What Price Acid House? Ebay, Vhs And Fleacore
This month the dubious democratisation of dance music production was polarised by two disparate ‘news’ pieces. Technology producer Korg announced the arrival of a fifth edition to it’s proletariat range of Volca units. These VHS cassette sized battery powered units have previously honoured classic hardware with cleverly constructed piggy-bankable recreations of acid house stalwarts. A 303-style acid wiggler, an 808-aping drummer, an Akai sampler (replete with colour ways) and they have now doffed a working class cap at Yamaha’s DX7, with a mini FM synth that can be paired and synced with the rest of the range and comes in at a price of £129.
“Korg and Teenage Engineering seem to have created this generation of YouTube geeks making monster tracks for next to nothing. You get kids who have literally saved up pocket money to get a set up making weird acid shit.” Mark Bailey AKA manmachine201 is one of the proles who has embraced the economics of this electronic evolution, utilising the low cost hardware to effect ahead of his first release. “I quite like the Volcas they are tiny, cheap and make a monster noise. It makes you feel a little more professional when you see them used in video tutorials by Legowelt and other decent producers”.
So you can get beats, bass, keys and arps for less than a monkey. Make the noises that felt exciting, dangerous and liberating like they did when acid house first started to make us feel like this…
“What I love about this type of gear is the potential to learn the craft the old way”. Rich Lane has been behind some classic house music since the late Eighties, and enjoys a back garden studio/ shed full of the spoils from that, yet still thrifts and utilises the Bargain Hunt boxes. “Start with the drum machine, learn it inside out first whilst you save for the bass machine. Then nail that whilst you save for the sampler. Unfortunately I think people are too impatient to do this when they have Garageband and all sorts on their iPads, and phenomenally powerful and complex DAWs on their computers for the cost of a couple of these units. Which is a real shame. I think people still have the punk spirit, but don’t want to play three power chords for the first year or two – they want to go straight to ‘Welcome to The Pleasuredome' in the first month.”
The problem with punks, even acid house Jockey Slut devoted punks is they get old. And they get richer. The ‘£50 Man’ was a phenomenon in the music retail business a decade ago, disposable income from a settled life and career and they drove record shops towards a nadir which the high street racks never recovered. Inflation of wages and egos and dreams has led to a Discogs economics where a desire of recreating (no longer procreating) has lead to this…
Original box, and Japanese manual. Like classic sports cars with Italian seats and kid leather gear knob, is it important to own these original machines today, and are they comparable to hand crafted and shaped Les Pauls and Fenders?
“Personally, I don’t think a guitar is a fair analogy. You could tell the difference between a brand new Epiphone and a brand new Gibson. But if you had a brand new 808 and a TR-8 (Roland’s new iteration of the machine), could you tell the difference? Probably not”.
Heretic’s Tim Clerkin has mixed views, but certainly understands the potential for a profit.
“I love old stuff, old machines, they generally have their own idiosyncrasies, which I love. Is that always worth the associated price tag? Definitely not. As an investment you can’t go far wrong though. It’s what old men do isn’t it, pursue their hobbies, haha? However, it’s just putting circuits together with other circuits isn’t it”.
The relative inexpense in the Rise Of These Machines has also led to an even more avant-garde and libertarian approach, as soldering irons and schematics are used to drive a desire for sonic originality. Upstart Mark agrees. “I think there is a bit of a tendency to fetishise things like those old Roland machines. Don't get me wrong, they sound great, but you need a proper decent ear to be able to spot it on a recording compared to one of the other analogue copycats. People use words like iconic, but ultimately, its just plastic and circuitry. I love the idea of making your own instruments as well as making your own music. Even the New York Dolls didn't make their own guitars. I could really see that becoming an obsession”.
Being able to tell the difference between original and fakers isn’t really that important it seems. Maybe it’s just for antique collectors, acid Dickinsons and old loved-up Lovejoys.
“There is a personal smugness to be had from using the real hardware version of a machine, one that everyone has samples or VSTs of these days, but ultimately the punters don’t give a shite”, says Rich. “And nor should they. They don’t necessarily sound better, and often they sound worse. Some are more tactile and intuitive, others a pain in the arse. A real 303 is both of those things”.
Recently revisited on Optimo Trax, Severed Heads were a new-wave electronic band from Australia. Tom Ellard from the band coined the phrase ‘fleacore’ a few years back, and shared the concept on his blog. “If you distinguish between the earlier and later filter of the MS20, if the weighted action of a 102 key controller is important to you – you do not understand fleacore. If you think MOOG is ever the answer – you do not understand fleacore”. Dismissing the idea of chucking cash after vintage, expensive gear, making music takes precedence over the means to create it.
“Fleacore is an insignificant box, preferably without keys. Better still, it runs on batteries. It is never bespoke, never modular, never impressive. It is a cheap, plastic, wobbly, flawed, inscrutable array of LEDs and bezels. It is a piece of crap”.
“Fleacore is not smug and ironic. It is making do and muddling through. It is doing the best under strained circumstances, like darning a pair of socks. Fleacore is humble”.
John Shuttleworth fan Beatmunga demonstrated the ethic, environmental economics and thriftiness of Fleacore perfectly here, with a version of a New Beat classic performed on a kid's keyboard.
£32 from Argos.