The Month's Electronic Music: Community Is Key
, July 7th, 2016 08:31
Christian Eede returns for another round of Hyperspecific taking a look over releases from Margaret Dygas, M.E.S.H. (pictured), Beatrice Dillon, Karen Gwyer and more
With countless excellent releases having made their way out in the just shy of two months since the last edition of this column, way too many for me to include, I’ve opted to keep the introductory chat to a relative minimum this time and allow the round-up that follows to make up the bulk of July’s Hyperspecific. However, having just spent a weekend in Moscow for Outline Festival, arriving just hours after it had been cancelled, the importance of community in electronic music and clubbing at large has become a more integral thought on the psyche.
The festival had been due to begin on Saturday night and run for 26 continuous hours after that, featuring Ricardo Villalobos, Byetone, JD Twitch, Veronica Vasicka and many more, but was closed down by Russian authorities citing fire safety hazards and a lack of permits to hold such an event. The festival hit back saying "Outline applied for and received all permits and licenses necessary to throw the event in a legally appropriate amount of time." I soon found out, while on my travels, that a number of Moscow’s other top clubs had agreed to close for the weekend in order to allow for Outline to go ahead unchallenged with organisers prevented by authorities from holding events there after the cancellation had been confirmed at their original site.
Nonetheless, Outline were able to put on some of those set to appear on the line-up thanks to strong organisation and help from those in the clubbing community around them, with the ARMA17 team responsible for organising the festival remaining defiant in the face of the crackdown signing off a statement saying: "Despite the devastating turn of events Outline will stand strong against the powers that be and continue to create spaces where we are free to do what we love." While the UK’s clubs fortunately don’t face quite such drastic governmental interference, the idea of communities and regular faces returning to venues and specific nights being so fundamental to the advancement of our clubbing landscape going ahead feels more essential than ever.
ARMA17 were able to ride out the storm of this weekend without completely falling apart thanks to the reputation and devotees they have earned themselves in the local clubbing scene across a number of years and it’s something we’ve seen here with Plastic People in the past, as well as current nights such as World Unknown, Body Hammer, Manchester’s Swing Ting and Wales’ impending Freerotation Festival. Communities are always what will hold club nights and venues together and we must remember that in order to allow our clubbing climate to continue to thrive.
Margaret Dygas - Even 11 (Perlon)
A name which has continued to signify music that is daring and experimental within the club and electronic music spectrum, even through the rut that many believe befell minimal music as a genre in the middle of the last decade, Perlon’s 108th release sees one of its signature producers return to the fold for the first time since a two-track appearance in 2014 and here she’s sounding more bare-bones than ever.
One can draw some distinctions between Perlon and the sound of Shackleton and the now-defunct Skull Disco label with Shackleton having released through the label in the past - a move which has in part contributed to Perlon’s unwavering ability to surprise fans - and Dygas’ latest effort for the label adds another line of comparison, its two tracks built out of little more than punchy percussion and the oh-so pleasing throbs of sub-bass that can be found across Sam Shackleton’s past work.
A side ‘Even 11’ is perhaps this 12”’s floorfiller, if you can call it that, 10 minutes of numbed percussion driving the track as layers of drums develop and peel away and distant, trippy vocals briefly come to the fore. It’s barely there and that allows Dygas’ subtleties to do their work of creating an intense kind of dancefloor energy owing not just to its bassline but to all the sum parts that make up the track. The flip-side, ‘Wishing Well’, goes deeper still, its beats almost coming off as the kind of work you would get from Dygas interpreting the sound of producers such as Batu and Lurka, yet still reining in all the elements. Both are prime for exploratory, extended sets - club music to get lost in.
M.E.S.H. - Damaged Merc (PAN)
Returning to PAN for the first time since the release of his debut album, Piteous Gate, last year Damaged Merc naturally finds M.E.S.H. on somewhat less conceptual territory as a four-track EP, though still maintains much of the apocalyptic angst that could be heard across his last release, just in a relatively more dancefloor-friendly incarnation. Instead, comparisons can be drawn more patently to his 2014 release on Bill Kouligas’ label, entitled Scythians, as the producer’s rhythms draw on the hallmarks of grime, Kuduro and Jersey club, meshing together warped vocal samples with brutalist bass and sharp melodies.
Opener ‘Damaged Merc’ roars into action in a wall of drums and claps, its synths growing ever-frantic giving the manipulated, unintelligible vocal chops an increasing sense of urgency. ‘Fallow & Mute’ twinkles in its opening bars before giving way to pummelling drums and vocals that call to mind the Angola-rooted Kuduro scene, while ‘Kritikal Thirst’ rips through rhythms that are equal parts UK grime and reminiscent of some of the output from the Lisbon-based Príncipe label. Closer ‘Victim Lord’ stutters, the beat dragging its heels, making for one of the EP’s more anomalous offerings, chopped up vocal samples calling to mind the cut-up sampling on Holly Herndon’s 2015 album, Platform. Above all, Damaged Merc continues to position PAN as one of modern electronic music’s most important labels, an imprint that can maintain a specific sense of identity and vision while releasing music as divergent as last year’s freeform, ambient-leaning Lifted album, the effortless airiness of the recently-released Beatrice Dillon remix of HELM’s ‘Olympic Mess’ and the all-out bass assault of M.E.S.H.’s latest offering.
Powder - Afrorgan (Born Free)
Following up on a highly regarded debut release last year on Sling & Samo’s always reliable Born Free label and an impressive second release via ESP Institute, Powder returns to Born Free on Afrorgan for a trio of organic, deep house cuts. Opener ‘Afrorgan’ weaves faintly tribal drum patterns around floaty synth presets, sampled heavy breathing adding a subtle rhythmic layer to the mix alongside squelchy sounds effects, all of it coming together to form a track that could make for the highlight of any warm-up club set.
The second track on the A side, ‘Randomer Ladder With 40’ swoons, tugging at the heartstrings as melodies swirl and swell and sampled whistle FX add a touch of carnival atmosphere alongside a hushed repeated vocal, one of 2016’s defining dancefloor tearjerkers and an expert drawing together of club and pop sensibilities. ‘Fridhemsplan’ ticks along, its tom drums taking on a motorik pattern, various layers of percussion rising to the fore across its seven minutes, an underlying drone giving it a touch of malevolence making for industrial, yet characterful machine music - simultaneously weird and familiar in its unquestionable status as an effective club tool. Afrorgan sees Powder pushing forward still as a new producer in showcasing what she is capable of, with the title track bearing hallmarks of her debut release and ‘Random Ladder With 40’ providing a more evidently emotive touch to proceedings. With an all-originals cassette alongside Cloudface set for release via the Dutch record store Wichelroede’s new physical mix series this summer, it will soon become clear what else she has been working on of late.
CO/R - Gudrun (Hinge Finger)
Releases from Hinge Finger don’t come by very often so when they do, it’s natural to expect something outstanding. The label’s sixth 12”, following on from the all-out club assault of Barnt’s ‘Chappell’ featured on the 2014 His Name EP, brings together Meandyou affiliate Herron and label co-head Joy Orbison, whose own releases have become just as infrequent as those of Hinge Finger in recent years, for their debut release as CO/R.
Opener ‘Bells, Walking’ is perhaps the most straightforwardly club-oriented of the four tracks on offer here, punctuated by punchy drums, waspish synths and, at times unintelligible vocal samples, all building to a climatic frenzy. ‘Agin Melt Faw’ is more restrained, filled out again by those distorted vocals and a stark breakdown acting as the track’s centrepiece.
On the other side of the record sits another two tracks with the title track again offering something more stilted than the record’s opener, occasional pitched down vocals weaving in and out over a recurring drum pattern that comes off like 2-step garage given a sinister twist. Closer ‘Dripback’ slows proceedings drastically, chugging along at an 80 BPM pace as gurgling synths ebb and flow calling to mind the work of a certain artist affiliated to the Meandyou label and long rumoured to be Joy Orbison himself. All in all, Gudrun gives us an insight into Herron’s role as a producer of club music in the more traditional sense of the word while tracing Joy Orbison’s continuing eye for experimentation moving away from the sounds on which he made a name and into more left field fare.
Fabric - Curiosity Model EP (Meandyou)
While one of Meandyou’s key affiliates, Herron, is pushing forward with material on Hinge Finger, the Manchester-based label has released its second 12” of the year with US-based Matthew Mullane, aka Fabric, making his full release debut on the label having contributed tracks to Meandyou’s second and fourth releases. ‘Split Guest’ and ‘Pink Grid’, Mullane’s past two features on the label, saw him explore sludgy, pensive territory forgoing beats and delving deep into rich, lofty melodies. The fifth release on Meandyou sees him explore these sounds further, albeit somewhat away from the more ambient leanings of past material just as his recent excellent live recording for Hessle Audio’s Rinse FM show does too - you can listen to that via the embed below starting at the 14-minute mark.
Shifting attention back to the Curiosity Model EP, opener ‘Sep L (Asclep Coil)’ finds Mullane seemingly working in improvisatory form, the beats fading in as if cut from an extended form, as squelchy synths snake and entwine amongst the simple, repetitive loop of the drums - the doom-laden pads that soon introduce themselves give the track an air of extravagant battle music before it fades back into the silence from which it came. The title track does much of the same, faintly medieval synth jams extending out across seven minutes, while ‘Blurred On The Glass’ strips away most embellishments, various bleeps lighting up the dusty drums, coming off like the soundtrack to a gritty, sci-fi film in the best way possible as is the case on the sounds found on beatless closer ‘Geo Mode’. Meandyou has always been a reliable source for fine electronic music at the more exploratory, abstract end of the club having drawn in material from Herron, Juniper and Even Tuell among others in the past, and that remains so with this latest release.
Neinzer - The Beacon / The Fear (Yumé)
Regular listeners of the Hessle Audio show on Rinse FM will be familiar with both tracks featured here as Neinzer delivers his fourth 12” and his third for the London-based Yumé label. A side ‘The Beacon’ chugs along, faint piano chords and acoustic manipulations building smoothly and deftly into a peak of euphoria, though one that I hasten to add eschews any kind of clichés in achieving that sensation. A dry vocal, sounding like a sermon of sorts, sits atop the stilted drums and, most satisfying of all, those dazzling bursts of synths lighting up proceedings like a beacon among the haze of the veiled bassline.
On the flip-side is ‘The Fear’ which, much as its name suggests, offers up something slightly more omnious. Still present are the chugging drums and, initially the faint bassline, while that stark vocal returns also though this time with a distinct sense of unease, the voice delivering a pep talk on shutting out anxiety: “don’t let fear get the best of you”. For maximum impact, I highly recommend giving this one a go through your most powerful subs to get the best out of the full throttle bassline that follows from the two-and-a-half minute mark. This latest 12” from Neinzer sees him turn in his best work to date offering a markedly different approach to previous offerings - hopefully we’ll be hearing from him more regularly in the future.
Beatrice Dillon, Karen Gwyer - Beatrice Dillon / Karen Gwyer (Alien Jams)
An offshoot of the NTS radio show of the same name, Chloe Frieda has been sharing music via the Alien Jams label since 2014 shining a light on lesser known producers such as the electro probes of Design A Wave and dystopian leanings of Marreck. The fourth release for the label sees two more well-known names joining the fold though as Beatrice Dillon and Karen Gwyer each deliver a track.
Having appeared in this column in the past for her work on the Where To Now? label, in the form of Face A/B, as well as the gloriously percussive strains of her collaborative album alongside Rupert Clervaux, Studies I-XVII For Samplers And Percussion, ‘Curl’ sees Beatrice Dillon continuing to demonstrate her chameleonic status as a producer of forward-thinking electronic music. There’s always an air of looseness about Dillon’s work in that nothing sounds too over-rehearsed or polished, the pleasure and freedom of experimenting to create music shining through above all else as it gradually rolls into motion, a beat building that can be filed away alongside the other sleek, chugging pieces featured in this edition of Hyperspecific.
Where Dillon’s contribution to the split release offers something more concise, Karen Gwyer’s ‘Common Soundproofing Myths’ opts to tease out her ideas instead with whirling synths and somewhat medieval melodies rising ever so gradually across 13 minutes, all the while thumping kick drums continue in pairs each time, unabated, and an acidic line eases in at around the six-minute mark to see us to the home straight. Alien Jams’ fourth release is primed for more venturesome ears and those ears are rewarded with two more fine cuts from two of the best experimenters in electronic music right now.
Sissel Wincent - Illusion Of Randomness (Peder Mannerfelt Produktion)
Peder Mannerfelt’s eponymous label got off to a flying start for 2016 with the release in April of Controlling Body, the latest album from the label head, on which he grouped heavily manipulated vocals from Glasser with his unique brand of contorting live electronics. Now the label is following that up with the debut release from Sissel Wincent, following on from past debuts with the imprint from producers Klara Lewis and Machine Woman.
A talented live performer, with a particular keen focus on percussion, Wincent has been honing her craft for some time now as part of the Drömfakulteten collective, a group based in her native of Sweden and founded to promote and support the work of women and trans in electronic music. Wincent’s experimentations with percussion shine through across Illusion Of Randomness with opener ‘As If’ carried along by the faint, repetitive tap of a drum married with her cold, distorted vocals and alien bleeps. The EP’s highlight, ‘Investigation’, follows slowly coming to life as synths warp and coil inwards before the thudding kicks give the whole affair an even greater air of menace. ‘Monstera’ is a dark synth jam while ‘Chrome’ could be an ace instrumental to a grime freestyle in an alternate reality. In Illusion Of Randomness, Peder Mannerfelt’s label gives another debut to an already extraordinary producer - long may the talent coming through on his label continue.
Mosca - Cedar Wood State (Not So Much)
Mosca’s Not So Much imprint has primarily been a vehicle for the producer’s own output since its debut release in 2014 taking in only one previous release from another producer, Bristol-based Samuel. The label charts Mosca’s gradual explorations into the deeper recesses of house and techno coming off previously well-known releases within the UKG and bass axis and now, following the dubby, madcap excursions of last year’s ‘White Mice’, featured on the label’s fourth 12”, he returns with Cedar Wood State, serving up two alternative takes on the title track.
While the ‘Vector Mix’ takes a more linear approach, placing various bleeps and bloops, the creation of some experimentations with a Korg MS20, over a 4x4 beat, it’s the ‘Volt Mix’ that is the choice cut here. Retaining those mice-like squelches of the record’s A side, Mosca explores electro drum patterns that are up there with the best forays into the sound of the ‘80s and ‘90s, creating something fresh yet fitting as an homage to the innovators of the sound around three decades ago, looping sampled chanted vocals and throwing in spin-back FX as the beat doubles up on itself further in, proving that often little more is needed than a strong percussive backbone. There’s a patent air of experimentation about the ‘Volt Mix’ that makes it such a captivating listen and if this is the result, one can only hope it’s not a one-off.