The Month's Electronic Music: Selective Reflection
, November 29th, 2016 11:50
As 2016 comes close to its end, Christian Eede looks back over the year via some of the best mixes, while reviewing new releases from Laksa, rRoxymore, Kassem Mosse, Beneath and more
With this latest edition of Hyperspecific marking the last of 2016, it seems apt to at least do some reflecting on the year that was, so while below you can find the usual round-up of the best electronic music of the last month or so, this month’s introductory gambit is dedicated to touching on some of the year’s best mixes.
An early highlight this year came via the debut offering from Dutch record store Wichelroede’s mixtape series with a two-sided cassette containing 45-minute mixes by Beatrice Dillon and Ben UFO. The former’s contribution encapsulates just what has considerably boosted Dillon’s profile this year as a terrific selector taking in ambient treats from Slow Riffs and Kassem Mosse’s Seltene Erden side project as well as a number of sparse unidentifiable works, reggae and big band jazz, all topped off with a track from Rezzett. Drawing on Dillon’s divergent tastes, as evidenced by her must-listen monthly NTS shows, while maintaining an all-important sense of cohesion, the mix is one of 2016’s most fascinating. On the other side, Ben UFO provides a mix that, while mostly drawing on house and techno for its duration, makes for one of his most idiosyncratic recorded sets of late opening out on a dazzling Direct Beat-released cut from Optic Nerve and closing on the gamelan-tinged ‘Shambala Signal’ from Haruomi Hosono, finding room for a Timbaland instrumental, the claustrophobic techno of Ploy’s Hessle Audio-released ‘Sala One Five’ and breakbeat-indebted Aphex Twin material among others in between. The cassette offered one of the finest summations this year of why both selectors are held in such high regard in their respective circles.
Another of the year’s finest commercially released mixes came via Objekt’s Kern Vol. 3 compilation for Tresor, a mix which, in the spirit of the production process for his own original material, he says he worked tirelessly on, fine-tuning it and making full use of the tools afforded to a DJ in producing a studio mix. Objekt has one of the most fascinating approaches to DJing of any DJ operating within house and techno today as evidenced by this interview in which he discusses at length his technique and thought process as somebody that likes to shift across a wide range of BPMs in a set. As he says, “there's a lot of stuff at different tempos that I want to play, and I don't always want to spend 45 minutes ramping the tempo in between.” This is no more clear than on Kern Vol. 3 as he bounds dramatically through 36 tracks in 75 minutes. The results are dizzying with beatless cuts from Ondo Fudd, Bee Mask and Anna Caragnano & Donato Dozzy among others put to use seemingly as resting points amongst the frenzy of bleep-y electro and techno taken from various different points over the last couple of decades. Objekt is a DJ that you will see play in a club and find it difficult not to be transfixed by just what he is doing in the booth. I know I’ve come away from a number of his sets this year feeling that way.
A frequent DJ partner of Objekt’s is Call Super with the pair often forming an unbeatable back-to-back pairing which I had the pleasure of witnessing for the first time at London’s Phonox this summer. A few weeks later, Call Super played what was without doubt the best set that I caught at Amsterdam’s Dekmantel Festival and thankfully the bulk of it was captured in a recording. A small paragraph of text accompanying the sharing of the mix written by the DJ himself describes his own intentions for the set, reading: “It was only about reaching a vibe and switching through the emotions I would want to experience towards the end of a festival. I was not concerned about each mix being smooth as a petal, my concern was only where we were going.” It’s this recognition that makes the set such a standout for me with the DJ eschewing tight, often clinical constraints set out by the expectation of absolutely perfect beat-matching for something more human. As he further says, “you can hear the cuts and shifts being driven by the faces in front,” and the choppy, unpredictable brand of mixing demonstrated in this set, as well as in numerous other excellent sets I witnessed this year from Call Super, made for more inspiration than anything else I witnessed in a club or at a festival in 2016.
Rounding up the penultimate night of Freerotation back in July, Gwenan’s two-hour trip through the more minimal, tech-y corners of house music was certainly the weekend’s highlight, and once again, it was a blessing to later find out that it was recorded. Traversing a bulk of material unidentifiable to these ears, Gwenan subtly shifts between a wealth of hypnotic, groove-laden cuts, proving just why she is one of the UK’s most underrated DJs. I’d be hard pressed to pinpoint a moment I was wearing a bigger grin this year than bounding around the small room amongst 50 or so other revellers for the two hours of her set.
Laksa - Contrasts EP (Timedance)
Regular readers of this column may want to put in a case for it having become something of a promotional tool for Bristol’s Timedance label this year, but with such consistent strength maintained in its output across 2016, there is a strong case to be made for Timedance as the standout record label of the last 12 months. Much of this is owed of course to such a strong pool of emerging talent from the label’s Bristol base, with Batu heading it up and calling on the work of close affiliates, and housemates, Bruce and Ploy - the former’s ‘I’m Alright Mate’ might just take my personal title for club banger of the year - as well as Lurka who also turned in a streamlined, industrial-indebted 12” in the first half of the year.
“There's a lot of very backwards-looking dance music which is just fucking boring,” said Batu, talking to Mixmag’s Patrick Hinton earlier this year in a primer on Timedance. It’s this very notion that seems to drive Timedance as a label, as well as the sound of distinctly forward-thinking UK techno of which it forms a part, with Batu’s curatorial eye, whether it be via the label’s output or the regular parties in Bristol, shaping it into one of the most reliable labels operating within the UK electronic music scene today. For its final outing of the year, Batu looks a little further afield calling upon London-based Laksa for a three-tracker that finally puts to press some tracks that have been garnering attention in certain corners of the scene for some time now - the EP’s title track could be heard being put to devastating use in Objekt’s 2015 set at the Freerotation Festival for example.
‘Contrasts’ packs weight in its rolling drums, peppered with menacing synths, before the mood is lifted at around the half-way mark by distinctly serene pads. It’s a simple contrast of dark and light, one no doubt knowingly referenced in the track’s title, that naturally does the job where it matters, on the dancefloor. ‘Buried’ takes the metallic drums and low-slung air of cuts from his past Mistry releases and takes the tempo down to show a different side of the producer. ‘Lost Code’ takes proceedings even deeper, offering something that comes off as a skewed UK take on dub techno, drawing subtly on sounds found across ‘Buried’. While much of Laksa’s work thus far has been coloured by a distinctly sinister air, ‘Lost Code’ is downcast and considerably more meditative. There’s no shortage of dynamic club music for Batu to draw on from his peers for Timedance going forward, and with that in no doubt, 2017 should see a continuation of its unbeatable form.
rRoxymore - Organ Smith (Don’t Be Afraid)
Releases from Berlin-based Hermione Frank, aka rRoxymore, have come at a steady pace since her debut in 2012 with the producer’s most notable work to date arriving late last year as part of the excellent Decon Recon project assembled by Paula Temple - Frank’s contribution to that record is suspected to be opener ‘DR-1’, though it’s unconfirmed since the tracks were not credited to individual producers, no doubt the four-tracker’s highlight with its bizarro samples of brass instrumentation and excitable drum play. Similarities can be traced between elements of this track and ‘Uchi’s House’ which closes this latest release from the producer. Organ Smith marks her debut on the Don’t Be Afraid label continuing its strong run of form set out across 2016, following on from records from Karen Gwyer, MGUN and many others. Present again on ‘Uchi’s House’ is the madcap approach to shaping melodies, with its cacophonous synths rolling out across the track’s six minutes.
Opener ‘Organ Smith’ carries multiple similar qualities, built on excitable drums - almost recalling classic Matthew Herbert material - and intermixed with a simple, repeating synth pattern, as well as the occasional clatter of bells - both ‘Organ Smith’ and ‘Uchi’s House’ skilfully find their strengths in Frank’s use of discordant tools. In contrast though, ‘About Finding The Right Balance’ shows another, distinctly more minimal string to her bow - it could very easily be interpreted as coming from a similar school as the wave of forward-thinking UK techno currently emerging from areas like Bristol, though no doubt with some vital differences. Frank’s play with polyrhythms as part of her excellent live shows comes to the fore here, and its presence on the record does well to showcase different aspects of the producer’s sound. What’s best about Organ Smith is that it’s quite evidently music that doesn’t set out to take itself too seriously, but also importantly steers effortlessly clear of crossing into gimmicky territory or playing up its silliness too greatly. Organ Smith’s three tracks all carry the kind of idiosyncrasies that will mark them out amongst other club-rooted music - a pointed push, it seems, against an often overtly serious and conservative techno landscape.
DJ Lag - DJ Lag EP (Goon Club Allstars)
With awareness of the mostly Durban-based gqom scene having grown markedly across this year, much credit for the spread of the sound from its very localised base can be placed at the feet of the Goon Club Allstars label having released a self-titled EP from Rudeboyz at the half-way mark of 2015. Since then, Gqom Oh! have been pushing the sound of the scene’s biggest talents via a series of showcases as well as a couple of compilation, but now Goon Club Allstars are back for their sixth release with the first full release from DJ Lag. He is credited as one of the key figures in shaping the sound in South Africa when it was first emerging some years ago, with gqom having set out to strip back more popular forms of South African house and give it a distinctly darker undercurrent.
Lead track ‘Ghost On The Loose’ wastes no time in putting to use the minimal qualities from which most gqom music draws with most of the genre built simply around forceful drums, rumbling bass and the occasional vocal or sample. It drives along at a continuously fierce pace, with little dips in energy. ‘16th Step’ steps away slightly from the established gqom imprint, drawing on the sgubhu sound, one that has emerged from its predecessor’s scene in South Africa, moving away from the markedly moodier tones of the former - ‘16th Step’ is coloured by starry synths and occasionally off-kilter drum samples and captures a scene in progression. It’s testament to producers such as DJ Lag and other proponents of the gqom scene that even despite using such a limited and specific sound pallet, they can continue to invigorate the genre and find different, interesting ways to put their tools to use in a way that is functional - it is, by all intents and purposes, club music after all.
Kassem Mosse - Disclosure (Honest Jon’s)
Disclosure marks Kassem Mosse’s second full-length record, following on from a 2014 release via Workshop where much of his output could be heard across the last decade, and also the producer’s second release via Honest Jon’s in 2016. Chilazon, a three-tracker which arrived via the record shop’s always on point in-house label earlier this year, saw Gunnar Wendel refine his dubbed out minimal techno ever further crafting a trio of cuts suited perhaps to the more daring of DJs or less intense of club moments. On Disclosure though, the producer uses the album’s extended length to experiment further turning in a far more out-there LP than his debut in the process.
Opener ‘Stepping On Salt’ is a whirr of manipulated, fluctuating bleeps and synths and a worthy introduction to a distinctly different sound from Wendel to the dusty, groove-led sounds of much of his material released via Workshop and other assorted imprints. ‘Phoenicia Wireless’ does admittedly bear some hallmarks of the classic Wendel sound in its pleasant drums and charming melodies, while ‘Drift Model’ is a procession of light percussion and burbling low-end. A number of the album’s tracks though can certainly be described as slight with just over half of them coming it at around the four-minute mark or less. ‘Collapsing Dual Core’ continues where ‘Stepping On Salt’ left off fading in and out in two minutes in which time Wendel builds a simple shuffling drum loop over more dissonant, shapeshifting synths. ‘Aluminosilicate Mirrors’ sees the producer embrace electro drum patterns and tempos over more fascinating synth play while ‘Long Term Evolution’ sees a return to the sparsity of early, shorter tracks, a spacey jam calling to mind alien transmissions or the work of numerous early electronics pioneers. Disclosure eschews the traditional intro and outro formula of much of his past output across its 11 tracks in favour of showing another side to a producer who is already considered one of the most compelling operating within electronic music today.
Hodge - Body Drive EP (No Corner)
Having recently released a 12” alongside Randomer on the Livity Sound sister label which exquisitely married the two’s respective approaches to producing dance floor music, Hodge signs up to another Bristol label, No Corner, for his only solo record release of the year with the Body Drive EP. It’s a three-tracker which sees the producer break out of much of the sounds he had become accustomed to via past records for Berceuse Heroique and Livity Sound, instead looking to ambient textures across much of its runtime. EP highlight ‘Personality Shift’ recalls the distinctive synth play of another Bristol luminary in Peverelist but that’s certainly not to say it’s lacking in individuality, arpeggios shapeshifting across distant, powerful sub-bass. It certainly works as club music at the right moment, driven forward by the kind of momentum and grandeur that can make it the centrepiece of a DJ set.
‘A Break In The Building’ sees the producer go further still into exploring beatless territory - while it stands in stark contrast to much of Hodge’s past output, it seems like a natural progression with so many of the best elements of his work retained in his ability to underpin the melodies he creates with such thwacking bassweight. The title track builds and builds ever so gradually across four minutes before, with just three minutes to go, letting loose into an intimidating techno stomp, its kick drums resembling the almighty pounding of past tracks like the Punch Drunk-released ‘Resolve’. At a time when it looked like the producer could be slipping into a formula, this new record does everything it can to stave off any predictability, turning in three of the Hodge’s most esoteric cuts yet.
Beneath - No Symbols 006 (No Symbols)
“I’ve been told it’s just slowed down grime which is fine,” reads the amusing, self-penned press release accompanying Beneath’s latest 12” on his own No Symbols imprint, with reference to opening track ‘Lifted’. Across six releases on that label as well as a clutch of material shared via others over the years, the producer’s music has always embodied everything that’s exciting about bass-driven UK club music with its murky sub-bass, rolling drums and paranoia-inducing melodies. ‘Lifted’ eases off on the latter of those qualities somewhat with a synth line that carries a distinctly airy spring in its step, still no doubt maintaining the effective, punchy baselines of past offerings and interspersed with a minimally employed vocal sample.
‘Cack’ is a highlight with its hefty smattering of toms sitting amongst a sharp, formidable synth line which harks back to the more sinister tones of past offerings like ‘Giv Sum’ and ‘Soho’ in terms of mood, if not especially sonically. What’s most exceptional about Beneath’s work, as summed up on this latest release, is how clear-cut his genre influences are and yet how difficult to tie down it is to perhaps one easily boxed-in sub-genre or scene. Sure, it’s built with sound systems in mind - Ben describes it himself as “awkward self-indulgent sound system music - but to go any further would seem a disservice to music that is actively and very successfully pushing at the confines of what we expect from functional club music.