
Why do you think drugs and late-nightlife go together?
Vidal: That’s the way it’s always been. This stuff comes from disco-dance culture. That’s how they did it then and that’s how they do it now and it’s not going to change anytime soon. Since drugs were invented, people have just been taking them.
Vangelis: When you do psychedelics, it takes you to another world, way out there. They assist in getting there a lot quicker. It’s kind of like the new school—I mean, tribes back hundreds and dozens of years ingest substances and go into trances and do all these crazy rituals. I’m sure they had more religious and spiritual meanings rather than going to a party and getting high. But I think there’s some similarities there. Dance and hypnotic beats—it all goes hand in hand.
Vidal: A lot of people involved in the outdoor desert dance music scene—trance—they cite those shamanistic rituals as influences of their music and party nightlife situation.
What do you make of that idea of the DJ as shaman?
Vidal: I’ve heard that forever. ‘God is a DJ’ or a shaman or whatever. I don’t think they need to worship the DJ. The artist tries to take the audience on a musical journey of some kind. The DJ is going to play ‘Snake Charmer’ and it’s going to affect the crowd in a certain way. They know what they’re doing. They’re doing it on purpose.
Vangelis: We do that when we play live. We play songs or samples and we know, when we play this, they’re going to do that. When you drop this synth line and build a breakdown…We hope anyways. If they’re making a lot of noise and going crazy then you know something’s right. When the dance floor starts to clear, you’re doing something wrong.
Vidal: Most of it’s based on the rhythm track. If you’re dropping something that’s more electro or hip-hop based, they will dance differently than when you play something that’s more of a house beat or 4 by 4. Maybe they’ll do something a little more complicated.
Vangelis: Start freaking each other when you drop the hip-hop track. When we drop the booty house, you can see the crowd gets a little more sexual.
If they’re humping or if they’re jumping?
Vidal: They try to hump us sometimes! They come up and try to grab us.
Vangelis: At one of our early gigs someone threw underwear at us. I’ve had a few people try to make out with me. It’s fun and funny and entertaining to the crowd, and kinda flattering.
Do you think L.A. is in its moment right now?
Vangelis: There’s definitely certain music scenes here thriving more than other parts of the country or more than other parts of the world. I personally need to see more producers from L.A. before I can claim we’re a global influence on music. The party scene and the nightlife here has been going strong forever—for over 20 years. But I can’t think of too many producers out of L.A. electronic-wise that have made a big difference in the world. There are some making records that go around the world. One that comes to mind is John Tejada. But there’s not a whole lot of others as far as techno making waves globally. Chicago, Detroit, and New York are the hotbed of American dance music that has influenced the world. I think with Droid, we’re trying to push L.A. artists and push an L.A. sound globally. And we have made some success. They can tell there’s a different sound and that the artists are American, not European, especially for techno and minimal techno. Mostly, if they’re American, their style is more of a Berlin techno, and then they move over there. For us it’s important to stay in L.A. and represent.
What does your mom think about techno?
Vangelis: My dad’s stepped in to hold down a party here and there.
Vidal: They step in, working the door, getting change, driving the shuttle from the map point.
Vangelis: Til 5 o’clock in the morning.
ACID CIRCUS WITH DJ PIERRE, DEAN PAUL, EDDIE B AND LUKE ALAN ON SAT., APR. 25, AT A LOCATION TBA. SHITNSTUFFPRODUCTIONS.COM OR ALLOURSENTERTAINMENT.COM. AND ALEXI DELANO, TONI ROHR, MIRO-PAJIC, DRUMCELL VS. AUDIO INJECTION AND MANY MORE ON SAT., MAY 2, AT INTERFACE 27 AT A LOCATION TBA. RSVP AT DROIDBEHAVIOR.COM. ACID CIRCUS’ REDUXTION EP IS OUT NOW ON DROID. VISIT ACID CIRCUS AT DROIDBEHAVIOR.COM/CIRCUS OR MYSPACE.COM/ACIDCIRCUS.