The day that Maurice Engelen — better known as Lords of Acid's Praga Khan — answers the phone in his home country of Belgium, the Low Country kingdom has marked more than eight months without a centralized government.
"We seem to be very proud of it. It's working, and nobody is complaining," he says, his accent thick and guttural.
Unorthodox political policies are commonplace in Western Europe. Unorthodox musical tastes, according to Engelen, are not. "In America, people are so much more open-minded. In Europe, when you are a dance band, you are a dance band, and when you are a rock band, you are a rock band," he says.
That's why Engelen's band, the post-industrial, acid-house outfit Lords of Acid, blew up in Asia and the United States long before it had any success in Europe.
"Over here, in the early and mid-'90s, our music didn't get played in clubs because there were guitars in it. And we couldn't get into festivals because we had dance beats."
Lords of Acid's first single, "I Sit on Acid," exploded in clubs across America in 1988. (That same year, Rick Astley and Whitney Houston were Billboard toppers.) The song, easily recognized by its dreamy a cappella intro of a woman's voice cooing, Darling, come here/Fuck me up the ... , was a groundbreaking hit.
"There were a lot of exports to America, but I didn't know where the records were going. I was like, 'Oh, my God, every month, 300 vinyls are being pressed, over and over again.' And then we found out they were all being exported to the United States," he recalls.
In 1991, Engelen hit up Caroline Records, a progressive imprint distributed by Virgin. Lust was soon released and almost immediately sold 200,000 copies. Ripe with sexually charged subject matter that's given tongue-in-cheek readings, the debut includes "Spacy Bitch" (which takes on extraterrestrial intercourse), "Rough Sex" (S&M, of course) and "I Must Increase My Bust" (addressing the imperative of large breasts). "The Most Wonderful Girl," an ode to masturbation, found a home in Sliver, the 1993 thriller with Sharon Stone and William Baldwin.
In 1994, VooDoo-U arrived on Rick Rubin's American Recordings label. Where Lust had featured techno beats, VooDoo-U glowed with industrial scuzz. Bridging the albums: those playful, dirty innuendos. The cover art featured naked, neon-orange devils engaged in a lesbian orgy.
Though Engelen's home continent wasn't keen on Lords of Acid's kitsch, the group's campy attack didn't keep it from capturing the grimy dance-club underground. "There are a lot of bands that have one sound, and then they copy it over and over again," Engelen says. Not Lords of Acid. "It's always a risk that we take," he says.
It's true. After Lust and VooDoo-U, the band continued to shock and dazzle. Our Little Secret (1997) produced the sleazy stripper anthems "Pussy" and "Spank My Booty," and Farstucker (2000) used more live instrumentation and heavy guitars.
"Almost 20 years later, bands use some of the same sounds that we used in '92, '93," Engelen says of the glitschy sound he helped pioneer. "When you listen to Ke$ha or Lady Gaga, a lot of the sounds they are using were the same as the ones we had."
No one can duplicate what Lords of Acid does onstage, though. Projections, props and blinding lights add up to a sordid spectacle that's half rock show and half cabaret. The band is careful with its naughtiness, though; it doesn't want to limit itself to an adults-only crowd, so its antics are more R-rated than XXX. Besides, Lords of Acid's fans usually make their own explicit sideshows. "When there's something happening onstage, it comes from the audience, like people jumping onstage and taking off their clothes," Engelen says.
In a couple of months, Lords of Acid is scheduled to complete its first original, full-length album in more than 10 years. Some of the new material is already in the group's set list.
"I always want to go out on tour just before I finish an album," he says. "There's a lot of inspiration that comes out when you are onstage, and you meet a lot of people, get put in a lot of different situations, and it inspires you."
Engelen is also promoting his latest venture, SonicAngel. It's an online music platform developed for launching new talent in the vein of Kickstarter and feedthemuse.net. He launched it March 1 in Los Angeles, with the help of business partner and European-Internet entrepreneur Bart Becks. With help from Hewlett-Packard, AB-InBev and Sony Ericsson, SonicAngel hopes to use crowd funding and corporate sponsorships to boost music by freeing artists of the financial constraints of the creative process.
"Nowadays, major companies don't invest in new talent," Engelen says.
It's an act of goodwill from a frontman who has weathered the fickle desires of the music industry for nearly 25 years. But good intentions and an extended tenure in the spotlight don't necessarily deliver all the answers — or make one entirely respectable. Engelen may be an elder on the scene, but, he says, "I'm not a grandfather yet."