Praga Khan has been making music as Lords of Acid for 30 years, and his sounds and techniques are some of the most defining, dirty, and strange in industrial music, like a journey into space through electronic pulses. Deeply psychedelic and innately psychological, the band’s music explores sexual desire, connections with one another, and internal workings of our minds. In a beautiful tapestry of electronic sound, Praga, aka Maurice Engelen, warps those inner desires into an external wall of sound that creates unusual shared experiences for clubbers. The band is clearly working to get past sexual repression in western culture, but they are also creating expansive musical experiments and fun dance floor togetherness built around desire. With Pretty in Kink, recorded with new singer Marieke Bresseleers, the sounds expand even more with house influences and a new vocalist who can operate in deeper registers allowing a band that’s an important part of the industrial scene to go their darkest ever.
Deep sounds are important to the band given the prominent bass sounds and motifs of desire and sensuality. Marieke’s vocals give Praga a new toolkit to work with, and the result is a huge payoff, once again energizing the sound that Lords of Acid have been building for almost three decades. It’s fascinating to see something that’s been around so long remain so subversive and original. Like Nine Inch Nails, becoming a perennial musical act hasn’t done anything to calm the experimentation or challenging ideas found in these sounds. Younger bands would struggle to be as innovative or to push sounds or audiences to as much of an edge and new experience as Lords of Acid are capable of.
To get a flavor for their music, it’s great to look at their classic song, I Sit on Acid. A mind warping exploration of desire, the singer chants, “I want to sit on your face,” against a heavy bass line that sounds sensual but safe. It’s a song about opening up, getting close, and twisting around under someone while Praga plays keyboard. Sometimes he even twists himself around the keyboard when he’s happy with what’s happening on stage. The song was originally recorded as a single that became part of the classic and influential Lust album with Jade 4U, aka Darling Nikkie, and was radical for its time. It’s a major classic now, has been endlessly remixed, and commands immediate attention as soon as it plays in a club. The psychedelic techno style electronics alongside the dramatic chant of, “I want to sit on your face,” turn kink into brain melting orgiastic pulses of sound. The experiment has continued since then as an important underground band, sometimes with long breaks between albums after the 1990’s, and Pretty in Kink is a beautiful new album and a major success for the Lords of Acid. Praga’s ideas have evolved to include influences from UK house music, maybe the most vibrant overall electronic scene of the moment, and his new singer, Marieke, has a velvety deeper voice with rich emotion to convey his ideas about desire. He uses it to open up new possibilities, and she is truly a gem for the band.
Mea Fisher sang for Praga for about six years, and she was a major creative partner. I saw them on the 2017 tour with Devon Ann, aka Devon Disaster, as the backup singer with Mea, and the show was brilliant. Devon did a good job as a backup vocalist and paved the way for a new singer in some respects with the very stylized sounds her singing added to Lords of Acid songs. She is a really great talent who liked to take her performance in more of a cute direction with dance. Mea designed the show, because Praga was sick, and the lighting and blocking of the musicians was very beautiful and cinematic. Audiences think of the Lords of Acid as very sexed up, and they are sexy, but nothing on stage is very graphic. People only see 5% of what they think they see even if everyone in the venue enjoys the same weirdness, and the sounds are very psychedelic. It’s like taking a trip into wonderland with Praga’s keyboards and desire being a conduit almost as though LSD floats through the club every time he presses on his magic keyboard.
After Mea left, Praga found his new singer in Marieke. She is a marvelous singer and performer and loves the Lords of Acid. Praga did a very nice thing by finding someone talented who loves music and could benefit from singing for the band while having a great deal to contribute. Her deeper vocals give him so much new to work with, and she’s very intelligent and able to see the performance and art side of what the band is doing without getting buried under the sensual ideas of the songs. The different sounds the two singers create are clearly major influences for the choices Praga makes in composing the music. He has a very good ear for how all of his sounds blend together, and the vocalists are partly shaping his tracks through their styles and emotive capabilities. Marieke loves heavy metal and especially symphonic metal, and this is a great influence on the band’s industrial direction. She is also able to find a great deal of drama in the songs, both in her vocal choices and in her stage performance.
Pretty in Kink
The new album is a treasure for industrial music. Lords of Acid have always had strong influences from techno, and Praga has a great way of working in electronic sounds across different club scenes. It’s one of the best things about his music. Industrial is very creative and a fun place to hang out in, but it can be such a tight subgenere that there is a risk of being repetitive. Some of the best musicians listen to and work in sounds that their audience is often not listening to, and Praga Khan does this exceptionally well. House music is a very thriving scene in Europe at the moment, and Praga working from Belgium knows clubs incredibly well. He is able to bring some of the best of those sounds and influences and shape them into new industrial sounds with grinding beats and acid electronics with industrial guitar that shreds the nervous systems of his audience into psychedelic sexual bliss.
The songs on Pretty in Kink cover the range of desire and decadence that Praga loves to explore, but it’s a very mature work and has a bit more perspective that seems to look out over everything the Lords of Acid have done. Praga is so good at composing his songs at this point that he feels even more free to experiment, because he knows how to make sure the songs are catchy and danceable and how to keep his audience with him. As such a master of that, there is really nothing to contain the experimentation that he likes to work with and layer in. It’s my personal favorite album from the Lords of Acid yet, and I especially enjoy hearing it against their start on Lust. The Pretty in Kink Tour was set up well for that kind of appreciation, because Praga is performing the new songs against the classics and skipping his work with Mea, because it got a good presentation so recently with a big 2017 tour where she was herself the main planner. The current tour is a great way to see where the band came from and where they are going now and a very good way to introduce Marieke as the new singer. The most fair way to let her develop is to have her sing the classics next to her own songs, and it’s great to see how much of an amazing mentor Praga is for her.
The album she sings on is remarkable. It uses her deeper vocals to accompany beautiful bass lines and drums, and it sounds like it draws on some of the best house sounds around. Praga is very original and has been developing acid house style sounds for a long time. So it’s not really fair to say he is borrowing those sounds, but the album definitely is very informed by current club sounds. The keyboards often play lower notes to go alongside Marieke, and she loves to perform enough that she can place a lot of emotion into some of Praga’s strangest ideas. Every Lords of Acid song reflects desire, but Marieke sounds serious and wonderful about it where the other singers seem a bit more ironic. She has the irony too, but it’s with continually beautiful expression of the intent behind the songs. There isn’t a weak song on the album, and it recalls the Lust album for being completely positive about kink. Everything on the album is psychedelic fun about connection, love, oddness, clubbing, and thinking differently. Every Lords of Acid album is unique and continues the revelations of techno acid house sounds, but in the middle it seemed like Praga was acknowledging some controversy on his albums, where now he is full on with everything the Lords stand for being positive.
Break Me opens Pretty in Kink with a song about being taken sexually as an openness of personal breakdown in a good way of getting outside your normal self. It makes the album start like a battle cry from Praga with the soulful metal style vocals from Marieke offering a beautiful new attack. She sings, “Aching for your love, and my body’s going crazy,” as electronic bass lines vibrate their way into your head past any doubts. Ma Fille de Joie uses a pretty French expression that really is about prostitution to talk about desire, fulfillment, and having another person. In some ways, it’s similar to the Lords of Acid’s joke about their rubber sex doll, because prostitution doesn’t create a good method of connecting in any psychologically deep sense, but it does show desire. Sex Cam Girl continues that critique of desire and fulfillment with a song about the trend of people working in sex jobs on the internet. It’s a great song with wonderfully catchy and clever lines like, “You’re here to you stay, time to obey,” and I’m glad someone made such a good song about this, because there might be fewer sex cam workers if people were actually paid to go to work at normal jobs. It seems that employment in sex work has progressively grown as average wages across the West have become dilapidated more and more while politicians and billionaires steal things. The real point of both songs though is the ubiquitousness of desire and the common sense in which everyone is made of collections of desires with society reflecting that through different roles people play or things they want. Part of the band’s psychedelia happens from that being such a strong part within the mind of every human being everywhere.
Flow Juice is a song about chilling out and fucking and combining fluids, and it’s a great song to dance to in clubs. Praga’s continual sense of humor comes up as this flows into the next song, Like Pablo Escobar, which is really about the misuse of an excess of desire. It’s one of the album’s best songs, and it takes a more critical perspective of the sense in which desire can become an out of control thing that is destructive and superficial if it’s used the wrong way. I appreciate the range the songs show about how much desire is capable of. At the end of the day, desire just fundamentally is as a deep part of every person, but it can lead to good or bad things depending on how people handle it: desire pretty much makes all of us. Pablo Escobar went a little too far and wanted too much. So Praga is in full on ironic mode here and is not recommending that kind of life, though it’s fine to fantasize about having everything someone could want. He would prefer just BDSM and club sounds with some trippy acid helping people move. It’s one of the most fun songs for Marieke to sing, and she gets into the dramatic side of the person portrayed in the song very easily.
Before the Night Is Over is a setup for a sexual encounter, and like most Lords of Acid songs can actually have multiple meanings and isn’t quite as simple as it seems. It’s a great song to serve as a fun backdrop in a club where people are connecting, but it’s also one of Praga’s looks at intense desire taking over in building a connection, much like the classic You Belong to Me that Marieke has been singing so beautifully live. Androgyny slows things down into a psychedelic haze of slower electronic club sounds in which someone could be male or female and slides between gender, because in Praga’s songs, desire is the only thing that’s real at the end of the day. People can make themselves into what they want, and we take on different roles for others and become things for someone else to give satisfaction to the other person. Praga loved to see someone tied up in BDSM gear dancing on stage as a pony while he played the keyboard, and one of the most interesting parts of the show was seeing him laugh to that as one of the trippiest things on the stage. Sometimes it really does seem like he took so much LSD that his keyboard made strange things just appear all around the venue, and it’s a definitive part of the band’s classic fun and importance to clubs around the world that they might have taken so much acid that now they have a sex doll and keep trying to be more kinky. It’s also a joke, and everyone in the Lords of Acid is vey tongue in cheek about what they do, as the funny sex doll used dramatically in performances exemplifies.
Goldfinger pays an homage to the influential Shirley Bassey song from the classic film with Sean Connery by having Marieke begin the song by slowly singing about her strong desires to be taken with lines like, “Give me your loving. I’m drenched with desire,” but then the song transitions to a fast dance beat with a male saying a very odd lyric over and over again on a sample. It starts beautiful but becomes strange in its intermissions, and I see it as another example of the far out humor that Praga Khan is capable of, and of course his fascination with how wide ranging desire is. The Lords of Acid have some of the best humor in rock, and everyone who plays in the band finds remarkable fun in the oddness of the entire project. Part of its acid house perspective is that there isn’t much of a gap between what is funny and what is serious, because everything is psychological, and all is absurd. The song transitions back and forth between the beauty of Marieke’s singing and the absurd lyric of the male, and ends with unfulfilled desire as Marieke closes the song with her beautiful singing about needing love. What the Fuck then celebrates sex with hop hop influences, which is always an important thread in the background of house music, and Praga’s use of it is very in the style of trip hop gone industrial with a grinding guitar. So Goddamn Good is about sex as a deep connection, and Marieke’s deep vocal range is beautiful here as Praga layers her vocal tracks closely against the bass. So it’s velvety enough that the guitar riffs seem to glide right along the edges of her singing. My Demons Are Inside then takes on desire as something that drives a person so much that they have no hope, and We Are the Freaks closes out the album as a celebration of being different. It’s a remarkable journey altogether and an easy album to listen to all day on loop.
Praga’s ideas are very much at the cutting edge of art and intellectual life. He is deeply steeped in clubbing, and the Lords of Acid are one of the most fun and strange club bands in the world, but the ideas in their songs also have powerful ties to major artistic trends. The study of desire has been an enormous project throughout the arts and is well supported by trends in European philosophy and psychology to understand human selfhood as a collection of desires with interesting mysteries attached to them. Some of those desires are mysterious and just there, either with no origin or an origin that is unknown to us. The influential psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan explored this in language and points to language as a thing shared by society. So we can’t penetrate underneath our own desires, yet they always tie us to other people around us. The philosopher and cultural theorist Gilles Deleuze used desire to examine production. He crossed Freud with Marx in his influential book Anti-Oedipus to show that desires can be shaped by mechanisms around us and things done to our bodies. BDSM and fetishism basically use this by experimenting and creating new ways to experience pleasure, and Lords of Acid have created a musical version of those experiments.
The Pretty in Kink Tour is a huge success, and Praga on stage was a delight. He seems to have landed from Mars while he plays his keyboard, and it seems as though the sounds from the keys are melting the room into some strange movable place where things are too magical to stay stable, like Alice in Wonderland come to life with club lights, whips, and guitar parts. Sin Quirin was a powerful performer to see again after seeing him play with the great and iconic Ministry at the end of 2017. Joe Haze was also a delight when he played with the Lords of Acid on their 2017 tour, and I enjoy seeing the different guitar styles through the changeover while the rhythm section has stayed the same with Dietrich Thrall and Galen Waling. Joe is also a good remixer, and his sounds had nice modulation and classic style riffing while Sin is more of a shredder but with a wide range and nice subtlety. It makes having Sin playing on the tour a nice complement to Marieke’s wonderful singing, because she has a passion for metal, which Ministry gets a lot of influence from. The use of props, dancers, and lighting was an impressive display throughout the Lords’ set.
There was much more humor with the blow up doll than on Mea’s tour, because the songs set up more context for the evil doll, which made it hilarious, and other dancers performed in the background while Marieke ruled the stage as the sole singer except for Praga contributing some background vocals. Praga is able to put together some of the most amazing complete tours with a large number of very good opening bands. This time the venerable Genitorturers were included, and the tour before this had Combichrist. These are among my favorite bands, but the other supporting acts are also strong. The Pretty in Kink tour also has the up and coming Gabriel and the Apocalypse, gothic industrial classic Orgy, and the creative burlesque performers Little Miss Nasty. The 2017 tour also included the important and memorable Night Club, the experimental Wiccid, club icon En Esch, and death rock classic Christian Death. So Praga has managed to surround his strange sounds with some of the most solid views of the gothic and industrial scene as a whole.
Everyone in the band was incredibly friendly, and I especially enjoyed Praga and Sin for their warm friendliness. Praga stood out as very intelligent and kind, while Sin had a strong warmth and togetherness for both the appreciation of the Lords of Acid and also for his other great band, Ministry. Dietrich was good silly fun during the meet and greet and added a lot of humor, and Galen seemed like a nice person who is immersed into different musical places even though he also played drums on the last tour, which made me appreciate how Praga develops people. It’s one of the most original, fun, and intelligent bands around, and whether it’s just fun or has deeper meanings will have a lot to do with how much people explore the ideas in the songs, but in reality both things are happening at once, and that is how desire works.