Lascivious techno fiends Lords of Acid have just released a greatest hits package on Sanctuary, called appropriately enough Greatest T*Ts. This is their story.
Belgian Praga Khan (born Maurice Engelen), German-born Jade 4 U (Nikkie Van Lierop) and Oliver Adams have produced a blizzard of exceptional electronic dance music (new beat in the late-’80s, acid house in the early-’90s, various permutations of techno in the middle- and late-’90s) under a phone book’s worth of appellations including Channel X, Digital Orgasm, The Immortals, MNO (“Maurice Nikkie Oliver”), Tattoo of Pain, and most popularly Lords of Acid, whose “I Sit On Acid” is arguably the best-known acid/techno song of all time.
Without ever sacrificing a ruthless beat, the trio (collectively, singly and in combination with others) has managed to infuse personality, melody, verve, and sometimes real menace into typically mechanistic and depersonalized genres. As an example of the trio’s domination, they are responsible for four of the eleven songs on the best-selling Rave ‘Til Dawn – a compilation that was an attempt to summarize the entire rave movement through ’92. They have also placed tracks on the gold Sliver, and the platinum Mortal Kombat soundtracks.
Maurice Engelen was born January 7, 1959 into a prominent Belgian family, and he grew up a rock fanatic. The first album he bought was Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies in ’73. He loved “shocking live shows,” and would rush to see Cooper, The Tubes, or Plasmatics when they came to Belgium.
A guitarist and keyboardist, at 17 Engelen formed a shock-rock band, Booty and the BootFuckers, which was popular with the kids, less so with the parents. Engelen also came under the sway of the electronic music of Eno, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, and Amon Duul; and dark beat-bands like Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire, and Throbbing Gristle.
Engelen formed the Antler Subway record label with a partner in ’82 to release proto-industrial body music by bands like A Split Second. By the mid-’80s Engelen was also DJ and proprietor of the wildly successful Happy House nightclub in Aarschot, Belgium, where he booked many of the same acts that he released on his label, in addition to other top alternative and dance acts.
He also became a tour promoter and managed two of Belgium’s most popular groups of the time, Won Ton Ton and 2 Belgians. Engelen began to augment his club DJing with a drum machine and keyboards.
One night in ’87, Engelen was DJing in his club and had the sudden impulse to slow down the A Split Second record he was playing from 45 rpm to 33. This seemed to draw even greater attention to the beat and deepen the bass – the crowd went bananas, and New Beat was born.
With Chris Inger, who had a small home studio, Engelen started to make New Beat records of his own in ’87 under various names (101, The Musical Reporters, Save Sex, etc.), and releasing them on Antler Subway. The pair’s very first single, “Blow Job,” became a smash and caused immediate scandal: the producer who programmed the song on trans-European Sky TV was fired immediately after its broadcast.
With a heavy midtempo beat, deep bass, and flashes of industrial harshness and samples, New Beat became the rage of Europe, with Antler Subway as its base. Engelen compiled, and Antler released the first New Beat compilation, This Is New Beat, which sold 60,000 copies in the first month of release in tiny Belgium alone.
While he was making records with Inger, Engelen met alluring singer Nikkie Van Lierop when she sang backup on one of his records. They began to kick ideas around and she joined the merry band of hit-makers. Together the threesome created Lords of Acid in ’89, and made the transition from New Beat to acid.
Their first single, “I Sit On Acid” – slightly faster and somewhat harder than New Beat with cheerfully psychedelic beeps and boops, a haunted house keyboard line, and Van Lierop’s orgasmic vocals (consisting mostly of squeals and the repeated line, “Sit on your face, I wanna sit on your face”) – came to define the genre. Still among the most requested electro-dance songs on dancefloors around the globe, the song also introduced the band to the U.S.
Oliver Adams, a young studio wizard, then came along and joined the Lords production team, replacing Inger. They recorded the classic album Lust in ’91, which helped define techno (again a bit faster and heavier than its predecessor) as “I Sit” had defined acid, and earlier work had helped define New Beat.
Perhaps the finest single-artist techno album of the first half of the ’90s, Lust sold over 450,000 copies in the U.S. on the strength of its sex, drugs and frenzied-dancing credo. That, and no less than five dancefloor classics in “I Sit on Acid,” “Take Control,” “Let’s Get High,” “The Most Wonderful Girl,” and, best of all, “Rough Sex” – a hilarious/disturbing declaration of Engelen’s preference for “pure sex, deep sex, hot sex, rough sex” as opposed to “bright moons, winking stars, red wine” or “love letters,” delivered over a truly lubricious, whooping and buzzing techno track.
The group’s second album, Voodoo-U, took techno to its logical conclusion, variously adding industrial/metallic guitar, hardcore, jungle, breakbeat, and ragga into the gloriously hedonistic mix.
Engelen discussed his Lords of Acid modus operandi with me: “First of all, I need to be in the mood. Sometimes it takes me two years to start writing a Lords of Acid album because it is very erotic and blah, blah, blah. I have to be in a sexual mood. I think about an orgasm or whatever, and I put the idea into music.
“Oliver is a technician but also a musician – he knows what I am talking about right away, we work real well together. We do a lot of different lines and rhythms, and then we go on the computer and skip this, skip that, and what’s left – that’s what we use music-wise.
“Then Nikkie comes in, and she is a very sexy girl. I tell her the ideas for the songs, and then we start to interact, and we write the lyrics together. It works very, very well like that. We’ve done it hundreds of times like that and it always works.
For example, for Our Little Secret, I told her, ‘This song is about ‘pussy.’ So let’s think about it from a funny angle – people think it’s a ‘pussy cat,’ but it can be another kind of pussy too.’
“The first album was very techno. The second album was very hardcore, very industrial. The third one was a combination of the two – the midway point between techno and hard core. You have still the humor, but you also have very sexy songs. It’s the best of both worlds,” Engelen said.
Engelen’s creativity keeps him young. “I don’t feel any older than 25. I keep looking forward. I see friends from when I was 22, and they’re still talking about things that happened then. To them it’s like a big thing, but to me there’s big things happening every day. I enjoy every day when I go to work so I am a happy guy. To me it would be like a nightmare to have a regular job at a factory or something.
“Sometimes when I go to bed, I get upset because I have to wait another six hours until I can go back to the studio. I’m a very creative guy – when I am mixing a record, I am already thinking about the next project. It would kill me to work under one name because each is a different aspect of my personality. But it causes problems too: Praga Khan’s ‘Injected with a Poison’ and Digital Orgasm [Engelen and Van Lierop’s diva-house outlet] hit at about the same time in England [’93]. You go on Top Of The Pops one week as Praga Khan, and two weeks later as Digital Orgasm. The record companies were pissed off, but I think it’s funny,” he laughs.