A new year, a new start? Well, maybe. We’ve certainly got some very fresh releases here, including Baltimore cyborg soul, experimental club sounds from the South, meditative takes on drill, and psychedelic junglism from Czechia—not to mention one of PC Music’s most head-melting epics yet. So if you’re keen to rocket into the future, we’ve got you covered. But history is represented here, too: there are tributes to the history of grime and drum & bass, some great, rediscovered ‘90s techno, and quite a lot of straight-up old-school rave energy. And even better, there are tunes that sound both ancient and futurist at the same time. So get ready to travel forwards, back, sideways and diagonally in time all in one go.
She’s been a queen of the Berlin scene for some 30 years now, but Ellen Allien is still in love with the instant joy of rugged techno. Lately, she’s been looking back to her early days, a time when techno and trance were not separate entities. That continues here: simple one-note acid gurgles and breathless tempos whoosh you along at high velocity—a one-way journey to ecstatic release.
There are plenty of artists who mine retro synth TV soundtracks and library music for nostalgic purposes, but none do it like British multi-instrumentalist and producer Cephas Teom. He draws on the past to imagine the future, creating the kind of ultra-high-definition music that ‘70s and ‘80s synth artists only dreamed of. And also, thanks to his rich background in jazz and folk, each composition is packed with unorthodox twists, and lands an emotional punch. All of which adds up to a powerful experience—a wistful dream of beautiful alternate timelines.
22 for 22 in 2022
D. Richardson, aka twofold, is only in their early 20s but they’ve already made three of our records of the year, and they only continue to evolve. Bringing “queer Black art [that] defies categorization,” twofold’s specialty involves finding new ways of distorting classic club patterns in ways that recall Aphex Twin and Jeff Mills at their creative peaks. “Twenty (BLACK)” is pure propulsion: voices, chords and clatter all forming one dense mass. “Twenty-two (SCRAP HEAP)” is way more jagged and abstract, with crashes and splats, warbles and zaps flying this way and that.
Empathy for Cyborgs
Bristol-based Richard “Tudor Acid” Wigglesworth began his career firmly rooted in the ‘90s “Artificial Intelligence” electronica sound popularized by Plaid, early Autechre, and others. But his evolution has been fascinating. Each of his recent albums and live streams has been a rigorous investigation of a new production technique and style, and he’s grown massively as an artist in the process. This album is informed by the glittering hi-hat patterns and huge sub-bass of UK drill, and it’s one of the few successful attempts by outsiders to take that sound’s rhythms and dark emotions somewhere new. Its core is a low-res digital fuzz that creates completely unique textures and gives the record a very direct and physical impact.
Wormhole of Time
2 x Vinyl LP
This one’s from December, but it would be a crime not to flag it up. Better known these days as Dungeon Acid, Trinidadian-Swedish musician Jean-Louis Huhta is decades deep in underground culture. Rave, hardcore punk, noise, hip-hop: you name it, he’s been immersed in it. With absolutely stunning artwork from Swedish graffiti legend NUG, this is a collection of rare and unreleased techno tunes from the ‘90s, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it. His grasp of space, groove, and texture are so incredibly advanced that these tracks could be the work of a young producer on any new, hip label in 2022. This is techno as good as you’ll hear this—or any—year.
Under the Hammer
The Das Booty label has long specialized in the purest of electro, techno, and rave, and even 13 releases in, their momentum still isn’t flagging. Here, over six tracks, you get cheeky acid, sleazy voiceovers, gabber-tempo pounding, shameless trance riffs, and—crucially—absolute bucketloads of funk.
Portland’s London Van Rooy, aka Kult Krimes, is an electronic singer-songwriter with a healthy sense of the preposterous. Vitally, where a lot of Bowie-ish, new wave-ish types tend to be stuck in the ‘80s, his sounds are as peculiar and expressive as his voice. And better still, voice, lyrics, and synthetic noise wrap and writhe around one another to fantastically dramatic effect. It’s potentially silly, but LVR has the audacity and star quality to carry it off. He challenges you to step into his warped world, and rewards you richly when you do.
UK label Nice Up! has traditionally been a home for ebullient reggae and dancehall from around the world. On this new comp, they’ve gone significantly more electronic than normal. There’s still a strong dancehall undercurrent, but most of the tracks here broadly explore the interzone between dubstep and drum & bass, and do it with a crisp, modernist panache. This is still definitely dance music, but it’s a pleasing sign of a label refusing to rest on its laurels.
Measures of Dispersion
The YUKU store and label in Prague is a beacon of joyous high tech psychedelic mischief, creating and defining new genres on the fly—branching off from the ultra-high-tech “neurofunk” strands of drum & bass, but without the self indulgence that style can fall into. These five tracks by Anna Derlemenko are case in point: you can hear bits of footwork, gabber, old-school jungle, and even electroclash (in the deadpan spoken verses of Julia Marks on “The Party Is Inside”), but all are warped, twisted, folded in on themselves with a trippy sense of mischief and bravura digital processing.
Fresh from an appearance on Scratcha DVA’s brilliant, amapiano-flavored “Flex”, Baltimore maverick :3Lon stretches their creative wings on this single. An elegant soul song unfolds through a sea of cascading rave breakbeats, chiptune pings, and sampled yelps. It’s both instantly appealing in its originality and profoundly thought-provoking. There’s clearly a major talent at work here.
It is, incredibly, 20 years since the original release of Musical Mob’s “Pulse X”—one of the first, if not the first, grime instrumentals released on vinyl. Its brutally simple bassline has had many, many refixes and re-rubs over the years, and has been played forwards, backwards, and sideways by DJs of all genres. But this sped-up anniversary reworking—adding Kurtis Blow’s “Do the Do” break, most famously used in Adam F’s “Circles”—somehow manages to blow away all the dust of history and make it sound as vital for the dancefloor as it ever has.
“The Way in Which We Gather”
Londoner Maribor has never rushed things. Starting in the “post-dubstep” climate of 2012, his label Badimup has very gradually amassed a series of stunning releases that occupy the interzone between techno and UK bass. That continues with their first release in almost four years. The title track here is ultra-digital broken beat: rhythmically off-kilter ritual music for artificial rainforests. “Watching the Thinker” is more jacking, perhaps a little footwork influenced, and keeps building and building to intense levels of hypnosis.
Becky On The Beat
London radio presenter and all-around grime scene champion Queen Bekz is barely two years into her production career as Becky On The Beat, but she’s already built a serious catalog and super distinctive sound. This tune, as ever, is sophisticated and rugged at the same time, a complex rolling beat dancing around classic grime’s blurting sounds. There are brass stabs, gong-like chimes, breathy synths…The amount of detail that emerges as you listen closely is downright trippy. But it’s a subtly melodic 808 cowbell that holds the whole thing together.
PC Music have always forced the harsh and the pretty together in various ways, but this ups the ante significantly. A joint effort between PC Music founder AG Cook and Ö, aka Nicolas Petitfrère, it veers from ambience filled with android angels to terrifying laser warfare and back. It’s an opaque and tangled piece, but it crams so much narrative and dynamic into a short space, it compels you to replay it while asking, “What the hell just happened?”
Sad Violin Music
The heart of Amsterdam DJ-producer Marjolein “mayo” Hoppen’s sound is ‘80s EBM and other sleazy, industrial-adjacent Euro club music. But somehow, she escapes retroism effortlessly. That’s in part to do with her self-built modular synth setup which, on all three tracks here, contributes a very particular fizziness around the edges of all the sounds. But more than that, the tunes stand out because they only look to the past for moods, not rules.
Esthetic x Reac-Zo
Two tracks from Russians Dmitry Molodtsov and Vitaly Podosenov veer from the familiar to the WTF. “Magen” is cavernous techno with a hint of Burial, starting with a broken rhythm and slowly gaining momentum. It’s not radical, but it’s very enjoyable in its spooky and gothic way. “Innunaki,” though, doesn’t bear much relationship to anything. It runs at a drum & bass tempo, but with a taut, rigid pattern, and raw, primitive drum sounds feeling like a dark industrial ritual. Even though it’s just percussion and drones for over seven minutes, it’s utterly compelling the whole way through.