The first wave of releases from Huerco S.’ West Mineral Ltd. label were all met with a healthy amount of curiosity, but the one that really caught my attention was the deeply percussive sound world conjured by Pontiac Streator & Ulla Straus on their Chat LP. Last week saw Straus dropping the double cassette Big Room on another ridiculously hyped ambient-leaning imprint, NYC’s bespoke ambient powerhouse Quiet Time Tapes. Part of what made Chat such an enjoyable experience was its meticulously-rendered rhythms that made hand drums sound vastly more mysterious and enchanting than they typically do, sounding less like an ‘exotic’ flourish and more like the vital, personal form of expression that they are. On Big Room, Straus covers a lot of ground over thirty minutes, every second of it sublimely immense. From the sepia fog bank of opener “Nana” and the porch chime meditation of “House” to the keyboard harp whimsy of centerpiece “Sister,” the artist clearly has a knack for sculpting music that is as impactful as it is thoughtful. Although the record can certainly sit comfortable in the background, it’s undeniably best when given one’s full emotional attention….Last year, Finland’s legendary Sähkö Recordings celebrated twenty-five years of existence and released a delightful and funky compilation EP titled E123. Now the label has issued a mysterious shark-adorned LP with No title with physical copies already exceeding $50 and it’s obviously a must-have for the electronic noise completists out there. Scope the samples….The Ukrainian experimental label Kvitnu released an unusual second album from Ujif_notfound—the aptly-titled Process —and it’s a beast. With forty-two tracks of the artist’s “creation of multimedia systems” divided across seven chapters and clocking in at over five hours, Process is housed on a USB memory card and includes a plug-in coded by the artists that “plays and transforms release tracks and additionally generates visuals.” Sonically, the whole things calls to mind a glitchier incarnation of the synth-y omnivorousness of OPN’s early catalog as Ujif_notfound has seemingly programmed parameters that effectively replicate countless tropes and styles from electronic music history, the album acquiring a heftiness that is an intimidating as it is bewitching. Very much worth checking out….
In the wake of STROOM 〰’s world-conquering 2017 NSRD reissue campaign that provided many with their first taste of the Latvian avant-wave geniuses, France’s Musiques Electroniques Actuelles has done us all a big favor by pressing to wax for the first time co-founder Hardijs Lediņš’ 2000 albumTiny Crabs Of Deep Waters. At thirty minutes, the album is a brief and heady affair that advances NSRD’s cinematic MIDI-scapes over five compositions that anticipated the Utopian Virtual strain of vaporwave from inside the Iron Curtain, presenting an intriguing wrinkle for a sound that has typically been coded as distinctively late capitalist. Get lost….Since setting up shop last year, Ghent’s Mania Dub record store and label have entered the dub reissue game with a vengeance, focusing primarily on UK dub from the eighties and nineties. They’ve wasted no time in flooding the 2019 release schedule with plates from Alpha & Omega and The Disciples. Though at the moment I’m really feeling a reissue they put out back in February from Leicester’s Vibronics, 2000’s Dub Italizer 2xLP, and the whole thing is just the tastiest of millennial digital dub vibes. And props to the label for keeping the original’s wonderfully horrendous cover art; it always bums me out when labels update ‘ugly’ art!
In the dance music reissue sphere, Berlin’s Cab Drivers (Daniel Paul and Jens Augustowsky) are one of those dance music lifer acts whose name and music I’ve stumbled across over the past decade; they’re that type of artist that gets name dropped alongside the likes of STL and Losoul, their twelve inches always finding welcome homes in the collections of DJs and collectors. Anyways, upon seeing that Cabinet Records decided to throw a bone to those drowning in the second-hand prices ($45) that the duo’s 1997 Untitled twelve currently command and reissue the tech-house three tracker, giving a new generation of listeners a chance to discover this minimal, tech-y, speed garage-y classic….Clone West Coast Series has repressed another must-have EP from the one and only D.I.E. (Detroit In Effect), following up last year’s repress of The Men You'll Never See EP from 1998—which also featured cuts from ADULT., Electronome, and I-f—with 1997’s party-starting The Unseen, which features such classic cuts as “R U Married” and “Let Yo Body Rock.” Bangers, all of them….It doesn’t get much more hardcore than The Criminal Minds, a group of British b-boys whose output between 1990 and 1994 neatly depicts the development from breakbeat rave music into the teeth-gnashing velocity of jungle. The group’s own TCM Recordings has pressed to wax three cuts originally released on their 1993 Mind Bombing album—which was remastered and repressed back in 2016— entitled Last Ride To Hell and it’s a blinding set of chipmunk vocals, sugar rush synths, and sped-up breaks pushed to their absolute limits….
The Paradoxe Club imprint run by Sunareht, De Grandi, Birol, and Le Dom have gained considerable attention due to the defiantly fascinating Teki Latex’s championing of their bespoke Bérite sound. Following on from last year’s his Castle Owner—not to ignore Sunareht’s beguiling Sagas EP—Le Dom has dropped the Schism EP, four tracks of “musical Minecraft” hellbent on contorting dancers into impossible new shapes, sounding like a futuristic carnival percussion crew powered by Max/MSP. This shit bangs so goddamn hard….With tongue firmly in cheek, Seattle’s Tech Startup label is clearly all about the lulz as they not only have one of my favorite label names at the moment, but they’re also cracking me up with this Bandcamp bio: Founded in an incubator in Seattle, WA, Tech Startup offers dancing solutions to a globalized world. Now, assuming that the founders aren’t actually alt-right fashwavers, their commitment to being as of-the-moment as humanly possible extends to the rave-y, lo-fi-ish breakbeats of their second release from youngblood Vancouver producer Teo Mattress. As on-the-nose as the production on “Fairfield (Speedin' Mix) might be, it feels far more thoughtful, heartfelt, and substantial than a lot of paint-by-numbers breakbeat house in that it, like, you know, uses more than one fucking breakbeat. It also suffers from that over-stuffed quality that a lot of talented young producers struggle with—indeed, there seems to be an almost proggish strain of post-lo-fi breakbeat house. Still, I find that infinitely more welcome and refreshing than the alternative. Bristol’s LT turns in a solid percussion-and-sub-heavy remix following his lovely Forest Floor EP from last year, which came out on Rhythm Section International….Indonesia’s DIVISI62 label has been releasing some might fine experimental tribal-styled curios for a hot minute now, but that didn’t keep me from sleeping on a sumptuous two-tracker released by label head Wahono back at the start of January. It’s not every day that I find myself thankful for email marketing, so kudos to the label for gently reminding me to check out the digital-only Prambanan / Mabad. Both tracks see the producer pushing deeper into his synthesis of traditional Indonesian instrumentation and contemporary electronic music production, the latter subtly shaping the former on the inquiring gamelan melodies of “Pramabanan.” “Mabad” feature a melody whose sonic make-up sits somewhere between metallic percussion and FM synthesis as an apocalyptic bowed tone unceremoniously overwhelms the mix….For as sonically same-y and emotionally one-dimensional as I find the vast majority of contemporary industrial techno, there’s also plenty of fringe artists who continue to inspire. Having released on a number of the sound’s most fashionable labels, including 47 and Perc Trax alongside Planet Rhythm and his own Genesa Records, Serbian producer Scalameriya excels at crafting immaculately produced belters that are much more rhythmically nuanced than a lot of contemporary techno. Having already released well-received records on both Power Vacuum and THEM, the artist has returned to the two leading light of weird UK industrial techno for another round of mayhem. Back in February, Scalameriya put out two tracks of start-stop dynamics and reptilian sound sculpting on the single-sided Enhance Stop! platter on Milo Smee’s Power Vacuum before dropping four tracks of Surgeon-precise percussive pummelers on the Forsaken EP for London’s THEM. Check em out alongside this slice of robocop electro by Chontane, also released on THEM….Here’s one for y’all keeping tabs on the ridiculous amount of “idea sampling” that continues to plague so much of dance music, here’s a recent track from Soundbwoy Killah—”a highlight of Mall Grab’s most recent Boiler Room,” natch—that might make you think of Tessela’s “Hackney Parrot” (or Loleatta Holloway’s “Love Sensation” or this remix of that track). Not that any one artist has a monopoly on delayed diva vocals laced atop a slamming break, but still, hmmmmmm….
Located in the southern Italian city of Matera, Nothus and Delikwe’s XCPT Music is that much-discussed breed of dance music label that chooses to withhold digital releases, an act that younger dance music fans are understandably miffed by, seeing it as an unnecessary exclusionist and elitist practice. Personally, as with just about every Twitter-fueled controversy, I think it’s a topic that is considerably more complicated as this ‘aficionado’ sphere of dance music has always had a pay-to-play quality to it that was often seen as simply investing in one’s artistic medium, no different than buying gear or going to get inspiration on the dance floor. You know, cuz this whole democratization of music thing is a pretty recent development. Anyway, while I may not have a copy, from what I’ve heard, the Time Horizon II comp XCPT released back in February is a solid collection of contemporary artcore-informed dance music, which you can preview here….After a quiet 2018, Glasgow’s always-vital Seventh Sign Recordings returns with a blistering platter from Leeon who drops a monstrous, melancholic vocal cut with “I’ll Be There” given the edit treatment by Hutton Drive and backed with two vitally retro-flavored slammers. Very much recommended….After the warm critical reception of his Portrait With Firewood album, everyone’s favorite post-dnb sorcerer Djrum is back with an “ambient gabber” remix of nineties trip-hop weirdos Morcheeba for a Record Store Day (ew) remix twelve. Honestly, the whole thing feels a bit “boutique hotel lobby” for me, but kudos to him for advancing the intra-genre splicing as it’s not not interesting. Check it out over at Inverted Audio….For reasons that I can only assume were idiotically reactionary, I failed to catch the Tolouse Low Trax fever that was set into motion by Antinote’s trilogy of EPs a couple years back. It wasn’t until I got hipped last year to long-running Düsseldorf post-rock group Kreidler—think of a groovier, more German Tortoise—and their drum programmer, born Detlef Weinrich, that I released how much I was sleeping on the weirdo MPC dance music of his Tolouse alias. Weinrich has become an in-demand remixer as a result of the surge in interest and recently dropped two tasty slices of sexy, lowend-driven motorik for O Yuki Conjugate and Berlin trio Keller Crackers alongside a psychedelic boogie reworking of Harmonious Thelonious’ “Rivera”….Word of a new Young Echo Records is always welcome and the label follows up last year’s momentous Manonmars with a pair of Jabu remixes from Jay Glass Dubs and SKRS, who turn in a particularly spicy cello-laced reworking….Considering how excited I got over the debut twelve from Clouds’ new Hamilton Scalpel alias, it makes sense to point out that the on-fucking-fire duo also dropped a new twelve for Headstrong Records entitled Sharp Like A Razor. The four rave weapons on deck fuse hardcore breakbeats and gabber kicks, pairing them with grime-y melodies on the jaw-dropping title track while “Another Day” pushes into decidedly trancier territory. You know the Boiler Room crowd is all about this and who can blame em?
Here’s a quick brain scrambler for ya…Madkid is a Jpop boy band unlike any other (as far as I know, at least). Their one-of-a-kind-but-not-really-at-all brand has recorded the theme songs for The Rising of the Shield Hero and I was hipped to them by a friend who recounted watching the above video with his psychiatrist. The sexy squad is composed of three singers and two bilingual rappers* that fuses the sounds of Linkin Park, The Prodigy, N’Sync, and about two dozen other reference points into a weirdly brilliant pop music Frankenstein. Seriously, it’s hard to doubt that these guys could become a cult sensation outside Japan when rocking a sound so perfect for this stan-your-idols cultural moment, as the queer bondage supercut above illustrates. Plus, this is as about as proggy as a pop song gets this side of Tsunku and plus, these boys can dance! The group’s latest single “Rise” has generated some solid streaming numbers, but the above track “Faith” is my pick of the litter. Bananaramas.
*Just please, please keep your eyes peeled for the guy with the lavender bowl cut, a true child of god. You know it’s only a matter of time before he shows up wearing a cowboy hat and a harness.
Locust - Red (Medical Records LLC 2019)
Uh, OK, wow. WOW. Over the past couple years, Troy Wadsworth’s Medical Records imprint has been chronicling the harder, darker side of dance music through their Transfusions sublabel in addition to reissuing a number of records from Mark Van Hoen’s nineties output, including his mid-nineties trance group Autocreation and the albums The Last Flowers From The Darkness (1997) and Playing With Time (1998). It appears that Van Hoen and Medical have settled into a solid working relationship as the release of the four-track Red EP back in February is the first in a planned series of EPs for Transfusions. Outside of a pair of albums released on Editions Mego back in 2013 and 2014, the Locust alias has remained largely dormant since 1998 following a very active mid-nineties period during which Van Hoen used the project as a vehicle for indulging his chameleonic impulses while flirting with the full range of fast-developing electronic music genres and styles.
So it makes sense that the re-activation of Locust would be paired with a “new identity and vision” and one that I doubt that many saw coming as Van Hoen enters what is ostensibly the “angry old man” phase of his career, channeling his apparent dissatisfaction with contemporary reality—who can blame him—into four sleek’n’sexy slices of big room techno. And what’s perhaps the most absurd aspect of all of this is that the results are fantastic, Van Hoen taking the Massive-charged maximalism of EDM and imbuing it with his decades of production experience. Red reminds me of Matthew Dear’s first few records as Audion or perhaps what I wished Kompakt sounded like today, opening track “Fuck These Days” employing a muscular shuffle beat and an obliquely feminine voice intoning the titular phrase that calls to mind Grungerman’s immense “Fackeln Im Sturm.” And while “Fuck These Days” is the record’s indisputable highlight as far as this guy is concerned, the following three tracks are all exceptional examples of how to craft big, booming techno without relying on a dramatic drop or breakdown histrionics, the taut and tense “Kiss” continually ratcheting up the energy over its seven-minute runtime. Penultimate track “Sick Bitch” once again features the song’s title mangled by a voice dripping with artifice that is propped up by a larger-than-life, car commercial-ready bass line that also nods in the direction of Wolfgang Voigt and a Kraftwerkian harpsichord-like melody while closing track “Fear” relies solely on the musical content—namely, its bouncy and addictive low end—to communicate its paranoiac intent. Reactionary art, just like reactionary politics, is typically a bleak and boring proposition, but on Red, Van Hoen fuses his current displeasure with a lifetime’s worth of musical ideas and production know-how that could care less about looking or sounding cool or on-trend, instead embracing his current sonic identity with a blistering intensity and piercing sense of purpose.
Shiva Feshareki - New Forms (RESIST 2019)
Goddamn, another revelatory record from February that I’m just getting around to! The concept of turntablism has become an increasingly anachronistic one in these DAW-enabled times. And that’s totally chill, but it’s also not like turntables have been creatively exhausted, not even remotely. Vinyl has acquired an irritating and weird cultural cache that often leads to collectors fretting about resale value or simply fetishizing the records rather than celebrating the rarity of holding a mechanical instantiation of an immaterial art form and attempting to make new art from it. And yes, I’d be rolling my eyes too if I just read that, so props to the composer Shiva Feshareki for getting me all misty-eyed about playing records. In addition to hosting a monthly show on NTS, Shiva Feshareki has earned a number of significant accolades for her musical work including the BBC Proms/Guardian Young Composer of the Year award in 2004 when she was seventeen and an honor for innovation in 2017. Hilariously referring to herself as “genre fluid” in this beyond delightful interview*, the artist dropped her first album New Forms on the RESIST and it’s a proper headfuck of a record that revivifies the lexicon of turntablism through her own unique sensibility. In her hands, the pitch going up or down is no longer just a feature of the machine, but a personal, original expressive act. On tracks like “Evolution Loop,” beats go up and down in tempo, infusing the rhythms with a queasiness that is as intoxicating as it is disorienting. And hey, by not sticking to a single BPM, she accomplishes something that feels more akin to listening to a live drummer, achieving a new breed of rhythmic engagement in the process. Yeah, this is the type of record that I should probably write a proper review of, so just please check it out, it’s a special one.
*OK, I have to paste this quote as it’s just too perfect. PREACH: “One of the most fascinating things to me about music is perspective. Taking one record, recycling it in endless ways and manipulating it into various forms right in the moment shows a listener the expansiveness and pure endlessness of perspective. I think it’s related back to the concept of understanding: I believe most human conflict arises from misunderstanding, trying to bridge this divide has to be one of the most important roles for an artist.”
Paleman - Sweltering Rain (Nonplus Records 2019)
The large number of dnb labels out there pursuing the far-reaching ‘Autonomic sound’ is likely a big reason that the genre is experiencing something of a renaissance, it makes more thank a bit sense to check in with Boddika’s Nonplus Records. It seems like every few years, the bass music vanguard rediscovers house and techno and the past couple years have seen the label commissioning twelves from a number of seasoned hands, including Redshape, Ellen Allien, and yes, Burial. Calum Lee’s Paleman released a number of records in the mid-10s on labels like 81 and his own PLMN that continue to influence a new generation of producers flirting with contemporary bass music—see that Oscillate comp below for a very timely illustration. Of course, being the immensely talented and forward-facing producer that he is, Lee’s last few EPs have seen him crafting a darkly stepping brand of techno that benefits greatly from the type of circling, lowend-rich he had been making and thus his latest three-tracker for Nonplus seems like an almost preordained affair. The title track of Sweltering Rain sees the producer wasting zero time, taking command of the dance floor with an askew vocal loop and fearsome subs to build a resounding technoid thumper that is spacious and well-paced, urgent but not imposing. For as much as I enjoy “Sweltering Rain,” “Cells” is a little more my pace as it makes use of a brisk kick pattern and an eerie, robotic vocal, stretching it into a weirdly melodic hook that will make you think you have bees in your brain. Closing track “Titan Vulture” pushes further into the techno fringes, a didgeridoo-like sample is augmented by skittering sound design and a laconic yet forceful kick pattern designed to soundtrack those deepest of down-the rabbit-hole dancefloor moments.
Various - Oscillate Tracks 002 (Oscillate Tracks 2019)
The Berlin-based Oscillate Tracks label originated as an event series before dropping their first record via
Oscillate Tracks 001, a totally pleasant three tracker that featured cuts from a trio of well-hyped producers—Roza Terenzi, D. Tiffany, Jayda G—-serving as a solid “state of the sound” summation in terms of club-ready, electro-fied house music that packs some solid low-end heat. Clearly in thrall of the nebulous nature of contemporary bass music, the label has dropped a second compilation that is a darker and heavier affailooks to the type of what the label calls “modern dubstep” for inspiration and the record arguably serves as something of a summarizer on the different bass music templates that have been especially dominant throughout this decade. It might sound odd to some to square that with the fact that Hymns’ “Magna” that opens the record sits squarely with the club-ready CPU electro that has occupied a central place in contemporary dance music. But let us not forget just how deeply the post-dubstep scene fell in love with electro sound—cocaine powder, anyone?— and despite its retro sounds, “Magna” is mixed in an unmistakably contemporary way that holds its own in the mix. Super Hexagon Record’s co-founder J. Wiltshire’s 81-informed “Wave Tablet” hovers on down with an electro 2-step groove and a savvy, head-nodding drop that is perfectly accentuated with tasteful 808 accents. PTMC’s “Officewerks” sports a similar, slightly more energetic beat and a thoroughly percussive drop while Karima F ‘s “Bacon Shoulders” embraces rhythmic variance and a chattering high-end that will get that ass dropping in no time. Solid set.
Microthol - Transmissions (TRUST 2019)
Nick Land’s concept of hyperstition has found considerable favor amongst plenty of contemporary dance music enthusiasts. Basically an academic reworking/update of Sun Ra’s notion of myth science—a parallel that CCRU member Kodwo Eshun memorably developed in More Brilliant Than The Sun via the concept of sonic fiction—the concept of hyperstition is typically somewhere in the background when you see an artist or label talking “sonic bass fictions,” as reads the Vienna-based, DJ Glow-run TRUST’s Bandcamp text. Having been around since 1998, the much-loved TRUST crew have always made the effort to develop a dystopian narrative thread that ties its all-killer discography, attracting the likes of the DJ Stringray-backed incarnation of Urban Tribe in the late 00s who released a couple of blazing EPs sporting bio-dystopian titles like Bio Electronics and Social Engineering.* The Austrian techno/electro duo Microthol is one of TRUST’s hallmark artists and though they’ve been largely quiet this decade, the label dropped the Transmissions EP last week, which was crowdfunded by “enraged xenoethicists and ailurophiles” (LOL). Opening cut “Hostile Invasion” wastes no time in getting down to business atop a ferociously growling bass line and a tense synth rhythm-melody, a cybernetic voice cryptically detailing the bass fictions at hand. There’s a sweet bellicosity flowing across the record’s four tracks, “Armoury Funk” taking an oddly cheerful tone in soundtracking the armament of an “invasion fleet” while “Dissonant” brings the tempo down for an especially headcracking and stark cut that showcases the pair’s sharp ear for sound design. Transmissions closes with the brainwaltz of “Transmission 0604,” which features Aphex-y percussion and a warping synth line designed to cut across galaxies and recruit a whole new army of cyberdelic warriors to the cause.
*Be sure to check out the track “Her” if you never have, one of my all-time favorite Stingray cuts.
Xao - Primary Care Unit (Astral Black 2019)
The UK’s Astral Black has occupied a peculiar place in the twenty-first century post-genre ecosystem since starting out during the grime 2.0 boom of 2013, documenting a curious confluence of influences in contemporary British ‘urban’ music that encapsulates the cultural porosity which makes the UK rave continuum so goddamn fascinating. The fusion of grime and r&b might not have taken off during grime’s first wave, but DJ Milktray’s electric rhythm’n’grime gained a new audience when the Boxed crew embraced his MPC collages. In the intervening five years, the label has carved out a truly singular space, pushing beyond the charming east-coast-rap-meets-grime of acts like MilkMakerz to champion bleeding-edge beats from the likes of Rapture 4D and Rebore Kid (whose Rebore 001 EP from last year is pure fire). Following on from the leftfield sounds of Xao’s Alloys cassette back in 2017, the label has dropped an absolute scorcher to kick off their 2019 by playing home to the UK-born, Berlin-based producer’s first vinyl release, the ambitiously frenetic Primary Care Unit (which is medical slang for the morgue). Xao trades in the type of arch-Warp, IDM-influenced beats that thrive on maximalism, but in lesser hands can come off sounding bloated and navel-gazing. On opener “Embryno,” Xao flips the typical gaseously ambient opener on its head, underpinning the choral voices with a skipping, jungle-referencing UKG beat that stays just beneath the surface where “Corvid Tendencies” takes Jam City’s car crash rhythms and affixes strobing, grime-y woodwinds that knock the listener on their ass in the best of ways. Indeed, this is a producer who is clearly knowledgeable of the past three decades of rave music and also has something to say, supercharging the “Waxen Pith*”-referencing “Hydroxyapatite” with a crushing halfstep beat. The whole set is admittedly a lot to take in but never collapses under the weight of its own ideas, sounding always-fresh and impossibly inspired throughout. The maddest of props to Xao and the Astral Black crew for this one.
*There’s another Aphex song I feel like he’s referencing and I can remember the melody, but not the title. Argh!
Atariame - Métron Mixtape (Self-Released 2019)
For as “broadcasting from within the heart of the simulation” as so much music media feels to me these days, it’s a supreme irony that one of the few* sites out there doing meaningful, purposeful music writing is run by a platform corporation. While I’ve been frequenting Bandcamp’s journalistic entity Daily since their debut, it’s been in the past couple of months that I’ve noticed the site being one that actually inspires some amount of wonder and delight a majority of the time, which is super sweet! Not quite a digital native myself, I still have a healthy distrust of profiting from the subject matter you’re covering. But considering that no one really writes negative reviews anymore—unless it’s about an artist who’s a media heel in some capacity—and that BC Daily works with an extremely competent roster of writers, the site’s content feels less like, well, content and more like the type of over-earnest and joyful record store recommendations that beat any algorithm, any day. Over the past couple months, I’ve come to particularly enjoy Miles Bowe’s Acid Test as its focus is on covering the Bandcamp releases whose weirdness exceeds the capacity of a typical music pub elevator pitch, which, same! It was while trawling through Bowe’s April edition that I came across this stunning mix from Moscow’s Atariame who first turned heads with her Fear Is The World cassette (2017) for Oakland’s Constellation Tatsu. Recorded in anticipation of an upcoming full-length planned for release on Métron Records, her “Métron Mixtape 062” is all kinds of magical as she blends together a selection of her own material that moves deftly from solemn synth siren songs to her own mystic voice to tangerine-flavored synth miniatures and beyond. ADHD ambient for the distraction-prone masses.