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Northern Powerhouse: An Interview With Acid Klaus
Jim Ottewill , October 31st, 2022 10:00

'K-Y jelly, jump leads, viagra and a double espresso martini for breakfast' - Adrian Flanagan talks his debut Acid Klaus album and over 20 years of precarious DIY musicianship

Photos courtesy of Adrian Flanagan

“I think at the heart of everything I do is some kind of mental illness, a reaction and response to the traumas I’ve endured throughout my life as a human being… of sorts.”

Adrian Flanagan, musical man of mystery, Sheffield-based synth wrangler, prolific artist and producer of a plethora of wobbly pop personas is reflecting on what keeps pushing him forward. It’s never been the easiest of rides; the debut live show for his new project Acid Klaus was upended by an exploding car wheel en route to the gig. Then, the stage where they were supposed to play subsequently collapsed. A past car accident almost killed Flanagan, leaving him with badly broken bones. Despite such ongoing adversity, however, his discography is long, and sticky with an array of leftfield projects that have billowed forth from the wires of his mind and machines over the last 20 years.

From lo-fi soloing as Kings Have Long Arms to the rock and roll excess of the Lias Saoudi-fronted Moonlandingz and his latest synth-based adventures as Acid Klaus, he’s progressed via determination, and love for a collaboration alongside a wry, dry wit, all underneath a bucket hat and behind a pair of shades. His debut Acid Klaus album, titled Step On My Travelator: The Imagined Career Trajectory of Superstar DJ & Dance-Pop Producer, Melvin Harris, upends the world of the superstar DJ, a universe some steps removed from his own musical life in adopted home of Sheffield.

“I’m always about £50 away from adverse poverty,” he laughs. “There’s no bigger inspiration than chasing your own arsehole up and down the ladder of a so-called career in music! I never go back. I always go forward, with maybe the odd foxtrot to the side.”

It’s on the fringes of what he calls “no-biz” where Flanagan’s synths and songs have been a mainstay, his artistic persona one of a perennial grumpy Northern bastard and writer of not-so niche hits that in a parallel world would lead to appearances on Top Of The Pops. Originally from Salford, he has lived in Sheffield for more than half his life as a sarcastic outsider and increasingly inventive creative. His pop infatuation burst alight with a love for Elvis when he was “knee-high”, before the likes of The Specials, Madness and Adam And The Ants cast their spells over him.

“My second ever gig was Adam And The Ants’ Prince Charming Revue show at the Manchester Apollo which was amazing for a child to see, he had a fucking full-sized Cutty Sark type-ship on stage with him,” Flanagan recalls. “From there I got into all the Manchester bands – The Fall, The Smiths, New Order. I was big into The Cramps too – I used to wag school with a mate and jump on a coach around the country watching them whenever they toured the UK. I once joked that I’d seen Lux Interior’s penis more than I’d seen my own. That’s still probably true and he’s been dead for 13 years.”

As Flanagan grew older, a love for electronica began to infect his tastes from the breakbeats of fellow Mancunian A Guy Called Gerald to the magic of the early Street Sounds Electro compilations in the mid-eighties. His love for uncovering fresh and prickly new sounds has continued unabated.

“Nowadays my music taste is pretty much ‘outernational’ and usually by artists whose names I can’t pronounce,” he states. “I think ultimately I’ve never stopped being a fan of music or new artists. I’m more of a music fan than a musicians’ musician that’s for sure. In fact, I normally take out legal proceedings if someone calls me a musician.”

Flanagan’s initial dabblings with his own music came thanks to his dad, who used to do up flats for estate agents once their tenants had moved out. On one job, his father found an old electric guitar which he gave to his then-teenage son. It proved to be the lighting of a blue touch paper of creative infatuation. “At that point you couldn’t get me out of my bedroom anyway as I was literally chained to my record and tape player,” he says. “I remember teaching myself basic guitar chords while holding the head of the guitar against a radiator as I didn’t have an amp and the radiator helped amplify the wood of the guitar.”

He began by learning other people’s songs, then started writing his own by plugging microphones and other instruments into his twin cassette player, then layering tracks on to cassette by swapping the tapes around. This DIY energy still sustains him to this day. “They were super lo-fi recordings but that’s probably where I got the bug. I pretty much have a tape archive of 30 odd years of me pissing about doing music and experimenting,” Flanagan laughs. “I should try do something with it – maybe burn the fucking lot, so no poor fucker has to go through it all looking for some non-existent lost gold when I’m dead.”

By his mid-teens, Flanagan started playing open mic nights in Manchester’s gay village under the name ‘Gay Village Security Firm’, then with other local outfits opening for the likes of The Fall. At one show, he inadvertently got on the wrong side of a local crime family. The gig ended in chaos and a fight after a local gangster was rude to a female singer Flanagan was performing with. After being beaten up by one of his assailants, then giving as good as he took, he ended up “hopping up the road with a hand and sock full of blood to hide in a bush, where I cried for half an hour”.

Flanagan upped sticks and moved to the Steel City 25 years ago and has called it home ever since, picking up the baton of electro pop heritage the city is known for. He professes a love for many of Sheffield’s electronic pioneers such as Cabaret Voltaire and the Human League, then the bleeps and bass of Warp Records and the sonic alchemy of sound system Forgemaster Rob Gordon. Adopted by the All Seeing I outfit when he arrived, these influences have all fed into the pop trail Flanagan blazed for himself and left an indelible stain down his front. Still, his own music sits slightly to the left of the machine funk narrative the city is known for.

“The good thing about Sheffield is it has and has always had a really healthy DIY scene and never panders to what’s trendy or happening in London,” he states. “I’ve a lot of respect for the kids just putting on their own nights, putting out their own records, creating their own venues out of nothing. I’ve a lot more in common with the DIY attitude after two decades-plus of doing this – and still every fucking day is a hustle.”

Flanagan’s early solo project Kings Have Long Arms first broke out of his bedroom in the early 2000s with the release of the Northern Electronic compilation and the success of Manchester’s Twisted Nerve label. A 2003 single with Phil Oakey, ‘Rock And Roll Is Dead’, saw him linked to a scene that included Twisted Nerve’s Mum And Dad, Add N To (X), and White Trash, with their abrasive ‘I Don’t Love You’. Many of these acts have since fallen apart, yet Flanagan endures. “What keeps me in it?” he asks aloud. “I don’t know, a mixture of extreme bloody mindedness, not having any children other than a small dog, and being stupid enough to think the next record is gonna be the one that affords me a mortgage and lifestyle fit for a legend. Alas, I’m still fucking waiting.”

He’s still friends with many of those early contemporaries with Ian Rainford of Mum And Dad now responsible for the eye-catching artwork of his debut Acid Klaus record. But Flanagan, perhaps with his tongue slightly in his cheek, is disparaging about how many of them have moved on so they can enjoy what he describes as “nice holidays and fancy restaurants like Toby Carvery”.

“Like all bands and musicians, they’re in it for a couple of months or years - then they realise committing to it properly is like giving yourself up to Satan herself and extreme poverty with zero security,” Flanagan says. “I get that most people just want an easy life - and that’s why they all end up accountants or working in banks. Pussies.”

Flanagan’s latest project Acid Klaus arose by accident during the pandemic. During the enforced isolation of lockdown he found solace in the old drum machines and synths in his home and music just started tumbling out. “I would whack bits of rough instrumentals and videos onto an anonymous Instagram page that I hilariously called ‘SHIZENHOUSEN MUSIC’ and a bunch of people seemed to like it,” he says. “I never really wanted to do just instrumental dance music, so I just started farming tracks out to people I knew whose work I liked and to a few new artists that I didn’t really know personally but who had a cool vibe.”

The experiments blossomed into what might be his most expansive and accomplished piece of work yet. Featuring Sink Ya Teeth’s Maria Uzor, Sheffield mainstay Richard Hawley, pop noir singer Hannah Hu and Cat Rin, a Welsh language singer songwriter, the tracks are draped over the story of the career trajectory of fictional DJ and dance producer, Melvin Harris, from his early years playing free festivals and having a crossover hit, to the drugs and eventual burnout.

It references the pandemic, too. “I thought it was interesting to comment on how actually fragile our so-called industry is,” Flanagan says. “It was a great period of self reflection for a lot of people, certainly for me, but I know many a gentle person who just bought themselves a big bag of amphetamines and stayed up for weeks on end watching YouTube whilst speed wanking. The thing I did find quite hilarious was watching these big name DJs and musicians performing on Instagram from their kitchens or living rooms with their shirts open. High on life, low on gack. So yeah, Melvin is very much me in that respect.”

It is not his first excursion into conceptual writing. From 1612 Underture with the Eccentronic Research Council exploring the mistreatment of the Pendle witches to the kitchen disco of the International Teachers Of Pop, recent years have been a creative roll. With the Acid Klaus album due to land in November, he’s hoping to hit the road for a select series of live dates. Uzor from Sink Ya Teeth will be singing alongside Philly Smith and DIMITRI on live electronic percussion. At the same time, Flanagan is considering slowing down his musical output and even relocating from Sheffield. “I’m not really wanting to tour the record hard as my health isn’t all that great, 947 years at the shit end of the industry will do that to you,” he states. “I need to look after myself a bit more rather than keep putting myself through this toxic miserable mind fuck of a bent industry.”

Flanagan is now hoping to fill his days with books, writing and more music away from “the endless distraction of mates dragging me to pubs and dealing with miserable admin”. Whatever happens, it’s likely to be full of synths, swearing and intrigue. “My semi-retirement will still be culturally richer and more dynamic than some spunky buck wannabe half my age,” he states. “I won’t be going to any Yoga retreats or meditation pools that’s for sure.”

Acid Klaus' Step On My Travelator: The Imagined Career Trajectory Of Superstar DJ & Dance Producer, Melvin Harris is released on 18 November via Zen F.C.

Acid Klaus performs three headline shows over the coming weeks. An album launch party on 18 November at Sheffield's Yellow Arch, 19 November at Manchester's Night & Day, and 21 November at The Lexington, London. Click here for full dates and tickets.