Welcome back to Underground Chat Sessions brought to you by BFLY Magazine. Our next guest has been an integral part of the U.S. underground rave culture. Ken Lawrence is the person who introduced me and undoubtedly thousands of ravers to Deejays such as R.A.W., Thee-O, Efex, Tron, Nigel Richards, Thomas Michael, Kage, Delta 9, CRS?, Trance and so many others through his mixtape catalog and through his Pure Acid Mixtapes booth at several of the early raves where I was so fortunate to be in attendance.
Ken Lawrence kept us ravers laced up with the latest and greatest electronic music mixtapes. This helped usher in electronic mixtape culture and introduced many young ravers to great Deejays that we may have otherwise never of heard. Luckily I was able to find him early on. I supported Pure Acid throughout the beginning and I am excited to know the whole thing is starting up again! Having the opportunity to chat with Ken of Pure Acid Mixtapes was a real treat for me. Now let’s get into it, shall we?
Ken Lawrence: Howdy Selekta See.
See: Hey Ken!
Ken Lawrence: : Seems we already know each other
See: Yep. Been a long time supporter of Pure Acid Mixtapes!
Ken Lawrence: Awesome thank you for that.
See: Thank you for giving us Pure Acid Mixtapes to support!
Ken Lawrence: Of course. It’s been fun to be a part of.
See: We’re doing chat sessions with MC’s, Deejays and folks that are involved involved in the underground electronic music world! We want to bring to light some of the incredible people from the underground.
You have been an integral part of the Los Angeles underground and beyond just L.A. with the advent of the interwebs. I believe that “music is meant to be heard and art is meant to be seen.” You definitely helped a lot of ravers hear loads of timeless mixes and see all those cool psychedelic j-cards a.k.a. cover art.
Given the role you have taken throughout the years with getting Deejays more widely known through the Pure Acid platforms your story is an essential part of these underground chat sessions!
Ken Lawrence: Sounds good I’m ready to help.
See: Apparently you’ve been helping since pretty much the beginning! As a fan of Pure Acid Mixtapes I am excited to get deeper into this chat.
Ken Lawrence: OK!
See: We are all excited to hear your story! Please share with us how this whole journey in music began for you? Age, location anything you can remember.
Ken Lawrence: OK, here goes.
Ken Lawrence: I was 22 back in 1992 when I first discovered the rave scene in Los Angeles, having had a background as a college radio DJ at Chapman University, where I played tons of new wave, up & coming alternative music, and industrial.
See: You spin too!?
Ken Lawrence: I tried, but never got the hang of beatmatching. I was DJ “Ken the Cub” and my show was called “The Dark Castle”. It was a late nite show. I was getting exposed to weird acid house and electronic, and the new sound of techno that was starting to become a thing back then.
I had a music buddy I would see once a week, and we would take turns impressing each other with our new music finds from that week. Stuff we would find at Tower Records and independent music shops. We were really getting into psychedelic electronic music.
One day he brought over a flyer for a party called “Shiva’s Erotic Banquet” – this was in April ’92. Psychic TV was on the bill, who we were already fans of. It seemed like a really tripped out event, so we decided to check it out.
That night was the most life changing important night of my life.
See: Please explain!
Ken Lawrence: We wandered around that building for 12 hours, taking in this alien scene.
We had no idea that this had been going on under our noses for a couple years already. It was a revelation. This was where we were meant to be.
See: Totally feel you. I can definitely relate especially in the beginning. There was a sense of belonging and it was okay to be a misfit because somehow we all fit together.
Ken Lawrence: The crazy electronic music, the people in weird getups, the Shredder Wall Of Bass…
See: The mighty Shredder! I remember that wall of speakers it blew my mind the first time I saw and heard that thing dropping bass bombs!
Ken Lawrence: I had never seen anything like that. We left that party changed forever.
I wanted more. More of the music, more of the sights, more of that vibe. I was still in college so I didn’t have time to go out every weekend, but I was collecting techno CDs whenever I could, and played it all on my little radio show. I still have a couple hundred cassettes of recordings of it.
Mars-FM was also on the air at that point too, and I wanted my radio show to be just like the late nite shows they had on there.
This was all so new and fresh. It was exciting to watch it all happen, right down to the cool flyers you’d see everywhere on Melrose.
See: Yes! Mars was really cool! Around the same time Power Tools was playing the harder stuff before they restructured the show and went full on commercial.
Melrose was a very important part of the early L.A. underground. My friends and I use to shop boutiques at Melrose for records, shoes, leather bracelets and cool t-shirts and hoodies. That is how we stumbled upon some of our first flyers too.
Please go on.
Ken Lawrence: I finally graduated in 1993 and was doing odd film editing jobs, usually for no money. I enjoyed it, but I was so preoccupied with what was happening in the Los Angeles underground.
I went to a few more parties, and wound up at Koolaid’s New Years Eve party 1993/’94. I loved the hell out of that party. It was where I first heard really hard techno from Ron D Core.
A row of ravers, headbanging to breakneck speedy techno. That was another first for me. It was somehow so wrong that it was perfectly right, if that makes sense.
See: Makes perfect sense to me! Ron D Core, I use to follow him around as well. I almost had a speaker land on my head at Hard 2 The Core during his set. I do have great memories of headbanging on the front lines.
Ken Lawrence: So I’m wandering around that party, and I see a few vendor booths lined up at the wall, selling day-glo trinkets and necklaces and laser glasses.
I used to hand paint t-shirts, and I thought “hey I could make some really trippy shirts and sell them at raves”!
See: This is great stuff Ken. You are so thorough. Great at painting a picture for us!
Ken Lawrence: Another thing that happened that night, was meeting Pasquale Rotella from Insomniac. I must have looked right to him that night, because he singled me out for a flyer for his new Friday weekly. I also signed up on his address and phone list.
See: My buddy Paul was the one that knew where all the parties were at. I saw the legendary Pasquale at some Wilmington warehouses back in the 90’s. I never really got a chance to talk with him but I did/ do love and support his events.
Ken Lawrence: He actually called me (he used to call up everyone on his list) and invited me to come to Insomniac.
So I decided to go one night, by myself. It was a cool little party, a few hundred people, and the vibe was thick as hell. Awesome techno was going on.
Back to my vending idea… I decided to have a go at that a couple weeks later at Insomniac. I had a table of hand painted shirts that said “PURE ACID”, and some toys I found at the dollar store that I spray painted fluorescent colors. It didn’t go very well. I didn’t sell a thing. But I still had fun and Pasquale encouraged me to come back.
I brought my little table back, and that night a DJ stopped by my booth and asked me if I would be willing to sell his mixtapes for him. It was DJ Trance, also known as Jason Blakemore.
I was like “tapes? Uhh I dunno about this.”
He had to talk me into it, and gave me copies of “Live at Insomniac”, “Funky Ass Hardcore Part 2”, and “I’m On Planet E”. We’d split the profits 50/50.
I pretty much sold all of them that night. I did keep a copy of “I’m On Planet E” for myself, which I listened to on the drive home.
That tape was amazing and perfect for the morning after rave. I became an instant fan of mixtapes (and who wouldn’t be with a tape like that).
After that, I decided it was my mission to talk to every DJ at every party and see if they would be willing to sell me their tapes. Of course they didn’t want to hassle with selling tapes themselves, so they were all into it.
The situation became like, people were asking me “DO you have that tape by DJ such & such?” , and by the next week I had it for them, if I was able to track down that DJ.
I went from a half a dozen tapes to well over 100 by the end of 1994.
That’s how Pure Acid Mixtapes started.
See: That’s how it all started! Thanks for sharing Ken that is one epic story!
I remember the paper catalog and then the website too. But I also bought tapes and other stuff at your booth. Like the orange Rave Vision glasses and t-shirts. My favorite t-shirt I got from you if I’m not mistaken was from that Circa 96 New Years party. It was a long sleeve and had robotic arms printed on both sleeves in silver and pink.
Ken Lawrence: Yeah eventually I had to make the catalog, because I had too many tapes to keep track of. And not everyone could make it to the parties to buy tapes all the time. The catalog happened in late 1994.
The mail order catalog went really well from the start. I tried to pepper it with funny tape descriptions, and silly pictures. I just found an old catalog from 1995 that had a raver crossword puzzle I made.
See: Dude, your mixtape descriptions are legendary! Yeah I saw that crossword puzzle on the “I Love Mixtapes” Facebook page.
Ken Lawrence: Haha, yeah I think I felt the need to stand out, and to make the catalogs fun to read.
See: “Efexian Hard Trance” was one of my faves. I bought nearly every tape Efex put out. I followed him from hardcore to hard trance and I loved it.
Ken Lawrence: Oh man, the mixtapes that were coming out at that time, from Efex, Ron, Trance & R.A.W., Tron, they were all so weird and wonderful. This music was all so new and it was getting NO airplay anywhere.
It seemed cool that you had to go to a rave to get a mixtape with music like that, or find one of my catalogs.
See: Yes. Tell me about it R.A.W. made a metallic green mixtape that forever changed my life. He and Trance did have some really timeless mixes.
I had heard Sven Vath before I heard R.A.W. and I really liked Sven’s music but when I heard Gabber for the first time my jaw dropped and I couldn’t believe my ears. I remember thinking “what the f@&% is this?” I wanted more of that and I wanted to make tapes one day too.
You know that you helped create the electronic mixtape culture Ken? Without Pure Acid Mixtapes I don’t know how I would have ever come across some of the tapes I had in my collection.
Ken Lawrence: Well there were a lot of people moving things forward too. Especially Ron D Core. His tapes inspired me the most, with the psychedelic artwork, barely legible writing that looked more like alien heiroglyphics, and subversive pornographic covers.
See: That’s true Ron sold awesome mixed tapes at his shoppe too. I did some shopping there in the early years for vinyl. I remember buying event tickets and buying mixtapes at the shoppe as well.
Ken Lawrence: His tapes were like secret treasure boxes. I wanted all mixtapes to be like that. So that’s an aesthetic I tried to achieve when I started buying master DAT recordings from DJs and started releasing mixtapes myself. Since raves back then also had a lot of young computer geek types, everyone kept telling me to get my stuff on the “Internet”, whatever that was.
So in 1996, I finally had my first website. It’s crazy to think that was 22 years ago.
See: Yeah over two decades! I was so young and in love with the underground especially Jungle, Hardcore and Hard Trance!
A lot of the music that was coming out in those days was psychedelic I think about acid house and techno with that TB-303 synth sound. The art and props at events were also psychedelic. It’s almost like these underground events were aimed at enhancing the psychedelic experience. I loved it I remember being at raves frying on 2 black pyramids with gold flakes and thinking “wow, I love this so much!” Some of my fondest memories are from raves.
I experimented with psychedelics a bit in the early years. It was such a huge surprise for me to find out that all of these substances are currently being researched for their psychotherapeutic properties. It seems we were just expanding our consciousness and self medicating. The music along with psychedelics were transporting us to other worlds. I was really in love with the whole experience it was a sight to behold.
Ken Lawrence: It was hard not to be. It was this whole other world where everything was new. Well I did choose to be called “Pure Acid” anyways, lol.
See: Well to be honest the name, “Pure Acid” totally called out to my friends and I especially at that time. Some of my most profound experiences were at raves. I’m curious how it began for you?
Ken Lawrence: I was turned on to psychedelics at that first rave “Shiva’s Erotic Banquet”, and it’s part of why nothing was ever the same in my life from that night forward.
I was kind of the mind “Psychedelics are a vital key to this scene and understanding the music, so let’s bring that forward.”
I thought “Pure Acid” sounded weird and subversive enough to somehow be cool.
I also had seen it on a Psychic TV shirt.
That’s really where the name came from.
See: Very cool!
Ken Lawrence: I liked how Psychic TV celebrated psychedelia, so I thought I should too.
Funny enough, I was never able to partake in anything like that when I had my booth – it would have just been too nuts for me to keep it together.
Other than a little weed, I was a good boy at all the parties. What was pretty wild was dealing with everyone ELSE there who were clearly tripping their brains out, and couldn’t figure out what kind of mixtape they wanted to come down to.
See: Yeah…I stumbled by a few times! My brain going faster than my mouth probably so just point and give money seems to have worked!
Ken Lawrence: Haha, yes. I tried to make it as easy on them as possible. Flouresent labels and blacklights seemed to do the trick.
See: My friends and I took psychedelics in what we called party doses most of the time. It was the perfect loving environment for such things. I hugged anyone I bumped into. With a big happy face and PLUR but mostly just danced the night away. We always had mixedtapes for the ride home and the afterglow.
Ken Lawrence: I mean, I existed so tripping people had something to do or listen to, so I wasn’t anti-drug by any means.
See: I think about how it is socially acceptable to stumble around drunk on alcohol. There’s not much of a difference physically. I mean you stumble around on both substances. The major difference between psychedelics and alcohol is the experience. In the end I always felt like we are all just a big family of like minded individuals. Well actually there are a lot of differences between the two. It would seem psychedelics have lots of medicinal and psycho-therapeutic properties but alcohol not so much.
It wouldn’t be the same with out the psychedelics. People have profound, life changing experiences at these events. I’ve had great times buzzed on alcohol too but I preferred the really deep meaningful experiences that I had on psychedelics.
Raves are kind of like a new version of tribal initiation. I think of the powwows that I’ve been to. The main thing is the hypnotic driving drums, beautiful oftentimes elaborate costumes, alcohol and food. Raves are similar to indigenous powwow’s in many ways.
Ken Lawrence: Yes, very true. Most of us who spent time in the scene had that one special night where it all clicked. These days I’m more likely to have a beer or two when I’m out listening to house DJs, but I still get that rush.
See: The music is the ultimate drug so I wholeheartedly agree. I mostly vape cannabis nowadays but the music has and always will be the rush I’m looking for.
Its been well over 2 decades since the birth of Pure Acid. I know there was a period where I couldn’t find you online. But now I just recently bought a CD and T-shirt from a new Pure Acid website? What’s going on now?
Ken Lawrence: I went through a period where I didn’t think the website was necessary anymore, because it wasn’t hard to find electronic music at all , it had reached the bigtime. And I got busy with other work and going back to school.
But these past couple of years, being reunited with all the Insomniac OGs has been eye opening.
See: I LVE that you are making a comeback.
Ken Lawrence: I love the Insomniac OGs with all my heart. Not only did they support me from the very beginning and helped me to have the wildest 1990s that anyone could imagine, they are all so nice to me today.
See:Please tell us what’s going on now! Whats happening at Pure Acid? The future of Pure Acid?!
Ken Lawrence: With some encouragement I decided to do a reprint of the original 1995 “Pure Acid” shirt, which sold several dozen very quickly. It was just like old times, feeling that rush that people like what you’re doing.
That encouraged me to take it further and work on a new PureAcid.com.
See: We love what you did back then and what you’re doing now. I’m happy to know you are back. I will definitely be looking for mixed tapes, CD’s or digital downloads.
Ken Lawrence: That just blows my mind. It all started as a total accident.
See: We missed you Ken. I looked for you online when I wanted to buy mixes. I stopped raving for a several years. Too busy with work and all the adult stuff. I’m glad to see things are starting up again for you.
Ken Lawrence: Thanks! It’s been pretty wild and I spent about a month working on the new site, this time doing it all myself.
Yeah I did as well, only a few nights clubbing a year. I have stepped it up a lot more lately and made my return to EDC and Nocturnal Wonderland and such.
There’s a lot I want to do with it apart from offering classic old mixtapes, if it gets enough support.
See: You inspired me to take graphic design. Just to learn how to make tape/ CD covers. Once I learned that I took off and started working to buy music equipment.
Ken Lawrence: That’s incredible, I love hearing things like that. And just earlier someone else told me I helped inspire them to learn how to produce electronic music.
See:Yeah, I wanted to get on your catalog back then. Maybe theres hope for me yet!
Ken Lawrence: I don’t like to toot my own horn for things like that since it was mostly my mission to make it readily avalable for people, but it’s always nice to hear.
There is always hope for that and want to make that easier for people now too.
See: Toot away my friend. I’ll say you changed a lot of lives with what you do. Very excited to hear this!
Ken Lawrence: The best music and mixes come from the craziest and sometimes unlikeliest places.
See: Yes! Totally agree.
Ken Lawrence: I’m just super grateful to have been in the right place and the right time when everything happened in Los Angeles. And to have received the support that I did from ravers who bought tapes, to promoters who welcomed the Pure Acid booth at their parties, is something I’ll never forget.
Oh and all the DJs who sold me their tapes, too!
I honestly think I know something of what it must have felt like to have been at that 1976 Sex Pistols show in Manchester, the one where every one of the 26 people who went to that show were inspired to become famous musicians.
See: That is pretty trippy.
Ken Lawrence: We had similar moments like that in the dirty abandoned Los Angeles warehouses back then.
See: Didn’t know you in a personal way but I was there dancing and expanding my consciousness along with you guys.
Ken Lawrence: I was dancing my feet off all the time, behind my booth
See:I know it! Its been amazing reliving all these memories with you!
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me.
Ken Lawrence: Same here. Every time I get to talking about those years I remember old buried memories. It inspires me to make the new PureAcid.com into something better. There’s a lot I’d like to do with it, like mixtape artwork galleries, a hub for free streaming mixes, galleries of Los Angeles’s rave beginnings…
See: Yes please!
Ken Lawrence: Oh and did I mention PUREACID.COM is back? Because it is! And you can find it at PUREACID.COM
See: Awesome! So glad to know you’re back.
Ken Lawrence: It’s great to be back! Thanks for the fun chat.
See: Likewise! “See you at the bassbins”? (Quoted from the Pure Acid catalog.)
Thank you sir.