You know, sometimes I admittedly feel like I might as well be doing PR for certain labels. I think I've said this before but it bears repeating: The line between being a music writer and a used car salesperson is finer than we might like to think. Labels aren't merely 'exciting' in this click-a-day world of ours, they're the most exciting. And for a solid four or five years, Príncipe has held that title from a music press that only recently provided any type of reportage on Portuguese artists existing outside the label's pale. It's not like I've really done that either, though I've also found myself listening to artists from the country simply by virtue of their music being accessible via so many digital pathways.
Either way, I had put a personal embargo on reviewing any Príncipe records after that blinding P. Adrix number they released back in February, not to mention DJ N Fox's triumphant move to Warp in March (having also reviewed the Nídia record last year and waxed lyrical about the DJ Lycox album in my 2017 wrap-up). And yet, and yet...when I finally went to listen to the label's latest missive, the debut five-track EP from DJ Lilocox, and put the record on at 33, I quickly realized it was on the wrong speed yet let it play out. And that's when I knew I would have to at least write a few grafs about this record.
Considering the number of words I've written about the label and Batida, the hybridized form of dance music it plies, I'll let you get caught up if you so wish as I'm just going to go straight into the music. Having only had the track "La Party" appear on the fantastic label comp Mambos Levis D'Outro Mundo, the artist has been allied with the label since its start in 2013 both as a member of Casa Da Mãe Produções and Piquenos DJs Do Guetto. "La Party" offered a pungent, but easy-to-swallow glass of punchy beats and simple, entrancing melodies. But on "Vozes Rica" which opens Paz & Amor, we're treated to something a bit more ambitious but no less inviting. As a vinyl DJ, Príncipe really gives you a workout in terms of having to quickly match a wide BPM range and often squirrely rhythms that fade away as quickly as they appear, so fully formed.
That there is a solid minute-and-change of an atmosphere-establishing intro over a lively, but not unwieldy beat will likely serve as a system shock to anyone who's grown accustomed to the label's continued journey down the rhythmic rabbithole, becoming less and less friendly to those not familiar with their range. And yet, its accessibility is not what's worth applauding here. DJ Lycox's excellent Sonhos & Pesadelos showed how batida could be interpolated with ideas from deep house and techno, dance music's ur-genres that cast an often inescapable specter. It also showed how the label's producers were seemingly uninterested in becoming territorialized by European and American production tropes, the lively-programmed drums always offering an enchanting line of flight. Still, Lycox worked with layers of intra-related melodies in a more conventional way than, say, Nídia's rhythmic pretzels or P. Adrix's grime-inflected beats while still keeping things brief, rarely passing the three- or four-minute mark so as to keep the DJ on their toes by providing an ever-changing admixture of tracks for restless dancers.
Outside of N Fox's bar-setting "15 Barras" that saw the producer utilizing a conventional acid bassline and stretching it out for a solid fifteen minutes, the label's focus on the short game is another way they remain happily out of sync with continental conventions that typically see dance tracks existing somewhere between six to eight minutes. So it speaks to how fully-formed the label's aesthetic has grown when the fact that the A side of Paz & Amor felt downright revolutionary to this listener ("Holy shit, a Príncipe release I can actually blend for more than twenty seconds!" I giddily texted to the friend who had procured me a copy).
Evoking its title, the opening drums open up into a bed of single choral stabs which Lilocox lets ferment, unspooling into a simple, single voiced-melody and back into the ocean of mouths. Going through its second pass of the lead melody, the producer gently introduces charging staccato bass accents while keeping the focus on the track's three primary elements: the beat, the chorus, and the topline. It's a simple formula that countless producers muck up, but one that Lilocox's patience and soft touch make to sound effortless. Keeping the theme of utilitarian titles going with "Ritmos e Melodias," the producer demonstrates his flair for arrangement by introducing a primary melodic (via violin) motif up front before diving into an extended give-and-take, adding effects and dropping out channels. Lilocox's has a curious aptitude for open-ended and questioning melodies, the upward trajectory of the track's topline echoing our own learned vocal patterns.
Lilocox also shares with Lycox and much of the Príncipe stable for canned sounds that would likely appear gauche in any other context, yet are created with a sense of intent that renders matters of taste moot and anchored by the innervating rhythms provided by sampled drums. With tempos in the 110s and 120s BPM-wise and his busy rhythms all circling a 4X4 pulse, be it present or inferred, it's hard not to think about how hackneyed batida would sound made by those who don't live it as a sense of urgency would be patently missing. Hand drum-rendered patterns introduce a loose quality that guides the title track as it buries its head into a burrowing bassline and chugging rhythm, pausing to break down and doubling down on the ferocity, evoking the dub version of a club track that never existed.
Having shown that his maximalist and minimalist tendencies function in a ying-and-yang sense, often co-existing in uncanny harmony, "Samba" is perhaps the EP stand-out. A testament to the producer's adroit balancing of elements, a gentle guitar lick pokes and prods just beneath the surface of a taut rhythmic tarantelle (of sorts). The track simmers along until erupting into its fully-realized self, radiant and shimmering in its bright array of tones and drums. A two-part melody made by a smudged high note and an alarm-like synth patch eventually comes to the forefront after much foreplay, nicely articulated against the busy symphony bustling about in the backgrond. It's a celebratory song, but only mildly so and bearing the same suppressed melancholy that imbues all five tracks with a type of existential wanderlust. This is perhaps best expressed on the record's closing track, the deep house-inflected batida of "Fronteiras." Riding a hotel lobby piano line and a minor key chord progression, it's a track that could fit into a mid-90s house set but only could have been made today, such is the singular synthesis of elements plucked from various points on the timeline. It's a smooth operator, but also full of an emotion that's anything if affected, another language spoken in a native dialect.
The fluid exchange of ideas enabled by the global internet is a theme that regularly pops up on Principe releases, its own genesis a hybrid of cross-country musical traditions (a result of immigration in this case but one with an ability to remain connected to one’s homeland unlike ever before). The use of live-sounding percussion has been a trope in house music for over two decades now, yet to hear house music as refracted through a batida framework is to enliven the latter in a way that feels both familiar and fresh. Following on from P. Adrix's willfully thorny Álbum Desconhecido, it can feel like Príncipe is perhaps falling back on a set of safe sounds, especially to those hearing both without any context. But taken as the twenty-third entry in a rich and continually evolving catalog is to hear the maturation of a sound that inherently resists becoming a template to emulate. Paz & Amor is infinitely inviting without ever sounding staid or self-satisfied (let alone pandering). Ever happy to exist within a certain musical gray area, DJ Lilocox's steady command of myriad dancing emotions within a single mix feeds into an ambiguity that gives Paz & Amor that ineffable quality that makes house a feeling and dance music so powerful.
*I don't know what it is, but Príncipe records seemingly invite one to play them at the wrong speed and thus make for extremely pliable DJ tools.