Dance music’s fondness for mining its own past is written into the genre’s origins. DJ and remix culture, whether in disco, hip-hop, reggae or techno, have always been about creating new versions of something that exists already, providing a constant refresh to basic source material. And so it is with this month’s selection, which contains various permutations of electro-funk, jungle, techno, UK bass, acid house, and instrumental hip-hop, almost all of which makes no bones about being rooted in the past. Don’t worry, though, there is radical newness too—it comes from the global south, specifically, South Africa.
Dozens of producers have revisited the brief but incandescent jungle explosion in the UK in 1993-’94, mining the genre for source material in new projects. And several have even adopted the era’s relatively restrictive tech to achieve sonic authenticity. But few have done it with as much vim and vigor as Pete Cannon. A producer and engineer in the big rave modern drum ‘n’ bass world, he knows precisely what a huge crowd demands. So although he’s dug out an old Commodore computer and Akai sampler to get that old-school sound here, this is no academic exercise in outdated techniques: it’s still aimed at causing dancefloor demolition. His understanding of the ways rare groove, hip-hop, dancehall, and hardcore rave were fused in jungle production is key: These tracks sound as furious, funky and fine as anything in the dance music spectrum, and demonstrate the dangerous potency the sound still has, a quarter century on.
The Rambler EP
Keith Tenniswood is probably best known as half of Two Lone Swordsmen along with UK legend Andrew Weatherall. But solo, as Radioactive Man, and behind the scenes as a mastering engineer, he has been one of the most important people in British electronic subcultures in his own right—in particular, supporting the underground electro sound that has wormed its way through the rave leftfield since the late ‘80s. This release on his new Asking For Trouble label is a trio with Irish producer Johnny Oakley, aka Monoak, and Simon Lynch of the increasingly influential London Modular Alliance. All four tracks bubble with a sense of liveness and spontaneity, as their chattering beats and acid basslines wriggle their way under the skin.
In these two 20-minute pieces, Glasgow artist Dave Donnelly combines natural sounds, snippets of spoken word discussing environmental collapse, Terry Riley-style drones, elegant melodic riffs, and slow-motion house beats—to devastating effect. The sound is a throwback to the chillout rooms of the early-mid ‘90s, but all of the ecstatic optimism of that time is replaced by a sense of despair, and the wish for things to be different. Yet, despite all of that, it remains very, very beautiful.
Even though he’s released music on lynchpin labels like FatCat, WARP, and Skint, the artist known variously as REQ, REQ ONE, or REQ TDK never seemed to push hard for musical success. But then, he never needed to: he is also one the UK’s most renowned spraycan artists, both within the graffiti world and as a commercial artist, and has maintained a steady career doing so. However, his music deserves attention in its own right. Over many years, he’s built up a huge catalog of beat sketches rooted in hip-hop, but as abstracted as his most wildstyle pieces, and these 20 unreleased or obscure tracks from his most productive period are as great as anything in his discography. Full of Wu-Tang gothic, blunt turntablist deconstruction, the dissociative sense of buzzing on paint fumes, and that special UK soundsystem sensibility, they each stand as a strange, dusty, endlessly fascinating artworks in their own right.
“Sludge”, they call it. The Junted label from Detroit is run by Joel Dunn, aka Marshall Applewhite, and Konstantin Papatheodoropoulos, aka The Friend, and it specializes in some of the most gloriously primitive electronic music anywhere in the world. Over eight tracks, Papatheodoropoulos does exactly what the pair have always done: smashes together elements of techno, booty bass, drone, dancehall, industrial, and loads more unidentifiable weirdness to make something that has no real identity beyond a monomaniacal desire to keep the grubbiest, sweatiest dancefloors seething and surging.
The Egyptian-British DJ-producer and owner of Current Records Kaizen Karnak, aka R1 Ryders, is one of London’s best-kept secrets. A DJ of extraordinary technical skill, he has a way of bringing together underground genres into the most purified essence of rave energy. As their simple, direct titles suggest, the two tracks here from his new alias capture that same drive for immediacy. They blend together the dancehall-influenced syncopation of UK funky, the bodily wobble of dubstep, the gloss of tech house, and familiar samples (“rock the discotech!”) into something that’s functional in the best possible sense, completely ignoring hierarchies and canons of cool in pursuit of instant impact. The name of the project alludes to rave’s working class roots, and it’s easy to pick up on the way it shakes off the trappings of bourgeois academia and hipsterism . That’s not to say there’s no sophistication here—far from it. For all its directness, this is as sharp and smart as any of the more ostentatiously out-there dance music being made today.
This is what the internet was always supposed to be about: not filter bubbles and corporate domination, but ready collaboration, international linkage, and expecting the unexpected. Coordinated by Brit in Macedonia and leftfield electronica veteran Martin “MDK” Wood, this is a musical game of pass the parcel: each track is a remix of the previous one, starting with Wood’s own tune, which was handed around the planet until finally, it ended up back with him in Skopje, 15 generations on, completely unrecognizable and ready for him to remix once again. The names are unfamiliar, the sounds go from dub reggae to processed rock drumming loops to large quantities of Aphex Twin-influenced braindance. The quality is high throughout, but the joy of this is in hearing the whole album, watching an idea as it passes through many minds, and feeling the absolute joy in the process.
The north of England has a special relationship with electronic music. The Yorkshire bleep and bass of the end of the ’80s, which spawned WARP records, is the ultimate example, but cities across the north have kept deep techno, electronica, and bass scenes running throughout the decades. On BH001, Newcastle’s Johnny Phethean forges a union between the northeast and the northwest—the album is being released by the new Manchester label, Bakk.Heia. Judging by this EP, the label is going to be one to watch. Woven into the four tracks are hints of post-punk, dub, acid, electro, and huge swaths of ’90s WARP Artificial Intelligence-style electronica. But most of all, you can hear music created for the pursuit of blissful, in-the-moment pleasure. This is the kind of sound that could only emerge from scenes with deep roots, and it is gorgeous.
Sometimes the appeal of dance tracks is about complexity and the magic of sounds that build into their complicated structures as they move around you. And there is plenty of that in French rave veteran Umwelt’s body rocking electro, for sure. But just as often, the very greatest tracks are about the simplest things: especially pure, unadorned bass tones that get you right in the guts. And that’s where the magic of these five tracks really lies. For all the industrial density of “Faceless Power” and “Breakaway,” the intricate funk of “Ecopoeiesis” and “Frameshift Mutation,” or the bubbling acid lines of “Endless Blackness,” what gets you first and keeps you coming back is the drone, thrum, punch, and boom of the bass. With the right soundsystem, these tracks could knock you off your feet.
…and one to pre-order:
Of all the ever-increasing array of global artists fusing functional, bassy club music with abstract electronica and pop forms in search of forms of expression for their political, sexual, and gender non-conformism, South Africa’s Angel-Ho is one of the most compelling. A founder of the NON Worldwide label along with Nkisi and Chino Amobi, she is a charismatic performer, and her debut album for the UK’s Hyperdub channels that into all manner of sultry intensity. The record brings together low and slow grooves that evoke reggaetón and South Africa’s own gqom sound, with industrial clatter, exquisite electronic detail and moments of pure abstraction (see the remarkable “Bussy”), with Angel-Ho rapping for the first time. The mood is of fierce self-possession with lyrics of transformation and rebirth speaking directly to the transgender experience, but more broadly to need for social and personal change that makes it feel both revolutionary and shamanic.