Tag Archives: electronic music

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

Dom & Roland’s Worldwide Search for Rare Dubplates 

Dom & Roland

Dom & Roland. All photos by Chelone Wolf.

Murmur the word ‘dubplate’ to any drum & bass DJ who emerged before the mid 2000s and it’s like a strange hypnosis trick. Their eyes mist over and a knowing wry grin rolls out. Their nose twitches for lacquer vapour trails in the air.

Nothing symbolizes the culture of community and mindset of innovation that drum & bass was founded on than these acetate artifacts. Studio-fresh creations cut strictly for club testing, dubplates were the currency among only the most influential of tastemakers. Sometimes this meant just one or two copies existed.

Dubplates dictated quality control; at around £30 a cut, only the best tracks made it from studio to the cutting lathe. They determined the lifespan of the music; tracks remained on dub until fan-hype was just right to release—if they were released at all. Their limited pressings ensured exclusivity for DJs, especially with ‘specials’ that, in-keeping with classic soundsystem tradition, were created especially for individual artists. The direction of certain sounds within the genre were also influenced by this culture, as competitive artists participated in a race of technology and engineering, attempting to present tracks that were even more dynamic, uncompromising and futuristic than their peers.

Most importantly, though, dubplates created a community. Throughout the ‘90s and into the (fiercely-resisted) digital switch in the mid 2000s, London’s famous Music House cutting house on Holloway Road was abuzz with drum & bass pioneers who didn’t just share DATS but also ideas and thoughts on the music, its direction and strength. Drum & bass pioneers like Dominic Angas, AKA Dom & Roland.

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A Guide Through the Darkened Passages of Dungeon Synth

Old Tower

Old Tower

A cold wind blows the last of the dried leaves from the branches above. The fading light of the setting sun reveals a fissure in the sheer rock wall ahead. Entering the cavern, the dancing light of your torch reveals a staircase hewn from stone, descending into darkness. As you begin your descent, you hear faint melodies echoing from some unseen chamber. Unwilling to turn back, you continue into the depths, the darkness surrounding you. You walk along a seemingly endless corridor, searching for the source of the music. You couldn’t find your way out now, even if you wanted to. The dungeon has claimed you as its own.

Drawing its musical themes from Medieval and Renaissance compositions and its aesthetic sensibilities from black metal and fantasy literature, Dungeon Synth is the perfect soundtrack for this kind of escapist fantasy. Think of the “intro” track to your favorite metal album, but stretched out to album length.

Dungeon Synth is a rapidly expanding genre that includes artists working in a variety of styles, ranging from sparse solo performances on electronic keyboards to fully-orchestrated symphonic compositions. The following artists represent a crude map to the world of Dungeon Synth. As with all worthwhile dungeon explorations, some paths aren’t marked below. You can fill those in as you explore.

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Seven Artists Who Are at the Cutting Edge of Hi-Fi Techno 

Volte Face

Volte Face

In recent years, techno has turned to a rather dark place. Tastemakers such as Rødhåd have favoured bleak and brutal sounds, and labels like Perc and Ron Morelli’s L.I.E.S. have been in a race to the darkest corners of the sonic spectrum. This music is gritty and lo-fi, intense and unrelenting, and is completely in contrast—intentionally or not—to the inoffensive minimal techno sound that ruled before it.

But a growing number of producers and labels around the world are subverting things again: they’re moving away from these busy, physical, and harsh styles, back to a “less is more” approach. Their refined, academic take on deep techno might be traced back to artists like Jeff Mills, Robert Hood, and Planetary Assault Systems, but is made from more abstract parts. There are no vocals, melodies, strings, or pianos, but instead there’s a focus on spaciousness, deft sound design, and hypnotic grooves in a widescreen cinematic style. It’s still intense, just mentally absorbing.

Despite techno’s reputation for functionality, this more studious and mindful take on the genre would be poorly suited to your average festival, because it doesn’t have immediate impact. It is often decidedly linear and sparse, with no real edges. Because of its sonic subtleties and finely-sculpted design, this meticulous, hi-fi style demands patience, but rewards it with often insular, always mind-melting experiences.

Unlike, say, the Berghain sound, which is focused around the influential Berlin club of the same name, this strand of techno has no real geographic centre or definitive club to call home. Instead, clusters of producers in Rome, London, Berlin, and New York are quietly turning out this posh and artful sound of their own accord. What’s more, it seems to dovetail with a wider trend for audiophile listening experiences: places like Spiritland and Brilliant Corners in London—with their absurdly expensive sound system set ups dedicated to vinyl—and the popularity of turntable weights, rotary mixers, isolators, and customized high-end decks all bare that out. Maybe it means techno is getting old. But for now, it is an interesting divergence from the norm, driven and exemplified by the artists included here.

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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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