The Acid Lounge: “People have a great nostalgia for the Acid House days and the Smiley.”

After graduating from university with a degree in Creative Technology, Tom Finn moved to London and became the head of DJ Mag TV. It was there that he really made his name on the international dance music scene as a wild child interviewer, DJ and music producer. Kelly Gavaghan gets the low-down on how The Acid Lounge came about, and what’s next for the self-made artist.

“The Acid Lounge is a success story out of lockdown, bringing light out of dark times.”

– Tom Finn
Tom Finn – The Acid Lounge

During lockdown Tom Finn started creating artistic variations on the iconic ‘Acid Smiley Face.’ What started out as a hobby soon turned into a force to be reckoned with as demand for his creations skyrocketed.

With Irvine Welsh, The Happy Mondays, Carl Cox and Fatboy Slim – to name but a few – all huge fans of Tom’s work, The Acid Lounge has gone stratospheric and Tom is now gearing up for an exhibition here in London at the end of March at Hanway Social Club, off Tottenham Court Road. Tom tells us how it all began…

You launched your art brand The Acid Lounge during lockdown. Tell us about that.   

So, we are in the second lockdown and to be honest, because of my ADHD I really made the most out of the time and spent the majority of it in my studio getting super creative working on new music. I was buying lots of new synths and music gadgets – it was an ADHD paradise – and I was creating what was some of my best music to date including a remix of Girls on Film by Duran Duran, powered by the fierce magic of ADHD.  

At the same time, I joined forces with one of my best friends, Greg Nash who is one of the best DJ’s I know and we started our double act, Brothers Ruin. We soon gained a resident DJ slot on Release Radio and had an amazing platform to play our music that we worked so hard on during lockdown. We got such a fantastic buzz on Friday nights, entertaining our friends and listeners. We started with only 300 listeners which quickly grew into thousands of people listening to our journeys through music. 

“Things had to change. There was no way I could maintain this rock and roll lifestyle.”

However, with ADHD you never know when to stop and I was getting intoxicated – or shall I say – ‘self-medicating’. I’d go all night producing music right through until morning light. There was no sense of weekend – as lots of us experienced – so for me, with the addition of untapped energy, the year turned into one giant creative studio session fueled by substance and alcohol abuse. Things had to change. There was no way I could maintain this rock and roll lifestyle at this level…

I decided to get sober. My good friend Joanna Barber told me about her new project called the Six Zero Experiment that she was launching. She wanted to bring lots of people together – especially young people involved in the dance music industry – to join forces and commit to 60 days with no alcohol or drugs. It was fantastic from the get-go, and we created a real community of likeminded people all trying to create a better version of ourselves, sharing our struggles and supporting each other through regular Zoom calls and online activities. It was just what I needed! Around week 3 the magic started to happen, and I decided to help fill in the buzz gap of sobriety with trying a new hobby – acrylic paint pouring influenced by some amazing art that was gifted to me by my DJ partner Greg Nash’s mum.  

“I filled in the buzz gap of sobriety with trying a new hobby.”

So, me and Momma Finn decided to get a paint pouring kit and give it a go. I was overwhelmed by a beautiful calmness and focus while pouring with the acrylic paint, experimenting with lots of different techniques, creating hypnotic and psychedelic pieces. I was calm, I was silent I was hooked, completely obsessed and in love with my newfound pastime.  

One evening I decided to mask off a painting into a circle and add eyes and a mouth. I took a step back and saw the most epic Acid House Smiley Face I’d ever seen, and I just had to post it on my social media. Bang! It went crazy with loads of ‘likes’ and scores of people asking if they could buy them! I went on a frenzied mission creating acid smileys at a rate I couldn’t even believe myself … It was the only thing I thought about, from the minute I woke up to when I went to sleep. I even dreamed about it in my sleep. It was the most incredible outlet and therapy for my ADHD … literally the missing link … there is nothing on earth that has kept me more focused than creating art. It’s truly grounding and brings a sense of beautiful calm and total fulfillment so much so that I didn’t even think about getting high. It really has changed my life for the better!  

As people bought my work, the family home couldn’t cope with the mayhem and messy nature of the smiley creation, so my good friend Steven Smith offered me a space in his warehouse in the quaint little neighbouring village of Radnage. I moved my operation and went full force. This is when The Acid Lounge was born.  

Why do you think it took off so quickly?  

I think it was due to the social media content I was producing with the art. Paint pouring is a totally hypnotic and very trippy form of painting. My followers seemed to love watching me try crazy new techniques on the videos I posted which were always accompanied by early rave music. This really helped to set the scene and then of course there would be the magical reveal of the Smiley Face at the end. They are magic when they come alive as each one has its own cheeky character. The Acid Lounge is a success story out of lockdown, bringing light out of dark times, a success story of the Six Zero Experiment and my journey through sobriety. My friends noticed a huge change in my focus and loved the new angle of my creativity.  

You’ve built up quite a fanbase so tell us, who is buying your art?  

With well over 300 pieces made I’m now selling my art all over the world to celebrities, pop stars, house music legends, night clubs, restaurants, record labels, superstar DJ’s, models, radio stations, presenters, and record shops in 1 year!! 

I can count among my fanbase such names as Fatboy Slim, Carl Cox, The Happy Mondays (Bez & Rowetta), Roger Sanchez, Rolling Stock night club, Release radio, Irvine Welsh, Radio 1 Danny Howard, and Charlie T, ERaze, Lisa Loud, Danny Rampling, Jazzy M, Graham Park, Chad Jackson, Brandon Block, Saytek, Steve Mac. The list goes on and on!  

A real highlight was creating a commission for Rolling Stock nightclub in the heart of Shoreditch. They wanted to revamp their entrance in time for the relaunch of the club and, I only had a day to pull it together, so armed with a giant stencil I set to work creating a huge vivid green and yellow smiley across their front doors. Shoreditch will never be the same – but in a good way – embracing the spirit of acid house/rave culture positivity out to the people. I am regularly sent photos and tagged in posts of people standing outside my giant smiley. I’m very proud of what I have achieved in just one year. What a ride it’s been! A real dream come true.

Is each piece unique and original? And how do you come up with different incarnations of the Smiley Face?  

First of all, I never started this to become a commercial enterprise. It was literally just a very happy accident! I did it for me. It just so happened that loads of people have a great nostalgia for the Acid House days and a great love for the Smiley and this is how it all took off. 

“People have a great nostalgia for the Acid House days and the Smiley.”

I have never created or copied the original yellow Smiley. My versions are always unique and innovative and are a take on the original Smiley Face. It’s not just Smileys, we now look at various other symbols of rave culture for the art pieces but will nearly always have a Smiley in there somewhere. 

It really is about getting creative with materials and at times not really thinking too much just letting the art and creativity flow naturally and lots of the time being inspired by early rave music I listen to. I only have a tape player in my studio, so I only listen to old rave tapes from the early 90s. 

However, there are 4 main different types of creation. The first is acrylic paint pouring, where I use various paint pouring techniques; from using a colander, to filling a dustpan, even using a speaker and my synth to create wild patterns. I have a set list of colours for the ranges that are labeled such as Sunset Sex, Neon Dreams, Lava Love and Green Envy. I also create custom bespoke pieces for customers and on my website, there is a “Design Your own Smiley’ form.  The second method is spray paint and stencils, the third is using physical rave flyers that are placed as a base and then we use a stencil and paint over the top. We also use digital collages of imagery produced to print as well as woodwork and plastic sculptures for coffee tables and bespoke furniture. I have also created lots of great pieces of clothing and clubwear too. 

Tell us about your London exhibition. What can visitors expect?  

The Acid Lounge exhibition takes place on the 26th of March as part of The Hanway Collective art exhibition pop up at the Hanway Social, Hanway Street (North of Soho). 

The beauty of the exhibition is that I am fusing the Acid House Smiley art with a soundtrack and mad lighting to really bring it alive. The Hanway Social is both a bar, club and gallery and will be showcasing the artwork for the month after. Expect loads of Smilies and ‘loved up’ dance music. There will be a 90s rave themed atmosphere with awesome lighting and a soundtrack to take you back to the early days of Acid House and rave culture with live DJs.  

And finally, what does the future hold for The Acid Lounge?  

The Acid Lounge is only getting bigger and bolder and rougher and tougher, the one and only dominator of the dance music art scene.  We are working with Live Edge furniture design company to create stunning coffee tables and lounge furniture as well as with Mountain Images to create giant reproductions of the artwork. We have also got some exciting collaborations with other artists and creators lined up and will be creating NFT versions of the artwork later in the year. So, watch this space! This is just the beginning for Acid Lounge. It’s going to get even more interesting!  

Written by Kelly Gavaghan

The Acid Lounge Exhibition26th March

Savilla Mia
22 Hanway Street (off Tottenham Court Road / Oxford Street)

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This article was published in the Spring issue of My Soho Times.

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