It’s a fairly U.K.-heavy cast this month in this bumper roundup. In particular, some notable manifestations of particularly British forms: drum & bass, breakbeat rave, broken beat, and original, minimalist, sub-heavy dubstep.
But don’t worry, that doesn’t mean this music is parochial. Even these aforementioned records bring global influences from Lagos to Detroit, and create discombobulating new twists on the existing templates. And on top of these genre-specific releases, we’ve got more uncategorizable stuff from, among others: a Scotswoman in Zurich immersed in Chinese culture, a Missourian industrial-exotica experimenter from the ‘80s, two Frenchmen on an electro-sleaze mission, a Frenchwoman in Berlin completely redirecting contemporary and past underground currents, a Vancouver label gathering the weirdest of the global left field, and a Canadian techno overlord in his element. (OK, strictly speaking, Richie Hawtin is British by birth too, but if anyone is a world citizen by now it’s him…)
Decouple ][ Series
The Ooh Sounds label out of Florence has built up a nicely varied catalog so far—and there’s plenty more variety in this release alone. The cellist Oliver Coates has increasingly been putting together unorthodox, richly layered, arcanely structured dance tracks. It’d take a very brave DJ to play the almost 13 minutes of “Path in, J Lover One, Yomi, Umbo”: it may build from ecstatic minimalist composer ripples to distorted, clattering drum & bass patterns, but it does so in circuitous fashion, never going for the obvious build-up, but taking multiple sharp turns into unfamiliar territory. Tech-dub specialist S P A T I A L, meanwhile, turns in some of the best work of his career: “Reification,” which builds something in between jungle and U.K. garage from clicks, crackles, and subsonic throbs, like Pole in the rave. “Residual” manages to sound like passing out in a rainy junkyard on a vast dose of dissociative anaesthetics—and to also make that sound like fun.
Un Episode Psychotique
Although highly diverse in his DJ sets, Les Disques De La Mort mastermind Ivan Smagghe specializes particularly in lean, mean, chugging electro inspired by mid ‘80s European club sounds. And his fellow Frenchman Cosmo Vitelli has delivered heartily on that front. On three tracks and two remixes, he sounds both sophisticated and sleazy, whether on the dreamy float of “Tisja” with Tanja Vežić’s half whispered Croat voiceover taking you into a bohemian movie, or the petrol-powered “The Shy Dictator,” which sounds like old school Belgian new beat given an injection of funk. Throughout, it sounds like it should be lo-fi—everything sounds vintage, and there is even tape hiss in the background—but instead it packs a hefty soundsystem punch.
Tao of I, Volume 2
You don’t need to know anything about the Chinese Divination system of the I Ching which Glasgow-via-Zurich artist Iona Fortune takes as her inspiration in order to know she’s doing something mystical with her music. These rarefied pieces, which take off very much where her 2017 debut album on Optimo Music left off, put Chinese and Indonesian traditional instruments and analogue synthesizers in the service of compositions so perfectly balanced and paced that if you put on headphones and bump the volume up a bit, you’ll find yourself wondering at times if you’re levitating. But there is not a hint of generalised exoticism; this is very clearly built on extremely focused ideas and understanding of the tonality of the music that Fortune is inspired by. It is, in every way, magical.
It’s easy to forget how much of a punch real-deal, stripped-to-the-bone, old-school dubstep packs when it’s done right. But Manchester’s finest Paddy Biome has never once dropped the ball in years of making sneaking, slithering, night-crawling bass wobblers. On these four tracks, it’s all about the bass tones that undulate, warp around you, push and pull you into odd positions. On “Vulcan,” you can hear the trap-type hip-hop that Biome also makes for the Levelz collective in his hometown. “Empire” has a kickdrum so steady it’ll surely find play in German techno dungeons. But it’s “Slander,” and even more so the snarling “Mantaray,” where there’s no attempt to be anything but dubstep, and those bass tones take the lead—which are the real killers here.
While Mala’s Deep Medi Musik label often champions similar back-to-basics, stripped-down sonic elements as those on Biome’s EP, it also likes to push the boundaries. These tracks are, more or less, still half-stepping dubstep. The rhythms, patterns, and dynamics are familiar, not least the drops into relentless subsonic bass throbs that seems to push all the air out of your chest. But the complexity of tone and rhythm is off the charts—not just the triplet rolling that’s become standard in rootsy dubstep, but agitated, uncountable patterns that sound like gnarled and jagged natural formations, along with sounds that could be natural, sampled, or synthesised but sound like they’ve come from supernatural beings. On a track like “Snakes, Egos” the sounds could have come from mid-century avant-garde tape experiments, shamanic rituals, or both. The chimes and flutes of the title track likewise could have come from a film noir soundtrack or some undiscovered space culture. But none of it is weird just for weirdness’s sake: somehow it all works in service of the huge, lurching, juggernaut groove.
Breaking Up is Hard
Tom “Eliphino” Wrankmore started making sturdy U.K. hip-hop beats in the mid-to-late ‘00s, had a long streak making classy, bass-heavy house, and has now brought it all together for some of his best work yet. The basic mode here is the U.K. breakbeat rave of the early ‘90s made ultra sophisticated, ultra rich, ultra enveloping. Where the original rave was furiously ecstatic, this is contentedly so. As perhaps the mushrooms on the cover art hint, it’s about total immersion and taking pleasure in fine details as they wash over you. Shuffly funk, heavy bass, grooves for days—what more do you need?
Tribe of Colin
Age of Aquarius
There’s a deep strain of London club music that revels in sounding dirty—not mud-caked, but the kind of under-the-skin dirt that seeps in on the second or third day of partying. It manifests in records by people like Paranoid London and Funkineven, on labels like Alien Jams and Trilogy Tapes, and it’s condensed in its purest form on this album. Like so many of these kind of things, it exists somewhere in between electro, dub, proto house music, and European electronic experimental cassettes from 1982. But the real magic is not in any of the reference points, but in the hallucinatory murk and shadows. Things glow that shouldn’t, other things are flexible when you expect them to be crisp, and vice versa. Nothing is quite right, and that’s exactly why it’s great.
Young London talent Harry Orso, aka Rotomagoson, clearly comes from the jazzy, funky side of the electronic music world: he first emerged as one of the Future Bubblers talents given a leg up by Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label, and his tracks are full of loose and limber live licks. But where his debut album Hear in Columbia tended to low, slow, bass-heavy grooves, here, he’s really letting the sunshine and melody flow. And on the three originals and one remix on this EP, that places him as close to the poolside sounds of neo-disco and Balearic as it does to broken beat or nu jazz. As with all his music to date though, the underlying influence—from the patched-together breakbeats to the joyful guitar that propels the title tracks—is vintage Afrobeat. You’ll know from the instant the joyous riff kicks in 15 seconds into the title track whether this is for you. If that grabs you, then there’s plenty more rolling, swaying, dubwise pleasure to be found throughout.
ThE DiAboLIcaL LibERTieS
Jungles Of Enceladus
The Diabolical Liberties—or, if you prefer, ThE DiAboLIcaL LibERTieS—are musical royalty on the left-field side of London’s music scene, a duo of men about town Alex Patchwork (A&R for labels like Ninja Tune and Brownswood, NTS Radio DJ) and Rob Gallagher, aka Rob Galliano, aka Earl Zinger (musician, poet and regular MC of many years for Gilles Peterson). Their EP for the ever-unpredictable On The Corner label doesn’t sound like the work of battle-hardened pros, though. Quite the opposite: it sounds like people having an enormous amount of fun mucking about with samplers for the first time, and discovering a natural aptitude for it. All three tracks are uptempo—150bpm+—but though they’re full of clattering breakbeats and electro-ish drum machine patterns (along with chants, drones, whoops, and tablas), they don’t sound like jungle, juke, or any other standard genre format. At a pinch, they sound like the most off-kilter rave tracks of the very early ‘90s, before the rules were written in stone, but really they’re out in a funtimes imaginative space all of their own.
Likwid Continual Space Motion
IG Culture has to be one of the most under-appreciated producers on the planet. His work—both as part of the broken beat scene of West London, but also with musicians worldwide—has all kinds of philosophical, conceptual, and cultural-historical strands woven deep into its patterns, and is full of musical and production virtuosity. Yet it never fails to hit home on the most immediate levels first. And 30 years into his life in music, these four tracks—made for a science fiction theatre production in Amsterdam—are no exception. All four are, more or less, Afrobeat, led by a real brass section and drumming that rolls with a perfect balance of insouciance and hyperkinetic dance energy, almost matching the mighty Tony Allen. But the way IGC’s electronic mastery works—making every surface fizz with micro detail, letting the tuba of the brass section converse with jungle-style bass warps—is just majestic, truly taking it into the Afrofuturist territory IGC constantly references. Crucially, though, it will also make you feel very, very good.
It’s incredible that a quarter-century odd into the existence of drum & bass—during which time untold variations on the sound from the ultra populist to the micro niche have come about—the very purest forms of it still have the power to bring such joy. Young Londoner Particle is, in fact, younger than the genre itself, but he makes it seemingly as easy as breathing here. Nothing here is new—each track is literally just drums and throbs of bass, with the occasional subliminal flicker of percussion or dub siren as spice. “Bang” is embellished with the dancehall menace of Nigerian born MC Magugu; “Empires” has a warble of orientalist flute; the toughest track, “Inner Walls,” has an intense techno chord drone. But really all are just about that perfect interaction of rhythm and subsonics—absolute control at every moment, Particle is always cognizant of the sound’s structure as moving architecture surrounding dancers.
There’s no knowing where to start with this compilation out of Vancouver. You’ll probably guess that a record full of artists with names like Snakepiss, Sour Gout, and Thugwidow isn’t going to be easy listening. But it’s not a total racket, either. This is electronica and rave from the musty corners of the underground, all created with extreme attention to detail, often very danceable, but with a knife in its pocket and mischief in its eye. String quartets, unsynced breakbeats, the sound of sewers, cassettes buried in mud, digital bats, pitch bent space-race commentary… it’s all here. You decide where you’ll start.
Sometimes a mysterious record arrives in your inbox and bursts out at you like a breath of fresh air. These three tracks from L.A. are, broadly speaking, ambient sound collage with large helpings of musique concrète—including lots of manipulated found radio broadcasts and city/industrial sounds—and occasional downtempo beats. But that doesn’t really do them justice. There’s a relish to balancing incongruous sounds, making them feel tactile and real even as they are completely disembodied and detached from normal signification, that is hard to resist. This artist seems to deeply love not just sound, but the ability to rearrange reality via it. Listening to this in complete darkness comes highly recommended, if you’re feeling adventurous.
It seems utterly bizarre that there is still music of this quality left to dig up from the alternative dance music of the ‘80s, but labels like Platform 23 and Dark Entries seem to have an unending wellspring to draw from. Chel White—also half of minimal wave duo Process Blue, now a successful filmmaker—seems to have an unusual lightness of touch and production finesse to his sample collages and hypnotic drum machine jams. So while you can hear echoes of Tackhead, Greater Than One, a hint of Genesis P Orridge’s Jack The Tab era experiments here, it’s all full of funk and fun with none of the naïve rigidity that could taint a lot of music from the period. And perhaps best of all are the laid back, kitschy exotica pieces like “Ooh Ahh” and “Automata” that sound like nothing so much as much missed 90s/00s sampladelic duo Tipsy.
Face to Phase
Raised in Montpellier, converted to dance music in Paris, and now in the thick of Berlin’s scene, Hermione Frank, aka rRoxymore, has become a major name in underground dance music in the last few years, despite only releasing a handful of EPs. For her debut album, apparently, she hid away from the scene in her studio for some months—and it’s certainly easy to hear this as an introspective record. It is, in the very best sense, a gloomy thing, full of electronic moans, murmurs and mumbles, but also crisp drums and chasmic bass. At times you might think of early ‘90s British electronica (“PPS21”), or modern deconstructed club (“Someone Else’s Memory”), or you might get momentary flickers of Detroit techno or Croydon dubstep. But vitally, all of that is subsumed in a distinctive sonic signature, and rather than being references to other music, it seems like Frank has built each of the patterns from first principles—enjoying each drum or synth swoop or rhythm pattern for what it is in the moment, with little thought for what others will make of it. It’s rare to hear a set of tracks like this that so completely exists in its own world.
Close Combined: Glasgow, London, Tokyo Live
Ever since the Decks, EFX & 909 mix album in 1999, Richie Hawtin has liked to reinvent the mix album with his releases: cutting new ground in live edits, using physical controllers for digital sound, and so on. His new CLOSE COMBINED project certainly continues that. An audiovisual album, available as an app, it allows the fan right on to the stage at his hybrid DJ/live shows (hence “close”), enabling the cutting out of channels to hear what he’s doing in detail, your choice of camera angles to ogle his technique with mixers and instruments. All great fun—but does it work as a record? Well yes. It really does. There’s nothing sonically groundbreaking here: This is banging, big room techno, no more no less. But 1.) it really is banging, heavy on the bass, full of a sense of sweat and heat, and 2.) you can hear Hawtin enjoying himself, piling on layers of sound, taking reverbs to extremes then slamming a beat in, and generally clearly into it. It’s a whole lot more instant in its appeal than the poised and drawn-out “mnml” styles he championed in the ‘00s. Add a bit of crowd noise at relevant intervals, and it does a sterling job of taking you to the heart of a seething rave crowd.
Acid Dubs 01/02
A keen raver and DJ who came to production relatively late in life, Paul Cottam has a unique style he describes as “sub-aquatic acid house”—the diametric opposite of the dazzling hyperactivity of EDM or deconstructed club music. Generally keeping his tempos well below 120bpm and his tracks long, he is a master of giving a musical idea all the time it needs to unfold and mutate, letting waves of textures shimmer around each other while always keeping the fundamental funk steady. This is as pure an expression of his style as anything he’s released, taking the kind of swung, funky, good natured acid that Luke Vibert specializes in, but rather than cutting to the chase, drawing it out and letting it do its thing over nine minutes at a time, with snippets of chants, raps, flutes, and strings floating in and out of the mix. For those with the patience to bob along to the groove for a while, this delivers thrills as big as anything more in your face.
From Orlando Voorn to Legowelt, the Dutch have consistently made some of the purest techno anywhere in the world. And this record, unearthed from 1997 by the always excellent Frame Of Mind label, is as pure as they come. It is built on the Basic Channel template of metallic-sounding piano chords given extreme dubwise treatment, with a few Detroit style electro jams, everything so perfectly paced and placed in space that it feels like a scientific diagram of the perfect electronic aural experience. If that sounds a little cerebral, a little cold, well it can be, if you’ve got it on too quiet. Give it a little boost and those perfectly calculated angles and forms will overwhelm your conscious mind and move your soul.
It’s been 10 years since Cooly G dropped her first CD-R, landing right in the middle of the then-ascendent U.K. funky scene with her house beats and big bass. But she was never really a scene person, and it made much more sense for her to gravitate to the misfits’ paradise, Hyperdub Records, where she was able to explore her sultry, dubwise house/R&B urges at length. To celebrate the 10th anniversary, she’s self-released a new remix of “Dis Boy” from that CD-R and it’s among her most subdued work. Just a steady house pulse, a ton of dubwise echo on the drums, and Cooly’s own voice floating in and out of the mix musing on the boy “from round the way.” It’s fiercely simple, and intriguingly great.