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Dance Music For March Reviewed By Jaša Bužinel
Jaša Bužinel , March 10th, 2022 11:58

Jaša Bužinel provides some helpful information on how to directly help Ukrainian people, and provides eight hot tips from various electronic music realms, among them recent releases by DJ Hank, K-S.H.E, Despina and Carl Gari & Abdullah Miniawy


It's impossible to focus on anything other than Ukraine right now. And while I know that a dance music column isn't the right format to host profound political debate on such shocking and epochal events, I would simply like to direct you towards some of the positive initiatives to benefit the war-torn region coming from the electronic music community and beyond.

While there's obviously also been some animosity between artists from Ukraine and Russia, most notably in relation to Nina Kraviz's social media post calling for peace without any direct reference towards Putin's unprovoked aggression, the overwhelming majority of messages have showed total support for the people of Ukraine and their fight for freedom.

If you can provide any financial support, the Russian label Gost Zvuk released the compilation STOP THE WAR to collect funds for those in need, while the Polish-Ukrainian duo Rethe & Yes Stanley, whose family members are directly involved in the situation, released the EP Save Ukraine with the same aim.

If you want to provide direct support to Ukrainian artists, fellow tQ writer Jakub Knera did an amazing job in compiling this list of the most interesting Ukrainian music releases from late 2021 and early 2022. He also compiled this list of humanitarian Ukrainian organisations and funds that directly help people in dire need. Another important resource is this guide to how non-Ukrainians can help, including a comprehensive list of reputable benefit organisations and other crucial information. The Polish collective Oramics introduced me to these guidelines for all the people who want to help.

One of the most demoralising recent news stories was that Africans stranded in Ukraine, looking for transport to the border were victims of scammers and were even refused access to trains. Kenyan producer Slikback shared this important document with FAQs on crossing the Ukrainian border with various passports. I'd also like to direct you to the initiative Support Ukraine Now, which shows you step by step how you can help Ukraine as a foreigner.

It's not much, but I think it's the least any of us can do right now. Full support to the Ukrainian people and fuck expansionist political agendas, be they in Ukraine, Palestine, Xinjiang or any other territory that has fallen victim to occupation or oppression by outside forces.

Urvakan – A Collective Memoir

If you're down for some exciting new discoveries, this compilation is one fantastic rabbit hole. Commissioned by the Yerevan-based Urvakan Festival, an international showcase for urban studies, advanced music and visual arts, A Collective Memoir brings to the table eight sound artists and experimental musicians from Armenia, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine. The presented compositions are rooted in concepts of time and memory, and I can easily relate to them as I also come from a small nation that is still haunted by its socialist heritage. Artists took inspiration from their collective history, post-Soviet cultural and political imaginary, and distinct Slav sensibilities. You may already be a bit tired of the post-Fisherean debates on hauntology, but these ideas are explored here from a totally different perspective (interestingly, in Armenian, "urvakan" means ghost).

I've always rated the foggy aesthetic of certain Russian and Ukrainian imprints, be it Gost Zvuk, Psy X, Gamardah Fungus, Muscut or the archival label Shukai, but the variety presented on this compilation speaks to me even more. The techniques employed vary from plunderphonics, musique concrète, tape loops, spoken word and audio collage to field recordings and dubby psychedelia. Artists employ timeless quotes from old Soviet dramas and jazz (Perila); conjure out of joint tape loop experimentations (Nikolaienko); use modular patches and digital processes to turn an excessively stretched '90s commercial sound tag into a kind of singing electric current (L); create enthralling soundscapes using self-built devices, heavily processed street noises, and acoustic and electromagnetic sounds (Nystagmus); imitate a ghost ensemble playing Soviet jazz in a shack in the port of Odesa (Chillera feat. DJ Graffity); and warp old emo songs into ghostly post-folk experimentations (Foresteppe). These are some of the most entrancing aural microcosms I've stepped into recently. I believe we Slavs have always suffered from a strange kind of melancholy (just remember Mickiewicz, Pushkin and all the other Slav-born Romantics!), which is beautifully reflected in the pensive, otherworldly atmosphere that pervades this whole compilation.

DJ Hank – City Stars

For the past few years, DJ Hank's bastardised footwork/garage productions have been making the rounds via Kode9 mixes, yet I wasn't overly familiar with his oeuvre prior to this discovery. City Stars, though, is currently one of my favourite EPs of 2022. On last year's excellent LPs by Jana Rush and DJ Manny, we heard two different contemporary footwork trajectories – one darker, the other much lighter. It now feels like Chicagoan DJ Hank, active since 2016, is proposing a fresh one altogether.

Various percussive modes reign supreme in his sophisticated rhythmic arrangements, but he's also a serious sound designer. I honestly hope it'll be his breakthrough release. His sound is hardly comparable to anyone – we could superficially describe it as an innovative amalgam of soulful footwork tunes, Two Shell's bombastic production, and Four Tet or Joy Orbison's vocal manipulations. There aren't any explicit singles, just a string of six addictive tracks that can simultaneously seduce pretentious music fucks, such as me, and lovers of sugary R&B vocals and pop idioms via a footwork/D&B mould. I can almost imagine guest appearances by Rihanna or Beyonce on tracks like 'Stay' (make sure you check its video, a lovely dance postcard from the Windy City), 'Get @ Me' (with that sexy sliding 808 drill bassline) and 'Mkwa' (a brilliant reimagining of musical elements typical of early Japanese ambient). It's one of those EPs that you keep on reshuffling even after you've heard it for the fifth time.

Despina – Limb Slip
(All Centre)

The latest outing by All Centre, a London imprint specialising in advanced dancefloor ballistics – a great source of discovery of fresh talent since 2018 – comes from the rising NY producer and Kindergarten Records affiliate Mica Matchen. Their track Vitamin Party landed on my tracks of the year list for 2021, and the bar was set pretty high by that track. In all honesty, though, Limb Slip largely overshadows its predecessor Data Soft. Boasting four surgically constructed club tunes that blend elements of UK bass, breakbeat and percussive techno with the sexual tension of Jersey club, the EP is an exciting marriage between sound porn tendencies (think of Bruce and Akiko Haruna) and quirky arrangements that send shivers down your butthole.

The predominantly metallic, clanking sounds of this EP are polished to an almost fetishistic extent. On 'Packing (Phallus)', the intricate rhythmic pattern is built around a squeaky metal bed sample and jingling percussion of various timbres. Judging by the title, the track disguises as an aural sexual affair fuelled by a grainy moaning voice and hovering sub frequencies that go heavy on the bass bins – a track that'll make you bounce across the club like a shuttlecock. Their productions possess a distinctively mischievous and humorous character in the vein of aya and Joe – that's what I like most about them. The electrifying polyrhythms, cyborgian vocalisations and woozy wobbles of 'Alexa In Disrepair', as well as the pounding hammer kicks, sludgy bass lines and reassuring AI female voice commanding you to "always play" in closer 'Weird Angel' sure are proof that Despina means serious business when it comes to the cross pollination between progressive club trends, advanced sound design and the immediacy of techno.

DJ Narciso & Endgame – NXE

One of my favourite tendencies in contemporary club music is the musical gene flow between various global microscenes via renowned labels like Nyege Nyege Tapes (Uganda), NAAFI (Mexico) and SVBKVLT (China). Shanghai-based SVBKVLT has been a pivotal protagonist of the experimental club music circuit for some time now, and its latest release is a typically international enterprise. On their debut collaborative EP, Lisbon producer and Príncipe alumnus DJ Narcisio and London producer and Bala Club co-founder Endgame explore the darker hues of mutant kuduro, bearing some hallmarks of the rough kuduro sound explored by Nazar across multiple releases in recent years.

NXE comes from a different place, though. Instead of focusing on sonic concepts and explorative sonics, the duo steer head-on towards post-human dancefloor malaise. Its sci-fi undertones are displayed in the captivating artwork by Wang Newone, which bears the silhouette of a Giger-inspired creature. The rhythmic and timbral qualities of their productions bear similarities with Príncipe's releases, but they come across as negative counterparts. Like ancient depictions of the two-faced Roman god Janus, the EP functions as a counterpoint to the (predominantly, though not solely) sun-soaked and celebratory kuduro coming from the Portuguese capital. There's nothing revolutionary about their approach; it's how they eschew certain tropes and turn upside down certain expectations that makes NXE stand out among its peers.

Lag – Clique Of One
(Don't Recordings)

The techno scale goes a bit like this: small < medium < big < huge < Lag. The Serbian techno don has been a significant name on the European scene for almost a decade now, releasing distinctively off-kilter techno bangers, among them breakthrough tracks like 'Kontrola' and 'Nemir', on labels that lean towards darker, mostly post-industrial aesthetics, such as Mord, THEM and Elements. Today he's rightfully considered one of the foremost techno artists of the Balkan region, yet I can't get past the feeling that he would've been a much bigger name by now were he situated in London or Berlin, and not Novi Sad.

A savant producer well-versed in the history of the genre, he's been pushing the boundaries of broken techno with his intricate and playful syncopations with every new release, forging a unique sound in the process. As is the case with producers like Objekt (who included 'Znoj' in his 2020 Essential Mix for BBC Radio 1), when you hear a Lag track, you immediately recognise it as his, and the energy levels on this latest EP are through the roof. Each track takes a different shape, but they're all united by Lag's dusty sound palette. Building on the legacy of the Downwards triumvirate, Lag's productions give the impression he mines '90s raw techno materials and squeezes them into an aural 3D printer. The results are four fear-inducing rollers full of brainy microgrooves and serotonin triggers ready to please the most demanding of techno crowds. Lag is at the top of the game. It's high time international festival bookers started noticing him.

K-S.H.E – Spirits, Lose Your Hold / 精霊、力を落とす

I haven't been covering any deep house in my column, mostly because there's nothing exceptionally novel going on, except for occasional releases by heroes like Theo Parrish and DJ Sotofett and a bunch of newcomers, such as Kareem Ali. But it'd be a crime not to direct you towards this absolute gem by one of the genre's true mavericks, Terre Thaemlitz (AKA DJ Sprinkles), who needs no drum roll. A norm-bending producer, versatile musician, remix maga and queer luminary in the tradition of Arthur Russell and Juliaus Eastman, she's been at the forefront of avant-garde house music for almost three decades now while still retaining her underground status. A vocal speaker and educator, she helped set the stage for the younger generation of queer artists. Those familiar with her work and writings will remember she's been keeping her projects offline for almost a decade now (I suggest you read her brilliant essay on this topic), so you'll have to actually get the CD to enjoy her music.

This release comprises an hour and a half of her Kami-Sakunobe House Explosion productions that followed her acclaimed debut Routes Not Roots (2006), and includes previous 12-inch releases alongside unreleased reworked versions of past material and live collaborations with the Berlin ensemble Zeitkratzer. In terms of depth and spaciousness, this is the musical equivalent of the Challenger Deep. The lachrymose sublimity of the opening 28-minute track brings to mind the most transportative spiritual jazz cuts by the likes of Sanders and Coltrane. It's touching how her longform jams, which vary both in style and scope, manage to take us to places beyond any specific scene or place. Her music is timeless, equally ready for the club and downtown theatre performances, which is something not many artists can pull off. I know the term spiritual has been abused to death, but this is some of the most spiritual dance music I've encountered in years.

Le Motel – Sueños

Here's another transnational project, involving artists from Belgium (Le Motel, Cabasa), Ghana (Bryte), Spain (Clara!) and the UK (Logan), which encapsulates the current aesthetic directions at the intersection between various club practices. Maloca head honcho Le Motel is one of those multifunctional producers, field recordists and film composers with a catalogue that includes both collaborations with major Belgian hip hop artists and solo releases for labels like XXIII, TAR and Cosmic Compositions. If you're familiar with his label's roster – names like Griffit Vigo, Farsight and DJ JM – his amalgam of organic percussive timbres from the realms of mutant dancehall, grime, drill, bass, breakbeat and reggaeton will be familiar. Instead of betting on a single format, each of the six tracks takes a different shape.

Two of the highlights are his solo productions 'Sueños' (think of recent mutant dancehall rhythms on labels like Livity Sound and NAAFI) and 'Talking To Drums' (polyrhythmic explorations with a Latin American flavour à la Dengue Dengue Dengue). But he manages to get the best from his collaborators, too. Clara's laidback Spanish verses ("masculino, más culo," a wordplay between masculine and more ass) on the house-via-raggaton flip 'Rápido' are utterly tantalising, while Bryte's rhymes should resonate with fans of Afro-grime trailblazers like Biga Yut, Ecko Bazz and MC Yallah. I also immensely appreciate the contribution of London MC Logan, who even managed to top his The Bug feature on the bass-laden chugger 'Love Talk Bad'. Sueños may lack some focus and present itself as too eclectic, but pretty much anyone will find at least a track or two that will resonate with them.

Carl Gari & Abdullah Miniawy – Between The Bullet And The Front Sight, Casting Lots (Live At Haus Der Kunst)
(Carl Gari)

I never thought I'd be reviewing live albums here, but for those who relished recent releases by Egyptian poet, singer and trumpeter Abdullah Miniawy and German electronic trio Carl Gari – be it their EPs for The Trilogy Tapes and Whities (now AD93), entry for the Berlin Atonal comp or Miniawy's joint EP with French producer Simo Cell – their haunting live performance from the modern and contemporary art museum in Munich is something not to be slept on. Out on the new Molten Moods sub label Carl Gari, the release comprises eight compositions performed at the online edition of Rewire Festival 2021. Apart from 'The Cyg' and 'Haj', all the tracks presented are exclusive to this release.

The listener is taken on an immersive and transformative journey through various sonic realms permeated by a kind of dark esotericism (the writings of philosopher and mystic George Gurdjieff spring to mind here). We move through slowly burning, free-floating, trip-hoppy electronic synthscapes, backed by dubby and aquatic drum programming, soothing trumpet lines, crackling drones, and other microevents that transfix their aural fibre. The centrepiece, though, is Miniawy's powerful, often poignant and immensely evocative vocals. Even though non-Egyptians are bereft of their linguistic and poetic qualities, there's a sense of loss, bitterness and longing in how he presents his lyrics, which according to the label depict modern Egyptian life under the oppressive Al-Sisi regime. Miniaway, who had to flee his motherland due to oppression, has always been overtly political, and here he again manages to get the message across in a profound manner. It's the patois of his grain of voice that carries all the emotional impact of this mesmerising live performance, a kind of avant-gardist fourth world elegy for futures lost at the hands of autocratic regimes.