Because electronic music is often consumed in places where songs by multiple artists are blended together by a single DJ, we can sometimes forget how good those individual artists are in their own right. Every so often, an Aphex Twin or Burial will earn praise, while other artists with a similarly singular focus slip by undetected. This month’s picks spotlight artists whose work is effective in both short bursts on the dancefloor and extended listens at home. There’s a new album from London veteran Patten, on which he dives even further into a world he’s been constructing for nearly a decade. Mars89, a relative newcomer from Tokyo, has a unique, bleak take on UK bass tropes that almost feels like film noir. Teplice’s rarefied electropop may at first seem familiar, but it quickly spins a dizzying web of sound. There’s lyrical Midwest modular, Italian hyperdrive drum’n’bass, and loping Portuguese groovers: these may exist more or less within or between recognised styles—but all are worth celebrating as distinct musical personalities.
Silvestre Is Boss
The relaunched SecretSundaze label is about to enter a new phase. Where previously they’ve been focused on house music, the label is now trying their hand at space-rave (see: Eliphino, who was featured in this column last month). This good natured mish-mash of low-and-slow loping grooves from London based Portuguese producer Silvestre incorporates hip hop, reggaetón, balearic, rave, and more. It kicks off with the “Ashley’s Roachclip” break, which was iconically used on the Coldcut remix of Eric B & Rakim’s “Paid in Full”; from there, continues in an unpretentiously warm and funky fashion, its beats embellished with lush pads and hefty bass.
Slave to Society
Slave to Society
You can probably guess from the harsh, agit-punk-style monochrome artwork, and the label logo depicting a gun-toting, balaclava-wearing bank robber, that the music here is going to be uncompromising. This is industrial techno in excelsis: It grinds, is shrieks, it hammers, and it slams. But it’s also very funky: just take a moment, if you can handle the barrage, to appreciate the skewed placement of the hi-hats, or the way the metal-on-metal scraping recalls a samba shaker… there’s sophistication to the violence here.
Ryan “Mella Dee” Aitchison is rapidly rising in the global DJ league, thanks to his no-nonsense, high-energy playing, and his complete refusal of genre snobbery. (He’s also pretty tidy in the studio.) But rather than follow his preposterously big hit track “Techno Disco Tool” with something equally radio-friendly, he’s decided to go for pure groove. These four tracks are all about restraint, everything snapping tightly, like the parts are held together with elastic, each surface immaculately smooth and crisp. The weight behind each hit is deceptively powerful. These are clearly DJ tools, but the way the tiniest extra cymbal or modulation or sub can lift them makes them impressive in their own right. The lead riffs of “Silver Street” and “Stack Select” recall the mid ‘90s work of Chilean-Brit legend Cristian Vogel—which is always a good thing.
Eddie “Bovaflux” Symons exists firmly within the world of “braindance”—a zone of electronica definitely adjacent, but not entirely indebted, to Aphex Twin. It’s music that balances a super-technical understanding of synthesis and production with a vital and constant love of funk and melody. Symons has been releasing since the heyday of this sound in 2001, and has remained true to it ever since. Refined and sharpened, his grooves are endlessly inventive, incorporating electro, acid, ‘80s Euro club sounds, along with house and techno. All of them are perfectly designed to tickle the sensitive corners of your synapses.
Tokyo producer Mars89 has built a strong connection to the UK with his first three releases on Bristol’s superb avant-dub imprint Bokeh Versions, and now this debut release for the new label from rising London DJ star Amy Becker. It’s a bold launch for her label: these two tracks are tough, bleak, and gothic. Both tracks look to London themselves, and particularly to moments in music history where genres started blurring. “TX-55” is turn of the millennium proto-grime given industrial distortion and reverb. “Successor Project,” meanwhile, looks back to a moment circa 1993 where “jungle tekno” was a thing, with rattling breaks over a heavy four-to-the-floor kick and “a London sumtin’ Rasta seen” spoken sample. Both sound like pirate radio for rusted robots.
As Noisia—the Dutch titans of stadium high-def drum’n’bass—finish a final lap around the world after announcing their split after 20 years, its three members have started moving in very different directions. The band’s sound was always predicated on the tension between EDM’s immediacy and abstract, experimental electronica, and on this project Thys—aka Thijs de Vlieger—clearly signals that he is keener on the latter sound. This soundtrack for a dance piece, the music originally played through a 32-speaker surround sound system, is all about intense synaesthetic hyper detail: crunches, rattles, breathy noises, all giving it serious bodily impact. It’s still got plenty of high drama; but the huge range of moods and textures on display here show a musician ready and eager to flex his creative muscles and expand in all directions.
Hockets for Two Voices
This is not “electronic” in the literal sense: it is simply two voices (or rather, two recordings of the same voice) separated spatially, singing a complex melody that harks back to the “hocking” of medieval European folk traditions. But North California artist / designer / musician Meara O’Reilly is no traditionalist—as you might guess from someone who collaborated on Björk’s Biophilia project. These five short pieces were composed using electronic tools, and they sound electronic, even though they’re technically not: their perfect geometry, along with the illusion of two voices combining to make a single melodic line, completely bamboozles the parts of your brain that tells you whether something is natural, digital, or human. This should inspire all fans of experimental and minimal music, but it also makes for a beautiful, brain-cleansing listen in its own right.
Loula Yorke, from Ipswich in the East of England, is one of the most interesting voices in analog electronics. Where modular synthesists can often be too prissy, Yorke takes a delightfully no-nonsense approach to her “techno meets leftism” live sound generation. These six straight-to-tape improvisations aren’t for anyone who likes their lines clean and their angles straight: the gurgling, burbling, swooping, and whomping sounds constantly spill over their prescribed edges, melting into one another. It sounds like it would be fun if played in a dirty, sweaty techno basement, but it also makes for great close listening, as those messy details gradually give up the method in their madness.
Synth Expressionism/Rhythmic Cubism
On The Corner has quickly built up an impressive catalog of records that smash the boundaries between jazz-centric music and ravey electronics. So Chicago’s endlessly prolific and exploratory Jamal Moss—aka Hieroglyphic Being—seems like a natural fit for the imprint. Sure enough, he’s turned in some glorious work for OTC, even by his high, weird standards. The title says it all: this is not just expressionistic, instinctual, from the guts and soul, but cubist, in the sense that every rhythm feels like you’re viewing it from multiple angles. Without wanting to come off too cosmic, it feels like these tracks exist in multiple timelines at once. All regularity is smashed apart, yet somehow it grooves: if Sun Ra made techno, you could imagine it sounding like this.
LA Vampires Does Cologne
10 Outta 10
LA’s 100% Silk is a relentlessly prolific label, and this month they’ve got a prime crop: preposterously lo-fi experiments from Michigan’s Cammi, tripped-out-but-still-standing-tall small hours grooves from LA scene stalwart Vibe Repair, and this altogether shinier seven-tracker from the label’s founder and former Pocohaunted member Amanda Brown. Together with “bicoastal-tronica duo” Cologne—aka Danny Scott Lane and Vasilios Manoudakis—she’s blown away any and all lo-fi dust and murk; everything here is neon-lit, sharp-edged, and funky. Charting a line from the Paradise Garage through electroclash and on towards the deluxe festival electronica of artists like Jon Hopkins or Rival Consoles, these songs of intoxicated attraction are full of sauce and sass. Think Hercules & Love Affair and Ladytron getting into CGI sports cars and heading off to an impossibly decadent party. It’s a whole heap of fun.
Berlin/London artist Matilda Jones—aka Teplice—was picked up by fellow producer E.M.M.A. for her new Pastel Prism label after Jones took part in one of her Producer Girls workshops. And rightly so: she is an incredibly distinctive new voice. This is essentially slowed-to-a-crawl electropop, with hints of New Order, Yazoo, Young Marble Giants, and other ‘80s new wave in its pensive constructions—but comparisons don’t do it justice. The deadpan vocals and creeping, echoing drum machines and acid lines are all put in service of a singular songwriting vision. Woozy frustration, dislocation, and hopelessness all feel incredibly relatable here—and all three songs worm their way into your subconscious on a single listen.
He’s been part of the Ninja-signed mutant electronic jazz band Pest (hence the nom de techno), and he’s made some fantastic vocoder-heavy electrofunk as OverworX in the last couple of years. But Ben Mallott’s real metier is in sweat-drenched, maniacally grinning techno—and that’s what we’ve got here. Whether it’s the piercing monotone rave riff of “Get the OT,” the floor-wobble bass of “G-Zus,” or the glassy slither of the lead synth in “Sliderman”, everything is focused on delirious fun. Fellow denizens of the UK’s less-salubrious basements, Jerome Hill and Michael Forshaw turn in a tense acid rinseout and a psychedelic bone-saw attack on their respective remixes.
Not This Time
Iowa City’s Kent Williams has been working as Chaircrusher in the midwest techno and hip-hop scenes for many, many years, but he’s clearly anything but jaded. His current Chaircrusher iteration is all about six-minute-plus, thoughtful modular synth jams. And whether they’re riding a hefty techno kick (“Cirrus”) or broken beats (“Grandma Moses”, “Sinjahara”), or meandering through a fog of reverb and whispering voices (as on the title track), those synths always sing—their crisp tones full of delight as they dance around and above the beats.
On this EP, Italian producer HLZ doesn’t have the rhythmic sophistication that has marked out many recent Metalheadz releases. His beats are constantly four-square and repetitious, recalling the mid ‘90s when key DJ Grooverider coined the term “hardstep.” But what he lacks in elaborate groove construction he makes up for in thrilling rushes of forward movement. Every one of these four tracks—from the chest-crushing bass of the title track to the chasmic “Hyperion” to the percussion of “Overdogs” and chattering arpeggios of “Hidden Memory—feel like a dancefloor gaining momentum, ready to enter hyperspace. The production is impeccable; sounds fly by you like meteors, and the louder you play it, the harder it is not be taken along for the ride.
The continual growth in confidence and innovation of deep and hefty dubstep (or just “140” as it seems to be increasingly known in the UK) is not letting up. The lead track here is full of unexpected twists. Starting with a beguiling chime and church-y sense of space, it drops into a huge triplet bassline familiar from many modern dubstep sets. But shortly after that, lively percussion starts up in a different meter, as a reminder that this is dance music, not just a head-nod or lurch-to-the-bass sound. Likewise, the horror film strings of “Scum” and the rippling synth of “Picnic Rope” never quite unfold as you’d expect, while “Like the Old Days” is a spectacularly moody bit of bleepy grime.
Listening back now to Patten’s 2011 debut album GLAQJO XAACSSO on No Pain In Pop, it’s striking how effortlessly it melts together hip aesthetics—sounds that might be described as lo-fi, post-dubstep, deconstructed club and so on—into something natural and personal. On his fourth album, the producer is somehow doing the same, but more. The deconstructions are more deconstructed (“VelvetScans” could rock the artiest of Berlin art parties), the post-dubstep is post-dubsteppier (“Memory Flood” is like Burial’s musclebound older brother; “Life2” is like Hessle Audio sniffing gasoline). But there’s more in the mix too: breakcore, trap, all kinds of rhythms. Yet as before, Patten makes them his own. The consistency of the dark and puzzling world that this record builds, even as it shifts endlessly in tempo and pattern, is remarkable.
In just seven years, Seattle’s Hush Hush has built an impressive catalogue of over 100 releases—all focused on gentle, close-listening music. Sometimes, that means entirely ambient or drone based; more often, the releases are full of unique takes on dreampop, electronica, and bass music. But no matter they style, there’s an impressive consistency through the catalogue—a sense of intimacy. London artist Sleepertrain builds everything from languid piano melodies to the sort of echo-drenched alt-R&B grooves that in lesser hands would feel like a nod to James Blake and Frank Ocean. Here, they sound like a distinct expression of Sleepertrain’s musical vision. Natural and digital sounds, voice and acoustic instruments are held together with spider silk and mist.
In contrast to the relentless forward motion of the HLZ release, this is drum’n’bass with more complex rhythmic machinery. Here, crisp percussion somersaults over itself in larger and smaller motions through open spaces, and dry, hollow bass tones provide pillars for the percussion to bounce off. “White Flag” embellishes this with crisp, clear bleeps and gentle soul chords. And if you were worried everything was a bit too poised and controlled, “Dragnet” has what you need in its final quarter, with an unexpected eruption of the classic “Amen” break beloved of vintage jungle producers, like whirling knives emerging from the clockwork mechanisms.