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Hyperspecific: Dance Music For January, Reviewed By Jaša Bužinel
Jaša Bužinel , February 8th, 2022 08:01

Jaša Bužinel looks at a new direction for VTSS, re:ni's stunning debut for Ilian Tape, fresh deep reggaeton by DJ Python, and Elina Bolshenkova's electroacoustic explorations

VTSS by Marta Michalak

As always the dance music industry was mostly dormant during January, and after all the year-end lists, charts, features and shows, this inertia came to me as a relief, a much needed break from the vague, social media-fuelled FOMO. I mostly avoided dance music for the major part of the month, to be honest, and even though there were some absolutely exciting experimental electronic releases waiting for me at the end of it, I simply couldn't force myself into listening to anything too out there, intense or futuristic for that matter. As much as I tried to rationalise it, I inevitably came to the conclusion that I was merely temporarily tired of music that demands all of my being for me to come to grips with it, opting instead for familiar and mellow stuff by artists like Charley Patton, João Donato, John Fahey and Josephine Foster.

Mid-January, a colleague of mine introduced me to an article which, in a way, addressed exactly this issue, though from a different, more business-minded, or rather statistics-oriented, perspective. Being a walking libra cliché, I'm totally torn apart when it comes to the 'new versus old music' debate, pastiche and assemblage, revival and new wave, nostalgia and futurism. I love digging old Discogs catalogues as much as I love spending hours on Bandcamp chasing the tail of various tags. Perhaps it's a fake dilemma as old as the post-internet music discourse (the most famed example of this discourse perhaps being Simon Reynolds' study Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past), but, in our day and age, when we've got the whole history of music at our fingertips, a new kind of friction has evolved between 'the catalogue' and the new.

In his article Is Old Music Killing New Music?, American jazz critic and music historian Ted Gioia revealed, based on MRC Data, that old songs now represent 70 percent of the US music market. Mind you, I didn't dig deeper into the methodology of this study, and perhaps there are some issues with the data. I think it's a valuable read, though, for anyone interested in the streaming and sales trends on a larger scale in terms of old versus new (besides, there are like 500 comments below the article if you're really down for some reading). The bottomline is that "the new music market is shrinking," and that "growth in the market is coming from old songs."

Gioia suggests that audiences seem "to be embracing en masse the hits of decades past," and while the music biz is notorious for its short-lived hype, new music these days really struggles to grab the attention of the mass market. Still, I should point out that this may be more true of the 'boomer' market, which is notorious for its rejection of contemporary music, barring '70s ripoffs like Greta Van Fleet and Måneskin (if I may exaggerate a bit).

It may feel irrelevant reading about it on a platform like tQ, which tries to deliver for a more demanding and curious audience always looking for new music. Yet, to a music writer whose job depends on pushing new exciting sounds from around the globe, a quick Twitter test might prove useful in demonstrating that even more demanding music buffs tend to prefer relatable and familiar stuff (and be more likely to click to read about an Andrew Weatherall reissue than about the new EP by London duo borderlandstate_the best kisser in l​.​a.). Again, this may have to do with the Twitter audience, which differs immensely from the TikTok audience in terms of demographic.

It's safe to speculate that the argument about old music killing new music isn't directly applicable to the electronic dance music complex, which is way more focused on short-lived hype and trends changing at a fast pace, especially in clubs and at festivals. Still, it's fascinating that while a 20-year-old involved in hyperpop or hard dance may not be familiar with recent productions by Overmono, Four Tet or Skee Mask, they'll sure as hell be versed in the history of '90s dance classics like Eiffel 65's 'Blue (Da Ba Dee)', Gigi D'Agostino's 'L'Amour Toujours', Haddaway's 'What Is Love', and Darude's 'Sandstorm', which have found an immense new audience among the Gen Z.

Far from being a fatalist, I think we shouldn't worry about a new music doomsday anytime soon. But when a threat voiced by a wealthy old man like Neil Young, who even has his own streaming platform, the Neil Young Archives, has an almost cataclysmic impact on a music industry player like Spotify, while thousands of contemporary young artists and labels raise concerns about their dubious financial practises on a daily basis without any real impact or notice (most recently, it was the German DJ/producer Skee Mask and the label Ilian Tape who removed their catalogue from the platform), it's fair to ask ourselves why that is so.

Finally, I'm sorry if I made you believe that you'll be getting any reissues or gems from the past in my January column based on this introduction. Hyperspecific is, and will always be, about the here and the now, and I guarantee that below you'll find some of the most exciting contemporary releases.

DJ Python - Club Sentimientos Vol. 2

I have been missing the kind of lo-fi house vibes that I obsessed over during my college years. One of my favourites back then was the track 'Tranquila', from DJ Python's debut EP ¡Estéreo Bomba! Vol. 1, on which he introduced his signature celestial reggaetón sound, a tranquillising blend of soft dembow riddims, ethereal pads and euphonious synths. With that release, he inserted himself into a long lineage of ambient house and chill-out IDM that hearkened even further back to early Italian house gems like 'Audio Trip' and cornerstone albums such as Selected Ambient Works 85-92.

When post-holiday blues were hitting the hardest, Brian Piñeyro came to the rescue with his first solo release since his much-loved second album, Mas Amable. The essence of his utterly sensual music marked by subtle rhythmic and textural nuances remains unaltered on his latest outing. It's still stripped-down to its essentials, minimalist and repetitive, but it carries considerable emotional weight nevertheless. Unsurprisingly, the EP comes with an impressionistic poem that comes off like an mantra: "It's too nice to just have your thoughts float in the space of your head // endlessly forever // and you don't have to decide // which // you focus on // unless you want to." As if flying in a glider above little fluffy clouds, his music puts the quietus on most of your fears and anxieties, and, from a tongue-in-cheek psychoanalytical POV, transports you into a prenatal state of bliss.

(Gqom Oh!)

The rhythmic sensibilities of the South African dance music genre gqom – eerie skeletal syncopations juxtaposed with hoovering droney basslines born out of the Durban club scene – have largely infiltrated global club trends since the sound's breakthrough among wider audiences around 2015. It came mainly through releases on European labels like Goon Club Allstars and Gqom Oh!, and producers like DJ Lag, who in 2019 even co-produced the song 'My Power' for Beyoncé's The Lion King: The Gift soundtrack. While in the '90s, such crossovers could function as a stepping stone to a genre's mainstreamisation, in the case of gqom it was merely a curious one-off event, and we didn't get any gqom-based singles by Ariana Grande or The Weeknd.

Much like footwork, gqom has remained a niche music phenomenon driven by its originators and newcomers. At 24, Dominowe is already one its most recognisable names, debuting in 2017 with the acclaimed EP SiyaThakatha. After his home studio was broken into, he released the demo album Away From Home (2020) as a fundraiser, and now he is back with eight tracks of pure gqom heat. The template is the same, but he employs new production techniques that make his tracks more than just deadly DJ weapons on which every single element plays a crucial role. There are wordless vocables and occasionally Zulu vocals, new emphasis on melodicism via samples of guitar and strings, and, as you might have come to expect from him, plenty of timbral percussion and sophisticated basslines all over the EP. The general vibe is that of an ominous underground dance battle. While these days, most Western progressive producers bet on hyperactive arrangements and maximalist sound design, Dominowe opts for repetitiveness and minimalism without losing any impact on a club soundsystem. On UMTHAKATHI, he makes gqom sound more electrifying than ever.

Roza Terenzi & jd - Third Nature
(Step Ball Chain)

If you can't get enough of that otherworldly, everything-is-possible atmosphere (should I say Balearic?) typical of '90s downtempo compilations (you know, the space age spiritualism that informed the early progressive house/trance scene), but want to stay well clear of any hackneyed nostalgia, this one here might be up your alley. This Aussie alliance between Step Ball Chain founder Katie Campbell, famous for her ingenious reinterpretations of progressive house and trance tropes through a contemporary genre-bending lens, and Jack Doepel, an "Australian virtuosic enigma," brings to the table four seductive tracks with a retrofuturist flair.

On the A-side, my immediate association to 'Bedtime Ritual' and 'Geysers' is Andrew Weatherall's Massive Mellow Mix, and I mean it as a huge compliment. The former is pure afterparty bliss material while the latter, the bastard son of downtempo and jungle breaks, could function as a kickstarter for a drum & bass set. The flipside, on the other hand, is tailored for festival sets. 'Memories Of The Secret' is another Terenzi-esque progressive trance gem in the tradition of my hero Robert Leiner. Euphoric, vibey and punchy, it's definitely engineered to activate your third eye on a dancefloor. Closing with 'Triptych', the pair steer towards the more exploratory ends of the drum & bass continuum while retaining the propulsive force necessary for club usage.

re:ni - Revenge Body
(Ilian Tape)

I was sure that the Londoner Lauren Bush would forever remain a DJ's DJ in the mould of Craig Richards or Ben UFO, but I am glad to discover I was wrong. The NTS resident, known for her re:lax show, which she co-hosts with fellow bassbin pressure advocate Laksa, has drawn accolades from the UK techno circuit with her invigorating selections from a wide spectrum of UK dance music heritage (check out her mixes for BBC Radio 1 and Dimensions Festival if you aren't familiar with her yet). Five years after her first mix landed on Soundcloud, she showcases her dancefloor chops on a massive debut EP for Munich techno institution Ilian Tape.

As expected, the aesthetic references that inform the EP are similar to those found in Bush's DJ sets – a mongrel breed of dub(step), bass, breakbeat, jungle and Afro-Latin club trends. On the hi-tek dubby roller 'Don't Go Dark', a perfect set opener, she teases loopy sub frequencies, warped dark hue synths and cavernous drums, enveloping it all in an extraterrestrial ambience. You've probably heard Ploy's hit 'Rayhana' if you're a regular reader of this column, so the UK-powered baile funk-esque syncopations and alien-like scat phrasing of 'Revenge Body' should make your limbs wave in a similar fashion to that track. The same is true of 'Reverse Rave' with its hovering laser beams, and the tribalistic earworm 'Spirits', two broken tekky bangers on which she goes full 4 am Twilight Zone rave mode. If you dig the contemporary aesthetic trajectories of the likes of Batu, Bruce, Ploy and Laksa, this one is a no-brainer – a dark and foreboding, excellently produced and generally envy-inducing debut, indeed.

Geo Rip - Geo Rip
(The Trilogy Tapes)

Out on one of the most consistent UK imprints of the last 15 years, whose stylistic trajectories under the helm of Will Bankhead have always been simultaneously elusive and concrete, the third outing by US production trio Geo Rip is a characteristically deviant music affair for the more audacious selectors and heads. It's telling that the project's members, who also run the label U-Udios, come from the Washington progressive emo/punk scene and are involved in outfits like Protec-U, Nerftoss and Dope Body. I wasn't familiar with their debut album U​-​Udios 2 (2018) and TTT Mixtape (2019) before listening to this latest EP, but it's a real head-turner.

There's a vaguely palpable electro framework in play underneath their ever-swinging and shuffling kick-snare patterns, yet they manage to get as far as possible from anything remotely generic. The bleepy and bloopy hardware soul of their sound palette is especially felt on the opener 'Drop-In Center', a peculiar blend of dub techno atmospherics and slow burn breaks, perfect for repeated listens. On 'Nah Press Fake Text', they get weird AF with modular textural pulses and machine-like, offbeat grooves that remind me of DJ Stingray at his most cerebral. My favourite, 'Tooni', is a mischievous techy breakbeat tune with some '90s flavour, while the dulcet melodies and subaqueous vibe of closer 'Underwater Bodycam' will bring to mind the mellower side of producers like Parris and Facta. This is a singular EP of off-kilter modular electro experimentations for the more exploratory of electronic music listeners.

borderlandstate_the best kisser in l.a. – direct message ep
(Exit Records)

Following releases on Peder Mannerfelt Produktion and TT, London duo borderlandstatethe best kisser in l.a. became more prominent on the domestic techno scene in 2020 with the release of Hello Mainframe through dBridge's Exit Records. They soon delivered the single 'RIE/INO' for Pseudonym Records, and now they're back with their most outstanding release to date, a characteristically multifaceted and ultra polished collection of no nonsense club-ready tools, which have already gained high calibre club support from aya, CCL and Air Max '97, among others. The broken shuffle and metallic palette of peaktime rinser 'direct message' somehow reminds me of 'Ganzfeld' by Objekt – unapologetic and hyperkinetic, yet interspersed with tingling stereo details that send shivers down your spine. On the foreboding electro cut 'LANdance', they bring out their more abrasive, dusty and distorted synth and percussion library, backing that up with dial-up modem squelches and ghastly vocals. 'cas9' is a slow-mo proto-techno stopper ready made for Vladimir Ivkovic's DJ sets, with the duo unapologetically changing pace on the D&B closer 'arena4', unleashing clinically tight breaks, razor-sharp wobbles and nasty noise fragments. I'd argue the duo come from the same metaverse as contemporary "high brow techno," by which I don't mean Dom Perignon-sipping boujee superstar DJs, but rather producers whose tracks are more ambitious in scope, inventive with arrangement and sophisticated in terms of sound design – think of young talents like Delay Grounds, Sputnik One and Syz.

VTSS - Projections

The exciting thing about the new breed of aspiring superstar DJs/producers, among whom we find Polish-born Martyna Majaaka, is that they're way more daring and open-minded than the wannabe headliners from ten years ago. Being one of the most lauded new names in techno, in the past few years she's collaborated with Varg, Randomer, Emma DJ and LSDXOXO, while her fanbase kept expanding. At this point, she could have taken the path often travelled by many others, churning out ghost-produced business techno chart tracks and slowly gaining headliner status at Tomorrowland and Awakenings. Listening to last year's very solid Borderline Tenderness EP, which I also covered here, it became obvious that she has different ambitions, though.

Writing about her more explorative track 'Woah', I proclaimed that there's plenty to look forward to. On her new EP for the Ninja Tune sub-label Hypercolour, she goes in exactly this new direction, and I'm pretty sure some fans will be surprised and/or disappointed by the lack of fist-pumping bangers. Her transition from gabbery, EBM-fuelled hard techno and rave aesthetics towards more "genre fluid" electronic explorations unsurprisingly coincided with her move from Berlin to London. Projections sees VTSS focus on intricate drum programming, playing with breaks, timbres and tempos. Delivering both introspective and confrontational tracks, she experiments with drill & bass ('The Need To Avoid') and nu-gabber formats ('Propaganda Of Success'), expands on hybrid dancehall ('Live Laugh Leave') and footwork trends ('For Your Safety'), and delivers her take on percussive UK techno ('Trust Me') and moody IDM ('Why We Don't Deserve Nice Things'). It's an all around exciting EP informed by a wide array of influences. VTSS may lose some diehard stans, but also win new ones in the process. My only footnote is that I'd much prefer it if her productions were less like three-minute radio songs and more like extended club tracks.

Elina Bolshenkova - 19​/​01

I know little about the Moscow-based musician and artist Elina Bolshenkova, except that she's also a programme co-curator at Radio Fantasia, an "extra-genre community radio" based in Krasnodar. With two releases under her belt, the live album Live At HSE and EP Songs Of Reenactment – which offer an insight into her early experimentations on the fringes of electroacoustic music, sound art, musique concrète and ambient – on her new EP she introduces four immersive electroacoustic ambiental pieces, which you'll absolutely love if you cherished last year's How Much Time It Is Between You And Me? by fellow Russian artist Perila, as well as Burial's recent endeavours.

In an apparent tribute to Pauline Oliveros, Bolshenkova beautifully employs the heavenly timbres of the accordion in the droning opener 'первая пустота (how it started)'. The line, "Diana said that it was a white sparkling crackling flame," which accompanies the release, is reflected in the crackling, sizzling and hissing sonic fragments and factory machine clanking interspersed through the composition 'песня пути / Song of the way'. There's something impalpable, exotic and alluring in that mysterious flame. The centrepiece 'Moonage Daydream / сон в лунном свете', which reminds me of the work of New York City-based sound artist and composer Lea Bertucci, is an inspired exercise in saxophone drone transcendentalism. Synchronously calming and perturbing, closer '(how it ended) Once And For All, Repeated' excellently encapsulates the wintertime urban melancholy captured in the artwork. It's an intriguing deep listening affair from a promising Russian artist whom you should definitely keep in mind.