Waves of darkness are sweeping through the electronic music world this month. From the cavernous dub of Scorn to the vintage jungle of Ruffkut, the near-death experiences of Errant Monks to the Latin American mind-scouring of Debit and Aggromance, there are untold examples of how far club and soundsystem music can venture into the scarier parts of the human soul. But don’t worry, there’s refinement and joy too. Warm-hearted Australian acid, mischievous classic house, Mancunian retro sci-fi optimism, and the jazz-inflected soul of London are all here to provide warmth.
From Suicide to Add N To (X), there’s a grand tradition of brutish electronics that doesn’t care about technical innovation; these artists just switch on a drum machine and get down and dirty. It’s in this noble lineage that Belgian producer Carageenan operates. These six long tracks (they range from six to 15 minutes) are all about the blunt, basic slam and judder of drum sounds, the snarl of distorted bass, and the squeal of synth resonance, repeated and repeated and repeated until your brain is numb and your feet are moving. They are brilliant.
Track 39 EP
House music is generally at its best when it is at its bluntest and rudest. Baltimore-born Detroit resident LADYMONIX hits all the right spots with her sassy, smutty samples, choppy edits, and bumping beats. There are large helpings of early ‘90s New York, New Jersey, and Chicago in these three tracks (and one alternate version), but it constantly feels fresh, because you can hear without question it’s the product of a working DJ’s ear, with full knowledge of the bodies it’s going to move. It’s also raising money for a documentary about the city’s black trans women—so there’s no excuse not to cop it.
Breather / Bleeder
More from Detroit—altogether different, but equally down and dirty. This is mixed up, messed up, agit punk acid. Its booty bass derived rhythms are so aggravated and stop-start that they feel like anti-funk; its gurgling 303s slither around like bodily fluids, its production is designed to slice through the nastiest brain fog. If you have any doubt about its punk credentials, there’s also a cover version of “Shaved Women” by venerable Brit anarcho-punks Crass. It’s both in-your-face and hugely likeable.
North Londoner K15 has been around the block, but as the record title suggests, it’s clear he’s anything but jaded. These spectacularly smooth explorations of the interzone between house, neo-soul, and beat scene stuff prove wonderfully that accomplishment and sophistication don’t have to equal blandness. The bumping sub-bass, churchy Hammond organ chords, wiggly-worm synth leads, crisp claps, and classic ‘70s psych-soul melodies all sound fresh.
This LP had the potential to be a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. Individually, Max D, Co La, Jeremy Hyman, and Motion Graphics make brilliant high-res abstract electronics and electroacoustic music. But getting production talents together to jam live like this could easily result in far too much detail. As it turns out, though, this is some of the most poised and elegant music you could imagine. Sometimes touching on jazz, sometimes trip-hop, sometimes Autechrean sound sculpture, sometimes on blissed-out and sensuous chillout, it’s never exactly easy listening, but it never lets go of the pleasure principle, either.
The Limit Experience
You wouldn’t need to know that Joseph Charms had suffered addiction and psychosis culminating in near-death from alcohol withdrawal to know that this music comes from someplace dark. The throbs and pulses here are assembled with a loose collective of musicians including Neil Francis of GNOD and Terminal Cheesecake, and they provide a framework for the distorted voiceovers that Charms recorded on a dictaphone after waking up from his collapse. There are signifiers of lo-fi production—plenty of distortion and muffling—but the musicians are all virtuosic manipulators of weirdness, and know how to handle the music’s wildly disparate elements. The effect is somewhere between 2000s Coil and the murky dub you might find in illegal raves of the 1990s.
East Man & Walton
Horse Mouth / Gunshot
Of all the people exploring the interzones between that various styles of U.K. bass, two of the most consistently interesting are Manchester’s Sam Walton and London’s Anthoney Hart, aka East Man (also Basic Rhythm). Both of them are able to separate and blend different essential qualities of grime, techno, drum & bass, and other styles without diluting them—and that’s certainly the case here. “Horse Mouth” uses the kind of portentous Rasta proclamation sample about Babylon’s imminent collapse you’d expect in a rip-roaring jungle tune, but instead it gives way to a galloping four-to-the-floor pattern with heavy grime tonality. “Gunshot” is much slower and spacier, but it also uses grime’s sound palette, along with abrupt shouts snipped from pirate radio sets.
I Hate Models
L’Âge Des Métamorphoses
Compact Disc (CD), Other Vinyl
Perc Trax has been a reliable source of rough and ready ultra-distorted warehouse techno for 15 years now. But if label founder Perc’s 2017 Bitter Music album showed a desire to broaden artistic horizons, this album from Frenchman Guillaume Labadie takes things several degrees further. Techno of some brutality is still at the core here—ranging from sluggish crawl to gabber jackhammer—but death metal drumming, sci-fi operatics, distorted trance, and the sort of fiercely controlled treble you expect on deconstructed club records all add up to a dark, strange sonic movie that stretches to 93 minutes.
Plenty of people are using the sound palettes of trance and other commercial dance music in experimental structures, but not many do it with the sheer drama of British Columbia’s Antwood. Tracks like “Pillar of Inversions” and “Daniel the Stylite” take the audio representations of drug peak experiences in trance records and push them into terrifying intensity, where the angelic and infernal become indistinguishable. The ambient closer “Elder Theme” is a blessed relief—though it, too, sounds like you’re walking through an alien world.
From Australia via the Bedouin label’s home in the United Arab Emirates, this album also relies heavily on the sounds of trance. But where Antwood achieves physical intensity in the moment, this is more about velocity. Whether the tracks on this album are sparse electronic chimes or pummelling techno kicks, there’s a sense of tearing through space, or of constant rapid transition from one state to another. CORIN’s background is in classical composition, and it shows: her structures are meticulously constructed and extremely technical in their understanding of how tone and cadence create narrative. But once you’re immersed in the album, you’ll be thinking less of musical theory and more of the dark and thrilling worlds she takes you into.
Monterrey, Mexico-born New Yorker Delia Beatriz, aka Debit, has landed on a fresh sound for her third release, her first for Mexico City’s N.A.A.F.I. (“No Ambition And Fuck-all Interest”) collective. It takes the “tribal guarachero” vernacular dance sound of Northern Mexico and strips it of the folk melodies that make it so distinctive, revealing the electronic rhythmic framework underneath. Beatriz apparently studied Mayan languages and cosmology in the process of finding her musical mode, and even without knowing how that connects to the music, you can certainly hear deep thought in the geometries and bodily movements captured by these futuristic-sounding abstract grooves.
Amazondotcom, aka Stella Ahn, from Los Angeles, launches the new label she runs with Mexico City’s Siete Catorce (aka Marco Polo Gutiérrez) with an EP that demonstrates remarkable restraint. The rhythms and sounds here come from everything from shamanic rituals to U.K. garage, dancehall to abstract field recordings, but they’re all bound together by tight control over the placement and impact of every element. The crispness and vividness that this gives to each of these four tracks creates a hyper-real atmosphere—an eerie sense that solid visions are manifesting in the air right before you as the tracks play.
We That Would Eat The Fruit
This is the fourth of Jas Shaw of Simian Mobile Disco’s series of techno releases, and as with the ones before, it’s austere and stripped to basics. The title track uses a melodic riff that harks back to the mid ‘90s sounds of B12, early Autechre, and Black Dog. But it’s “A Cat In Gloves” that’s the real gem here, its shimmering, orchestral-sounding chords serving as a backdrop to the lip-smacking, heavy-breathing drum sounds for most of the track. They’re boosted by higher pitched string sounds in the song’s second half, radically altering the balance and energy without resorting to empty showboating.
This seven-track mini album from Argentina is a near perfect microcosm of the complex and varied club formations that seem to be spreading like wildfire across the global south. Incorporating the loping Latin American grooves of cumbia and reggaetón, pummelling populist hardcore dance sounds, the bass of grime and dub, and an intensely psychedelic approach to sound design, it ranges across a vast array of tempos and patterns. This is super-deep meditative sound making, but fearsomely immediate in its impact.
Jack Plant / Samuel Padden
Shoulder of Orion
A new label from Manchester takes a dive into techno sci-fi aesthetics. From the gorgeous cover art to the Detroit-inspired rhythms, from Blade Runner samples to whistles and chirrups that sound like signals from an alien civilization, no galaxy is left unexplored. Samuel Padden’s two tracks just barely take the edge over Jack Plants’ songs, for their beautifully controlled sub-bass and crisp electro beat programming. But both of them perfectly capture the optimism and sense of possibility in late ‘80s/early ‘90s techno, and deliver their music like the intervening years never happened.
Out of Melbourne, Australia comes some of the most warm-hearted acid you’ll hear this year. The 303s chirp and gurgle melodically through gently melancholic chords and classic techno rhythms (“Art Show”), low and slow electro-funk (“Fundamental”), and warm deep house (“Thicket”). And just to tip this EP fully into “essential” status, there’s a remix of “Art Show” by fellow Melbourner dyLAB, who heats the acid up to boiling point and blasts it through an Amen break to devastating rave effect.
London Massive / Newcleus
The Deep Jungle label has very quickly amassed a mind-blowing catalog of never-before-released music from the magical years of 1993-95, sourced from DATs, minidiscs, acetates, and dubplates. And 15 releases in, it shows not even the slightest sign of slowing. Ruffkut was a lesser-known producer, but worked with some of the most important names in the game, like Dillinja and Bizzy B. These two tracks are almost the Platonic ideal of how jungle should work. Amen breakbeats are sliced and diced over chasmic sub-bass, and punctuated with shouts and police sirens on “London Massive”; tropical bird noises and digitally degraded techno chords appear on “Newcleus.” That this sound remains as devastatingly powerful now as it did 25 years ago is one of the most important lessons of dance music: sometimes evolution simply achieves perfection, and there’s no need to fiddle with the formula.
Sometimes, all a musician needs to do is live up to expectations. It’s been seven years since the last record by Scorn, and for his return Mick Harris has delivered…a Scorn record. That is to say, four tracks of sluggish industrial dub, which combine finessed manipulation of space with chest-compressing bass. But because he is who he is, for all the predictability of the formula, each of the variations on the theme (and three of the four tracks are literally variations on the same theme, being three different versions of the title track) sounds completely fresh and stimulating in the moment.
Precipitation / On the Horizon
Bristol’s Kayla Painter is fast becoming one of the most interesting and individualist electronic artists in the U.K. Whether she’s making eerie, ritualistic abstract ambient—like “On the Horizon,” which is built entirely from saxophone drones—or funky, bassy tech-house like the lead track, she constantly challenges the listener to work out what’s electronic and what’s organic, what’s real and what’s an audio illusion. This is one of her most confident releases yet, and if more adventurous DJs pick up the lead track, could very well propel her to bigger audiences.