The Month In Electronic Music: Jam City, 2562, Sigha & More
, March 7th, 2012 08:14
The sequel to last week's scuzzier edition of Hyperspecific takes a trip through some new and upcoming club-friendly records, care of Middle Eastern samplescapes, badly named jazz ensembles and day-glo digital detritus. Rory Gibb leads the way
As a sequel to last week's February edition of Hyperspecific, this forms something of a club-centric second half to last week's noisier treats. As the year continues to warm up there's no shortage of interesting/enjoyable/intriguing music turning up on dancefloors, so this edition slaps on its best shoes and takes a running dive for the club, courtesy of Sigha's ever-more-refined techno, Distal & Hxdb's dubstep hybrid 'Booyant', new music from October, 2562, Jam City and more.
Jam City - The Courts/The Nite Life (feat. Main Attrakionz) [Night Slugs White]
Jam City has long been both joker and ace in the Night Slugs deck, willfully throwing curious curveballs into the mix with unerring accuracy. He's been responsible for the label's finest moment to date - the colour-spattered chaos of his refix of Endgames' 'Ecstasy' - as well as a sequence of very distinctive follow-ups: the glutinous trudge of 'Magic Drops'; last year's hybrid Waterworx EP, which articulated a meeting point between grime, southern hip-hop and house better than anyone else so far. This latest 12", a new addition to Slugs' white label series, extends his reach. A-side 'The Courts' lands somewhere in the broken techno territory inhabited by Objekt and Peverelist, but its whipcrack snares and synthetic strings are pure grime. There are enough accomplished synthesists out there already for that sort of crossover to be old news, but what continues to mark out Jam City's music is his attention to detail - the core rhythm of 'The Courts' might remain more or less the same throughout, but around it pirouette a whole host of other musical objects, each one jostling for its space in the limelight. Each is only allowed the briefest period to shine before being swept away in the flood, making it compulsively replayable: each time it's spun, something new is unearthed.
B-side 'The Nite Life' takes a more divergent path. It tackles the sort of ethereal rap made famous last year by Clams Casino, drafting in duo Main Attrakionz (whose 808s & Dark Grapes II mixtape has also been issued on wax this month) to add heavy-lidded ramblings that reference sci-fi and Sega's short-lived Dreamcast console (remember that?). Most net-age genre titles are aggravating in the extreme, but the name that's starting to catch on for this sort of stuff - 'cloud rap' - is one of my favourites for a while, both managing to capture the music's supremely substanceless feel and the crowd-sourced nature of its production and dispersal.
VCMG - EP2: Single Blip [Mute]
Luke Turner recently suggested that Depeche Mode men Vince Clarke and Martin Gore's new SSSS LP may well be to techno in 2012 what Azari & III's self-titled debut was to house in 2011: a big, fun, accessible record likely to appeal more to casual listeners or dabblers than genre die-hards. It does seem to fit that mould rather well, though that hasn't stopped them drafting in some formidable remixers to give the album's tracks a shakedown on 12". The thoroughly enjoyable stomp of the duo's latest single, err, 'Single Blip', isn't anything particularly new, but it's tempting to feel like you can detect something of its makers' histories in its song-like approach to structure. VCMG's tracks are pretty far from being tracky - although instrumental, 'Single Blip's carefully defined segments could easily represent verses and chorus, and it handles its pop components deftly indeed.
By way of contrast, Raster Noton man Byetone's remix is understated in the extreme, especially when placed next to last year's far bolshier Symeta album: the gooey synth pads that light up the original make another appearance here, but they're used to burnish a slice of tight, minimal machine-funk. It gets even better during the final minute, when everything dissolves in a wash of hot, corrosive fluid. Matthew Jonson's remix forms the link between Byetone's studied restraint and VCMG's showy muscle-flexing, stretching the track out into 11 minutes of punchy but rather low-key house.
2562 - Air Jordan [When In Doubt]
I've got no idea what separates Dave Huismans' 2562 and A Made Up Sound aliases anymore. In fact, I'm not sure even he knows - or particularly cares. As the music that previously hung in the hinterlands between dubstep and techno has slowed and enmeshed with actual techno, both sides of his musical personality have been folded into a single, very limber beast. Following AMUS' bashy 'Take The Plunge' at the tail end of last year, 2562's Air Jordan takes a different tack from his previous material. Based around a series of field recordings taken during a trip to Jordan in 2010, it contains a rather marvelous four tracks that cloak his usual broken house rhythms in an extra thick layer of sand and dust. 'Desert Lament' and 'Jerash Hekwerken' form the EP's more club-oriented backbone, but they're padded and stripped of most of their clarity by a hubbub of city dwellers, milling around between the beats. Even their drum hits feel softened and glassy-eyed, as if bamboozled by the sudden onset of heatstroke.
The EP's more interesting material, though, lies at its start and end. Huismans' music has always been a stickler for detail and careful sound placement - something he shares with European contemporaries like Efdemin, whose simple-seeming track constructions belie their intricacy and complexity. So his less beat-driven pieces on here prove of remarkable depth, bringing to mind the more Middle Eastern-drawn of Demdike Stare's material, or the half-rhythms of Muslimgauze and Vatican Shadow. 'Solitary Sheepbells' is sparse, beatless and airless, its atmosphere humid, rippling with nocturnal life and punctuated by the wheezes of a car struggling to start. And EP highlight 'Nocturnal Drummers' rounds the record off with in a moody whirl of hand-struck percussion.
Distal & Hxdb - Booyant/Amphibian [Tectonic]
Tectonic's renowned for sticking fairly close to the established dubstep template, and in doing so proving that there are still operators out there willing to batter their audiences into bloody submission with fat fists of sub-bass. Still, it's possible to do that without hanging too closely to standard dubstep rhythms, something Atlanta's Distal, who cropped up frequently on Tectonic boss Pinch's recent Fabriclive mix, excels at. 'Booyant', a collaboration with Vancouver's Hxdb, takes a Swamp81-style diversion into booming drum machine territory, but pairs it with seesawing synth and a brass line beefy enough for a whole marching band's worth of tuba (your self-respecting dubstepper's orchestral instrument, of course). 'Amphibian' is hot and sticky, lying low in some semi-urban swamp where the baritone croaks of bullfrogs chime with rolling trap-rap cymbals. The surprise twist, though, is a disarmingly perky remix/reinterpretation of 'Booyant' by Archie Pelago (try to ignore the dreadful name). Replacing the original's synthetic brass ensemble with the real thing, the New York trio turn it into an explosive funk shuffle, all tumbling cascades of sax and deftly thumbed upright bass. It simply begs to be dropped in the middle of a set of entirely electronic music, even if only to see the audience quickly hide their confusion and set the jazz hands aflutter.
Kodiak - Spreo Superbus EP [Numbers]
Alongside the now London-based Hessle Audio imprint, Glasgow's Numbers collective sit among the UK's most accomplished house-leaning genre benders. But where the music Hessle actually release tends to be gloomy and intense of mood, Numbers' output on the whole is brighter, with many tracks stained day-glo with big, toxic synth tones or wailing sampled divas. It certainly matches the attitude of its members and associates - label boss man Jackmaster is one of the UK's finest party DJs, reaching wider than his contemporaries to drop anything from unreleased dubs and Detroit electro to R&B, Radiohead and nineties chart dance, and close friend Rustie's music smashes all the above and more into three minute caffeine/saccharine shots.
Kodiak's 'Spreo Superbus' is another such mutant beast, a vaguely garage-tinged number lent its propulsion by snares that loiter in gangs and land in short, UK funky-tinged flurries. For all that they attempt to push it forward the track's seasick, zig-zagging motion ends up locking it in a peculiar state of stasis - something emphasised further still by a mid-song breakdown that slows everything into a torrid, stormy, digitally clipped slur. While certain artists have begun using the flakey, brittle nature of computer audio as a device in its own right, few dance producers have dared to wield it quite this brashly thus far. In that, if nothing else, 'Spreo Superbus' is a fascinating listen.
For out-of-club listening, Actress' remix continues his ongoing run of form with a muted nocturne that retains barely a trace of the original. A few short vocal stanzas are all that remain, and they're set as glistening landmarks towering above a sticky hip-hop frame. It doesn't really go anywhere per se, merely lingering sweetly within its own self-contained universe for five minutes, in the manner of last year's 'Gershwin' or some of Hazyville's more withheld moments. But in Darren Cunningham's hands that's more than enough. Appetite suitably whetted for his upcoming R.I.P long player.
Sigha - Abstractions I-IV [Hotflush]
Despite still releasing music through Hotflush, Sigha's long been fully detached from the vaguely dubsteppy rhythms that informed his earliest material. His latest 12" for the label is titled to impress - Abstractions I-IV - suggesting music that rips away most of the excess from his usual monochrome techno to leave only its essence, conveyed in as few brushstrokes as possible. At times that's not a bad summary. Though not as fully removed from the dancefloor as the title might imply, the EP examines his sound from a number of different angles, each subtly different from the last. 'Something In Between Us' is the best of Sigha's beatless tracks to date, its clouds of silvery vapour spilling from the speakers like dry ice. 'How To Disappear' is closer to what we're used to from him: techno in no particular rush, seven minutes unfurling at resolutely its own pace. Sigha's become incredibly adept at slowing the movement of his music's individual components down to a near imperceptible, sensual drift, while keeping its overall momentum driving forward fast. 'Drown', for example, is reminiscent of the trance-inducing techno of Donato Dozzy: percussion muffled by a thick coating of fluid, it's graceful and immersive without being overtly druggy, and a damn sight more abstract than anything else he's made to date.
October - Planet Of Minds/Singularity Jump [TANSTAAFL]
October - String Theory EP [Simple]
Long before the prevailing club climate in Bristol shifted towards house music, Julian Smith - aka October - was flying the flag for deep house and techno in the city. He's explored a fair number of avenues within that remit, moving from tracky minimalism through warped disco (his more recent Vanamonde) to out-there experiments in heavy-lidded dub (the wild thrashings of 'Memory Man', or the ironically titiled 'Euro Dance Hit'). Throughout, his music's had an appealingly handcrafted feel. Not for October the temptation to pile on the excess fat to make things sound polished: no, his tracks work precisely because you can still detect the joins between separate instruments and the moments where everything peaks at once in a wash of hot distortion.
Smith's music has been improving in leaps and bounds lately - the title track of his new String Theory EP is a great example. One of his most accessible recordings to date, its rhythm section, all staccato bass prods and hi-hat tics, initially feels intentionally brittle and alienating - it would likely slow a dancefloor in its tracks - until it gathers momentum and finally blossoms into a lovely, gloopy mess of canned brass and slippery bass. October is also about to release the second 12" on his recently minted TANSTAAFL label, with something entirely different again. Further evidence of the restlessness that defines his output, both 'Planet Of Minds' and 'Singularity Jump' are driving Berlinesques primed for late night/early morning play. The former feels as though all its colour has been purposely drained away, leaving a xerox'd dub techno skeleton behind, and the latter starts in the same vein, until a jaunty saxophone offers a blast of surprise brass.
Jam City header photo by Steve Braiden