Vitalic, Nag Nag Nag, London

Anyone care for an acid drop?

Aided by bleeps, beats and pharmaceutical pills, punters would - so the theory went - experience a "loss of self", surrender their egos to a greater consciousness, in seamless communion with everyone around them.

Accordingly, at most events, the super-expensive light shows were trained not on the anonymous boffins behind the synths and samplers, but on the audience themselves. It was common for crowds to turn their backs to the stage completely, dancing the night away while blissfully oblivious to the presence of the "artist" (a glorified keyboard tech).

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas, aka Vitalic, is a Dijonnais of Ukrainian extraction, whose music is often - and at least semi-correctly - described as "nu acid". At this nightclub gig, at least, the theory of "acieeed" seems to have turned full circle. Everyone is staring at the stage.

Well, maybe not at first. It's the night after the day on which "civic partnerships" for gays and lesbians have become legal in mainland Britain, and Nag Nag Nag is busier than ever with celebratory homo- and metro-sexuals. A legendary electro midweeker run by a certain Jonny Slut, Nag Nag Nag takes place in Ghetto, the red-walled dance dungeon set up by the clubland pioneer Simon Hobart, who died recently. (This is my first visit to a Hobart venue since his tragic death, and it's a chilling feeling to walk down the steps without being greeted by him.) The place is rammed, the bodies are moving, there are smiles on every face, and nobody cares who the DJ is.

But the gay hedonists and straight pleasure-seekers who create Nag's unique atmosphere are joined tonight by disparate elements lured in by Arbez-Nicolas' cross-cultural appeal. In an earlier column, describing a failed attempt to catch Vitalic live, I described his debut album, OK Cowboy, as sounding like "the noise blaring from the stereo of a concept car that hasn't been built yet, the soundtrack for planets that have yet to be discovered". Evidently, I'm not alone. OK Cowboy, featured in many of 2005's end-of-year lists, having caught the ears of a coalition of serious technoheads, Electroclash stragglers looking for some new kind of kick, and rockists who don't normally like this sort of thing.

So, when Mr Slut stops his Technics dead and announces the arrival of Vitalic, every neck is craned. To see what, exactly? The gleaming bonce and serious eyebrows of a man who bears a nagging resemblance to the actor Patrick Stewart, hunched intently over a series of consoles, twiddling knobs and nodding his head. I glance nervously around my fellow clubbers for pointed ears or peculiarly-ridged foreheads, and wonder whether Arbez-Nicolas will make a grand exit by dematerialising in a particle beam.

After a couple of tracks, realising there's no "show" in the conventional sense, nothing to look at, we all begin to turn our bodies away, break off into little groups of two and three and four, moving to the music, ignoring its creator, like it's 1988 all over again.

So, we might as well have stayed at home and played the CD? Well, not quite. First, and most obviously, there's the communal experience of dancing in a club. But secondly, Arbez-Nicolas hasn't simply slipped in the disc and mimed for his appearance fee. Those twiddled knobs are doing something.

Also, in the flesh, those OK Cowboy cuts are a whole lot more filthy and physical, and less pristine, than on disc. The dirty, sexy rock'n'roll undercurrents to tracks like "La Rock 01" and "My Friend Dario" are played up, in a manner reminiscent of Underworld or Death In Vegas. Meanwhile, "Wooo" sounds even more joyous, recalling the addictiveness of novelty Seventies synth hits such as "The Crunch" by The Rah Band or "Popcorn" by Hot Butter.

As Arbez-Nicolas twiddles and tweaks, it becomes clear that this time around, the star isn't the artist. It isn't the crowd either. It's the music. This is Star Tech: The Next Generation, and Vitalic is merely the captain.

s.price@independent.co.uk

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