Favorite Releases April - January 2018
Favorite Singles & EPs: 2017
Favorite Albums & Reissues: 2017
Favorite Singles & EPs: 2016
Favorite Albums & Reissues: 2016
Here’s Part One in case you missed it…reissues and albums to come next!
Pinch’s all-things-bass Tectonic imprint celebrated its one hundredth release this year in the most fitting of ways: By releasing Riko Dan EP produced featuring six collaborations with some of the UK’s premiere nuum operators. While the whole thing came off a bit inconsistent, it also featured one of the year’s most soaring moments courtesy of Riko’s team-up with perennial media concern Mumdance. And it really is to Mum’s credit that he’s navigated a multi-arc career trajectory over the past decade that’s seen him piloting a variety of zeitgeist-y club nights and labels while allowing his hardcore bonafides to shine (fitting for a producer who said in an interview earlier this year that he plays the hardcore continuum). “Hungry” takes the gusto of jump-up D’n’B down to a house-friendly tempo, piloting a ghostly, electro-adjacent beat through a host of LDN-sourced atmospherics, Riko’s gravely patois elegantly holding the whole affair together. One of the most inspired moments of 2018, imho. Also, THIS.
Maxo Kream - “Roaches”
Thankful for that Medicare welfare, healthcare
If you was in my shoes, you would prolly be stressin'
..But sometimes, God, He will bless you and test you
Amen. Been listening to this nonstop since it came out a couple months back and it gets me every time. Houston is the bottom bitch of the rap game as it gets way too little credit but is a hotbed for a workperson ethos that puts equal emphasis on soulfulness and content. Love love love. Just listen.
Q - The Voice of Q (Philly World Records/Isle of Jura 1982/2018)
Who is Q and why is their voice so goddamn intoxicating? This has been a perennial question for dance floor weirdos the world round since Philly World Records first issued this infectious one-off from the disco-funk braintrust of Bruce Weeden and Michael Forte in 1982. Now, I don’t know which dance floors it found favor on over the years, but chances are that if you’ve been out dancing to an in-the-know DJ sometime in the past three decades, you’ve probably heard its quixotically neoteric ear worm of a hook in some form, whether in its original form or edited. As much as I love the Derbyshire-authored theme music for Doctor Who, like any self-respecting electronic dance music nerd, “The Voice of Q” has always stood out as one of the few numbers that could replace the original, though honestly, who would want to do that? Just saying, “Voice” is that catchy. All we can really hope for is that the next time the Doctor decides to visit the 80s, we’ll all be treated to the spectacle of her cutting some serious rugs to this stone-cold classic, spending the rest of the episode battling Involuntary Musical Imagery as a result. Mad props to Australia’s Isle of Jura for putting “Q” back into rotation, backed with a slamming dub version of the proto-house number “Keep It Strong.”
Ramjac Corporation – Cameroon Massif! (Emotional Rescue 1990/2018)
Velocette - Afterimage/Belle Du Jour (Styrax Records 2018)
Starcount - Calma (Echovolt 2018)
Considering how glutted the contemporary reissue market is, it’s a minor miracle that the even-more-niche realm of dance music reissues continues to be a steady source for classic tracks unknown to a younger generation and those who missed out the first time around. The nineties continue to occupy an outsized position in the annals of modern electronic music as it was a period in which so much of the innovation still hadn’t been given a name or label, the more unhurried and atmospheric cuts being later filed under the amorphous title of “ambient house.” And while keeping up with all the ambient-tinged reissues that came out in 2018 was a near-impossible task, a number of established imprints continued to extract minor classics and overlooked strokes of brilliance. The Emotional Rescue label has shown a particular knack for picking out choice dance cuts from the past four decades, cutting a wide swath that has ranged from dancehall and disco to homemade boogie and MIDI funk. Where Ramjac Corporation’s Cameroon Massif (Massive Mix)" is a full-bodied affair with layered voices, arpeggiated organ drones, building pads, and whistles aplenty, the "Massing Mix" is a far more stripped-down and dubby affair, the breakbeat more lithe and flexible with a nodding bassline and those trademark vocals left to shout out from the void. Meanwhile, Styrax Records turned their attention to the melancholic vagility of San Francico’s Jason WIlliams to issue the weightless build-up of “Belle Du Jour” and the dreamy, electro-kissed “Afterimage.” Finally, the reissue wing of Greece’s consistent Echovolt label turned their focus to the unknown Starcount for what is arguably their most exciting release to date. We love seeing children and teenagers doing things that us adults couldn't even imagine, perhaps because it's one of those few moments that allows us to feel a pang of pride about the human race. Starcount--no birth name is given--was a sixteen-year-old teen living in Athens who produced lush, ornate tracks in his bedroom. As the first Greek producer to join the label's reissue efforts, it's one of those records you'll wonder at first if you like it because you're more impressed that a person so young made something so sublime. But as time passes and you start to marvel at the cascading pianos and twinkling synths on "Calma" or the tribal-balearic house of "Jeraldine" with those melancholic keys, well, expect to give yourself over and teleport to the Saronic Gulf.
Secret Werewolf - Yage (Steel City Records/Geej 1996/2018)
Opgang 2 - De Chirico (Steel City Records/Geej 1996/2018)
Hamilton, Ontario is a city that sits outside Toronto that today is home to the likes of dance music artists such as Jessy Lanza and Junior Boys. Boys member Jeremy Greenspan and recent Text signee Taraval run the Geej label, which in 2018 reissued two highly coveted records from Oliver Barkovic‘s excellent Steel City Records imprint which released over a dozen records between 1995 and 1997, many of which sounded as if Barkovic’s and the label’s other artists were mainlining a prescient mixture of second-wave Detroit techno and Hard Wax-distributed proto-mnml. The thick Geej represses were a welcome reprieve for anyone who’s been waiting and waiting for the second-hand Discogs prices to go down, showcasing two of the label’s high points and introducing Steel City to a whole new generation of listeners. Both records sound incredibly influenced by a particular strain of mid-90s German techno, such as what would have been coming out of the Chain Reaction and Tresor labels, all the while infusing the material with a hefty amount of character. The three tracks issued under Barkovic’s Secret Werewolf alias cover a lot of ground and sound remarkably eclectic two-plus decades on from their original release, be it the freewheeling tautness of the title track, “Taurine’s” bizarre electro, or the effusive bass line of “Owl.” Meanwhile, Dave Foster’s Opgang 2 record is considerably more reserved, the four tracks demonstrating a talent for machinic texturing and rhythmic psychedelia. I honestly jumped for joy when I saw these in the shop this summer and they have been fixtures in my mixes ever since.
DJNF - Crânio (Warp Records 2018)
P. Adrix - Album Desconhecido (Príncipe 2018)
DJ Lilocox - Paz & Amor (Príncipe 2018)
RS Produções - Bagdad Style (Príncipe 2018)
Goddamn, did Príncipe have a banging year or what?! After an especially solid 2017, the Príncipe cohort doubled down on their strengths in 2018 while pushing out their sound into hitherto unexplored spheres. Personally, my favorite release from the label was their first of 2018, the astonishing Album Desconhecido by P. Adrix, which was released right around the same time as former Príncipe standout DJNJ moved up to the big leagues for his Warp-released EP Crânio. Both records showed the heterogeneity upon which the label was built only growing in scope and ambition, the Mancunian Adrix putting a grime-y rub on the Lisbon-born batida sound while NF seemed to dig in his heels for greater rhythmic density and cross-genre splicing. The summer came early with DJ Lilocox’s lovely Paz & Amor release that saw him assuming the role of the esteemed traditionalist within the label, adding infinite nuance to the label’s singular sound before RS Produções dropped their charmingly austere debut Bagdad Style platter, highlighting the uncanny minimalism that unites the label’s roster. Who knows what 2019 will bring for Príncipe, but if the past two years are any indication, we’re all better if we abstain from having any expectations and just let them to continue dazzling us.
Tribe Of Colin - LIONSPRINTCOMPLETE INTENTHOUSAND PRACTICESTHUS COMEONE (Chant 2018)
Tribe Of Colin - Was Gawn Tell Dem II (R=A 2018)
Narrative has long played a crucial role in many dance music productions, but as sampling has become an omnipresent tool for many young producers interested in grabbing an errant sound or line of dialogue to construct bridges that listeners can connect with, even rickety house music and techno has become ever cinematic. For my own tastes, NTS’ Tribe Of Colin is doing this better than most, injecting his barb-edged hardware jams with some serious gravitas and the monologue of “LSCITTPTCO” or the musical field recordings that punctuate LIONS instantly transport the listener to a wholly other terrain between London’s seedier alleys and Ethiopia’s hinterlands. A lover of everything beats-oriented, Colin’s music takes the notion of outsider house off the grid entirely, forgoing the impersonal, lo-fi vibes of 2012 for a far more subjective and personal soundscape. With a new full-length planned for January of this year, 2018 saw him issue a blistering six-tracker via his own Chant imprint alongside a labyrinthine seven inch for the R=A label.
Robert Fleck – Soft Focus EP (Well Street Records 2018)
Ruff Cherry - Carousel EP (Well Street Records 2018)
Given the self-cannibalizing nature of UK dance music during this interminable decade, the absence of contemporary producers idea-raiding West London’s broken beat sound from the late 90s and early 00s is a conspicuous one (though Andy Thomas’ solid genre history for Bandcamp from November identifies some of the imprints that suggest change is afoot). And while I haven’t been particularly charmed by many of the labels associated with a resurgent broken beat scene, one such label that has been at the forefront of my own radar since getting started last year in London’s Well Street Records. Maintaining a steady output of two records for 2017 and 2018 each, twelve inches from newcomer Robert Fleck and Ruff Cherry continued to flesh out the label’s aesthetic, one that combines the bruk rhythms of early 2000 Black and Seiji with a DAW-enabled sound engine and a digger’s sample sensibility. Where Loop LF’s 2017 four-tracker for the label indulged in jazzy broken beat and a Jan Jelinek-like minimalism, Fleck pushed the label’s sound into dubbier, Basic Channel-inspired territory while nodding to the bassbin magick of A Made Up Sound. On their blazing Carousel EP, Ruff Cherry signaled the label’s love for the garage-y side of dubstep with four tracks of Peverelist-informed dubbage, crafting smokey tracks that rise upward atop a cloud of fast-disappearing curlicues. If this is the future sound of broken beat come once more, consider me signed up.
I don’t spend much time on social media these days, but when I do make a trek through the posts, I’ve noticed plenty of handwringing over the state of house music, with plenty of older record heads fretting over a perceived disinterest in house history amongst younger dance music fans. And that’s not to discount the fact that there are some producers acting like they invented sampling and record mixing. It’s an odd vibe, one hurt further by lo-fi house’s regrettable stranglehold on millennial house flavors. Though hey, at least Jamal Moss seems to be making rent, so that’s a real mitzvah. Of course, like anything, there’s plenty of gold if you’re willing to dig through the shit and one label that made good on their promising start in 2017 was the UK-based Cong Burn, whose vinyl output thus far has consisted of four buy-on-site compilations transmitted from house music’s teutonic peripheries. Counting a number of rising voices (and Zurkonic faves) amongst their ranks—including Flaty, Chekhov, Lack, Howes, and Martinou—the three compilation installments issued by the Burn in 2018 teased out many of the most prominent thematics happening in continental underground house music. Be it the circular rhythm science of BFTT’s “Public / Private” or Lack’s UKG bomber “Absent” on the second edition, the SSRI-dulled euphoria plied by Duckett and Chekhov on numero tres, or the supple heartbreak conjured up by Flaty and Martinou on volume four, each Cong Burn issue showcased the diverse and fast-paced innovation going on within one particularly foward-facing segment of the international underground.
KG - KG EP (Goon Club Allstars 2018)
DJ Lag - Stampit (Goon Club Allstars 2018)
Griffit Vigo - DJ / Gqom 6 (Gqom Oh! 2018)
Various - The Originators (Gqom Oh! 2018)
Active since 2013, JT The Goon’s Goon Club Allstars imprint doesn’t tend to release more than a couple of records each year, but the label’s quality control is on another level. Committed to shining a light on many a nuum-adjacent and post-Grime strain of UK and international dance music, the label was one of the first to release a Gqom record back in 2015 with the Rudeboyz EP after an early run of records committed to highlighting some of the more exciting weightless variations, including Moleskin’s remarkable Grand Ballet. Since then, the label has continued to play to its strengths while widening its purview and 2018 saw the label looking back to 2007 with Karen Nyame’s UK Funky creations made while she was still a student in Nottingham, stealthly producing a number of “lost anthems.” “808” is full of androgynous vocal science and Jock Jams-friendly vamps while “Flute Riddim” is built around a pensive woodwind hook and climactic synths, both tracks sounding remarkably fresh despite it being a decade since their creation. Rounding out the package is a pair of remixes, the highlight for me being Litefeet producer’s BSNYEA “Litefeet Edit” with its truncated vox and vicious sub roars. I’ve been genuinely missing subway dancers since re-locating to Ohio this fall and as I no longer have my morning commute soundtracked by Litefeet music , BSNYEA’s edit became a lowkey hit around my house, pumping the sound of having incredible dancers not step on your feet to unsuspecting country folk at all hours. Here’s hoping this release has inspired KG to return to producing as she clearly specializes in crafting pure fire.
Goon Club’s other 2018 record came courtesy of label alum DJ Lag, who was last featured in my 2016 round-up with his murderous “16th Step” (and who quite literally beat my dancing ass down to the ground when I saw him in Brooklyn in the spring of 2017). 2018’s Stampit was yet another all-killer-no-filler four tracker of icy, polyrhythmic minimalism with highlights including the brutal and martial “Drumming” and the beguiling flutes of “3 Step Culo.” As it would be silly to talk about Gqom and gloss over Durban’s white-hot Gqom Oh! label whose 2018 got off to a promising start with a wildly consistent nine-track compilation EP featuring the likes of DJ Lag, Rudeboyz, and Griffit Vigo. Despite the prominence of more established producers on the comp, it was the latter who stole the show with “Ree's vibe” and “Gqomu 5,” setting the stage for their solo vinyl debut in July with the bit-crushed double feature of “DJ” and “Gqom 6.” While I’ll be the first to admit that the minor-key horror dance of Gqom can sometimes wear a bit thin, all three of these releases made irrefutable cases for continuing to keep an open ear on South Africa’s exciting underground dance styles.
martinou - Enough Nuance (UntilMyHeartStops 2018)
Tom Ellis - Tradition No 3 (UntilMyHeartStops 2018)
Leif - Bluebird / Number 13 (Tio Series 2018)
The Irish producer Leif casts an impressively subtle shadow over contemporary dance music, synthesizing bleeding-edge trends with an archivist’s knowledge of house and techno production styles. In 2018, he continued quietly trucking along to his own beat, releasing the stupefying rhythm-melodies of “Bluebird” and “Number 13” on an attractive ten-inch release via Tio Series, the home of an equally blinding ten-inch released by the producer in 2017. The arpeggiations run fast and hot on either side over spartan and smartly-delayed drums, casting melodic magic that seems to take in both Sino-Grime and twee inspirations, translating them into a verbiage all the producer’s own. Similarly, his Bristol-based UntilMyHeartStops has built up an impressive discography of coup de fodre-drunk house tools and in 2018, martinou and Tom Ellis both contributed studious sets of wallflower dance music, music that seems destined to fade into the background until it slaps you upside the head, be it the head-turning bassline on martinou’s “Excessively, Surely” or Ellis’ muted’n’sampled tribalisms on “The Wave Function.”
Various - Drome Tapes EP1 - Phuture Classical Appendix A (Tabernacle Records 2018)
Various - Drome Tapes EP2 - Phuture Classical Supplement B (Tabernacle Records 2018)
Various - Drome Tapes EP3 - Phuture Classical Section C (Tabernacle Records 2018)
There’s an inherent gambit in digging through the archive of the under-appreciated and overlooked. Sure, it might just be another throwaway that’s still valuable for its (un)timely style but it could also be ahead of its time! A perfect example of the the fact that the market doesn’t always know what’s best. Of course, that still leaves a pretty considerable middle ground of stuff that might not be revolutionary but is certainly not awful either, the sort of people-pleasing music off of which streaming platforms thrive. And considering how much of contemporary production seems intent to suck upon the bones of rave—not exactly the most sophisticated but certainly entertaining music, after all—it feels only fitting that Poland’s Tabernacle Records would press to wax a selection of tracks pulled from the three-volume Phuture Classical series released between 1992 and 1993 from Utrecht, each volume pressed in an edition of 250. Personally, I have sort of a niche love for accomplished amateurish dance music, tracks that groove but also employ the type of tricks and gimmicks a fairly novice producer. And from played-backwards drums to the endless rave vamps and big-drama breakdowns, those tics are all on full blast as other tracks from the original Drome Tapes comps were signed to U-Trax and Djax-Up-Beats. But what’s also going on in many of the tracks is the type of unlearned experimentation that made 90s electronic music so goddamn exciting as the cheapening means of production lowered the bar of entry for many, those moments that become less prevalent as one grows in their production abilities, internalizing certain conventions and developing particular biases. There’s a shared sense of wide-eyed wonderment going on here and the joy is infectious. Buckle in.
Elise - Leaves From Yoyogi (Man Band rec. 2018)
Toma Kami - Slither EP (Man Band rec. 2018)
Twoman - Stratosphere (Man Band rec. 2018)
Various - Man Band 06 (Man Band rec. 2018)
Toma Kami - Can’t Stop Samplin’ (Man Band rec. 2018)
Underground dance music’s interest in mind-body parallelism deepens. Whether it’s Kodwo Eshun erasing the boundaries between “head music” and the dance floor, Livity Sound’s self-identification as releasing “Body Music,” or Paul C. Jasen interrogating Deleuze and Spinoza’s intersection with bass frequencies in Low End Theory: Bass, Bodies and the Materiality of Sonic Experience, more and more label heads, producers, and writers seem uninterested in erecting any unnecessary distinctions between our butts and brains. So when I finally got around to checking Toma Kani’s newish imprint Man Band records, it almost felt too on-the-nose that they would characterize their output as “mind and body excursions.” The London-based label, which got its start in late 2017, doubled down on its output for 2018, released five deep-thinking platters in 2018 that included two efforts from its label head in the form of the effusive “Can’t Stop Samplin’” dubplate and the inverted house styles of Slither. Kicking off the year for the label was the debut EP from Elise, an inspired mis-reading of house music tropes, rendered impossibly fresh in the producer’s coffee-ringed palimpsest. Rounding out the label’s output was Twoman’s dusty UKG variations and a smashing label comp that cast a wide net, stretching from dj sacom’s 90s-tinged downtempo to Forest Drive West’s learned steppers and Patrick Flint’s drone-guided hoverers.
STP - The Fall Remixes (The Final Experiment 2018)
Was it just me, or did it feel like the first world lost its sense of rhythm at the turn of the century? Considering how thoroughly the elecro-rhythmic terrain was excavated in the nineties, the great rhythmic recession of the 00s saw dance music on a whole becoming more rhythmically conservative (speaking in broad strokes here) while letting the sonic end of the spectrum go totally HAM. For listeners like myself who discovered the world of René Pawlowitz via his breakthrough Shedding The Past album as Shed, one might not initially clocked the producer as a UK-indebted explorer of the rhythmic fringes, so neat and confined were the sounds and beats on that album. Following a 2009 remix EP back that featured the mighty talents of both T++ and Peverelist, Pawlowitz returned once more to his early-career breakthrough with treatments from two of his aliases. Now, for anyone who's been following his career since the mid-00s, over the course of Shedding's follow-ups--including last year's criminally-overlooked The Final Experiment--the producer soon revealed his productions to be far more rhythmically ambitious on such album-buried bangers as "Keep Time" as well as his fervor for breakbeat techno back when nary a beat was heard that didn't sound machine-made. All of which is to say, if you've been paying attention, then his Panamax Refix of "The Fall" likely wasn't as much of a world wrecker as it was for me. But hey, dude puts out a shit ton of dance music. Either way, the rhythm science heard on the A-side is truly something to behold as a raucous funk beat is dilated through space and time, blown comically out of proportion so as to leave the track's rudimentary melodic elements in charge of keeping the beat. And while the child voice sample and orchestral-choral melodies are decidedly 90s-facing, the forcefully protracted and seamless rhythm situates the track persistently within the present. Fearless futurism.
Hodge - Beneath Two Moons (Berceuse Heroique 2018)
CVX - Zibaldone III of CVX (Berceuse Heroique 2018)
Duckett - Emperor's New Clothes Part 1 (Berceuse Heroique 2018)
Jay Glass Dubs - The Safest Dub (Berceuse Heroique 2018)
Don't DJ - All Love Affairs Fail But They Never End (Berceuse Heroique 2018)
In spite of his ability to rankle plenty of dance music tastemakers, Giz’s Berceuse Heroique label always manages to stay painfully relevant and 2018 saw the label continuing to raise its own impossibly-high bar, kicking the year off right with the latest selection of Hodge’s technoid pot boilers. Always happy to take a left turn, the label did just that with June’s astonishing selection of erudite sampledelia and producer poetry from the curious CVX. That month was a busy one for the label as it also saw them putting out a jaw-dropping trio of Quiet Storm-inspired dub workouts from Jay Glass Dubs and a summer-y selection of fourth-world house flavors from personal fave Duckett. While I was admittedly unmoved by the Monrella also released in June, the label concluded its twelve-inch release schedule in July with what I consider to be Don’t DJ’s best release in years, the thoughtfully percussive All Love Affairs Fail But They Never End, which boasted a dazzling slice of digital psychedelia via NWAQ’s jaw-droppingly opaque dub of “Veles.” Great job, gang.
Abacus - Basic Amounts (Innermoods 2018)
Roberta - Your Woman (Innermoods 2018)
I’ve been pretty vocal about my belief that the younger side of Brooklyn dance music is producing some of the more underwhelming and overly-hyped contemporary dance music, loudly clogging up weekly release re-caps and dance music trend pieces. But it’s a big borough and if you choose to look beyond the stunted lot outlawing hand-clapping at Bossa Nova, there is much to be found from older, more-experienced heads. James Duncan, who has leant his horn work to the likes of Metro Area and Liquid Liquid’s Sal Principato, has been preaching the deep house gospel for two decades now, but 2018 saw him jumpstarting the Brooklyn-based Innermoods label with four must-buy slices of single-sided vinyl. Kicking things off with his own two-tracker of top-shelf deepness, the label quickly went stratospheric when their second release shepherded the return of living legend Abacus, who demonstrated that those who have lived more often have the most to say with the stupefyingly smooth thirteen-minute vocal odyssey “Basic Amounts.” And while DK & TS’s Danny Krivit and Tony Smith-remixed Miracle Remixes allowed record collectors to get their mitts on a hard-to-find pair of tracks, it was Brooklynite and Night Moves Records alum Roberta who gave the GOAT Abacus a run for his MVP status with the rapturous disco house of “Your Woman.” Yet another buy-on-sight label, LE SIGH.
Bambounou - Parametr Perkusja Ep (Disk 2018)
Marsesura / Uwalmassa / Wahono - Animisme (Disk/DIVISI62 2018)
Baptisma – Pes EP (Disk 2018)
In addition to putting out a fantastic EP via Berceuse Heroique, Don’t DJ’s Florian Meyer channelled energy into releasing a trio of percussive pat-downs from a variety of new and established voices rising up from the continent and beyond. The label’s 2018 got off to a roaring start with the June release of Frenchman Bambounou’s latest effort, a trio of out-there percussive poems that were as much a testament to his love for non-western rhythmic science as his taste for Simo Cell-informed bass magick (was it just me or did “Kosovo Hardcore” feel like a tribal update of “Stop The Killing?”) Also released over the summer was the label’s first team-up with the must-watch Indonesian label DIVISI62 that saw three of the country’s accomplished production voices each try their hand at constructing solemnly ecstatic dance music rituals with MadJazz alum Wahono turning in a stand-out track in the form of the harrowing “Pakar Gula Gending.” Finally, the label ended the year with the debut record from newcomer Baptisma and his unique brand of thundering tribal backed with a cracking Hodge remix.
SnP 500 - SnP 500 (Doo Records 2018)
Outside of being able to recite the following Bandcamp info that SnP is the combined work of a Sentena and DJ Spence out on Montreal’s fresh-cut Doo Records label, there’s not much else I’ve found about this record and hey, that’s almost preferable to me at this point. Backstories are cool and all and they give the corporate press something to write about, but at the end of the day I’m just looking to find engaging and exciting jams. The three tracks found on SnP 500 are all rather develish, the two A-side cuts in particular charting lower-BPM and non-4Beat territory, be it on the slow-moving destroyer that is “Eart” or the awkwardly stubborn death march of “Rock Song.” Closing out the EP is the side-length New Age house epic “44,” a track that would surely get plenty of play with the Pacific House crowd and for good reason. Though far more conventional than the two range-roving A-side tracks, “44” is a patient and unhurried study in spacious atmospherics, ass-jacking beats, and marimba bro dramatics. Just because my eyes are rolling into the back of my head doesn’t mean I’m not having a good time;)
Gaspard de La Montagne - Spectres (SBIRE 2018)
Isolated Lines & Gotshell - Front Line (SBIRE 2018)
What is it with sad music? Or rather, what is up with how we all seem to default to a bummer mode in our moments of escapism or self-soothing? And I’m as guilty of this as the next person, “mournful” being one of my many overused descriptors. Coming across Gaspard de la Montagne’s Spectres EP via the Hardwax newsletter a couple months back, I was instantly struck by the subdued, snowy flavors conjured up by the sober chamber-like dirge that sits at the center of the track. It’s cinematic music and I’ve always been a sucker for it. SBIRE founders de la Montagne and Isolated Lines at least sound like they’ve listened to a lot of Arvo Pärt in their time and that’s not usually a bad thing. It’s music that is all too-fitting for having come out of Switzerland, or rather, it feels that way and isn’t that what this is all about anyway? The feelings? Anyway, though I might have come for the emotions, I stayed for the stories. And both label heads know how to construct a four-track page turner, one that feels like a slow burn while having the instant and ample payoffs that thrive in this, our current golden age of television. Spectres moves glacially, absorbing those smaller entities into its core, transitioning from removed despair to cautious euphoria amongst the snowflake args floating around “Masque”’s upper register before the blissful plateaus of “Perspectives (1 & 2)” play us out and onto Isolated Lines’ mangled techno and their ornery Front Line. The first half is with Gotshell and the A side is chocked full of dread and foreboding over post-industrial sonics that pack a bite without taking off your whole arm.
K2 aka KERO/KYLE HALL - Zug Tools (Detroit Underground 2018)
Kyle Hall - Equanimity EP (Wild Oats 2018)
Q’D’ - Pure Amethyst (Wild Oats 2018)
Kyle Hall has been killing it the past few years, which really isn’t that much of a surprise considering the upward trajectory he’s been on for over a decade at this point. Still, just going off of the liner notes he penned for last year’s Eutrophia Sevan seven-inch and the staggering debut record from Detroit’s Caron Miller aka Q’D’, Hall has gotten into crystals and other New Age-y spiritual delights and we’re all reaping the enlightened results of his studies. Hall’s 2018 got started early with the January release of his third outing with Kero, who incidentally has a solid 2016 collab record for Blueprint with SBIRE alum Gotshell. The two tracks on Zug Tools saw Hall and Kero continuing to chart new terrain on the outer edges of house, techno, and electro with the stubborn and mangled acid of “FASTR9000” and the alien lowrider jam “19FT.” And as delightfully odd as that record was, Hall’s year quickly went stratospheric when he released the rapturous piano house of Q’D’’s “Pure” and the jacking “Amethyst,” the former being one of my favorite house tracks of the year as I am always a sucker for psychedelic ivory-tickling. Finally, in October, Hall issued his own EP via the four awe-filled tracks that comprise Equanimity. You know, this has been the year where I’ve found myself admitting to myself that I am in constant wonderment of the world and that’s what I hear coming from Hall, a wide-eyed curiosity mixed with an autodidact’s thrill of discovery and a soloist’s dexterity, his own bemused sense of confidence infecting the listener at every turn.
Hey! Did you know that UKG legends Dem 2 quietly released a twelve-inch of archival material in 2018, a sequel to the 2017-issued From Da Vaults collection? And while it’s unclear whether these recordings are taken from the combined output of Spencer Edwards and Dean Boylan prior to their separation in 2011 or from Boylan’s solo output, to my ears the four tracks contained on Volume 2 seemed to date from the halcyon days of when UKG was the sweetest flavor in the land. Either way, it’s an essential reminder that yes, for all the impossible British media hype, peak-era UKG really was that special.
Released on the newish anno imprint, Loidis is a brand new alias for Huerco S. and a rather clever one as it sounds like the type of 90s ambient techno act you'd find on Apollo or the like. Continuing his penchant for haiku-length titles, A Parade, In The Place I Sit, The Floating World (& All Its Pleasures) features three extended 4x4 walkabouts that re-familiarize those listeners who first fell in love with Leeds' music at the start of the decade with the bucolic and expertly-assembled dance music that's been largely absent from his release schedule the past year and change. Clocking in at a solid fifteen minutes, B-side "The Floating World (& All Its Pleasures)" is where the record pushes through to a new level, surpassing its influences to create something that is wholly the creation of Leeds. Opening up on what sounds like a delayed striking of guitar strings and the rhythm that emerges from doing so, it creates a distinctively laid-back quality to the track while adding a solid bit of drag to the beat that leads to a bit of time dilation once things pass the five-minute mark. Ultimately, Brian Leeds has succeeded at doing what he does best here and that's creating a stunningly beautiful and simple piece of music rendered near indescribable by his singular sensibility. From the pacing to the sound design, not a single thing feels out of place or extraneous, each piece a plane of pure possibility realized to its fullest extent. This is the sound of future jazz.
Various - Anonymous Delusional Eros (Nous 2018)
Alyn - Rehtom (Nous 2018)
I spent the first quarter (and change) of 2018 trying to chart what I see to be a subtle, nuanced, but extremely exciting mutation within UK-inflected dance music. Following dubstep's descent to lowest common denominator status, plenty of producers have continued mining the space where that genre arose out of late forms of UK Garage and 2-Step, displacing the all-too ubiquitous formula of a metronomic kick drum and snare hits on the one and three while also refusing to be pigeonholed by one genre. Berlin's Nous label has always been a trusty source for unearthing new talent, most notably through their all-killer Ethos Series which has introduced now-established acts like Route 8 amongst a host of lesser-known artists. However, perhaps also sensing a new current in underground dance music, they issued what is arguably their most compelling release to with the six-track Anonymous Delusion Eros compilation.The record provides a summary some of the trends that have emerged within a particular strain of bass-heavy broken beat—is it broken bass?—as exemplified by Ayln's future bounce throwdown "Translinguistics." Located at the other end of the record is "What We Become" by Dreams, a track that could easily have found its way onto an early Ytivil Dnuos release, all post-Livity rhythmic pretzels and anticipation. It's a fitting end to an EP full of tracks that might feel like eternal builds to nothing for those not impressed by this sort of gray area 'techno,' but when deployed in the mix become much-needed interventions to Beatport techno. Following up on his Anonymous turn, Alyn gets five tracks to flaunt his brand of echoic dance music; hypnagogic jams that interpret tropes in novels ways and engage with intricate rhythms to keep every fiber of one’s being moving. Rehtom has a rawness to it that manages to avoid sounding like it’s trying to be lo-fi or noisey, content to fall between the lines and smudge up the instructions.
Created as the soundtrack to an installation by Delta, an artist who has helped develop Delsin's visual identity over a host of releases, the twenty-two minute piece has been cut at 45rpm and split between the A of Where You Go and the B of I Will Follow. The record sees Joachim Peteri integrating digital tools and sounds into his set-up to create one of the most entrancing and densely rewarding recordings of his twenty-five-plus year career. It's a release that can be played on your tinny laptop speakers as I did on the first go, secreting the new baby smell of pure wonder, but it's when played on headphones or proper speakers that its depths rise up to submerge the listener in its gestational, awe-struck headspace.
Rui Ho - Becoming Is An Eventful Situation (Objects Limited 2018)
Lara Rix-Martin’s Objects Limited became a fast favorite of mine after 2017’s utterly insane Pariah LP by footwork OG Jana Rush. In addition to the label releasing a promising EP from New Orleans’ Edge Slayer in 2018, they released an absolute stunner from Berlin-based artist Rui Ho. Working with an array of western and eastern sounds that feel like they’ve been both steeped in vaporwave while sidestepping that genre in favor of something a bit more meaty, Becoming is music for when you want to take your mind in place other than nostalgia, all while retaining some of those sun-bleached flavors. Plus, the EP also boasted the best title of any record I encountered all year, one that causes you to shake your head violently in agreement. Rui Ho’s music is an inherently rhythmic one as phantom beats are conjured up by her fast-slow melodies in which movements rest within movements, a supreme kineticism suffusing every atom in the mix. It’s eminently expressive music, dramatic and assured in the trues sense of those words..Also, must add that I genuinely hope that at some point in 2019 I get to break it down on the floor to “Supernova” (or the “x/o hypermix,” both are fire). What a fucking banger.
Dance music is the long game. Where Soundcloud rap’s cult of youth can feel painfully short-sighted at times—what’s the point of dismissing anyone over thirty if you too will be thirty one day? I truly don’t get it—in dance, it’s not uncommon for someone to not break through until their second or third decade in the game, if not later. But, as is the case with every facet of existence, we envy and fear the young and, at least hypothetically, valorize the most precocious members of our society, which often seems to set up many for early-stage burn-out. One of the wonderfully humbling aspects of electronic music’s longue durée is that one often is given the opportunity to eat their own words. When he first appeared on the 1080 label, I found it too easy to dismiss Queens-based J. Albert as yet another same-y voice in the endless parade of young dudes who seemingly discovered dance music six months before creating their first record.
Regardless of whether or not this is a fair assessment, it’s one I made and was sticking to until a record clerk highlighted Albert’s recent four-tracker for Will Bankhead’s always-interesting Trilogy Tapes imprint and I soon found myself investigating the back catalog of the producer’s own quite-solid Exotic Dance Records, which he runs with Person of Interest and was home to that fabulous Deejay Xanax record. For even when Albert’s productions run to the more lo-fi side of the spectrum, they boast an impressive pedigree that indicates the producer himself genuinely knows his shit. For his Trilogy twelve, Albert seemed to supply the UK label with a selection of tracks indelibly inspired by the country’s storied dance music history, the title track effortlessly synthesizing UKG and broken beats breakbeat science while “Deepstate Riddim” reimagines hardcore’s breakbeats to considerably more experimental ends. But for me, the record’s high point is found on the sleazy elegance of A1 cut “Money Between Friends” in which a delicately precise beat sits just below a glacial bed of strings, swooping bass rumbles buttressing a restless mid-range rhythm-melody, the producer displaying a remarkable acumen for building infinite tension. Music for extroverted introverts (Hello!)
Mbuelo - The Robotic People (Transmat 2018)
Alongside Juan Atkins' Metroplex and Kevin Saunderson's KMS imprints, Derrick May's Transmat--and its equally amazing sublabel Fragile Records--has quietly continued on releasing bangers new and old, though they've been largely quiet since 2016. That all changed around the middle of July when the label initiated a sudden sonic strike on the general dancing populace with new twelves from UR vets Scan 7 in prime house mode plus the twelve-inch debuts of house producer Drummer B and South African producer Mbuelo's singular post-UKG sketches. It's the Mbuelo release that really caught my ears by surprise. Where the other two records both stay well within Detroit dance music traditions, the four-track Robot People is a stunningly confident debut that takes the polyrhythmic kicks and snares of late UKG and infuses them with balmy, dank atmospherics. On the title track of a lead single, Mbuelo manages to evoke a tribal processual through his stark and forceful kick drum rhythms and booming subs, the attendant percussion largely serving to re-emphasize the primary pattern. The producer really shows off his sense of pacing, not dropping the 8-bit crunch of his snare on the two and four, shifting the direction of the track from circuitous nodder to lowdown booty shaker. By the time the principle melodic motif steps to the forefront, so much earth and sediment have made their way into the mix that the notes serve to moisten the arid ground beneath it worn thin from the heavy dancing feet. A most promising debut.
Phork - No Afterlife (Opal Tapes 2018)
Lyubocha - Berzerk (Black Opal 2018)
Lyra Valenza - Scan, Deliver (Black Opal 2018)
It’s pretty hard to ignore Stephen Bishop’s Opal Tapes imprint and its vinyl-focused Black Opal arm. And if you did ignore the labels, then you’d be missing out on some of the more exciting outer-dance music excursions in existence. That said, considering how prolific Bishop is with his A&R’ing, it’s certainly a challenge to keep up and it’s become something of a tradition around these parts to spend late December and early January catching up on all the oddities that grace the label’s Bandcamp page. And honestly, I can almost always assume that there was something great that I managed to miss, which is impressive in and of itself. Now, the flipside of the above equation is that there’s also a fair bit of material that fails to inspire, something that the first half of Lyubocha’s April-released four-tracker Berzerk threatened to do with its slightly tired retread of the aggressive acid formula. However, all was quickly forgiven when I made it to the B-side’s stepping rhythms and endless tension-building. On “Nenavist,” the producer drops the stale 4beat in favor of an outré-electro rhythmic backbone, leaving the high hats to keep the pulse until the claps finally come in on the two and four. “Nikogda” goes for the chin-stroking tribal vibe, mallets and shakers ratcheting up the tension for a booty-bouncing good time. The four tracks that grace Phork’s No Afterlife tape take in a different range of influences from what most noise-techno folk seem to reference, the looped vocals of “My Love” and the eternal build of “No Afterlife” suggesting an affinity for NY Garage and French Touch. Plus, I learned about Phork from a Beatrice Dillon mix, which translates into infinite bonus points.
However, while both the Phork and Lyubocha releases had plenty going for them, the unquestionable highlight of the label’s 2018 output was their inspired team-up with the Danish imprint Petrola 80 for a staggeringly ambitious and accomplished four-tracker from the Copenhagen duo of Lyra Valenza. Scan, Deliver was one of the more astonishing records I heard all year and was one that caught me sincerely off-guard as I expect any record doing the whole fake label look would be as uninspired as the cover art. Add in the fact that these two young producers are very much operating in the rave revivalist arena and there’s no doubt that the odds were stacked against this record from the jump. Pairing post-rave histrionics with an amphetamine-fueled velocity not unlike that of footwork, but written in a different rhythmic language, Scan Deliver hoovers up a stadium full of ideas and blows them back out at a dizzying speed, every bar bursting with thoughts and tangents. The EP achieves the only real thing I ever look for in records these days: the sense that the artists are simply creating the only music in the vernacular that feels the most sincere to them. Really, really special stuff.
Manos Tsangaris - Elephant’s Easy Moonwalk Through The Night (Exaudio/Nonplace 1990/2018)
Mohammad Reza Mortazavi - Focus (Padre Himalaya 2018)
There’s a 2002 Sasha Frere-Jones essay “Subject/Object: Firsthand Knowledge in Criticism” that I love to hate. And truly, there’s a genuine pleasure I get from it as the writer makes the case for why musicians shouldn’t be music critics while also arguing for those “informed polymaths” who can set their self-interested musician subjectivity aside when writing criticism, or something. It’s a frustrating essay, especially when read in light of Frere-Jones’ alleged ethical lapses (whose own credits include being the drummer for UI), but still one I think about a lot as it’s hard not to review the records I’ve included in this list and not see them as a direct reflection of my own personal background as a drummer and DJ. Of course, some degree of specialization is to be expected when one has spent the vast majority of their thirty-four years on this mortal coil obsessed with listening to and playing music. But it also doesn’t hurt to at least attempt and identify the patterns in one’s picks in order to guard against the hidden biases that act as reality filters.
All of which is to say, the inclusion of EPs from the gifted percussionists Manos Tsangaris and Mohammad Reza Mortzavi is a bit insider baseball-ish of me but they are still two records I deeply enjoyed and thus fit in with my intensely subjective approach to this listicle. Former Burnt Friedman collaborator Mortzavi’s—they released the dazzling Yek EP on Friedman’s own Nonplace label in 2017—principle instrument is the Tonbak and the five brief and solitary compositions found on Focus show the percussionist’s deep mastery over his principle instrument and other drums in addition to his own nuanced command of rhythm, whether it’s the fractal echoes of EP opener “Going” or the booming walkabout “White Daf.” Originally released in 1990, Tsangaris’ Elephant’s Easy Moonwalk Through The Night contains two side-long pieces occupy the non-space (heh) between linear and nonlinear. A walker viewed from the side appears to be heading in one direction whereas if seen from above, their path is revealed to be endlessly zig-sagging. There is no goal or endpoint, the journey is the destination. Pure rhythmic science.
Flame 1 - Fog/Shrine (Pressure 2018)
Ladies and Gentlemen, the best illbient record in ages. Believe me, I was not particularly eager to pick up this record, despite being a bit of a Burial completist (though I have falled behind since that last Hyperdub 10"). While Burial (Will Beven) has released a few notable, ableit lackluster, collaborations with the likes of Four Tet and Thom Yorke as well as Zomby, The Bug's Kevin Martin is a serial collaborator, first making a name for himself in the nineties alongside Justin Broderick in Techno Animal or with Sonic Boom & Co. as Experimental Audio Research. Once he got underway with his doom-laden dancehall as The Bug, he began working with a cadre of vocalists to take his riddims to the next level while adroitly acknowledging certain shared sensibilities with Dubstep--stomach churning bass, vibes-heavy halfstep---and then moving beyond to craft what many consider to be his best album, London Zoo. While I didn't care too much for Zoo and loved Angels & Devils as a bizarre instantiation of the pop album, I have longed for the more atmospheric Bug material without vocalists to the point that Tapping The Conversation and Pressure feel more like ambient works to me compared to the super-charged tracks he makes for Ninja Tune. Where Burial lives his life behind a veil of secrecy, pulling back the curtains from time to time without notice to surprise us with a release, Martin's output has been almost nonstop since the nineties. And while Burial seems to effortlessly synthesize video game samples and UK dance music's multi-faceted specter, Martin is an artist who's always worked in a rather additive fashion; after all, the whole guiding idea behind The Bug aesthetic has been a synthesis between the dub mechanics of the Scientist and King Tubby and the drone metal of The Swans. Of course, being on a big indie like Ninja Tune has it perks, like Martin getting his own label to further explore his brand of music. 2017 saw The Bug teaming up with doom stoner metal veteran Dylan Carlson of Earth. On Concrete Desert, I was struck by Smith's unusually light drum work and focus on subtle sound design meant to accentuate Carlson's playing. Still, the album meandered and lacked the sense of purpose Martin's more song-based efforts boast and one was left feeling like they were listening to both artists play but not necessarily together. This is not the case with Martin's and Bevan's work together as they've created what is without doubt the most enjoyable Bug record these ears have ever heard. Leading the two-track affair is the motorik-lite dub of "Fog" where Burial's influence is felt in the damp, chilly weather that gradually picks up into a windy white noise, nearly nullifying the forward motion of the beat itself. "Pressure" sees us back in Illbient territory--where The Bug cut his younger teeth--as a steady beat threatens to derail under the weight of the palpable bass pressure rising beneath.
Pascäal - No Pain (Clave House 2018)
Ali Berger - The Protector (Clave House 2018)
Traditionalism in dance music is an odd beast. In a scene where futurism plays such an outsized yet crucial role and its own history is so incredibly nuanced and rich with ideas, there exists a fine line between inspired idea-sampling and craven conservativism, between being forward-facing and painfully myopic. Like most things in life, the greatest clarity can often be obtained by ignoring trends and bandwagon-jumping in favor of trying to identify what works for you and why it’s successful. It’s such logic that has made SL-1200s, 303s/808s/909s, and Ableton into powerful tools of the craft while also empowering those uninspired copycats to believe that they can touch greatness simply by using the same gear as their idols.
Since emerging in 2017 with their first two releases--including the stellar and sublime Shinjuku Lights EP by 外神田deepspace--the Detroit-based Clave House has quickly established itself as thriving at the crossroads between tradition and innovation. Specializing in house music that orbits the outer limits while making considerable use of classic hardware and emulator VSTs, the producers associated with the label’s 2018 output both seem to hail from Detroit and understandably possess a deep understanding of the language of house and techno. Pascäal is Peter Wiley, a Brooklyn transplant (last time I checked at least), whose tracks have the ad hoc sensibility of a live jam session, a quality that is shared by many other younger North American dance music producers, though few seem to possess Wiley or labelmate Ali Berger’s sense of editing and structure. Where Wiley’s compositions unfurl gradually, with most of a track’s elements introduced upfront and then teased out over six to eight minutes, Berger’s tracks sound considerably more composed. As is exemplified by the first two tracks off of her Protector EP, she clearly wields a deft hand as an editor, the second half of “Theme for Hamtramck City Hall” hitting the listener like a bag of bricks when the melodic smoke comes barreling to the forefront. The B side of Protector isn’t quite as compelling as the A, but between “Theme” and the A2 title track, she cuts an imposing figure and her and Wiley both are producers who I will keeping an eye on going forward.
The 2010s have seen the nature of music genres change in ways that owe much to file sharing and streaming as the type of environment in which music will be heard increasingly dictates how certain tracks are made. Until fairly recently, the press played a much more involved role in picking out emergent patterns and assigning them a label that would soon be over-used and eventually stripped of much of its meaning, be it post-rock, vaporwave, or bass music. Today record store-authored descriptors like “big room” or “festival-ready” and streaming platform-friendly descriptors like “chill” or “deep” are arguably much-more ubiquitous and have helped to fill some of the vacuum created by a comment-shy press. And look, I can genuinely empathize with publications and writers being much less eager to trend spot given how much backlash seems to greet any article attempting to make sense of what is essentially a wild west moment in popular music history. It’s not only just a thankless task, but also a necessary one, especially when the market feels more glutted than ever before and scenes have shed their geographic origins in favor of far more conceptual ones. So many young music fans are now introduced to new acts via festivals and mega clubs and the music they hear is often tailored to soundtrack throwing your hands up, buying drinks, and taking shitty rave drugs. Yet the dance music press often seems intent on overlooking the context in which music is heard, valorizing those artists with clickable back stories and providing them with a one-way ticket to festival line-ups while failing to consider how the environment informs what a DJ selects and what a promoter books, continually edging out artists who don’t fit into a big room-ready box.
I mention all this because it’s the “big room” descriptor that I find myself constantly applying to the sadsack bangers created by Nocow (née Aleksei Nikitin), who creates the kind of throw-your-hands-up, room one-ready tracks that has landed him on Radioslave’s REKIDS twice now. Although the producer’s music feels tailor-made for mainstream DJ’s, it also possesses a remarkable amount of depth and character. His formula is fairly straight-forward, often combining a bite-sized minor-key figure with longing, Dance Mania-esque vox. It’s also insanely effective and the best iteration of it came via a triple EP set for Len Faki’s Figure label that saw the producer turning in a varied set of tracks that both played to his strengths, like on the rave dirge tear-down of “Forgiven,” while also pushing into higher BPMs, chilly interludes, and ghettotech-jacking rhythms. The set felt like a sequel to the previous year’s high watermark Ledyanoy Album, which was released on Gost Zvuk and saw the producer indulging in equal parts form and function. Nikitin excels at crafting quiet melodic fireworks, as evidenced by Voda’s open duo of Vdaleke and the muted diva house of “Placeholder,” and all three records duck and weave through a neverending succession of peaks and valleys that always feel dramatic without ever coming off as cheap or gimmicky. And that’s not an easy balancing act by any measure.
Young Paint - Young Paint (Werk Ltd. 2018)
Now well into the second decade of his career, I sometimes wonder what releasing new music must be like for Darren Cunningham when he’s released so much already that’s been rightfully held up as a complete gamechanger. After all, how many times can you rewrite the rules before rewriting the rules becomes the gimmick? Well, I guess one thing you can is to put out one of the best records you’ve released in years and give the credit to an AI program. Whether the existence of AI was meant to inspire bemused write-ups, pre-empt any critical dissatisfaction, or to simply exist as a tongue-in-cheek meta-commentary of his own career, there’s no denying that Actress’ Young Paint moniker seemed to signal a new stage in the producer’s evolution, one that saw him funneling his restless energy into six laser-focused sketches, each one chasing its own idea across the map, existing only for as long as it needs to, be it the Aaron Spelling dramatics of opener “Travel Paint” or the upper-BPM technomania of “Neutral Paint.” Like much of Actress’ catalog, each track on Young Paint conjures up a world all its own, yet by the time one gets to the sludge funk-penultimate cut “Ai Paint,” the smudged through lines connecting the whole EP start to reveal themselves, and the chaos starts to feel intelligently designed as Cunningham’s AI Pinnochio gazes off into the artificial sunset, content to drift off amongst dreams of boyhood.
Abby Echiverri - Ab Initio (The Bunker New York 2018)
Logan Takahashi - Crema (Ghostly International 2018)
Earlier today, I learned while talking to a friend and fellow DJ that RA closed its comments section. I think it says a lot about our current moment that the first word to come out of my mouth, and plenty of others’, was “good.” I love the internet, but for any number of reasons, 2018 was the year that I and, again, plenty of others, finally found our generally positive perception of the internet inverting into a negative one. But is that a reason to close down a free speech platform? At this point, I sincerely do not know as if I’ll remember anything about 2018, it’s that it was a year when I found myself questioning my own free speech convictions in a way I never have. It’s a heart breaker, for true, and one that I’ve found myself re-familiarizing myself with the pointless shitshow that was 2014’s Gamergate in order to try and make sense of the current moment. Because honestly, what better way to understand many of the current moment’s antagonisms than to look at that particular moment when clueless white dudes (and their defenders) decided to unite together around their own awfulness, presaging the alt-right’s concretization? For me at least, it’s hard to imagine anyone who wields influence within a particular media community or culture not wanting to enable such a fruitless reckoning of those who rely on games or music or anime or some other navelgazing media format for an articulation or definition of their own identity. It’s a real bummer to realize how much of our own time we allow trolls and corporations to co-opt our attention, highjacking our intellectual and emotional labor and leaving us empty and drained as a result.
Personally, I think that this is just the latest in a long line of incidents that speaks to just how much there needs to be more independent operators writing about dance music. If nothing else comes of this, I hope RA’s actions inspires others to try and fill the vacuum as RA has long occupied an ethically precarious position of writing about underground dance music while selling tickets and establishing itself as a near-monopoly over dozens of cities’ night life and thousands of independent promoters. One of the things that makes trolls so loathsome is their willingness to bitch about anything and everything while doing very little to create new independent platforms of their own. Are you a hateful piece of shit who loves dance music? Then create your own goddamn site to talk about how much you hate DJ’s who don’t look like you. It’s literally that simple.
Cuz let’s be real, when we talk about the RA-ification of dance music, what we’re talking about is the fact that one site wields a massive amount of influence over an extremely wide sphere of artists, music industry folk, and punters. When you look at the line-up for a dance festival, you can be sure that most of the artists featured will have been covered in RA (and most have been featured in other festivals). It’s a site that regularly breaks artists by virtue of simply covering them and helps to sustain an entire industry by taking a cut from promoters and we’ve all enabled them to do so. Back when I was trawling the internet to compile a list of all the independent music sites I could find, what was most shocking was seeing how, outside of corporate-backed sites like Electronic Beats and RBMA or 90s holdovers like XLR8R or Mixmag, no other site came even close to commanding the audience or influence that RA does (with the exception of the corporation-friendly Boiler Room). Dance music in the 2010s has surged in popularity and has attracted a lot money, but it would seem that artists and those who write about them see virtually none of that cash. And part of the problems is that we’re fine with that and often won’t say anything because very few people go into dance music to get rich or even just not-poor. But when I see a bunch of people who haven’t contributed jackshit to the culture bitching about how it’s dying, I get understandably annoyed. I keep expecting music blogs to come back in fashion and find myself wondering at this point each year how that hasn’t happened yet. So, as I really do try to always see the silver lining, if RA shutting down its comments means people finally realize that they can easily write about music themselves—and hey, maybe they’ll realize how much easier it is to talk shit than trying to actually say something people will find interesting, then good, great. But I’m certainly not holding my breath.
OK, I’m sure you’re wondering what this has to do with the wonderful EPs released by Abby and Logan. I consider both of them long-time friends who I’ve met through music and thus feel compelled to offer my own form of full disclosure (which of course quickly went from A to B to Z). It admittedly feels almost trite to talk about journalistic ethics as an independent operator when their are so many other sites and actors out there who over-estimate their roles within the 2019 media ecosystem and believe they can do whatever it is they wish to do, but alas, much like global warming, the problem will only get worse unless we actually assume the bare minimum of responsibility. So yeah, those are my homies and I’m mad proud of the records they put out in 2018, Logan’s Crema being a serious step forward in his production voice while Abbi does what she does best in always bringing her A game to the table. Two thumbs up.