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Back to the future

2018 Oct 31     
2 Bit Thugs

Talking 'Mutant City Acid', hardware and "randomised coloured vinyl" with the UK's undisputed kings of jack…

Joshu Doherty, the talkative half of Posthuman, is having technical difficulties: up in Hull visiting his dad, he's struggling to get decent phone reception. "This is nothing - I had even bigger technical problems on Friday!" he says. "Twenty minutes into the rehearsal for a Reprazent Radio recording of a live jam, the cut-off on my TB-303 died. I managed to borrow another 303, but the MIDI didn't work. I ended up having to run mine through Ableton with this weird filter."

He laughs at the memory. Doherty is no stranger to live shows going awry. Over the years, he's done countless live acid house performances alongside his Posthuman production partner - and real-life cousin - Richard Bevan, while these days he's also Mark Archer's performance partner during Altern-8 live shows.

"We did an Altern-8 show in Malaga once where our laptops got covered in dust from some faulty, exploding smoke cannons," he says. "My laptop just shut itself down and wouldn't boot itself up again, and Mark's started running really, really slowly. So, in front of 3,000 people we had to get a USB stick out and mime this whole set on two laptops that weren't working!"

While Doherty sees the funny side of both calamities, he seems particularly frustrated about the recent 303-related issue. Much of this is down to the significance of the radio performance in question, which was designed to debut tracks from their new album, Mutant City Acid.

"I jammed the set as planned, but it didn't sound right," he sighs. "That's the thing when you use old equipment - it has a personality, but it has a tendency to go wrong. The more hardware you introduce, the weaker the links in the chain become."

Posthuman fans will confirm how prominently the snaking, psychedelic and otherworldly acid sounds of Roland's iconic bass synthesizer feature in their work. Although they first emerged at the turn of the millennium as makers of crystalline, alien IDM - impressively, they made their debut on legendary electronica imprint Skam in 2001 - Doherty and Bevan have spent much of the last decade dedicating their lives to acid house.

Aside from their own releases for Horn Wax, Dixon Avenue Basement Jams, Chiwax, Shipwrec and the Balkan Vinyl imprint Doherty established in 2010, they're also the brains behind I Love Acid, a regular party and label dedicated not to celebrating past acid adventures, but rather to pushing new variants of the heavyweight Chicago sound. 

"Anyone who's doing an acid house night and purely playing tracks from the past is not getting it, because in the first place it was about the future," Doherty asserts. "The reason the acid sound has endured is that's it's really fucking good. The 303 to dance music is like the electric guitar to rock. It's one of the most identifiable sounds. I'd put the Amen break in the same category. You can do lots of things with it, you can put it in different contexts, but it works as a thing on its own as well."

There's naturally plenty of use of Roland's iconic acid machine on Mutant City Acid, yet it's not the sort of balls-out jack-a-thon many might expect. In fact, it's a surprisingly atmospheric and futurist affair that contains far more deep electro, 100 BPM chuggers, clandestine ambient and psychedelic electronica than straight-up club tracks. Were Ridley Scott to make another Bladerunner movie, it would make a fitting soundtrack.

"That would be amazing!" Doherty laughs. "Me and Rich love albums like The Orb's U.F.Orb, Future Sound of London's Lifeforms and Speedy J's Public Energy Number 1, which were like soundtracks, even if they had dancefloor moments - whole pieces that you'd listen to from start to finish."

Inspiration for the album initially came from the Mutant City Acid series of multi-artist EPs Doherty put out on Balkan Vinyl, which "was meant to be a darker, weirder version of the 'I Love Acid' series," as Doherty explains, but soon became something entirely different. 

"We started with a track called Night Ride To New Reno and went from there," he says. "New Reno is a dystopian city in the first Fallout game. We then started raiding the old pixel banks of games like that. We'd go on YouTube and look at videos of old computer games and hear a weird noise and go 'that would sound good', sample it in and go from there. It all grew from that."

The influence of Fallout and Syndicate can be seen in the album's retro-futurist artwork, which depicts a 32-bit rendering of a city light years away. Those lucky enough to secure a copy of the vinyl version via the duo's Bandcamp page also get inserts including a "subway map to New Reno" and a flyer containing suitably dystopian classified advertisements.

Anyone who buys the album on vinyl is in for a treat, though, as Posthuman have decided to press it on "randomised coloured vinyl" – an experimental, never-before-seen process that involved pressing engineers "live mixing" different-coloured PVC pellets to create unique blends of translucent and marble-patterned wax. No two copies of the double album are the same.

"The pressing plant aren't going to offer it to anyone else for now, because it slowed them down so much!" Doherty laughs. "Neither the plant or us had any idea whether it would work or not before we tried it, but the results are amazing. The engineer asked me whether we wanted him to match up the colours when he was packing them, but I said, 'No, no, do them completely randomly!' Nobody will know what they're getting until they buy a copy and take the record out of the sleeve."

Amusingly, Posthuman's "randomised coloured vinyl" is already causing a stir amongst's army of database geeks, who can't quite figure out how to list it. "I was speaking to a guy who does a lot of entries and asked him how it would be entered in," Doherty admits. "He said, 'I'd just put in all the different colours'. So I pointed out that they'd have to put in at least 100 different things, because there are at least 120 variations. He said, 'Oh well, we might have to make a new type of entry!"

Words: Matt Anniss

Mutant City Acid will be out on Balkan Recordings in November. For pre-orders and more details, see the label's Bandcamp page

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Tags: Posthuman, Joshu Doherty, Richard Bevan, Altern-8, Mark Archer, Balkan Vinyl, Horn Wax, Dixon Avenue Basement Jams, Chiwax, Shipwrec, acid house