Tag Archives: electronic music

Justin Carter and Eamon Harkin Are Committed to Expanding The Mister Saturday Night Dancefloor

Justin Carter

Justin Carter. Photo by Rob Malmberg.

“If dance music is about anything, it’s about creating safe places for the types of people whose existence is under threat right now.”—Eamon Harkin

Justin Carter, from North Carolina, and Eamon Harkin, from Northern Ireland, have deejayed separately in New York since 2004. They’ve thrown parties together since 2009, and founded their own record label, Mister Saturday Night, in 2012. The label’s output is based on a study of dance music history, especially that of New York’s tradition from David Mancuso’s Loft parties: spaces that are radically inclusive, that build communities, and that privilege the best music and self-expression over cheap thrills and fashionability.

Just look at the Boiler Room clips of the Mister Saturday Night gatherings: on the simplest level, you see happy people who love to dance, but the more you look, you see the variety of people involved, and the ease with which they interact. It’s a perfect microcosm of New York at its very best: internationalist, multi-racial, proud of its LGBT+ history and culture, all without blurring difference to a beige homogeneity.

Now, the Mister Saturday Night label provides the perfect soundtrack to this: Rooted in classicist deep house, their releases look back to disco, and forward to new experimental innovations. These experiments have taken a more concrete form with Carter’s first solo album—a beautiful, contemplative acoustic-electronic singer-songwriter record with hints of Nick Drake, Arthur Russell, artists not usually associated with dance music.

When we spoke with Carter and Harkin on a Skype call, it became clearer than ever how multidimensional the Mister Saturday Night project really is. As you’ll see, the pair’s conversation is as extraordinary as their DJ sets: Carter is considered and steady, often pausing to find just the right phrase; Harkin is prone to opening a torrent of ideas in epic sentences. Both speak in perfectly constructed paragraphs, bringing complex threads into clear conclusions—but never preaching any particular gospel. Both seem to interrogate one another, and it’s obvious that part of the success of Mister Saturday Night is that it’s not based on any set idea, but is evolving right before our eyes.

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Exploring the Many Incarnations of Damon Kirkham, aka Kid Drama

Kid Drama

If you’ve poked around the experimental fringes of drum & bass over the last 20 years, you’ve likely been exposed to the music of Damon Kirkham.

Maybe it was as far back as 1999, when Kirkham and Alex Boddika launched their Instra:Mental project. The dup catapulted into the genre with a series of strong and caustic tracks. Their earliest releases were penned with Source:Direct, one of the roughest jewels on Goldie’s label, Metalheadz. After a brief hiatus, during which they infamously partied away their royalties, Instra:Mental returned in the mid ’00s. This time, they pushed a deeper sound, and an aesthetic that challenged some of drum & bass’s strongest cliches. A far cry from the “louder-faster-heavier-badder” attitude held by many artists at the time, Instra:Mental’s relaxed, nuanced approach caused them to be regarded as one the most progressive and influential underground drum & bass acts of the era.

Or perhaps you first heard Kirkham several years later, when he was part of the Autonomic movement of the late 2000s/early 2010s. Spearheaded by Damon and Exit bossman dBridge, that spacious sci-fi soul is cited as one of the genre’s most influential movements, breaking down previously rigid barriers and encouraging experiments from non-genre artists like James Blake and Actress.

There are plenty of other ways you may have become acquainted with Kirkham: The grainy, physical techno of his Jon Convex project; the woozy soul of his work as Mikarma; the rolling drum & bass of Kid Drama; or the many collaborations and groups he’s part of, including Heartdrive, Module Eight, and Binary Collective. This year, Kirkham’s opted for a bit more anonymity, penning beats for Danish autonomic newcomer, Alia Fresco.

It’s important to acknowledge that Kirkham’s various aliases and projects are rarely one-offs. Most of them have a specific style, story, and set of imagery. And these are just the projects we know about; according to legend (and Kirkham himself) there are many more anonymous projects still waiting to be discovered.

And what of the real Damon Kirkham? For a man who’s revealed so many sides to his soul through his uncompromised, consistently forward-thinking music, he gives away little of himself without request. An internet citizen who prefers subtlety, Kirkham refuses to employ viral tactics to get attention. He won’t Tweet every move he makes, or every meal he eats. But sit him down IRL and you’ll find he’s frank, honest, and brutally real about electronic music, and the darker side of the industry underbelly.

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The Digital Resurrection of Chicago’s Trax Records

Trax Records

All photos by Rachael Cain. Courtesy Trax Records.

There are many labels that were vital to the initial explosion and global spread of house music: DJ International, Nu Groove, Strictly Rhythm, KMS, Nervous: all names that can still make a house-heads ears prick up from a hundred miles away. But none of them can claim the centrality of Chicago’s Trax, founded by Larry Sherman in 1983.

Trax had everything that made house what it was—the disco feel, the raw acid (including the magna carta itself, Phuture’s “Acid Tracks”), the percussive jams, the strong Latinx influence, the deep and soulful vocal heartbreakers, and the iconically simple design of its labels. And it had everyone: Frankie Knuckles, Joe Smooth, Jamie Principle, Armando, Phuture, Marshall Jefferson, Ron Hardy, Jesse Saunders (arguably the first ever house producer), Larry “Mr. Fingers” Heard… Again, names to get clubbers of a certain age swooning, and who still continue to inspire generation after generation of young producers, now more than ever.

It was also shambolic, to say the least. The simplicity of its visual identity was less deliberate minimalism and more a reflection of the bare-bones nature of the operation. As was standard in the haphazard club music industry of the time—particularly in Chicago—untold releases were rushed out with dubious attribution, often with poor mastering and low-quality vinyl. Rarely, if ever, were proper contracts signed–ensuring that when house music blew up big internationally, confusion and hostility reigned over who rights holders were, and how they could get paid.

Feuds continue to this day over certain parts of the label’s history. However, ever present in the Trax story was “Screamin’” Rachael Caine: an associate of Sherman’s and one of the label’s early recording artists who joined the dots between punk/new wave and the nascent house scene (she avidly talks about  “that primitive freedom and the idea that you did not need fancy equipment or big studios to make great music” which she sees as common to punk and early house). In 2007, Caine resurrected Trax and, as president and owner of the brand, has managed to steer it through choppy waters since then. In 2009, the young, radical transgender artist and photographer Jorge Cruz joined as creative director, giving its visuals a technicolor re-rub and bringing yet more new house music into the fold.

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Shigeto on How Living in Detroit Has Influenced His Eclectic Electronic Music

Shigeto_205-Credit_Jon_DeCola-600-2

Shigeto by Jon DeCola

It’s been four years since producer Shigeto released a full-length solo project, yet since 2013’s No Better Time Than Now, he’s composed more music and grown as an artist. Between local shows in Detroit, international performances, recording with trumpeter Dave Douglas and writing a new LP, there’s no question the Ghostly International signee has been hard at work.

On any given Shigeto track, there are components of hip-hop, house music and jazz expertly mixed together with live samples and instruments, creating a sound that’s unique and mesmerizing. As a performer, Shigeto incorporates his background as a jazz drummer, making his shows a cross between a complex percussion recital and epic dance party. Categorizing his style is difficult, and unnecessary, because there’s a bit of everything in the music. The Ann Arbor native and current Detroit resident has done a lot these past few years, but there’s even more on the horizon. In advance of what is set to be a busy 2017, Bandcamp had the opportunity to chat with Shigeto about maturing as an artist, his experiences within the local music scene, his upcoming LP and the track, “What Are We Made Of?,” which was released in support of Planned Parenthood.

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Master Boot Record Forges Metal and Chiptune Together

Master Boot Record

The only personal detail I know about the musician behind Master Boot Record, a project that fuses the lo-fi sounds of chiptune with the intensity and instrumentation of metal, is that he’s Italian. He may or may not have also been involved in the European Demoscene—an internet subculture priding itself on bringing art and creativity to cracked and pirated software—and he definitely knows his old-school video games. This mystery man’s output as Master Boot Record relies on more than a few conceptual gimmicks (songs have titles like “CONFIG.SYS” and “FILES=666”) and something mysterious called spellware, but the musicianship is real. MBR’s songs pummel and soar, taking sonic hints from industrial artists from the ’80s, contemporary black metal, and console gaming’s most intense boss battles. The new EP, C:\>COPY *.* A: /V, is pretty glorious—doubling down on spiraling synths and neoclassical song construction. The man behind MBR explained it to us using references to various internet subcultures and Norse mythology, which is all part of the fun of decoding and decrypting MBR.

You have thus far kept your anonymity online. Is that something you’re having fun with, or is it a vital part of your approach for this project? Can you explain? 

That’s because MBR music is processed by a 486DX-33Mhz-64mb, hence any personal information is irrelevant. Only the music matters. I’m not hiding my identity, I’m just leaving it as a quest for those who are really interested to find out. I have many projects, and many people know who I am. Traces of my digital self have been scattered through the network since its very beginning, or even before, on Bulletin Board Systems.

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