The Acid – Interview – 2014

Brighton resident Adam Freeland may be familiar to many as a ‘breaks’ dance pioneer, having set up the Marine Parade label back in the late 90s, and becoming something of a legend in that world. But DJing around the globe, on some of the biggest stages, he eventually exhausted himself. Spending more time in Brighton, he has recharged his batteries and has come back in the most unexpected way with his first 'proper' band, The Acid, who've signed to the highly respected Infectious label (alt-j, These New Puritans etc)

"I set up Marine Parade about the same time I moved here, in 1998," he says over a coffee at a beachside cafe. "I moved here and I was looking for a name for the label. I had just moved into Marine Parade and there was a certain ring about it."

Marine Parade, which runs up from Brighton Pier towards Brighton Marina, is architecturally iconoclastic in many ways, many of the seafront buildings built in the Regency style. And then there's the unique and Grade II listed left, which links the upper and lower promenades, and for which £½ million has been spent on to make it work again!! I've been here more than 20 years and hadn't ever been in it, and so it was quite a thrill to find it working and manned as we made our way to a lower promenade cafe. I can easily see why Adam Freeland is very much at home here.  

"A friend of mine saw this flat where I live now and said 'I think you are meant to be living there. I haven’t seen inside but I have a very strong vibe about you'. OK… I walked in, and it was like I had already seen it in my mind's eye and said this is where I am meant to be."

Although known as a 'Breaks' producer, the music Freeland and his label mates made encompassed much more than just lots of drums and percussion; Marine Parade was a melting pot of electronic dance sounds with the emphasis on beats, samples and effects. Freeland's most well known song 'We Want Your Soul' allied his socio-political views with dance music, a rare thing indeed, and was nominated for a Grammy. Over the years he has collaborated with the likes of Tommy Lee of Motley Crue, Joey Santiago of The Pixies, and remixed dozens of artists such as The Orb, Kelis (with whom he shares the same manager), Grinderman, Pink and Lana Del Ray. "My first album was called Coastal Breaks (ironically made in 1996, before he had moved to Brighton, and before he had set up the Marine Parade label). I've spent years running from the name!

Back in the 90s, guitars were largely out of fashion, and every other person was a DJ, with a record bag in tow. Guitars have dominated the musical landscape the last decade or so, but there seems to be a neat alignment nowadays, where no one genre dominates. It's definitely cool and alright to like anything and not be a slave to one style. "I've always had a broad taste in music, and as soon as you're pigeonholed into one genre, it can be quite limiting. I did a Back to Mine compilation, and that showed the diversity of what I listened to at home."

"But DJing was how I got into music, in to making music I wasn’t hearing. It was a good time, we were able to do our thing, not fit in anywhere but have a good audience for it. It started when I was student in London. I quit Uni in the third year to go on tour, which was a gamble at the time and I started thinking I might as well set up a label to release stuff I wanted to hear. It was very much of its time.

"Whilst I was a student my DJ career started to kick off and I found myself with this crazy lifestyle, where I was in international cities every weekend and it was quite hectic.

"I did it a lot, for 16 years I didn't stop. I always said I would do this until it felt like a job… I never wanted to be that guy who is going through the motions, and not having fun. I want it to be an artistic passion, not a job. And I was knackered… I didn’t make a song and dance about it, I just called my manager and said I got to stop, to recalibrate. And I did. For the next two years I slept regularly, had a body clock… The things that were normal to most people were exotic to me. A Friday night in was unheard of! I realised the reason I became drained, apart from the demanding touring schedule, was mainly psychological. In the early days I was doing exactly what I wanted to do without compromise, and people loved it. I had an audience for it, it was authentic. But it got to the point where you get a bigger name, you are put on a more peak time slot, later and on bigger stages, and suddenly you are on at 3am at a huge festival with 30,000 people in front of you, and coming on after some other DJ who has been absolutely hammering it out and, if you play the kind of music you were known for, the crowd would just leave. Suddenly you have this pressure to bang it out, to keep people's attention. I was having to compromise my creativity just to capture the attention of the dancefloor. If you are doing something to please you might a well play the top 40. Each to their own, but it wasn't for me.

"I haven't lived in Brighton that much until the last four years, when I stopped playing everywhere. I lived in California, Bali, Ibiza and Australia, just always rented the flat out to mates when I was away, on condition that I always had a room there when I came back, so I sort of camped there. Everywhere I went in the world it was like, 'Oh, yeah! I've been to a party in your flat'! That flat has seen some good times!

Eventually, with someone of Freeland's temperament, and his need to be creatively authentic, the relentless demands of being an international DJ finally told. Luckily, he stopped before he cracked… "I woke up one day and listened to some music, and thought there is nothing I want to hear! And for six months it was I don't like music. Not just dance music, but music. I had a bit of a crisis! All I could listen to was drones, beatless music like Indian ragas, super chilled… But I got my energy back over my a period of time, and my clarity back, and started loving music again with a whole new perspective. I was listening to music in a different way and started putting together mixes on my Soundcloud, much deeper than what I was playing and the reaction was awesome and I was back to where I started. I didn’t feel any pressure to rock a dance floor, just doing what I want to do.

"I went to LA to see some friends. I was itching to make some music again, and called up Seve Nalepa, who I had done some music in the past with and booked some studio time with him. At a friend's birthday party there was this one guy around the table who I didn't recognise and wasn't introduced to and I thought it was a bit weird, but at the end of the night he came up to me to introduce himself and says, 'Hi, it's Ry, we met a few years ago'! But I hadn’t remembered that, my memory isn't so good… So, he told me what he was up to, done this track called 'Howling' with some guys called Ame in Berlin which was literally my favourite track at the moment. I had put it on a mix I’d done and played it a party just a week before, it was a kind of end-of-set closer. So, we just started messing around in his studio, drones on guitars on the phone. And then because I had actually booked some studio time with Steve – I hadn't been near a studio in two years – we went to the studio the next day and recorded four tracks in four days, which became an EP. We put it up on Soundcloud, and didn't tell anyone about who was behind it. If people know who is behind something they have already painted it, that brush of expectation. And for a couple of months we had 30 followers… We knew it was good though, and it started getting some momentum, and promoters and labels started getting in touch, ones we had admired, and who were a bit bemused. 'Who were these guys'? Infectious got in touch late last year and we signed with them…

So, Adam Freeland, Steve Nalepa and Ry X became The Acid, the first EP quickly followed by the recording of an album. When we made the album it was also quick and refreshing, such a revelation creatively for me. I could noodle about on my own, but every song was written in a day. There wasn’t pressure, I wasn't trying to be anything, and it was so nice to have no agenda, or expectation of where it sits. And Ry's got a great voice; there isn’t that much going on, just a few tasteful sounds and a lot of space. But, I think it's the best album I have done.

"Touring with a band, with your mates, it’s a different thing. Bands play at 8pm which is civilised. As a DJ you might be playing at 4m, and then you might have to get a 9am flight to another continent. I still take some (DJ) gigs for events I want to be at, some festivals, and I’ve certainly not hung up my headphones, but I’m not a road dog anymore!

When we spoke, The Acid had done just the one gig, but since then they've done a few festivals and are embarking on a UK tour including a date in Adam's hometown. "It's tricky, cause the rest of the band is in LA. And trying to work out how to do that album was a challenge. I've had to learn how to be a real musician, or how to feign to be a real musician! We're not using computers, it's all live. I do backing vocals, keyboards, and samples from drum pads and percussion – I haven't done any of those before in terms of a live environment, so there was lots of rehearsing.  And we developed this visual content, this clever interactive show where everything we do is represented visually. This Italian guy has built this software which takes every midi note, and every audio note and assigns a parameter to each one, and so the visuals are dynamic and breathing to the music. If you want the music to fit the visuals you would have had to play a fixed arrangement.

"That first gig was nerve wracking, out of my comfort zone! But I love pushing myself. I'm definitely the least experienced musician in the band, but I’ve learnt my parts and to get it down. And it's great to be on the road… Yeah, man. Back to rocknroll in a splitter bus!

Liminal is an exceptional album, much in the vein of the aforementioned The Howling track. Freeland has found some like-minded souls in Steve Nalepa – a technical wiz with Ableton Live, a music producer, and a professor of music technology at a Californian university – and the Australian born Ry X, vocalist, musician and producer in his own right.  Together, they have fashioned an album that flows from beginning to end, united by Freeland's background in dance music, Ry's super hazy, yet faintly foreboding vocal style, and a generally experimental approach to music making where the music is pulled and pushed, stretched and shrunk, warped and otherwise, all largely within the framework of a gently moody and minimalist house and techno soundtrack, but with real songs, and some live instrumentation. "Its nice to be on a label like Infectious and not worry about all the details, for the very first time. They are really good bunch of people who know what they are doing and are quite excited by it. Originally, I saw The Acid as a cool, underground, interesting and quirky thing. They don’t see it like that, they think it could be as a big as alt-j – that’s where their heads are at. It’s great to have someone believe in you like that, and I can get on with just being an artist! Korda (Marshall) who owns the label has been there and done that, but he just got itchy feet. He was head of one of the majors and then he discovered Temper Trap and set up a label, got alt-j, and are now killing it as an indie…

Even though he is still not yet 40, Freeland has seen plenty of changes in the world of music; Marine Label used to be exclusively concerned with vinyl, and the internet was in its infancy, we were still a long way off from instant access and gratification. "You want people to have your music, but in a world of information overload, would you rather 1000 people buy your record – of which you get a tiny cut, let’s face it – or would you rather have a million people with your track on your iphone… As an artist you want people to hear your music… The way I have approached it, I’ve never thought about the money, I’ve always trusted the fact that if you make a good product, the money will come. At Marine Parade we sold a lot of records, but we ran it fairly inefficiently as a business; my DJ career subsidised it.

So, does he miss the money and the lifestyle of a DJ? "I see a lot of my peers, and I am not envious of their lifestyle. Some people were saying if you jump off the train here it will be pretty difficult to get back on, but I was prepared to take a gamble. I’m lucky, I can still get some gigs. I am really grateful for that."
Jeff Hemmings