Album of the Day: Various Artists, “Oz Waves”

As fringe subcultures go, electronic music from Australia’s ‘80s underground is arguably one of the more neglected. Aside from deeply influential acts like Severed Heads, much of that era’s gems have languished outside of popular memory, at best graduating from tiny tape runs to obscure internet uploads.

Aussie reissue label Efficient Space excavates 10 such lost wonders on the new compilation Oz Waves, curated by Sydney-born DJ Steele Bonus. Though united in their unpolished, DIY vibe, the selections cover a wide range of sounds. Some are disturbingly dark (the engrossing bass throb of Prod’s “Knife on Top”; the jarring, competing layers of The Horse He’s Sick’s industrial-edged “Larynx”). Others are almost contagiously bright, like Moral Fibro’s bossa nova-kissed “Take a Walk in the Sun” and Zerox Dreamflesh’s dubby instrumental “Squids Can Fly.”

Of them all, the gleefully sacrilegious “Jesus Krist Klap Rap (Orthodox Mix)” from MK Ultra & The Assassins of Light is the most immediately danceable. Irena Xero’s punch-drunk “Lady on the Train” and He Dark Age’s itchy “Holding Out For Eden” feel like fever-dreams, while the previously-unreleased “Will I Dream?” by Andy Rantzen (half of seminal Aussie techno duo Itch-E & Scratch-E) has a frazzled, mechanistic hypnotism. Meanwhile, Software Seduction’s squiggly slow burn “New Collision” and Ironing Music’s twinkling “Don’t Wish it Away” seem to anticipate the likes of Stereolab and Broadcast.

The result of a diverse scene that extended to zines, visual art, and beyond, Oz Waves is a valuable invitation to explore these and other overlooked outliers of the time. Many of the artists featured here are still at it—among them, Ratzen and Irena Xero . Both then and now, they emerge as misfits seizing the means of production—via affordable synths, drum machines and cassette duplication—and bending it to their will.

Doug Wallen

The Best New Hip-Hop on Bandcamp

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This month’s crucial hip-hop picks include indie rap veterans who are embracing their years in the game, video game fiends paying tribute to the late, great Frank White, and a rapper who at one time had the whole Internet convinced he was actually an alias of Nas. In a break from the normal U.S.-based selection, we also take a detour to Auckland, New Zealand where a whole bunch of rap cats are mustering up their own brand of creative hip-hop.
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Goth’s Undead: Six Current Releases From Groups Old and New

Goth

Goth’s Undead. Illustrations by George Wylesol.

Few strains of rock music get less respect than goth. Though the genre’s lush soundscapes and searing-then-willowy guitar attack are all over bigger acts like Savages, Preoccupations, and Merchandise, they tend to attract the “post-punk” tag instead. Goth just isn’t cool; it’s too emotional, too baroque, too weird. Witness the absorption of Joy Division into the nebulous history of post-punk, despite 1980’s Closer being about as quintessentially goth as Edward Gorey.

Goth may not be cool, but it is definitely not dead, either, not as a subculture or as a public trope; witness its thriving life on Tumblr and in the fashion world, the garage rock world’s Beach Goth festival (at which, we are sad to report, there has never been a goth band), and so forth. Even those ever-incisive chroniclers of subcultures and outsiders, The Mountain Goats, have turned their eyes to the night for their upcoming LP; called, simply, Goths. In a terrifying, shifting world there will always be value in finding beauty in luxe sensation, in decay, in darkness. The alternative is total despair… and not in a poetic way.

So let’s celebrate these artists, who are mining the decadence, coy humor, and sheer sonic power of goth for all it’s worth; from throbbing tracks for the dancefloor, to skeletal elegies, to gleaming melodic pop, and so on, through all the colors of the dark.

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The Virtual Vaporwave Scene

猫 シ Corp.

猫 シ Corp.

From folk music in the ‘60s to hip-hop in the ‘90s, the healthiest and most enduring genres in music are the ones that have existed at the center of a larger supportive scene. Vaporwave is no different, even if its artists seldom perform live, and even if they aren’t clustered around one particular city or country. That vaporwave has flourished isn’t simply because a few pioneering acts released seminal records, but because networks of like-minded people communicate with each other, share ideas, and work together to develop the genre into the singular breed of electronic music it is today.

Yet given the notorious anonymity and reclusiveness of its musicians, the community around vaporwave operates a bit differently than other genres. After speaking with over a dozen established and emerging producers, from Golden Living Room to waterfront dining and STAQQ OVERFLO, it becomes clear that the vaporwave scene exists almost exclusively online, and that the vast majority of fans and musicians regularly keep in touch with each other via the internet. Golden Living Room, for instance, revealed that he’s in “regular contact with about 10 vaporwave-related people on a monthly basis.” The maker of such futuristic psychedelia as Post-Internet and New Nostalgia also has a wider circle of around 50 people with whom he corresponds sporadically, mostly via a combination of Twitter, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts and Skype.

A large number of vaporwave musicians admitted to similar digital interaction habits; 猫 シ Corp. maintains semi-regular contact with over 10 of his peers, including t e l e p a t h, 真夜中BoatingClub, Donovan Hikaru, Mindspring Memories, Luxury Elite and Vaperror.

猫 シ Corp. (the man behind [지오 프론트] v3.1 and HIRAETH) also works with as many as nine of his fellow producers on music which, like many other artists in the genre, he does by sending files back and forth via email. This creative to-ing and fro-ing means that the genre is actually far more social and communal than the popular image of “anonymous [vaporwave] craftsmen” might suggest. It indicates how, in many cases, collaboration is almost intrinsic to the production of many vaporwave releases, and to its development and staying power as a genre. And at least as important, it shows that vaporwave records are often born not from isolated individuals surfing the web alone, but out of comparatively rich social contexts and dynamics—and even out of friendships. Continue reading

Album of the Day: El Michels Affair, “Return To The 37th Chamber”

In 2015, El Michels Affair were the penultimate link in a particularly weird chain: A$AP Rocky’s track, “Wavybone,” sampled their 2009 instrumental cover of Raekwon’s 1994 RZA-produced “Heaven & Hell,” which itself sampled Syl Johnson’s 1974 song, “Could I Be Falling in Love.” But if “sample of a cover of a sample of a soul song” seems like a bizarre game of hip-hop telephone, it’d be harder to think of a more fitting participant than the El Michels Affair. The NYC lo-fi funk band became the live backup for a Raekwon tour in 2005, the same year their debut Sounding Out the City was released, and by the time Enter the 37th Chamber dropped in ’09, they’d actually gigged with members of the Wu-Tang Clan enough to have an all-instrumental album of Wu-beat covers make all the sense in the world.

Return to the 37th Chamber isn’t a more-of-the-same sequel, though. The sound is familiar—grimy psych-soul renditions of Wu and solo member classics like “4th Chamber” and  “Verbal Intercourse” are reproduced with a live-band fidelity that hews close to the spirit of the original productions while getting a little room to sprawl—but they bring a few new ideas to the plate. More oddball candidates make the cut, including the St. Ides ad “Shaolin Brew” and Ghostface’s Supreme Clientele interstitial track “Iron’s Theme” (here redubbed “Iron Man”). They slot in their own like-minded interlude cuts that expand on vintage RZA’s Stax/Hi-meets-Golden Harvest vibe (“Pork Chop Express”; “Drums for Sale”). And guest vocalists like Lee Fields (“Snakes”), Shannon Wise (“Tearz”), and Lady Wray (“All I Need”) are called in to put their own stamp on the interpolated Joe Tex/Wendy Rene/Mary J. voices that laced the originals. It’s not the homage to the gamut-running Murderer’s Row of Wu-Tang classics that its predecessor was, but Return‘s deep-dive strangeness is a complementary piece that Shaolin disciples and acid-funk enthusiasts should prize.

Nate Patrin