Goddamn, I think that headline took a solid five minutes to write. I was finally compelled to write this long-overdue round-up of some of my favorite twelves to have dropped since May by Monday's release of the homeboy Laksa's second twelve on Ilian Tapes, the spaced-out Delicates. And that was before I realized Duckett also dropped an EP on Berceuse Heroique and that I never talked about that Batu twelve released a couple weeks back on XL. Or, for that matter the Facta and Via Maris twelves from the start of May (the latter of which also happened to release a killer twelve on LIvity Sound this week). Oh, and though I did technically write about it, let's also pause a second to re-affirm what a lowkey banger Gaunt's "Say What" is--taken from his ace four-track Don't Trip EP for London label THEM released back in April--and how people seem to be sleeping on this one hard. Had the pleasure of seeing Ron Like Hell drop it back in the Panther Room last month during a Horsemeat Disco party at Output and it was a real trip to see a track utterly baffle older dancers while the younger dudes seemed to get it.
Yeah, it's a beater. After a slow winter with only a few records of note appearing out of that nebulous nexus of UK labels and artists I spent the season writing about, May brought with it a deluge of new releases that have been seriously fucking up my bank account. Things have slowed down a bit as June marks the start of summer, but this week is already off to a solid start release-wise as Munich fringe-techno specialists Ilian Tapes dropped Callum Laksa's sixth and perhaps most accomplished effort to date. And though the album-length compilation from Timedance Patina Echoes rightfully got its own review in this space, I'm stoked to report I got an early copy of the new Ploy record the label will be dropping at the end of June courtesy of the man himself last week and it shows that producer in rude of health as ever.
In related happenings, last week gave us two fucking fantastic mixes from two of the reigning champs around these parts, Parris and Beatrice Dillon. Oh, and look at this. Matt Karmil, whose 2016 album for Idle Hands was a personal highlight, just so happens to have the Fact mix for this week (seemingly the only still-relevant facet of that site). Mixes from Mosca for Truants and that Timedance Rinse show with Simo Cell are both real corkers. And I'm guessing this nearly two-hour session from Batu for Dekmantel is going to be listened to before this gets published;) Also, in book tings, you may have heard about Dan Hancox's Inner City Pressure book that takes an in-depth look at Grime's origins--the hardback exceded my allowance, but from what I read, looks like a keeper.
But seriously though, that Beatrice mix....good lord. She's really one of a select number of DJ's operating right now who I can earnestly say I admire. Her mixes always send me digging.
Update: And another one dropped, this time from Ploy for the estimable Ilian Tapes label podcast.
Batu - Rebuilt (XL Recordings 2017)
The move of Batu to XL was both an unexpected and eye-raising one. Considering what the label did for Powell's career, their status as the dance music equivalent of a 4AD or Domino--labels that either seem to propel or pulverize a nascent career--was certainly cemented by the fact that the news was bundled together with their signing of Scandinavian shit pop singer Baba Stiltz. Those fears were short-lived, I think, for most of the people who clicked on the lead single from the four-track EP, the brain-scrambling dance-pop of "Flash React." But I'll never forget the look on one friend's face (who happens to be another DJ I admire) upon learning that I procured a copy a couple days before its June 1 release. "How is it?" he asked with some of the most palpable fear I've seen on his face. It was cute as hell.
The press release also contained some words from the producer in which he spoke about wanting to push himself on this release, words that I did not take lightly upon reading (he said the same thing about the artists on the Patina Echoes comp and in turn got some of their best material to date). Without a doubt, no track reflects that better than the aforementioned "Flash React" that sees him indulging his wildest rhythmic impulses in a manner that got me thinking about that LOFT record on Wisdom Teeth from last year, a brand of "Autechre club" if you would, music that sounds a bit like if that almighty duo made 'functionalist' tracks. It's a sprawling opus with a dizzying sequence of movements and a delirious, sugar-addled hook that calls to mind late night J-Pop listening sessions. The title track that opens Rebuilt is a bit more measured at a low-120s BPM, utilizing a swinging snare rhythm as its primary engine, a martial, toy drum cadence turned into a cracking 2-step pattern that gestates above some of the most robust lowend melodies the producer has ever made. Lithe, eel-like beasts who seem to move in contiguous fashion, cautiously rising to just below the surface edge.
"Pillars" on the A2 continues the producer's minor body of slinking slow techno pressure cookers (see "Monolith," "Groundwork," "Marius"). The march-like kick pattern is countered by a light downbeat click on the two and four, pausing to process its kinetic memo and regrouping in stride. It's eerie, scene-setting dance music that's in a world of its own. Following the 150BPM assault of "Flash React," Batu still manages to make the slow 95BPM of "Tuff Cookie" sound like it's tearing up the asphalt with his relentless yet even-handed drum programming and a slinking, menacing bass melody that burrows down deep into that ass until it's done shaken itself clean. While "Flash React" feels like the only real leap forward in Batu's sound, the rest of the EP is just as progressively minded, taking ideas explored on previous EPs and expanding them beyond what seems sensible. It's heady stuff that always has the dance floor in mind, yet almost demands to be also listened to in a home setting. Whoever said it had to be either/or?
Duckett - Emperor's New Clothes Part 1 EP (Berceuse Heroique 2018)
We like Duckett here at Zurkonic HQ. A lot. And he's an artist I wish I knew more about. Like Steevio below, he's a veteran producer who's produced in sprints and dashes in the past to disappear back into the shadows. But since his excellent double pack on Leif's Until My Heart Stops, man's been on an utter tear. I honestly just listened to this six-track EP for the first time, so I'm going to go ahead and publish this mother and come back when I feel able to say something more intelligent than "'Tension' is a fucking baaaaaaaanger!"
Facta - Dumb Hummer / All The Time (Livity Sound 2018)
Facta has become a genuinely curious and compelling entity in my perception of the general milieu of producers and labels that have emerged both from within and outside of the space known as post-dubstep. To be perfectly honest, when I first learned of his work back in 2013, I was thoroughly unimpressed as I was hearing the type of tracky low-end techno that was seemingly being passed off as some mutation of dubstep. And to be fair, having gotten a sense from my many interviews of the importance of someone like Beneath in shaping the current landscape I enjoy so much, I did not get the appeal of him either at first. Though where I've come around to many of Beneath's earlier production, in the case of Facta, I feel like I've been watching a producer develop into one whose music is becoming increasingly a must-listen (maybe it's just me, but ever since "Something's Gonna Happen," dude has been seriously finding his voice, not to mention that of the buy-on-sight Wisdom Teeth label, which I also wasn't crazy about at first).
And perhaps I'm not the only one taking notice of Oscar Henson's increased proficiency as when news broke that the first Livity Sound release of 2018 would be a two-tracker from Facta, the fact that he would be joining the esteemed list of producers who have released on the label seemed like a serious co-sign on the part of label head and dubstep visionary Peverelist. And seeing how the label's art continues to fracture and fractalize further into formalist abstraction, the music follows suit in fine form. The title track is not a song that will necessarily grab your attention on the first and fifth listen, especially if you aren't super familiar with what's been going on within this niche section of UK dance music, one that places a heavy value on nuance (a quality quite at odds with the populist HCC...or is it?) Riding an infectious two-note bassline that sounds like Ms. Pacman chomping down on some ghost-ass bitches, it's a seven-minute odyssey that moves from section to section effortlessly while retaining a low-end pressure that makes it an ideal track for bridging any number of genres and styles in the house and techno nexus. "All The Time" is an even more abstracted slice of stepper's house music, that off-beat hi-hat holding the echoing vocal and antsy bassline together. At about a minute in, Facta lets rip a positively intoxicating jazzy house chord that calls to mind that golden era of house music (re: the mid-90s) yet the broken percussion keeps it from sounding like a throwback, but rather as a logical progression of the oddly charming composition. This is another track I didn't really 'get' until listening back to a mix and being utterly flabbergasted by the weird slice of spectral house music. It might not be for everyone, or at least seem like it, but like his peers, both tracks retain a persistent functionality that makes them an utter joy to mix and dance to. It's chugging music that's more sensual than aggressive, facilitating the friendliest of bumps and/or grinds.
Laksa - Delicates (Ilian Tape 2018)
One of the themes linking all the releases featured here is an anxiety on my part and others who are excited about this music/scene of producers that the sense of innovation and forward movement will suddenly grind to a halt. One of the things, I believe, to be keeping that from happening is the general lack of press hype one would typically expect; no big piece exclaiming about 'the new best amazing UK dance since dubstep" or some bullshit. Hell, some of these artists consider the music they're making to be apart of dubstep, albeit somewhat removed. That anxiety also stems from the fact that the first four producers included in this wrap-up are amongst my current overall favorite artists at work in dance music right now.
And one of the chief reasons I like Batu, Facta, Ploy, and Laksa here so much is that they never seem to sit still, sonically speaking. Their own releases vary considerably from one another, a fact that Laksa pointed out to me, saying that he didn't see any one of his five releases at that point sounding like the other. It's a quality that comes bursting through on the opening title track on his second four-tracker for Ilian since last summer's fantastic Camo. Sounding like a track that would mix perfectly with "Dumb Hummer" above, it also speaks to a newly emergent musicality that in both his own work and the others mentioned here. Not that Laksa's earlier material was lacking any form of melody, but often it was a solitary one amidst ample atmospherics, something that is a hallmark of many of his peers' earlier work. And while I'd be lying if the word 'wonky' didn't come to mind when I first heard the bright high-end synths that give the track the brightness mirrored by the sun stamp on the label, it's a very different type of musicality, one that uses notes both as tonal and rhythm tools. As Simon Reynolds discusses in Energy Flash, one of the things that Hardcore arguably helped instantiate (though was already a characteristic of plenty of electronic dance music) was the use of rhythm as melody, or melody as rhythm. Hell, I forgot that he wrote that, having used the term rhythm-melody for some time to refer to those harmonic nuggets. Either way, it's a thoroughly lively and engaging track that sees the producer cycling through a number of ideas without ever getting lost in his own thought, the presence of that stepping hi-hat and skittering percussion keeping things moving both for body and soul. Once those vocal chirps and the snare hit the mix, you know this is more than just IDM pastiche, but something much more visceral than any 'intelligent' label could do justice (while retaining those infinite nuances that make home listening equally rewarding).
The echoing stick and drum hits that kick off A2 cut "Madu's Break" help add to the feeling of continuity between it and "Delicates," moving from a more ambivalent UKG miniature to something evoking streamlined D&B, at least at first. The first two-and-half minutes carry on with nary a hook in site, all echoing percussive sound effects, bass, and beats. Then the titular break hits and the track goes stratospheric into a sonic admixture that marries neo-industrialist percussion with the type of sunrise chords that have cast light over many a track, from house to jungle and back again. Calling to mind the swinging percussion that marked some of Camo's best moments, "Dust" kicks off the B side with a dusky cut of UKG-flexing post-rollage (where there's never quite a breakdown and the momentum is always forward-facing, but the beat varies from just a steadfast house loop). By the time the break hits two minutes in, we're in cinematic mode, distant strings droning on as an electric current comes buzzing into the mix, infusing it with an electric energy that's been coursing about since the EP's start. It's a track that calls to mind a more club-focused Djrum or even Burial in its narrativizing, however subtle, that paints an abstracted meta-portrait of club music current feedback loop, hinting at a certain nostalgic melancholy in the wandering dial-up melody that serves as the song's satisfying coda. Returning to a more CMYK sound as heard on the A side, EP closer "Yogi's Choice" pivots back and forth between the all-consuming light and the silent abyss, both threatening to swallow the listener whole at the same time over the track's fractured dub stylings. It's the producer at one of his most abstract moments, and it's a real stunner, showing a depth that extends beyond club cuts into more experimental fare, one that retains the rhythmic pulse in favor of something more impressionistic and affecting. Though he's shown his aptitude for making bangers since his first twelve, Delicates continues what Camo promised and that's a certain maturing of Laksa into an artist able to communicate ideas and tell stories across a suite of songs, which still retain a crucial utilitarian aspect for DJ's willing to dive into the deep end.
Ploy - Ramos (Timedance 2018)
He's baaaaaack. After a solid four-tracker followed by a game-changing release on Hemlock and two very different and very good remixes from earlier this year, Ploy returns with his first proper release of 2018. I suppose one of the reasons I take media hype into such consideration in my analysis of music is that I can often see how, as a listener, I can often project my own unrealistic hopes onto an artist who's been utterly smashing it. And it also speaks to how desiring the 'shock of the new' in electronic music is really a zero-sum game for at some point the perceived rate of innovation is going be rendered untenable and thus create frustration on the part of the listener. For it was upon first hitting play on "Ramos" last week that I felt this unprecedented wave of disappointment fall over me, a feeling I wasn't able to reconcile until I realized I was secretly hoping for another paradigm shifter in the vein of an "Unruly" or his Romansoff remix.
So I walked away and tried to lower my expectations to nonexistent, something I must have come close to as when I revisited "Ramos," all I found myself thinking was "Sweet lord, I can't fucking WAIT to drop this banger." What's especially ironic about my initial reaction to the track is that it followed a discussion with the producer in which we discussed the fact that "it's all about nuance these days, innit?" as Ploy succinctly put it. And nuance does not make waves, not in this media landscape. Now, how shit as bland and uninspired as some of the dance music that does seem to break through (Project Pablo, DJ Seinfeld, Umfang, Peggy Gou) get the media coverage that it does, well, that's a conversation for another post. I'll be curious to see how "Ramos" in particular is received because it shows Ploy at his most accessible, period. In our conversation, he mentioned how he intentionally eschews breakdowns in music, preferring to create a never-ending pressure build that at a certain point turns planar, opening up a deeply primal and body-moving space. Getting back to the music on hand, "Ramos" kicks off with a rather conventional UKG beat that's turbocharged by Ploy's talent for detail and percussive texture, adding a cascading snare roll to ratchet up the tension far past the point of release. And when the endless crescendo finally and suddenly drops off, we're met by a snare-led dancehall-indebted rhythm with drum stick-accented syncopated eighth notes. As we've seen no tracks like "Garys," the producer seems to have a fondness for Shepard Tones, notes that sound as if they're raising in tone indefinitely but actually are staying quite still. He deploys looping tones in this vein in the track's second minute, which at only one-third past its runtime, already sounds as if it's pushed the energy levels way past eleven. And in all actuality, the Shepard Tone is perhaps a perfect sonic example of what makes Ploy's music so exciting to this listener; it's the sound of club music continually trying to push beyond itself while remaining within the same space in which it began, there's a sense of neverending transcendence or even transgression at work.
"Roy's Rolls" continues the producer's percussive showing-off (kidding, but seriously, how did he get so fucking good with drums?) A slow pressure cooker of a jam, it takes the type of weightless electro boom-click that's often the rhythmic pulse of many of his peers' tracks, but queers it up in all sorts of ways. Timbale-like drum rolls at different frequencies interweave to create a quivering percussive bed. Though it might lack the batshit energy of "Ramos," it also encapsulates the producer's ability to imbue even the most unassuming tracks with a bombastic energy, the shepard tones being ratcheted up to near-parodic levels before the bottom drops out and remaining parts slowly exit stage left. Ploy's done did it again.
Steevio - WSDM 008 (Wisdom Teeth 2018)
Like Duckett, and unlike the other artists mentioned here, Steevio has a discography going back to 2001 and has serious baller status in the UK as a Free Rotation resident. And while I had come across his name before via his 2015 split for Idle Hands with Peverelist, it took Wisdom Teeth shining a light on this analog talent for me to stand up and take proper notice. Not knowing a whole lot about backstory, let's dive into the music, which continues Wisdom Teeth's honing on a bright technoid aesthetic that seems to trade in fourth world currents and other experimental musics while keeping everything ultimately danceable. That said, with this Steevio record, they push even further outward (though not quite as far as that Loft record went) into a kind of organic-feeling machine music. Based around a light house shuffle of sorts, the melodies of A cut "Syzygy" seem to follow their own internal, machine-based logic as a recurring motif flickers back and forth, similar but different each time and boasting a tactility that is a credit to the producer's sound design. Gradually some bongos get thrown into the mix alongside other melodic strands, none of them ever coalescing into something expected yet also not going for broke a la Ploy. Rather, Steevio seems to have found a rather comfortable middle ground between experimental dance jawns and functional club music (even if these tracks would likely be found in an opening set if at all in this 4X4 world of ours). Of course, with the stepping off-beat hi-hat, things remain anchored to the floor even as "Hiraeth" pushes at the map boarders even further as its swinging hi-hats and 2-step-y kicks attempt to coral the free-ranging melodic inscriptions the producer creates with seemingly effortless immediacy. Much like the A cut, there's an indeterminacy to the B1 here, as if the notes might push into a third or even forth dimension, yet remain relatively timid throughout, only reluctantly committing to any type of 'hook.' Closing out the three-track affair is a 110BPM remix of "Hiaeth" by the badman Batu, kicking it down a solid 15BPM from the original. Yes, we're in downbeat territory with this remix, but this is not your soporific, chill-out brand of downbeat. Rather, taking the source material's naturalistic arrangement as its primary cue, Batu constructs something a bit more sturdy that the Jenga towers Steevio builds, a shadowy click hitting on the downbeat when it decides to emerge, receding almost as quickly. It's a rather ambient affair, but one that makes for a great set starter (or ender.)
Via Maris - Shelleys EP (Mistry Muzik 2018)
So I'm pretty sure I already covered this EP briefly in my first third of 2018 wrap-up, but I know I didn't do it justice as I hadn't really processed it yet. I've been following Via Maris since his first release on Mechanical Reproductions in 2016, which showed he had a hand for crafting muscular beats comprised of hundreds of tiny moving parts. The Rube Goldberg quality of his music was a bit missing from his Dnuos Ytivil release in 2017, so when the title track on his new three-tracker for Beneath's Mistry Muzik imprint kicked off with a drunken master-style groover, it seemed for a second like the producer was getting back to an earlier version of his sound. However, unlike a track like "Credentials," there's a vortex-like quality to the beat on "Shelleys" that's first evoked in the doppler-like alarm intro. Once the kick slams down, there's a readily identifiable downbeat yet the track never feels 'safe' or 'predictable.' And having tried and failed to mix it with the care it deserves, that's exactly what makes me think this is a track I'll be pulling for for some time to come.
Considering how 'big' the title cut sounds, one can be forgiven by flipping over to the B1 cut of "Toys" that they're listening to an entirely different producer. Personally, I can distinctly remember letting out a "what the fuuuuuuck" the first time this diminutive 2-stepper first came out of my speakers. As I was mentioning earlier, one of the things that stood out across these seven recent releases was the increased foregrounding of melodies and even, dare I say it, hooks where earlier there was just drums, bass, and cool-ass sounds. Riding a groove that seriously reminds me of a Tortoise song (in a good way!), it's playful in a way that is often missing from a genre known for taking itself a bit seriously and injects a real burst of color into a mix (just see Parris' RA mix for evidence). Closing things up by splitting the difference between the preceding two cuts is the heavy-weight yet rhythmically lithe "Miasma." Riding a lively stepping rhythm, Via Maris pumps out one of his heaviest and rudest basslines to date that works in tandem with the beat to create a feeling not unlike one would experience in a tidal pool, attempting to gain one's footing only to be knocked on your ass. By the time a steady downbeat enters the picture, things have gone too aslant for the punters to find a toehold, making this one for the heads.
Oh shit! What's this?
Via Maris - Glow Wall / CU2 (Livity Sound 2018)
Considering this came out after I published this piece, just now listening and good lord, Via Maris is on an utter tear this year and flexing his melody muscle again with the intoxicating "Glow Wall." Early contender for one of my favorite songs of the year and probably the producer's current high watermark. Ugh, my bank account is gonna kill me.