Category Archives: featured music

13 Striking Contemporary EBM Releases

Unconscious

Unconscious

Electronic body music, aka EBM—a dancefloor-oriented style of industrial—requires the people who make to have a healthy obsession with mastering machines. It is a laborious task—forging a bassline, hammering out the intensity of a beat using metallic sounds. At its best, EBM feels like the heat from the furnace, causing blistered hands and battered feet, the rippling of muscles and dripping of sweat. It is about movement, about work—about, well, the body.

Thirty years ago, two albums were released that became the cornerstones of the EBM subgenre. Both boasted a cacophony of temperamental electronic sounds that writhed in uber-masculine aggression. Official Version, released in March of 1987 by the Belgian group Front 242, was a work of computer wizardry. It was built around themes of conflict and war that created an atmosphere of dreads, with basslines that fired hard, like machine guns.

Just two months later, U.K.’s Nitzer Ebb released That Total Age, a record that approached the genre as a locked target, attacking with forceful rhythms, chants and stalwart basslines. The complex sounds of these two albums were completely new at the time, driven by the technology of synthesizers, drum machines, samplers, and the sheer determination to push those machines to their extremes.

Recently, EBM has been slowly returning to favor: the word is now used as a descriptor for many forms of dark electronic music, while classic reissues are pressed on to attractive multicolor vinyl. That groundbreaking sound manifested on That Total Age and Official Version—the manipulation of violent synths, layered over a beat that is decidedly danceable—is what resonates with artists and fans today. And if the beat is the heart of the genre, the basslines are the veins, pumping urgently.

While some current EBM producers are traditionalists in their approach to sound, turning out records that could be shelved alongside the Wax Trax! catalogue, others embrace the sleek and polished approach of techno. Either way, EBM is impossible to escape, and even harder to wade through these days. We’ve gathered some of the most exciting new releases in the genre for the year so far. From silky production methods to thunderous metallic noise, each album on this list summons the flying sparks of hammer meeting anvil.

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Benedek’s Music Blends Hip-Hop, Jazz, and West Coast G-Funk

Benedek

The first song Nicholas Benedek ever released was a track called “That’s My Jam!”—a wonderful slab of throwback funk, the kind of song that summons images of summertime pool parties and choreographed dance routines. It features DaM-FunK, perhaps the pre-eminent modern-day purveyor of old-fashioned, top-down-cruisin’ California grooves. That last fact is significant: Benedek, an aspiring funk producer himself, managed to land an A-list collaborator and mentor for his first ever track.

On Bene’s World, Benedek’s second release with LEAVING Records, the producer steps beyond funk to blend elements of house, rap, electronic minimalism, and pop into his sound. Still, despite the broader sound, Benedek’s eyes are focused squarely on the groove, and the songs on Bene’s World are refracted through this lens. The album manages to expand outwards while still retaining its funky structure. We spoke with the L.A. native over the phone from his home in Highland Park to discuss G-funk, his departure and return to his hometown, and the evolution of Top 40 radio.

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Album of the Day: Fhloston Paradigm, “After…”

Philadelphia DJ/producer King Britt has one of the longest résumés in electronic music—not to mention R&B and hip-hop. He first gained notice working with then-roommate Josh Wink on 1990’s “Tribal Confusion” by E-Culture; a few years later, he became Digable Planets’ tour DJ. And he’s cultivated a number of widely differing aliases and project names. As Sylk 130, Britt spearheaded a luxurious neo-soul live band; as the Nova Dream Sequence, he paid explicit homage to Detroit techno.

Fhloston Paradigm (named for Fhloston Paradise, a planet in the 1997 film The Fifth Element) is Britt in womb-like ambient mode—the man clearly spent some quality time with space-staring labels like Apollo and Rising High. Creating a sound palette to be “used only in that project,” as he told The Fader, Britt set out to make a drum-less and lyric-less album—though hardly one devoid of vocals. In fact, one of the keys to After… is that it’s practically an album of collaborations, including singers—among them Nosaj Thing, Ryat, Moor Mother, and Puerto Rican Space Program. But in every other sense, the album belongs entirely to Britt.

The title’s ellipses is no accident, and not just because each of the album’s songs are continuations of the word. After… has a serenely willful feel, an imbuing of soulful positivity. Britt’s limited palette manifests in tracks that start simple and then keep building, whether in cross-melodies like the ones in “…Life”—the wordless “ahhh”s of Pia Ercole smearing across intricate percussion and wisps of woodwinds—or the freestyle manipulations of sonar blips on “…The Fact,” suggesting life on Mars might be full of mischievous critters. The finale, “…Hours,” featuring Puerto Rican Space Program, ends with the simplest of ascending figures on a synth patch that suggests Raymond Scott’s ‘60s ad work, not to mention the vastness of the outer limits.

Michaelangelo Matos

High Scores: Ben Lukas Boysen and Sebastian Plano’s “Everything” Soundtrack

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Photo by Alexander Schneider.

I waver between thinking game-maker and animator David O’Reilly’s masterpiece, Everything, is something more than a video game and not a video game at all. Playing it feels much more like looking at a painting, or perhaps taking a psychedelic meditation retreat. In the game, the player takes turns controlling hundreds of individual objects and entities that are cartoonish abstractions of our own reality, from giraffes to microconidia to continents, clouds and eventually galaxies. Eventually, one is able to create madcap worlds-within-worlds where a murder of crows might dance with submarines beneath the ocean, or a planet-sized record player plunks out strange noises in space. (There are, interestingly, no human beings roaming O’Reilly’s worlds.)

Two elements lend this beautiful but absurd experience some real weight. The inclusion of hours of joyful and thought-provoking lectures from the great philosopher Alan Watts, and the expansive score from electronic musician Ben Lukas Boysen and contemporary classical composer/musician Sebastian Plano. Their pieces—anchored by Plano’s emotive cello and expanded by Boysen’s towering, organic ambient structures—are otherworldly and full of wonder. They swell and fade unexpectedly as the player tinkers, and they evoke something more than just beauty. They evoke awe. It is a remarkable experience, and the resulting Everything soundtrack—on the venerable Erased Tapes label—stands on its own as a startling piece of art. We spoke to Boysen and Plano via video chat, as they were drinking beers at Boysen’s home in Berlin. Continue reading

The Kaleidoscopic Sound of Southeast Asian Psych-Funk

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Cambodia Space Project

From the 1960s to the 1980s, Southeast Asia was home to a wealth of progressive, offbeat funk that was as festive as it was meaningful. Artists like Indonesia’s The Rollies, the Philippines’ Blackbuster, Vietnamese “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll” Mai Le Huyen, and Thailand’s molam (country-psych) empress Chaweewan Dumnern paired psychedelia’s traditional hallmarks of surreal lyrics, modal melodies, and extended wah-wah guitar solos with groovy pop, jazz, and disco. Some were more influenced by the Santanas and Funkadelics of the Western world, while others bore the influence of the region’s folk music, such as Thailand’s luk thung, incorporating indigenous instruments native to rural heartlands into their songs.

These gems, many of which exist on comprehensive compilations like Soundway’s Sound of Siam and the Cambodian Soul Sounds series, continue to inspire a wave of contemporary musicians from around the region and beyond. “We’ve surfed an astonishing cultural revival coming out of Cambodia, particularly Cambodian Rock, a sound of King Norodom’s 1960’s Phnom Penh,” says Julien Poulson, founder and lead guitarist of The Cambodian Space Project.

The Cambodian Space Project adds a hefty dose of tropical sci-fi and shimmy-shaking to their interpretation of old Khmer pop and soul tracks, inspired by the wealth of go-go, mambo, and big-band artists that flourished before the brutal Khmer Rouge dictatorship. “Cambodia’s pre-war rock ‘n’ roll reverberates and echoes through time and space and are as cosmic as ever,” Poulson, who also plays guitar for Bokor Mountain Magic Band, says. Taking a cue from ‘60s vocalists such as Pan Ron and Ros Sereysothea, The Cambodian Space Project’s lead singer Kak Channthy says she likes to channel Tina Turner on stage—but wants to make the sound wholly her own.

Today’s artists are doing more than just revisiting Southeast Asia’s golden era of kaleidoscopic groove; they’re reinventing it. Midnight Runners, a Bandung-based duo that crafts head-spinning boogie sampled from ‘70s/’80s Indonesian disco, are all too aware of being categorized as revivalists. “We’re trying to re-modernize the style with today’s digital tools, which includes bass, drums, controllers, and software…That keeps the sound more or less old and modern,” explains Midnight Runners frontman Munir Harry Septiandry. “I hate to compare which is better; both will move your feet to the beat.”

Both the past and present are audible on Midnight Runners’ latest album Rare Essence, released on Spanish label Neon Finger in February, where the group merges a ‘70s library-record sound with slap bass lines and sultry synths. “Seventies and ‘80s stuff was a lot groovier, dirty, and mature… I started listening to those records as a kid, and that childhood made me funky today,” Septiandry says.

The artists listed below may span the entire funky universe, including garage, electro, and jazz, but they all head toward an unbound state in which time flows freely and the body feels light. Listen on for a multi-dimensional perspective of Southeast Asia’s deep relationship with psych-funk.

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