Frankfurt local Marc Acardipane, aka The Mover and countless other ’90s techno projects, surfaces to tell his story.
Where were you in 1992? One of the key moments in my musical journey was Frankfurt Trax Volume 2: The House of Techno, purchased whilst living in Germany as a student. Released on Planet Core Productions the previous year, a label based in the German financial capital and also the home to the Omen and Dorian Gray clubs, the compilation delivered a brutal but exhilarating alternative to the techno music from Detroit that I was immersed in at the time.
The shrieking stomp of Mescalinum United’s “We Have Arrived” and The Mover’s oppressive bass-led “Night flight (Nonstop To Kaos)” felt like a jackhammer to the skull of a young person who had spent their teenage years listening to the textured drones of MBV’s Loveless or Joy Division’s addictive misery.
But Frankfurt Trax wasn’t all pounding, storm-trooper techno. The compilation also contained Alien Christ’s wonderfully hypnotic “Of Suns And Moons (Phase II)”, T-Bone Castro’s bad boy hip-hop meets techno, and the queasy dark ambience of Project Æ’s “Whales Alive”, conceived many years before the term ‘illbient’ existed.
Apart from the call and response “Hilltop Hustler” from T-Bone Castro, which was clearly channeling gangsta rap, the only discernible link to other contemporary music was the churning, slithering bass of Suburban Knight (I was too young to have picked up on the oppressive low end sound of New Beat).
In short, Frankfurt Trax Volume 2 opened my eyes and ears to a new world, which was only a two hours’ train journey away from where I lived. Failing to find someone to accompany me from the student populace, I baulked at the prospect of attending the Dorian Gray in Frankfurt Airport on my own.
Instead, I made do with the nearest ‘techno’ club which favoured a more commercial variant of German dance music, belting out Dance 2 Trance and Jam & Spoon, although The Mover did get played.
That time in Germany and the Planet Core Productions compilation kick-started a fascination with electronic music that has lasted over two decades. What I did not realise at the time was that nearly all of the productions on Frankfurt Trax 2, even those which bore DJ Dag and Sven Vath’s names, were the work of one producer, Marc Acardipane.
A quick check on Acardipane’s Discogs page shows that this was not a one-off flurry of activity. He’s put out music under almost 90 different solo projects and has been a collaborator in 40 different groups. However, it’s as The Mover that has come to attention again, nearly a quarter of a century after the original release of “Nightflight”.
The track, along with other Mover productions from the 1991-1993 period, were released late last year on the Forbidden Planet label. It was the perfect opportunity to interview an artist who played a massive role in shaping electronic music and to hear his less documented story.
Marc Acardipane was born and raised in Frankfurt. He comes from a musical background and, having started to play the classical guitar when he was eight, progressed onto the electric guitar at the age of 12. Acardipane was in a band and recalls one of his guitar teachers owning a Roland TR-808 and a Korg MS-20. “I was fascinated by them,” he admits, and by the time he was 18 he quit his band because “I just wanted to live and die for this music”.
Working as a waiter in a Frankfurt club called Cooky’s – no connection with the former Berlin club of the same name – Acardipane got to know Thorsten Lambart, his partner in the Planet Core Productions (PCP) label. Before meeting his partner in the label, Acardipane had got his hands on a copy of the Front 242 album Official Version.
“Cooky’s would have live shows by bands like Nitzer Ebb and Front 242 – I liked the sounds they made but not so much the beats, and I liked the beats of Chicago house and Detroit techno, but the sounds were a little too soft for me,” he explains.
Acardipane also tried his hand at hip-hop; this influence can be heard in his T-Bone Castro work and in the many samples that are peppered through his catalogue. He was also involved in ‘battles’ around this time, but he admits that “we weren’t from Compton”.
In any event, it wasn’t long before he had made the transition to cranium-shattering industrial techno. 1990 saw the release of “We Have Arrived” as Mescalinum United as part of the Reflections of 2017 release, followed in 1991 by “Nightflight (Nonstop to Kaos)”, their high-octane, gut-busting soundtracks that marked the dawn of a new dystopia.
It was an interesting time to be in Germany; the euphoria surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall had long since faded and unification of east and west brought with it the sobering realisation that there were massive inequalities between both lands – which would have to be made up for financially on the backs of West Germans.
Against this backdrop, a whole new world was being created, where there were no rules, a veritable wild west for music-making.
“There were things you never did before, sounds you never heard before,” Acardipane recalls. “I remember being in Dorian Gray the first time I heard Joey Beltram’s “Mentasm” and I thought he was an alien! I remember hearing T-99’s “Anasthasia” for the first time and was thinking, ‘what the fuck is this?’” he remembers, and feels, “it’s something that people will not experience nowadays.”.
One of the main problems facing European techno producers and their labels at the time was a lack of infrastructure to get their records out to the public.
“There was no distribution, we were selling records out of the back of the car and bringing them in boxes into department stores,” Acardipane says. “I remember driving to Holland around this time to sell records, and we all ended up sleeping on the beach.”
Acardipane followed a similarly freewheeling approach to his weekends.
“You’d go to Omen on Friday, then go home, sleep until maybe 4am, get up and go to Dorian Gray for 6am when DJ Dag would come on – before that was a commercial club so there was no point in showing up earlier. After that there was an ambient night called XS-Club run by Alex Azary and Marc Spoon on Sunday, so there wasn’t much sleep all weekend!”
So what were these revered clubs like?
“Omen was like a sauna,”Acardipane remembers. “There was sweat dripping on the walls, your clothes were wet. It was a dark room, just a few lights, people going crazy. Omen held about 800 people. Dorian Gray was much bigger, maybe 3,000-4,000 people.”
“At the time, Frankfurt was the only place in Germany where you would hear techno, so when Sven (Väth) played in a club in another city, we would all get into buses and come along to party.”
“Omen was like a sauna. There was sweat dripping on the walls, your clothes were wet. It was a dark room, just a few lights, people going crazy.”
Despite being in a pre-internet time, techno quickly spread and it wasn’t long before the sound of Frankfurt permeated through Germany and Acardipane’s music became well-known in other countries.
Does he feel that working under a variety of names hindered his progress?
“Maybe it would have been smarter to do all the music under one name, but having all these different projects gave me a lot of freedom,” he feels.
“I developed a character for each one; T-Bone Castro could only work with open hi-hats, Nasty Django was his nasty little brother, and so on. The only thing I left out was female characters because the Atari computer could not do female faces! Some magazine said that there weren’t real people behind all of my projects. So one time when we were doing a gig in Italy there was an Italian guy with a beard who looked the character we did on the Atari computer for the act Ace The Space. We took his photo to prove that it was a real person behind the music!”
One of Acardipane’s more interesting characters was Alien Christ, who featured on the seminal Frankfurt Trax 2 compilation and who went on to release a series of records during the early ‘90s. Acardipane freely admits that Suburban Knight’s “The Art of Stalking” was the inspiration for this project (Alien Christ even put out a record called The Art of Shredding in 1992) and says that he listened to the Detroit record for eight hours straight one night for inspiration. What other Detroit artists inspired him?
“UR, Transmat, Carl Craig, Model 500, other cool stuff, some Richie Hawtin,” he answers.
Apart from taking inspiration from Detroit techno, Acardipane was experimenting with other, less obvious sounds. The Cold Rush series, which eventually ended in the late ‘90s, was home to hypnotic, otherworldly techno like the Acardipane-produced “Slo Motion” as Freez-E-Style and “Fog Track” as 8AM. Acardipane morbidly describes the Cold Rush material as the “last tunes you hear on the dance floor before you die of an overdose”, but also believes that many of the label’s releases could be enjoyed at home.
Another Acardipane side-project was the drum and bass bass label White Breaks, which was inspired by a trip to London.
“I visited Camden Market and I was being played all these drum and bass tracks that sampled Mover tracks, so I came back to Frankfurt and was inspired to make drum’n’bass,” he explains.
By the late ‘90s, Planet Core Productions ground to a halt and Thorsten and Acardipane went their separate ways. Acardipane seems unwilling to discuss the private reasons for the split, and says that they haven’t spoken for 10 years. He does maintain contact with Miro aka Miroslav Pajic, who released on the label, and he also recalls a chance meeting with Sven Väth five years ago.
“It took him a few seconds to recognise me because these days I have long hair,” he says, laughing, adding that he still sees Joey Beltram occasionally at parties and festivals.
The 2000s saw Acardipane continue to play at big hardcore events across Europe, mainly on the old school stages. In the background, he still harboured a burning ambition to return to techno and to record a new Mover album. However, he admits that doing this might not be so straightforward.
“I need to go into a certain mood, it’s dark and sensitive, but with hope,” he explains. “A few years ago, I had a booking at Berghain Kantine with Joey Beltram and before that event I decided that my old tracks weren’t too danceable, they had this marching rhythm,” he says. “So my first mission was to remix all of them,” and, Acardipane adds, “it’s harder to finish and record tracks as I get older because I’m more of a perfectionist; when you’re younger you don’t give a fuck about these things.”
Acardipane has also a very positive view of modern techno, which he has explored by “spending hours on YouTube and Beatport”. Given that contemporary artists like Truss and AnD are inspired by the hard, kicking techno of Planet Core Productions, I’m curious to hear what attracts Acardipane?
“I especially like these tracks with hard, fucked up house beats, dark, futuristic sounds and melodies,” he says. “I did a little test recently where I played a DJ gig in Hamburg, it was a mixed crowd with some hardcore people and younger people but it went down well.”
Until Acardipane gets in the mood to record a new Mover album, there’s the FP007 release on Forbidden Planet to contend with. Released at the tail end of 2014, it makes “Nightflight” and other early Mover tracks like “The Emperor Takes Place” available on vinyl again. Acardipane say he was guided by his feelings in licensing the tracks to Forbidden Planet and the reissue is timely because some of the early Mover records sell for up to £40 online.
“It was only a feeling, Acardipane says. “I heard it was a good label, he wanted these tracks and he seemed like a cool guy,” he says of label owner Jurg Haller. “I said yes, usually I say no,” Acardipane adds. “A lot of young people ask about The Mover, so I’m happy it’s back on vinyl. The label did a good job with pressing and mastering.”
Following this reissue, Acardipane also has ambitions to finally put out a bank of unreleased material recorded during the wild days of the early ‘90s. He also plans to oversee a compilation of previously available work.
This activity brings us closer to the year 2017, a date referenced in the title of the first Mover record and one which keeps cropping up in his work over the years, usually as part of the phrase ‘see you in 2017’. What significance does it have for Acardipane?
“It’s a secret, I have no comment. You can search the internet, but I will not say,” he states boldly. A casual Google search around the year 2017 throws up conspiracy theory references to the end of the world, but I suspect that it was part of Acardipane and his label’s plan to conjure up a mysterious image.
Another part of the label’s identity were the wonderfully evocative but tongue in cheek titles. It is hard to have been swept away by the screeching raw-form energy of “We Have Arrived” and not feel part of the title’s sentiment. Other PCP nuggets include The Mover’s Frontal Sickness; Freez-E-Style’s Enter the Gates of Darkness or Pilldriver’s Apocalypse Never, which all conjure up feelings of hope but also ultimate, inevitable doom.
“That was all down to Thorsten,” Acardipane says. “He was a master at thinking up amazing names for the music. I think this is one of the reasons, along with the hip-hop samples, why a lot of people in the UK and US liked us. For most of our time together, we did a lot of higher thinking, trying to use more than the 20 per cent that most people use.”
If you have never been moved by one of Marc Acardipane’s records, chances you’re not even functioning at 20 per cent.