How Acid Pauli Upended Dance Music Conventions On First Album in 5 Years 'BLD'

Acid Pauli
Courtesy Photo

Acid Pauli

The conversations around electronic music are often dominated by the loud stuff — the music that clamors for your attention by encouraging movement. But inciting a riot on a dancefloor is just one of many possible functions for the genre. "When people tell me that they've fallen asleep with my music, at home or somewhere else, some people would maybe not see it as a compliment, but I definitely do," the German DJ/producer Acid Pauli tells Billboard Dance. "I like music that puts you to sleep." 

It's not much of a leap from that statement to the conceit of Acid Pauli's second full-length, BLD: He strove to make a record without the primary ingredient of dance music -- that comforting, buffeting kick drum -- focusing instead on the interstitial parts of a track that hold the listener at bay before the primary beat thud backs to life. "Leaving the main beat [behind] is a step into ambient music, but it's not ambient," he explains. "All these breaks always lead to the moment when the beat drops in again, so the ramp always goes up somehow."

Martin Gretschmann has been releasing music as Pauli for more than a decade. He's attracted admirers across the electronic music spectrum, including Nicolas Jaar, a kindred spirit known for frequently ignoring the demands of club-focused compositions, but also Damian Lazarus, who runs the more traditional floor-wrecking label Crosstown Rebels, and DJ Koze, a pleasantly unclassifiable club explorer who picked Pauli's "Nana" for a compilation last year. 

Pauli put out his debut album, Mst, five years ago; he describes the record as "a very distilled version of a 20-hour set of mine in Bar 25," the Berlin club where he held down a longtime residency. "In Mst, probably in each song, there were ten completely different samples from completely different records," he continues. "Sampling has always been really important -- it's like making music with the most incredible musicians in the world without having to deal with their egos and logistics. It's this endless sound source." 

Sampling is still central to BLD; the other key ingredient to the album is Pauli's modular synthesizer, a type of synth that is usually harder to use and more open-ended in scope than synths with constricting preconfigurations. He picked up the instrument during the making of Mst and enjoys "trying to tame" it. "Within the past years I got more and more into it," Pauli says. "I learned a little bit; until two years ago I was convinced that I'm a total beginner. Now I'm one inch above the total beginner moment."

The modular synth ended up furnishing the album with its title -- BLD is the abbreviation for a specific module -- and in the studio, it functioned as an antidote to the tight controls available in ubiquitous musical software programs. "You don't have save, undo, all these things we got used to," Pauli explains. "The modular, when you unplug the cables, it's starting a new adventure. If you don't record what you're doing, there's no way back. There's no display. I realized that I work differently when I'm working with modular synths."

Not that he has anything against using computer programs. "I've never been one of those guys that's only analog, only digital; I'm never this dogmatic," he clarifies. "I'm always taking advantage of everything that is there and combining everything."

The absence of the primary beat on BLD causes you to lean in and pay attention to all the small details. On "Abbebe" a flicker of bass circles underneath a changing set of electronic gurgles. The drumming here sounds like it was pulled from old jazz records -- snippets of a light solo, with a player moving around his kit, some rim-shot tattoos, a slinky pattern on the cymbals. The next track includes hollow plinks and a wheezingly beautiful melodic line from an unidentifiable instrument. "Majid" opens with short, overlapping salvos from a number of stringed instruments one after another; listening to it feels like eavesdropping on a surprisingly elegant family quarrel. 

Out on March 24, BLD is intricate, pretty, and protean; at times, it's also soporific. Without a beat hammering at your insides, demanding some sort of response, you can curl up easily inside the album's drifting stream of sound. But if you're close to nodding off, feel free to let your eyes close: Pauli will take it as a compliment.


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