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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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Music to Soundtrack the Apocalypse

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project

Apocalyptic thinking is as ancient as mankind; when human beings first realized there was a future, we also realized there would be an end. The Zoroastrian Frashokereti is the oldest surviving eschatology, and surely there were others that predated it. Centuries later, Europeans in the Middle Ages felt terror toward the advent of the year 1000 that was driven by a belief that the soul would continue to live after the Apocalypse. They made prophetic music, often based on the Book of Revelations, and that creative impulse was also surely not new to man, the music maker.

In 2017, our own fears of the future are different—perhaps more terrifying precisely because they are driven by very real, corporeal dangers, like environmental disaster, pandemic, and nuclear war. And instead of music about the Apocalypse, we have music about what comes after, which is not paradise but a devastated, emptied world, cold enough, as author Cormac McCarthy wrote, to “crack stones.”

And we have our own, growing tradition of music that imagines the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Aesthetically falling under the “dark ambient” umbrella, much of this is drone-based, beat-less, and lacking any obvious human presence. Some of it is made to intentionally express that humanity has no future, some subconsciously broadcast terrors from the zeitgeist, all of it reflects our contemporary expectations for the future.

Comments on the Bandcamp pages for the albums in this list reflect an unexpected inclination to use the music as an aid to relaxation and sleep, finding comfort in the enveloping chill of the sublime. This is music to read Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, and of course Joanna Demers’s Drone and Apocalypse by. Thinking about the End of Time is so human, so natural, that we might as well enjoy it.

Bandcamp has a deep catalogue of and community for dark ambient music, but this flavor of post-apocalyptic music is far less clearly defined. The following is a list of some of the best examples of the style, curated from the ominous world.

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Mutual Support and Passionate Anger: Screamo in the Balkans

Malisa Bahat

Malisa Bahat.

“I started getting into screamo when I was 17, thanks to a bootleg compilation called Death To False Screamo, where I first heard bands like Orchid and Saetia,” recalls Dimitar Raykov, who grew up writing and collecting fanzines in Central Bulgaria. These says, Raykov runs DIY Conspiracy, a web magazine about punk, hardcore, and emo in the Balkans, where he reviews and interviews groups from around the world, with a particular focus on lesser-known acts from southeastern Europe.

Back in the ’80s, Yugoslavia and Greece already had fertile punk and new wave scenes, and the number of punk and hardcore acts in the area has remained high since then. “There were a lot of good bands and venues,” says Mišo Ljuboje, who comes from Split—a city on the Croatian coast—but now lives in Vienna, where he books shows and runs a DIY label called Hardcore for the Losers. “The zine circuit was developed and there were enough connections,” Ljuboje says. “I think we’ve had quite a decent scene overall.”

Ljuboje got into emo and screamo by listening to political French DIY bands from the ’90s and early 2000s—artists like Amanda Woodward, Peu Être, and The Flying Worker—and by participating in the rising emo scene in Slovenia and Croatia. At the turn of the century, bands like the Zagreb-based Nikad were playing the same brand of aggressive screamo as American acts like Orchid and Yaphet Kotto, and were among the first to deliver an uncompromised mix of powerviolence and emocore. While Nikad were never internationally famous, they were certainly noticed by the most attentive and dedicated fans of the genre—like Kent McClard, the owner of the California label Ebullition Records. McClard once described Nikad as “the best band you’ve never heard of” in his zine HeartattaCk, which published from 1994 to 2006 and was, for many, a sort of emotional hardcore Bible.

Other great bands from that ere were The Farewell Reason (’90s emo from Čakovec in Croatia), With Engine Heart (raucous screamo from Celje in Slovenia), and Analena, whose members were spread among the two northern countries of former Yugoslavia, and were probably the best-known band from the region. Active since 1997, Analena were one of the few DIY acts from the Balkans who managed to tour Europe with any level of consistency, playing important hardcore festivals and self-releasing memorable records rich with crisp and energetic post-hardcore anthems.

Right now, screamo might not feel as exciting and new as it felt back then, but there are still a handful of active bands who have released a series of outstanding albums over the last few years. From the “futurist hardcore” of Greece’s Ruined Families to the uncontainable emoviolence (with 8-bit inserts!) of Serbia’s Eaglehaslanded, Balkan screamo is a beautifully diverse niche that has created a network of connections that extend beyond regional borders.

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The Best New Halftime Drum & Bass On Bandcamp

drum-bass-600

From jungle to jump-up—by way of neuro, liquid, deep, pop, ambient, intelligent, soulful, drumstep, skullstep, and techstep—drum & bass has morphed and mutated into more sub-styles and categories than any other genre of electronic music. But few of those are as exciting or reinvigorating as the increasingly popular style that’s become known as “halftime.”

The recipe is simple: Halve the tempo, double the fun. Halftime tracks flex around the 80-85 BPM region (a tempo most commonly associated with hip-hop) rather than drum & bass’s traditional double-time, white knuckle 160/170 BPM framework.

Early sightings of half-tempo drum & bass can be traced back as early as 1992, with tracks such as DJ Phantasy & DJ Gemini’s “Switch To 33.” Pioneering producers Digital and Amit have been experimenting with sparse kick drum arrangements since 1999 and the sound, as it exists today, has been developing momentum in earnest since dBridge & Instra:Mental launched their game-changing duo project, Autonomic, in 2009. In the last few years, halftime has become even more prominent, not just as a subgenre itself, but as a style and rhythm arrangement across all drum & bass subgenres.

Much of this is in keeping with drum & bass’s oldest tradition: the breakbeat melting pot where the 170 BPM breaks framework is used as a blank canvas to portray the artist’s own culture and roots. While the genre’s original pioneers were using the soul, reggae, hip-hop, dub, and rare groove records they’d grown up with as keystones, newer producers are reflecting their own inspirations such as techno, trap, grime, dubstep, and hip-hop.

The sounds, dynamics, references, and spacious aesthetics of this new breakbeat melting pot resonate with what’s happening under the wider bass umbrella in other genres that cherish the halftime break: the L.A. beats scene, London’s instrumental grime sound, Chicago’s juke and footwork movement. Halving the tempo of drum & bass means it’s only 10 BPM away from these kindred styles, rather than the double-time, uniquely fast-tempo it’s largely been all these years. This has created a lot more interchange and dialogue between drum & bass and the wider musical world.

This, in turn, has accelerated creativity and opened up new possibilities. Drum & bass DJ sets are much wider and more dynamic in tempo and energy thanks to halftime tracks. Rhythmically, productions have become more varied and unpredictable, as more artists are looking beyond drum & bass’s typical two-step or “amen” drum arrangements. There are vast caverns of space that provide room for new polyrhythms and percussion dynamics—a growing community of high-level and technically-astute exponents such as Noisia, Ivy Lab, dBridge, Alix Perez, Mefjus, Fracture, and Kasra are all pushing the sound into bold new directions. Halftime isn’t just reinvigorating the genre, it’s one of the most full-flavored dishes on drum & bass’s dizzying subgenre menu.

Boasting artists and labels from the Czech Republic to New Zealand, as well as the bass universe (from house to garage to trap to hip-hop), these new releases on Bandcamp are a succinct snapshot of halftime, right now.

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Seven French Artists Putting a New Spin On Yé-Yé

Laure Briard

Laure Briard

For a long time, hip French musicians steered clear from yé-yé and variété—two home-grown genres that dominated the charts and airwaves in the 1960s-1970s and 1990s, respectively. The first came about when the French music industry put its own spin on the burgeoning American and British pop and rock of the Beatles, Motown, etc., spawning stars such as France Gall, Sylvie Vartan, Françoise Hardy and even Serge Gainsbourg (who made fun of the yé-yés, yet wrote quite a few hits for them) The most adaptable of the bunch were able to continue their careers in what became known as variété, an amorphous genre more easily defined by what it’s not—ie: rock. They were joined by a new generation of performers and singer-songwriters like Michel Berger and Véronique Sanson.

Now, a new generation of French acts is reclaiming this heritage, often filtering it through another influence, that of 1980s French synth-pop (most notably the seminal duo Elli et Jacno). What transcends the years is a very careful—very French—attention to melody and arrangements, as well as notably deft lyrics.

Don’t expect pure nostalgia from the acts below, though. Their sound is very now—they just position themselves in a great tradition of French pop music.

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