Praga Khan of Lords of Acid on the role of sexuality in his songwriting and writing music for Mortal Kombat

In 1988, Belgian electronic artist Maurice Engelen released a song under the name Praga Khan called "Sit on Acid," and it became something of an international dance club hit. Ultimately that aesthetic and sound became what is now known as Lords of Acid. The unvarnished sexual themes of Lords of Acid songs are probably scandalous to more puritanical sensibilities, but Engelen and his collaborators over the years took a much more sensible approach to human sexuality in music and art than outright repression.

Over the course of the next two decades, Engelen has released an impressive amount of work both as a member of Lords of Acid and as a solo artist. It's been eight years since the last Lords of Acid release, but the band is touring as part of the Sextacy Ball tour (which stops by the Ogden Theatre this evening) with its old friends and fellow electro-sexual provocateurs, the always impressive live band, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult.

We had a chance to catch up with Praga Khan recently and discovered an unlikely Colorado connection. We also spoke with him about his early years of making music, his songwriting and the role of sexuality therein, as well as how he came to write the music for the video game Mortal Kombat.

Westword (Tom Murphy): How did you come to be called Praga Khan?

Praga Khan: It's a strange story. Back in the '80s, I was in a lot of projects, because I was very creative and I couldn't wait six months to bring out another effort. Praga Khan was one of those names and so was Lords of Acid. I probably had 25 projects. That "I Sit on Acid" record took off, and people asked me to tour, so I had to think of a name.

Ww: You've been involved in making electronic music since the '80s. Did you start there? How did you first start making that kind of music?

P: I had my own record label called Antler Subway, and we had a lot of electronic music on that label, and I was close friends with Front 242, who lived three miles from me. Daniel Bressanutti was like a guru for me; he introduced me to a lot of bands, so I got excited by a lot of that music, and I decided to do it myself.

Ww: This latest tour you're sharing with My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult. How did you meet them, and did you have any role in their getting back together after that break-up last year?

P: I always make music on an emotional basis. I cannot make it on command. I have to feel I'm ready to do it; so it took me eight years before I felt like I could do another Lords of Acid album. I had this new manager, who lives in Boulder, Colorado - Chris Kniker -- and I talked to him about doing a Lords of Acid tour last year, and he said I should do it now.

So by doing this tour, we're doing kind of a reunion tour with Thrill Kill Kult, and have a great time on stage, and have new adventures. Then we'll go to the studio, and do a new album. In late winter and early spring, we'll do a new tour. I think that's the perfect formula. When I meet younger people after the show and they know about Lords of Acid, they all tell us we took some sounds from Lady Gaga. But that stuff we got twenty years ago, so I'm 100 percent sure we didn't steal that from her, because she was a small child then.

We met Thrill Kill Kult when we did the first Sextasy Ball in 1995. It's the perfect combination as a bill, because they're the perfect band to warm up the audience, because they're so amazing, and I'm a fan of their music. They're crazy enough. On stage now with the new band, I'm having so much fun, because everyone is really excited to go on tour, and you can see that they really want to do it and rock.

Ww: Your shows are a real production. Was that something you did from the beginning and what have been your inspirations for how you present your music?

P: I'm very much a visual thinker, so when I write a song, I create a visual. That's why I always work with a project, because I think it goes well with the music. For this tour, we started doing the shows without projections, and it was really rough. But the energy on stage has been really exciting, and now that that we have a new foundation, I'll be adding the projections from the Salt Lake City show forward [including Denver]. Lords of Acid is about the total experience.

Ww: Your use of sexuality in your songs seems to me playfully cartoonish, so how do you feel about some of the negative attention you've received because of that?

P: The thing is that it's very hypocritical. If there's one thing in this world that everyone is doing, even priests, it's having sex. Everybody is interested in sex because that's our nature. So I don't see why we can't talk about it, or why we can't have a little fun with it. It's the most normal thing in the world. Not everyone is doing drugs or playing football or baseball -- we all have different hobbies -- but if there's one thing we're all very interested in, it's sex. I don't see a reason why I can't talk or sing about it.

As long as people have fun by having good sex and not harassing people or doing things like having sex with children or stuff like that, as long as it's adults knowing what they're doing, for me they can do whatever they want. But don't harass or abuse me. Having sex is having fun, and that's what it should be.

A lot of people came up to me years ago and said, "I'm gay, and I have a lot of problems, but listening to your records made me feel that I was not a criminal because I was gay. It helped me explore my sexuality." In a way it's also therapeutic. When it's fun, I really like it, but when it goes into perversion with children or stuff like that, I hate it. As long as it's done by adults, who am I to judge or throw the first stone?

Most of the time the people who have a problem with it are the worst of all. You see what's happening in the Catholic church? They're shouting from the rooftops about people being gay going to hell, and then the scandals come out the priests are molesting children -- that's the worst. It's not like I'm against the Catholic church -- because I am Catholic myself -- it's just that aspect of some people's hypocrisy is a bit much.

Ww: Why did you go for more of a rock sound with Farstucker?

P: I'm always looking for new challenges, and I try to make each album different. At the end of the day, it's still dance music, and if you use techno sounds or rock sounds... a lot of people think dance music is disco. But to me dance music is anything you can dance to. Salsa and Rhumba are dance music or whatever you can dance to.

I don't see why Iggy Pop's "The Passenger" isn't dance music or punk. I always try to experiment with styles, and I don't want to put myself in a position where I can't do this or that because I don't like restrictions. If I'm restricted, I can't be creative anymore. I do what I feel, and what I feel is what I do. That's why it always sounds new and innovative, because I try to keep up with the newest sounds.

I'm a music addict, and I listen to a lot of stuff going on. What makes Lords of Acid special is that there are no rules. We did a country song called "Don't Kill For Love," we did a reggae song, "Marijuana in Your Brain," we did drum and bass with "Voodoo-U." We can do whatever we want as long as there's Lords of Acid sauce over the top.

Ww: How did you recruit Lacey Conner of Nocturne to be your singer?

P: Again it's the Colorado connection with Chris Kniker. He said I should go with an American singer this time. It adds a new dimension to our sound. I think some people from Powerman 5000 and Ministry are coming in with the new band, so there's a more industrial sound. I saw her on YouTube with Pigface, and I really loved her from the beginning, when I saw her perform, and she also has a lot of sexual energy going on.

Every day for her for the past few shows she's grown as a performer. I think she'll be the best singer Lords of Acid have ever had. There are people in the company who told me she was on [Rock of Love], but I don't know that program, and I don't care about a program on TV. I just care about how she performs, what she does and what she looks like, and if she's more than happy to do it. She's willing to go for it 100 percent, so I don't care of the TV show. I've been on a TV show myself, and I know how they work, they're editing it to look how they want. She's a real rock and roll girl and she's perfect.

Ww: How did you end up doing the soundtrack for the video game Mortal Kombat?

P: That's a strange story, too: We were touring in Japan, and we got a phone call from America. I'm a gamer myself, and they knew I was a gamer, and they asked if I had the opportunity to write the songs for the new Mortal Kombat game coming out in the fall, if I would do it. So I said I would if they would send me a console with what they had of the game so far.

That was crazy because I received the game, but there was a lot of stuff still missing with the programming. I could play the game but only in the early stages. But by doing that, I got a lot of inspiration. It only took us six weeks because we'd play the game and go to the studio, and then repeat that process.

Ww: Are there any developments in electronic music or particular artists that you find interesting of late ,and have you incorporated any of those developments in your own songwriting?

P: There are a lot of new machines coming out every day, but that's what I like about electronic music, and you have to keep up from the programs to the synths and virtual synths. It's a whole new world every day. It helps me to be very alert of everything that's happening. I want to know how they made it and with what materials.

I'm very much into technology. I also have my own synthesizer museum, and I have a lot of old synths, a lot of Moogs, EMS samplers, ARP 2600's, an ARP Odyssey. When young guys come into the studio and they see that stuff, they're seeing it for real for the first time. They're so used to seeing it as a plug-in or as a virtual synth, and they ask to touch that equipment. When they hear the real thing -- because at the end of the day, you can't really copy it -- the real thing is the real thing.

Lords of Acid, with My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, Blownload and DJ Deathwish, 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 21, Ogden Theater, 303-832-1874, $25, 16+, 303-830-8497.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.