English electronic duo Paranoid London can only be described as the rock ’n’ roll specters of acid house. When they exploded in the underground in 2007, the British dance scene was deep in hauntology, a cultural moment when retro aesthetics in music and fashion were being recycled to imagine alternate time lines. One iteration of this was dubstep (not to be confused with the brostep of Skrillex and his ilk). In the early days of dubstep, artists paired low tones with emotive beats and sounds that evoked wistfulness and nostalgia: falling rain, video-game noises, disjointed breakbeats.
If dubstep is the best-known example of a 2000s dance-music genre referencing eras that never were, then Paranoid London might be the best example of a group doing the same thing. Their music seems to imagine an alternate history where acid house evolved not in Chicago in the 1980s but rather in the UK underground punk scene in the 2000s. On their early recordings, they combined the hallmark equipment of acid house—Roland TR-808 drum machines and TB-303 bass synths—with a DIY punk approach to recording that was cheap, sloppy, and utilitarian. Paired with sparse, monotone vocals that spoke to postmodern angst, the full-fisted rawness of their music landed fresh. Beginning in 2007, Paranoid London’s singles circulated within the European dance scene without support from social media or Soundcloud. Then they surprise-dropped their debut album, a self-titled digital-only release, in 2014. The duo didn’t have the name recognition of someone like, say, Beyonce (who started that “big musicians do surprise releases” trend in 2013), but Paranoid London electrified European nightlife. The duo’s sets often build slowly, fusing beats with spoken word in a way that feels blasé until it doesn’t, suddenly reaching a marvelous crescendo of excitement that gets the room pumping. Their Smart Bar appearance should be a bridge between Chicago’s acid-house past and what increasingly feels like its dystopian punk future.
Paranoid London, Justin Aulis Long, Sassmouth, Fri 6/3, 10 PM, Smartbar, 3730 N. Clark, $20, $15 in advance, $25 after midnight, 21+