As we careen out of this, the fourth week of January, the record release schedule is starting to pick up some serious steam with many a label kicking off their year with a number of twelves, albums, and compilations that might not have the stamina to make it into year-end lists but are worth your attention nonetheless. On the dance music front, Norm Talley is back on FXHE with the varied four-tracker Pier Place Project that sees his battle-tested tech-house sound becoming more varied and supple with the slow disco sensuality of “TWI-LITE” standing out as a personal fave. Portland’s contemporary dub powerhouse ZamZam Sounds gets right down to business with a pair of seven-inch steppers from dubstep producers Causa and J:Kenzo. Berlin’s Ostgut Ton plays to its strengths by cajoling DJ Pete to dust off his inimitable Substance alias on the florid five-tracker Rise and Shine, putting his masterful spin on a number of current dance music trends, effortlessly moving from beatless bangers and avant-ambience to breakbeat beatitude and beyond. Elsewhere, Delsin’s reissue arm turns its attention to Djax-Up-Beats stalwarts Random XS and their twelve-minute 1992 acid voyage “Give Your Body,” which is backed by remixes from Delta Funktionen and Lost Trax.
Moving on to full-length statements, Nkisi follows her blistering Arcola platter from last year with the absolutely stunning infra-patterns of 7 Directions for Lee Gamble’s UIQ label. It’s a big week for those who worship at the alter of echo and reverb as, in addition to the above-mentioned ZamZam missives, the dizzyingly prolific dub conceptualist Jay Glass Dubs takes a hard left from the quiet storm stylings of last year’s top-shelf The Safest Dub by diving headfirst into the darkside on the Epitaph album for the always-interesting Bokeh Versions imprint.
Finally, closing things out in the reisssue realm is the out-of-nowhere electric dulcimer revelries—crafted on the Mó Cará instrument, which he invented—of Ireland’s Michael O’Shea and his 1982-issued self-titled album produced by Wire’s Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis and released on their Dome Records label. Despite passing away in 1990, it’s taken the world roughly a quarter century to catch up with the underground composer Julius Eastman. But ever since Frozen Reeds issued the incendiary minimalist opus Femenine in 2016, he’s been finally getting his just desserts. In December, Die Schachtel sublabel Blume quietly pressed to wax the three pieces—made up of “Crazy N*****,” “Evil N*****" and “Gay Guerilla”—with liner notes from Mary Jane Leach and Bradford Bailey plastered on the cover. The visceral emotionality of his work is on his full display across the hundred-plus minutes of recorded music on hand. Absolutely, jaw-droppingly essential stuff. Lastly, I totally slept on the Light In The Attic sublabel Diggers Factory-issued compilation Inasound: Retour Aux Sources De L'électro Avec L'ina Grm when it was released last December, but as this week saw it hitting record stores and online distributors the world round, now feels like as good of a time as any to point the musique concréte and electro-acoustic nuts out there to the nine tracks that span from 1949 to 2004 culled from Pierre Schaeffer’s Groupe de Recherches Musicales.
OK, so that was the lightning round-up, now let’s get into six more recent releases that merit a slightly more involved synopsis. Kisses!
For as much discussion as there has been on the scourge of rockism within the popular music discourse, music writing has long felt woefully inadequate in capturing the infinite and multiplicitous nature of electronic production. Where the collective nature of live music demands the creation of a single and fixed identity, the solitary music producer presents a far more rhizomatic proposition, empowering one to pursue countless paths of interests at any one moment, resisting any simple elevator pitch. Music writers love concise formulations (re: gimmicks) as they are inherently easier to sell, so it makes sense that a DAW auteur like Burial would be embraced by the mainstream music press as his singular aesthetic provides a unifying force with which to make sense of his various pursuits across genres, styles, and BPM’s. Things get far trickier when writing about an extremely talented artist like the Irish producer Eomac as his productions tend to resist any single formulation, leaping from blown-out bass music and doom-laden warehouse techno to thorny noisescapes and vodou-inspired percussive melees. Sure, there is an unmistakably dark and cacophonic undercurrent that cuts through his many singles and albums, but as he clearly possesses the type of technical pedigrees often lacking from the noise and industrial techno with which he is sometimes grouped, describing his music simply in terms of tone feels woefully inadequate.
Released a couple days ago on his Eotrax label, the digital compilation ETXC001 brings together the four collaborative EPs and arguably offers one of the most concise yet far-reaching summations of the producer to date. That such a work was born out of collaboration perhaps belies my own rockist biases—or what little exist—but there is an unmistakable focus that arises across the thirteen tracks collected here, like listening to four acts of a single play. Kicking off the set are two tracks created with “music technology pioneer” Paula Temple, both showcasing the producers’ astonishing sound design prowess and knack for crafting unsettling floor fillers that are infinitely more rewarding (and probing) than 99% of ‘dark techno’ currently in circulation. Things quickly go from chin-stroking populism to academic vagaries on the six cuts of unnerving noisecapes created with guitarist and drummer Sean Carpio before shifting into a pair rhythmic noise constructions made with Demian Licht that adventurously chart a course across the space in between IDM and dub not unlike what Eomac achieved on his wildly ambitious Reconnect album. With the album having surmounted its artistic peak, things are brought to a close with two extended rhythmic noise forays made in conjunction with Kamikaze Space Programme. I’ll be the first to admit that Eomac paints with a dark-hued palette that I often find quite boring in the hands of a less accomplished producer, but his wily attention to detail and flair for microscopic nuance makes ETXC001 a thoroughly rewarding listen that helps to illuminate the producer’s shadowy style.
Posting on IG last summer to promote his Emperor's New Clothes Part 1 EP, dance music lifer Duckett remarked that it was the first collection he had released that he felt genuinely proud of. And while I would argue that the producer’s discography, which dates back to 2001, is absolutely littered with high watermarks, the last couple of record he’s released have shown a producer who is clearly becoming more assured and comfortable in his voice. Returning to K-LONE and Facta’s Wisdom Teeth label following 2017’s revelatory Gannets For Guano EP, his latest four-tracker Corde Raide Vers Nulle Part EP sees the producer employing the self-cannibalizing, criss-crossing melodies and whimsical sensibility that has come to characterize his most recent output to devastating effect. Bursting with intricately patterned colors and a deep understanding of the interplay between difference and repetition, Corde moves from forward-facing and feather-light dancefloor bombs like “Looking At Mum Objectively” and “People Are Sick’s” frustrated funk to the hovering compositions of “Who Needs The Dregs We Should Cut Off Their Legs (And Have Done)” and “Shoulder Of The Hill” with aplomb, each track bursting with a type of rigid looseness that would make Kraftwerk envious. Corde shores up the scientific slack that he’s been honing in for a while now while opening up a vista of possibility that suggests that his upward ascendency has only just begun. It’s his game to lose.
Last August, about a week or two before I closed the curtains on eleven years spent residing in NYC, I had the great fortune (thanks Sam!) of getting to attend a night soundtracked by four producers who reside on the bleeding edge of form and function: Batu, Forest Drive West, Ploy, and Piezo. Now, two trends that I feel have gone a long way to making contemporary dance music events kinda super shitty are the identikit festival packaging of line-ups (if you book one festival, you book a hundred!) and the rise of the DJ-producer, with far more accomplished DJs lacking production discographies largely ignored by booking agents these days. DJ’ing is far more difficult than most promoters seemingly want to acknowledge and I’ve found it quite rare that someone who is an accomplished producer also has comparable skills as a DJ, let alone has put in their 10,000 hours. In her RBMA lecture from last year, DJ Storm spoke at length about this particular trend, noting that the ubiquity of the DJ producer has resulted in far more same-y sounding sets as producers who are DJ’s rarely are able to construct a fleshed-out voice as a DJ that differs from what their productions sound like, which I personally find to be insanely boring. I read an article in RA a year or two back that sent a chill up my spine in that the writer, while providing a broad overview of the state of ‘underground’ dance music, observed that audiences generally know what to expect from a DJ before even hearing them. And to me, this feels like an absolute betrayal of the DJ’s genius and dance music culture as whole, for a real DJ will always have something to say and will do so on the spot (re: PRE-PLANNED SETS KILL DANCE MUSIC) cuz all we fucking do is listen and think about other people’s music, finding our own voices by speaking through others, each of us possessing a billion different ways to say a million different things. And it’s not about “educating” dancers (how condescending!!) but rather working in symbiosis with them, becoming a single poly-faceted microbe who comes into existence on and via the floor and fall out of becoming as the night ends and the sun rises. Call it dance floor https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haecceity. Sure, some dancers might be hearing a certain track for the first time, but others might be hearing a track they thought they knew like the back of their hand, while the DJ is discovering a wholly new way to express something they’ve said a dozen times before. Everyone educates and everyone learns. But in a time where one’s brand (re: what they are willing to present to the world and that can be easily summarized by lazy music writers) is increasingly confused with who they are as an artist and performer, promoters and agents seem to think audiences simply aren’t smart enough to know what to do with the artist-DJ, the DJ who makes mixing an actual art and for whom the next track in a location of infinite possibility, not a script to follow or a gimmick to uphold. Maybe it has something to do with all that investor money flooding in; investors want to know what they are paying for. But at what points did it became the case that audiences don’t want to be surprised, to have their expectations upended and their lives transformed? Fuck brands. Love artists.
Anyway, digressing from the above tangent,, I was genuinely delighted during that night in August that I found each producer’s sets thoroughly engaging, each mixing a selection of tunes that felt connected to their own productions while demonstrating a deep and wide-ranging love of music that stood on its own two In particular, Italian producer Piezo excelled at joining a wide-ranging selection of BPMs and genres that reflected his own increasingly diverse discography, which has come to be fairly representative in terms of how much of the post-dubstep vanguard has moved forward.
The producer’s own Ansia imprint has thus far served to showcase his own varied productions, with ANSIA001 splitting the difference between the hyper-percussive 6/8 halfstep of “Gattomatto” and the bossa nova-facing electro tear-up “of Cala” while ANSIA002 features glitchy rave-up “Parrots” alongside “Bro Music’s” deconstructed dub. Boasting some of the cuter white label art in the game currently—so far the labels have alternated between Looney Tunes’ Sylvester and Tweety—ANSIA003 sees him mixing up the established formula in favor of four cuts collected from himself and three other established producers. Cleveland’s own James Donadio has been kicking around for two decades now, though it was only this past decade that he reached a wider audience before the great noise techno bubble burst of 2012 (at least for me) via his Prostitutes project, first released on his own Stabudown label. Now also releasing tracks under the StabUdown Productions, “FyeRRR!” sees him putting a new wrinkle on his trademark no-fuss sound by fusing club-friendly vocal chops with a raw EBM and New Beat-informed energy while Piezo and Wisdom Teeth boss Facta both drop down the tempo while amping up the rhythmic psychedelia for the equally entrancing cuts “OiOiOi” and “Not Now.” Although I was totally unfamiliar with the producer (real name: Greg) who’s built up a solid discography under a host of aliases that include G-23, DJ Groov, and Secret Rave, he steals the show for me under the new Kreggo alias with “Ligeti,” a cut who hiccuping rhythms and xeroxed chords feel directly steeped in Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records-era Jan Jelinek. INTO IT.
Well, it sure seems like 2018 was the year the west found and embraced Moscow savant-producer Buttechno with wide-open arms. Following on from 2017’s phenomenally weird Super Siziy King for Will Bankhead’s The Trilogy Tapes and turns on City-2 St. Giga and Zodiac 44, we’re currently in the midst of what feels like the period of peak-Butt. As 2018 saw the producer closing things out on Veronica Vasicka’s Cititrax, 2019 seems destined to be his most high-profile year to date with an EP on Anthony Naples and Jen Slattery’s Incensio imprint and a digital sketchbook of an album under his birthname for the annoyingly on-point label Berceuse Heroique. As soon as I started seeing that the producer was set to release an “ambient” album, I knew that there was no way that the contemporary understanding of that word (placid, inoffensive background music) would do La Maison De La Mort justice. Although the original formulation of ambient was a relatively benign one, much like the rise of the producer DJ, the rise of ambient (not to be confused with the New Age rebirth) has been formula-ized into a painfully inoffensive and predictable template, one that often feels devoid of any actual artistry or personal voice. Of course, the handful of ambient albums in the past couple of years that have been, well, actual albums—from Huerco. S’ For Those…. and Gas’ Narkopop to Pariah’s Here From Where We Are—have excelled by feeling unencumbered by the popular conception of ambient, dispensing with any genre-specific tropes to craft unique statements that can be listened both passively and actively, rewarding both modes in equal measure. And while I have spent considerably less time La Maison De La Mort than I have those other albums, it feels very much of an ilk, weaving together a number of thematics that the Butt has touched on in his floor-focused material (trance nostalgia, pitch-bent melancholy, brutalist banality/profundity) but in a way that feels both wholly unexpected and deeply inspired. By the time the listener makes their way to the industrial-soaked machine meditation of “Test” which closes the album with a sudden-death sense of sponatneity, they feel both baptized and sullied, unsure of what just happened but eager to go again. And really, what more can one ask from any type of musical statement, be functional, formalistic, or other? This is the sound of life.
I was a bit surprised by how popular Overmono’s (made up of the brothers Truss and Tessela) Whities 019 EP seemed to be upon its release late last year, not because it wasn’t delightful, but unlike a lot of rave revivalist-adjacent stuff, the duo’s productions tend to eschew big drop dramatics in favor of productions that tend to hover in mid-air, encouraging DJ’s to look past the typical peaks-and-valleys structures in favor of something considerably more nuanced. Or at least, that’s what I’ve been inspired to do when folding in tracks from them or similarly hesitant bangers like Tessela’s “Glisten.” I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the post-drop, polystep middle ground while listening to the producer Glyn Hendry’s debut two-tracker for the brothers’ Poly Kicks label, which weaves a remarkably dense tapestry of manic hand drums, knotty breaks, dance music referentiality, and surgical sound design that commands the listener to patiently unpack either track across many repeat listens. On both the percussive polyphony of “Escape Club 99” and the electro pulsing of “Dexy,” the producer carves out an inquiring middle path somewhere in the ether between the dance floor and home listening while avoid the stilted sense of self-satisfaction that such experimentation would typically imply.
I first learned of RIchard Pinhas via the writings of Gilles Deleuze, of whom he was a student in the sixties. The two taught a course on music together in 1977, the same year that Pinhas released his head-spinning debut solo album, Rhizosphere, which was given a digital and vinyl repress last year by everyone’s favorite krautrock archivists Bureau B (also responsible for repressing his second and fourth solo albums, Chronolyse and East West). Though Pinhas is perhaps best known as the founder of French space rock demigods Heldon, for me his solo work and scholarship has always been my preferred output of his. Eager to get in on the Pinhas party, Superior Viaduct recently released a new vinyl pressing of the composer’s third studio album Iceland, originally released in 1979 and now boasting the twenty-five minute piece “Wintermusic,” which first came out in 1983 and is now on the vinyl for the first time (how is there not a YouTube video of this track?!?!) To my ears, Pinhas’ solo music always sounded like an antecedent to the Berlin School as it’s heavy on muscular yet inward-looking synthesizer arpeggiations and dramatic drum machines that would make primo edit material for those wayward and nostalgic souls. As its title suggests, this is as wintry of an album as you’re likely to hear, simultaneously sounding warm and cold, flitting between melodious swells and atonal soundscapes. A perfect soundtrack to watching a breathtaking night snowfall and then watching it all melt under a cold, unfeeling sun the next morning.