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The Month's Electronic Music: Casting Ahead
Christian Eede , February 1st, 2016 09:38

Christian Eede kicks off the year in electronic music with a look at what may lie ahead in 2016, particularly for the UK's clubs, alongside releases from Shanti Celeste, Manchester's Meandyou collective and the South Africa-based proponents of the emerging Gqom sound

With this column perhaps slipping into a course of irregularity last year owing to various busy schedules, it seems best to begin with a pledge to ensuring that Hyperspecific rightly establishes itself as something of a monthly concern in 2016. What with the depth and spread of the various divergent sounds that fall under a genre bracket as wide as ‘electronic music’ as well as the relative ease of access to online platforms with which producers can traditionally and non-traditionally share their output, there’s certainly no shortage of excellent projects and salient talking points to be covered.

While established online streaming services and stations such as Boiler Room, NTS and Rinse continued to enjoy a growth in interest and activity in 2015 that should naturally continue into this year, other alternative music and radio platforms such as Radar are going from strength to strength and giving a new generation of unheard DJs and producers access to the audience and facilities that they deserve that more mainstream, conservative organisations wouldn’t dare do and this is further fostering a scene. Indeed, NTS are also currently taking submissions from lesser known artists and DJs for a slot with the closing date for application on February 12 - it’s pleasing to see that such a sustainable approach from a number of these organisations to building organically and giving a foot up to under-the-radar talent still takes centre stage even as their star grows.

A different story, however, seems true of UK club culture at large. UK clubs appeared to take a considerable hit with the closure at the very start of last year of many a DJ’s favourite club, Plastic People, as well as the emergence later on of various worrying statistics. Chiefly among those figures was the news that the UK had lost more than half of its clubs in the last decade, many of them victims of a changing social climate and myriad other factors owing both to ongoing cycles of gentrification (mostly in London) and an ever-lapsing economic situation. Perhaps it’s proximity that makes me yearn for something different or far greater but it seems, now more than ever, that the UK is hugely lacking in a world-beating club institution, with no equivalent in phenomenon to, say, Paris’ Concrete or the numerous names Germany has to offer - Robert Johnson, Golden Pudel and, more obviously, Berghain. Amsterdam appears to have also just been given a major boost following the natural closure of Trouw early last year with the opening of a new venue from those behind the club in the form of De School. Early line-ups and reports from the club seem to set a very encouraging precedent for it going ahead. These are clubs that pride themselves on pulling in worldwide names while also garnering notable attention for boasting an impressive selection of residents and residencies, the kind that people will flock from the world over to catch in action.

Furthermore, it is patent that the UK’s more stringent licensing laws are further harming the future of club culture as we know it. Line-ups are often packed with talent but with little breathing space to allow them to shine during suitable set times. There are some encouraging signs that the situation may improve somewhat this year. The establishment of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) finally means that perhaps the UK's late night venues have an organisation to fight their corner against government and local council actions, and what's more, figureheads from that scene are actually involved in the organisation, a vital move to ensuring correct representation. The organisation's chair, Alan Miller, will soon host a panel discussion at Bloc in March on what can be done to improve party politics when it comes to legislation on electronic music and the culture - highly recommended if you're attending this year's weekender.

London’s The Hydra currently appears to offer the best solution to some of London's problems having been granted an extended opening license. Those who found themselves packed into the overwhelmingly heated and, at times, claustrophobic settings of the Jeff Mills-headlined Blueprint party at the end of the summer will have reason to disagree. However, with a reduced capacity for Ben UFO and Joy Orbison’s all-night back-to-back set just a couple of months later in October, where dancers were given room to loosen up and the club’s crisp Funktion-One sound system space to breathe, the venue showed it could hold further promise going into this year.

Rupert Clervaux & Beatrice Dillon - Studies I-XVII For Samplers And Percussion
(Snow Dog)

Dropping at the tail-end of last year and thus getting lost somewhat among the usual end-of-year gushing and lists, the long-awaited release of a collaborative album from Rupert Clervaux and Beatrice Dillon formed the third joint project between the two. Studies I-XVII For Samplers And Percussion sees the pair combining their respective talents on 17 short, minimalist sketches mostly consisting of little more than an unfussy percussive pattern (sometimes calling to mind the bare bones work of Shackleton’s drums) and often an assortment of twinkling, effervescent xylophone refrains among a smattering of other instrumentation. Oozing with charm in their aloof, rather straightforward design, each piece was written quickly with the pair entirely avoiding post-recording processes such as looping, their spontaneity captured impeccably throughout with tracks such as ‘II’ and ‘VII’ building playfully around danceable live percussion and coltish, repetitive melodies - a most accurate summation of doing a lot with a little. What’s more, at the start of work on the album, the pair resolved to scrap any idea or piece that didn’t immediately work leaving us with a most upfront expression of the pair’s creative processes.

Much of Dillon’s past work has flirted with minimalism in the component parts that make up tracks such as the Where To Now-released ‘Face A’, released last year, and 2014’s ‘Halfway’, both of which employ only the bare essentials. Collaborating with Clervaux on this album, simplicity, improvisation and repetition are key to creating such a fascinating listen. The pair namecheck minimalist composers such as Iannis Xenakis and Steve Reich as mutual influences with specific, distinctly repetitive works by the two also credited. For example, it’s easy to hear where an appreciation of the former’s ‘Psappha’ comes out in tracks like ‘X’ and ‘XI’, stripped back as they are to various forms of percussion and little else. While each track’s elements are layered on top of each other post-recording, the pair have avoided all other post-production treatment to create an overall package that is charmingly scrappy letting in, for example, the yelp of a nearby malfunctioning fire alarm on ‘VII’.

Various - Gqom Oh! The Sound of Durban
(Gqom Oh!)

A variation of South African house rooted in the city of Durban, Gqom (pronounced ‘Gom') is a sound decisively born of a musically DIY culture, with hundreds of tracks from the scene’s main players primarily finding their way online via free file-hosting sites and platforms in largely low-quality digital formats, the sound having been bubbling away in its South African locale for some time now. With Rome-based DJ and producer Nan Kolè stumbling upon the sound online by chance early last year later linking with the South Africa-based Lerato Phiri who built connections with numerous producers based in Durban, a compilation of some of the scene’s best work was soon set in motion with the fruits of that project materialising in the form of this new release.

Rhythmically intense and with its club impact proven at home and beyond thanks to the interest of DJs such as Mumdance and the Goon Club Allstars collective, producer Citizen Boy, one of those that features on the compilation told Huw Oliver, writing for The Guardian’s Guide, that “it is heavy, because no one is shy.” He elaborates that the music gives those that can’t dance, “the courage to dance”. It’s certainly difficult to question that hearing the gleeful, vibrant flow of Cruel Boyz’ standout ‘Umeqo Emagqomini (Dub Mix)’ or Citizen Boy’s ‘Tribute To DSB’ with its pummelling, rolling drum patterns almost bringing to mind those of the Chicago footwork sound, albeit at a slighter tempo. Hyperdub head Kode9 wittily describes the sound as “like being suspended over the gravitational field of a black hole, and lovin' it,” with its rawness seemingly impossible to divide from the context and circumstance of hardship from which much of the music has been created in Durban by the producers featured on this compilation. It’s at once jubilant and menacing, just the right kind of exciting concoction to impact dancefloors even further and greater than ever this year as the Gqom sound gathers the attention it deserves.

Various - Bookbinders EP

Ran by a Manchester-based collective who regularly put on nights under the label’s banner at The Soup Kitchen, Meandyou have been slowly but surely building a catalogue centred around a close-knit group of friends and associates since their inception in 2013 taking in music from producers such as Kassem Mosse and Herron. The fourth release from the label continues in the vein of the vinyl-only label’s first two EPs, formed from the work of various producers, known and unknown. Even Tuell will be a name familiar to some owing to more than ten years' worth of releases on labels such as Out To Lunch, Latency and his own Workshop imprint. ‘Boys Truth’ makes for perhaps the most direct or floor-friendly of the EP’s four tracks though still proceeds with the distinct sense of subtlety than can be found across much of his discography, centred around curious, gurgling synths and a simple, ticking drum pattern, prime for warm-up play.

With previous releases credited to their name on Meandyou’s first two 12”s, Fabric and Sul return to offer up two beatless, particularly stark and eerie cuts. Sensu, a Brussels-based DJ and perhaps the most unknown of the EP’s four contributors with his only previous release dating back to 2002, turns in the standout track on the Bookbinders EP in ‘Sigmon’. Maintaining much of the simplicity of the EP’s other tracks, ‘Sigmon’ is an icy affair, composed of little more than a dubbed out, stilted drum pattern tripping into itself alongside a smattering of gloomy synths and some rather characterful sampled dialogue. Bookbinders EP ultimately sits naturally among Meandyou’s previous three releases to date further cementing the label and club night’s standing as a platform for the more experimental, cavernous reaches of electronic music.

Alex Coulton / Chevel / Simo Cell - WSDM004
(Wisdom Teeth)

Another label in its relative infancy with the release of its fourth 12” is Wisdom Teeth which, much like Meandyou, has been pursuing breaking new and established talent across multi-artist releases, albeit in a considerably different sonic field, its output thus far having pursued a sub-bass-heavy strand of club music stretching across UK garage, grime and techno. Run by Bristol producer Facta and Leeds’ K-Lone, both of whom have released previously on the label’s first and third EPs respectively, Wisdom Teeth’s fourth outing takes in music from Manchester’s Alex Coulton, Italian producer Chevel and French newcomer Simo Cell for three divergent yet somewhat interlinked productions.

Coulton’s opening track, ‘Radiance’, is a meshing of various strains of distinctly UK club music taking in signifiers of UK funky, half-step rhythms and dazzling bursts of neon synth worthy of the track’s title, a natural continuation of the producer’s previous output with labels such as All Caps, Idle Hands and Tempa. Simo Cell follows up 2015’s debut on Livity Sound sub-label Dnuos Ytivil with closer ‘Escape The Fate’. Coming across like the soundtrack to a theme park’s haunted house attraction taken to the club in a collision of repetitive chords, hi-hats and booming bass, it’s every bit the peak-time smash as Coulton’s turn on the 12”. Sitting in the middle of the two tracks, Chevel, however, looks to the sparser aspects of his previous work to offer something of a breather on his contribution to the EP, ‘Tailwind’. A difficult producer to pin down to one particular style, his work has thus far ranged from the grave tones of the Mistry-released Tank / Beaviane earlier last year to his ongoing work under the Monday Night alias, home to a line of smooth, minimal and tech-y rollers, with several disparate tangents between having also been touched upon. ‘Tailwind’, in parts thanks to a similar melody, recalls the dazzling allure of Donato Dozzy’s Bee Mask cover, ‘Vaporware 07’ in a more pared back form with its gorgeous, bubbling melodies ebbing and flowing over the course of the track’s four-minute runtime.

Shanti Celeste - Being
(Future Times)

With all manner excellent, forward-thinking electronic music emerging from Bristol in recent years, one of the most reliable names among the scene’s figureheads has been that of Shanti Celeste, both as record selector, producer and label head alongside Chris Farrell on the BRSTL imprint. Meanwhile, Washington DC-based Max D has been building a diverse, yet thematically consistent catalogue with his Future Times label since its first release in 2008. With Celeste having last year contributed ‘Strung Up’, an airy production indebted to the idiosyncratic Detroit electro of Drexciya, to Future Times’ Vibe 3 compilation, Being sees her return to the label for her first standalone release.

Littered with organ stabs and shimmering synths offset by a faintly menacing bassline, the EP’s title track is one of the ascending producer’s finest productions to date, its snappy beats lending the track further weight as a club-ready unit. The producer also offers up an alternative take on the title track in ‘Being (Ambient Mix)’, maintaining the original’s glistening pads and little else more for a more soothing offering - music for the morning after the night before. ‘Good Spirits’, meanwhile, sees Celeste return to the same electro-tinged signifiers of her previous Future Times offering on Vibe 3, its beats sitting somewhere between Drexciyan electro and a slower take on Miami bass. With Being demonstrating Celeste’s chameleonic talents as a producer, the EP’s release is sure to set her up for another standout year.

Testset - Dirge Grid
(PLZ Make It Ruins)

The fifth (and third physical) release from the London-based PLZ Make It Ruins label, Dirge Grid marks the debut release of new producer Testset. With its foundations lying in the kind of broken beats atypical of many of the various UK-centric sounds birthed from the splintering of the dubstep and dark garage sounds of last decade, most notably on EP opener ‘Frülingslicht’, the four tracks within flay off in all kinds of directions. ‘Under The Sun’ seemingly takes cues from the ecstatic rave stabs of ‘90s hardcore and breakbeat in its latter half growing ever more prominent in a trance-y hail of chords in its third minute, while ‘Splintered’ is, well, exactly that, a throng of fractured beats and broken up samples.

All in all, it’s a collection of tracks that evidently doesn’t take itself too seriously, little samples and experimentations rather drolly finding their way in here and there drifting in and out of the mix. It’s an approach that has come across widely thus far across the label’s output owing to such aspects as the assortment of Soundcloud hashtags uploaded alongside the EP’s release, those of ‘#Sonic Pattern Making’, ‘#Pixelated Syncopations’ and ‘#Acid Rave Pop’. Fortunately however, this approach holds off to the right degree to allow the music’s little twists and eccentricities do the talking for itself.