Music for the dancefloor—whether that dancefloor is at a rave, discotheque, house party, or muddy festival—needs to contain both darkness and light. This month, our offerings run the full spectrum of those extremes, from angry and aggressive techno to the most blissed-out beachside Balearica; from brain-pressurizing drones to piano-and-vocoder house tracks that feel like watching the sun rise with a lover. There’s also music that blends both dark and light—to magical effect. There’s U.K. grime that keeps you wary even as it makes you grin, hypnotic “wave” beats that bliss you out before turning sinister. Perhaps most fascinating of all, there’s an album of Irish poetics, robotics, club jams, and dreamscapes, and another of Israeli-Ethiopian-Argentinian space music—both of which will have your soul and intellect soaring.
All too often, when electronic music is described as “intellectual,” what that really means is it features wacky sounds delivered with a haughty attitude. Not so here. This album by Cork artist Lighght drips with erudition—it’s overflowing with ideas, both verbal and musical—but it’s also a whole lot of fun. It’s by turns literary, psychedelic, mystical, and both besotted and bamboozled by technology and information overload. But it’s also heavy on the pleasure principle, and driven by the search for the real in a world of uncertainty. At times it sounds like Coil, Drexciya, and some of the further out club experimenters on labels like Fade To Mind or Hyperdub. At times, it’s discordant and pummelling; at others, it absolutely glimmers with ambient beauty.
Kalbata ft. Tigris
From Tel Aviv to the world! Producer Kalbata has previously made all kinds of U.K.-style bass music and creepy-crawling house. Tigris, the band he is working his electronic magic on here, began their career inspired by the Ethiojazz of Mulatu Astatke and his compadres in Addis Ababa, but have taken on many other influences since. Most recently, they’ve become fascinated with the vernacular music of Argentina. Together, Kalbata and Tigris have made something that blends a little Ennio Morricone, a little King Tubby, a little Andrew Weatherall, and a lot from feverish dreams of imaginary lost continents and hidden civilizations. It’s eerie, and it demands to be played on repeat, getting drawn deeper in each time.
Could it be that there’s a specifically Irish sound within hard techno? Eomac, Lakker, Sunil Sharpe, Swarm Intelligence: all of them have a special way with grainy, textured distortion that makes it feel like the track is full of iron filings, and all of them are blasting towards you. There’s plenty of that feeling in these four new tracks from Swarm Intelligence, along with lolloping syncopated kickdrums (no regular pounding here—rhythmically this is closer to dancehall). This is music you can’t ignore: hyper present, hyper physical, and constantly pricking your skin with reminders that it’s there.
A vital part of the “wave” sound that Plastician continues to champion is its film and game influence. Essentially wavy, hazy hip-hop instrumental beats, wave is made for both the club and the home listener; all of its practitioners come from a bedroom world soundtracked by internet radio, video games, and movie downloads. Young Londoner Klasey Jones is probably the ultimate example; his album art shamelessly nods to anime, comics, cyberpunk, ‘80s arcade games, and so on, and the music realizes the aesthetic impeccably and evocatively. With eight releases under his belt in just two years, he’s as prolific as he is inventive. This release features an increased use of bubbling trance riffs, as well as his first use of vocals, underlining the strength of his song structures. This should appeal not just to lovers of vaporwave or Com Truise, but also to mainstream R&B lovers on the lookout for something extra spacey.
He’s been based in Santiago, Chile for many years now, and his most notable work in the past decade has been mainly hip-hop, vocoder funk (as Echo Park on Skream’s Disfigured Dubz label), and Teklife-endorsed Latin-tinged footworking. But Brian “Gunjack” Gibbs has a previous life as a big-hitting, globe-trotting techno and house producer, and he’s returned to the four-to-the-floor on this release. The basic mode on these five tracks is glitterball-spinning filter disco, with the rawness of DJ Sneak and classic Roulé—it’s unashamedly full of giddy energy and positivity, but it also has a serious edge; any one of these songs should knock ‘em dead in the hands of DJs who knows real house music. Where it really comes to life, though, is in the lavish “Wings2Fly” which turns glitzy, jazz-fusiony ’80s pop into unexpectedly powerful dancefloor magic.
Self-effacing lyrics (about being a low-maintenance “grunger”) sung-rapped with a deceptively lazy style, natural grooves with wobbly detuned instruments, a sense of detachment without being unnecessarily arch…you could almost mistake this for a 21st century electronic reboot of cult ‘90s NYC band Luscious Jackson. But it’s a hell of a reboot. Vancouver’s Rhi has a remarkably crisp way with sound, and every wobbly keyboard lick, sub-bass tones, and echoing rimshot is fascinating in its own right—meaning that even though it’s minimal, the sound palette here keeps you floating along naturally. Combined with Rhi’s deadpan hypnotic voice, the album is a real trip.
The Current label run by West London’s DJ Karnak has been underappreciated; its small back catalog is impressively consistent, providing new variants on four-to-the-floor beats with dubstep and grime sonics. Hopefully their new flurry of activity will draw more attention their way, because the newest material is their strongest yet. Take these two tracks from a 17(!)-year-old producer from Bristol. He takes the warping tones of bassline house—the rowdy, hyper-energized sound that originated in the north of England in the mid 2000s—but slows the rhythms, making the dynamics subtler, and bringing the vibe back towards the deepest, moodiest dubstep. In doing so, he hits the exact balance of dark and light to make them work in extremely varied contexts.
“Lo-fi” is many things to many people. Sometimes, it’s an affectation; sometimes it’s a signifier of past times or a druggy approach; sometimes, abuse of low tech becomes an instrument in itself, something that can be used virtuosically. In Italian producer Raw Ambassador—coming here via the Spanish Label In Disarray imprint—it’s certainly related to retroism. Everything he does on this album is based on 1980s EBM and new beat: essentially, it’s sleazy sex dungeon dance music for people in cycling shorts, rubber vests, and welders’ goggles. And the very raw, low-bandwidth production only amplifies that. If someone told you that this was a lost home cassette from a short-lived Belgian band of the late ‘80s, you’d have no trouble believing them. But, RA is indeed virtuosic in his use of the limitations, so the lack of bass and definition in the sound actually adds to the punch of it as it pumps lasciviously onwards.
Boa Kusasa & Redders
From rural Somerset in England’s West Country, Boa Kusasa seem to have mastered the art of the deep and dark percussion groover on the instrumental here. It’s guaranteed to have people skanking away with their heads down. But voiced by drum & bass mainstay MC Redders—and taking a rare step down from his usual 170bpm tempo—it becomes something altogether different: a rabble-rousing bit of classic U.K. soundsystem party music, celebratory and threatening at the same time. It’s made rowdier still by LR Groove, who doesn’t mess with the percussion hooks, but just beefs everything up and adds a warping bassline; it gets transformed completely once again, this time into a half-stepping grime track, on another remix by K Stylz.
Tape Your Mouth
The New York Haunted label that operates out of—counterintuitively—Tilburg in the Netherlands by veteran producer Drvg Cvltvre is a powerhouse of dirty, sweaty techno and rave. Heidi Sabertooth (who actually is from New York) describes herself as “avant electronic,” but in many senses, she’s traditionalist—certainly when compared to recent NYH output by the likes of Varya Karpova. Sabertooth’s music is raw as you’d like, but it bumps and funks along with a real understanding of vintage house and techno, and a love of the physical sensation of vast bass tones. She often veers closer to territory mapped out by Edinburgh techno stalwarts Neil Landstrumm and Tobias Schmidt, but her distinct musical personality shines through consistently.
Zone of Pure Resistance
Sydney Koke—sometime indie rock musician and “scientist of the brain, turned scientist of psychic soundscapes”—is from Vancouver, but is now based in Strasbourg; she’s released this record on a label that was founded in Canada, but is now based in both London and Bologna. It’s a nice bit of intercontinental ping-pong, and the resulting record feels like it’s probing your psyche. Though it’s deadpan and dislocated, eerie and trippy, it manages to engender a feeling of intimacy and shared exploration. It’s full of sounds—both synthetic as well as Koke’s own zoned-out narrations—and evoks boho and avant-garde music of the past. But it’s full of enormous charm and it has an Alice In Wonderland way of drawing you in as things get “curiouser and curiouser.”
Total Solidarity: Benefit Compilation for Grassroots LGBTQIA+ Organizations in Poland
This is an absolute monster of a compilation. Now, before you balk at the price, take a proper look and listen. There are 121 tracks here by a stunning lineup of both underground stars and fascinating unknowns, all compiled for an extremely good cause: to support organizations that protect LGBTQIA+ people in mainly isolated areas of Poland, a country which (like many, sadly) is experiencing a violent authoritarian upsurge. Even if you can’t pick up the whole thing, the individual tracks are available at a Euro a shot, so you can still contribute to the cause while getting some extraordinary music. If you’re already reading this page, you’re fairly sure to find something you enjoy here, whether it’s Rui Ho’s fizzing, borderline gabber techno or Object Blue’s uneasy ambient drift, Catz ‘n Dogz’s synth disco bounce or Peder Mannerfelt’s chasmic “A Drone Against Homophobia.” As a snapshot of an electronic scene fired up and determined to reassert itself as a place of sanctuary, it is well worth paying close attention to.
While it’s commendable that electronic music is fighting real world battles, occasional escapism is not a bad thing. Sometimes, we all need to drift off into dreamworlds and happy places—if only for respite and self-care. Soft music for hard times can be a powerful thing, right? The Public Possession label out of Munich specializes in the most gorgeous iterations of the nebulous Balearic aesthetic: hints of electropop, Tropicalia, exotica, dub, smooth soul, lo-fi indie, and slo-mo house and techno all blur in the heat haze, with vibraphone and acoustic guitar melodies rippling like the reflection off the pool. This compilation showcases that vibe at its best, always staying just on the right side of weird to prevent things from getting bland. It’s deceptively sophisticated in its structures and playing, but still gentle enough to soothe your fevered brow.
Colombian in Berlin Brayan Valenzuela does not mess around. Every track he drops goes straight for the kill, with screeching feedback, white noise breaks, machine gun patterns, and relentless steamhammer kickdrums. The three originals here (plus two remixes by friends VSK and Kaylah) all deliver much of the same ugly energy, but that’s just fine. Because once you’ve recalibrated your head to the fierceness—or once the endorphins have started flowing from the panicked adrenaline flow, whichever comes sooner—you realize that this is music for pleasure. Like the best of Perc Trax releases, for example, it might be vicious seeming and industrial on the outside, but there’s a core of very human excitement inside, albeit a slightly deranged one.