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Dance Music For April Reviewed By Jaša Bužinel
Jaša Bužinel , April 6th, 2022 09:20

Jaša Bužinel shares this month's hot picks from the world of electronic music, including outstanding releases from Palestine, Tanzania and Iran, a benefit compilation for Ukraine, Portuguese "deconstructed grunge" experimentations, Sahara-via-London percussive sub-heavy techno, and more

Mr. Mixondo

I probably refreshed and reassembled this month's final Hyperspecific selection more than five times before sending it to my editor. The amount of PR agents longing for access to my inbox is growing by the week, suggesting that even a column like mine, published on a website which is mostly focused on weird, unorthodox and extravagant contemporary independent music with arguably a different audience than specialised dance music platforms, is considered crucial exposure in our ever-shrinking mediascape dedicated to new electronic and experimental music.

I would need to write my column on a weekly basis, though, if I really wanted it to reflect the incredible variety that I get to discover when preparing it. Personally, one of the biggest problems is how to balance Hyperspecific between my own discoveries, hyped talking point releases (often supported by strong PR) and generally good, but not outstanding music, which shows potential and therefore is worth exposing, but is usually left out because of the limited space. Another issue is how to balance between UK artists, which of course are of interest to our English-speaking readers, and non-UK artists, which are also very much (maybe even more) of interest to our demanding audience from different corners of the globe.

It is not about pushing the next big thing, looking for stars or shedding light on fresh obscure genres. It is more about giving exposure to music that I consider relevant from a totally subjective perspective. By now we have become accustomed to the idea that no real earth-shattering musical phenomena are likely to happen in our ever more nostalgic electronic music landscape. Shawn Reynaldo explores these arguments in the latest edition of his newsletter, First Floor. (Subscribe, if you haven't already!)

While I agree with him when it comes to the general potency and ambition of the culture taken as a whole, I think it is also much more of a problem for Western audiences and scenes, especially those who grew up while the culture was at its peak in terms of newness, be it in the '90s or mid-noughties. This is also true of those who continue with their efforts in conserving the status quo when it comes to techno, electro or drum & bass, if you will. As much as I love and support these genres and the scenes around them, they are mostly "historic," often more interested in copy and pasting hackneyed futuristic slogans and chasing their own tails ad infinitum than producing something that would actually reflect our fucked-up existence in the 21st century.

On the other hand, the amount of ambitious electronic music coming from non-Western music scenes is in my opinion a comforting counterargument when one has to defend electronic music's creative vitality and pioneering spirit. I get the feeling that the crushing legacy of rave culture is mainly a problem of the Western popular music canon, much less when we consider the budding electronic music scenes from around the world. I am pretty sure in the rest of this decade, ambitious producers and artists from Africa, the Middle East, South Asia as well as Central and South America will be the ones at the forefront of innovation. I am confident to inform you that some of the below included releases are hard proof.

Julmud جُلْمود - Tuqoos | طُقُوس
(Bilna'es بالناقص)

From the tape rewind melody, vortical harp motifs and jerky beats of the overture 'Basmala', Julmud promptly lets us know we are in for a special treat with Tuqoos | طُقُوس. A representative of the contemporary Palestinian progressive music scene, the Ramallah-based producer, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist has collaborated with innovative compatriots, such as Haykal, Al Nather, Muqata'a, Makimakkuk and Walaa Sbait, and has now gone on to crystallise his vision on this debut for the label Bilna'es. Tuqoos is an album characterised by a clear ambition to go beyond any genre-based expectations both in terms of form and aesthetic, all the while retaining an utterly alluring sonic aura. His sound palette has an explicitly metallic, industrial-tinged flavour. The timbres are mostly unapologetically abrasive and the many samples are attentively processed in a way that makes them sound ancient and lo-fi. But the manifold character and spaciousness of his tracks suggest the creative process must have been painstakingly scrupulous. Most productions are instrumental, but when he raps, he spits his bars in a commanding tone that grabs you by the throat.

An undercurrent of repressed rage runs through the album, and this obviously cannot be divorced from the political turmoil that defines the artist's everyday life. There is also a metaphysical, life-affirming dimension to Julmud's music, though – a kind of arcane "beyondness." Even though Westerners are bereft of a total experience due to the lack of cultural background and language barrier, it is immediately felt that Tuqoos is a sample-laden and heavily intertextual musical affair. I love how on every track he takes a different turn, from grossly distorted percussive workouts ('Kassara'), vaporwave-y tunes ('Saree' el thawaban') and industrial hip hop jams à la clipping. ('Falnukmel'), to feel good coffee table beats ('Kalma'), Burial-esque soundscapes full of crackling and popping ('Ishi Hawa'i') and sublime set closers ('Juwway'). Ultimately, no description can do justice to the variety found in this essential Middle Eastern masterpiece, which boldly strays beyond any contemporary clichés.

DJ Travella - Mr Mixondo
(Nyege Nyege Tapes)

I am sure none of you need any lectures on singeli, this approximately ten-year-old genre described in the past as "the sound of Tanzania" and "the world's most frenetic music." A hyperactive, rhythmic-noise-adjacent form of African dance music, it encapsulates the jaw-clenching urgency of gabber, regularly exceeding the speed of 200 BPM. A national cultural phenomenon and since recently a hot international export, one of its younger representatives is the 19-year-old Dar Es Salaam native DJ Travella, whose incredible skills are captured in one of his Instagram posts where he performs on a laptop and bluetooth keyboard. The tracks found on his debut structurally resemble the productions of his contemporaries from Sisso and Pamoja Records, but are rather more multifaceted and interwoven with a wide array of samples.

The most exciting thing about this unapologetically speedy music is the tongue-in-cheek playfulness that emanates from the tracks. It stands in contrast to the sterile Western takes on singeli, which tend to fall victim to pretentious conceptronica discourse and are divorced from their roots as the sound of block parties. Its abrasive, exaggeratedly grainy and brutally noisy timbral qualities may excite your brain, but it is the in-your-face rhythmic assault that really does the work here. I feel like Thumper from Bambi when I thump my feet along with 'Good Beat', which interpolates the bubbly sounds from Cajmere's 'Percolator', its strangely familiar bass line and jerky vocals seemingly instructing the listener to twerk. I would love to see how people would physically react to these hyperbeats in European clubs. DJ Travella's fresh take on singeli leaves you hungry for more. This is not music for vibing. This is proper hardcore. And you are definitely not putting it on while cooking lunch or sipping wine with friends. Mr. Mixondo hijacks all your attention.

Various Artists - We Stand With Ukraine
(Eastbloc Sound)

In the past month, we have witnessed a wave of solidarity with Ukraine from various music (micro)scenes. The response of the electronic music community, especially its more politically conscious segment, has been swift. Various labels, collectives and artists took their part in collecting charity funds and providing other forms of help. The Prague-based hybrid electronics label Unizone compiled this nice list of benefit releases in support of Ukraine. A more recent initiative is the 64-track compilation by the anonymous collective Eastbloc Antifascist Sound Alliance, which promotes progressive music from the former Eastern bloc region, fights for its visibility in Western media and provides a creative network for its people and diaspora.

The release comprises old and new productions, unreleased stuff and remixes by Eastern Sound-affiliated artists, as well as their global community. A reimagining of 'May That Nuclear War Be Cursed!' by Ukrainian folk art painter Maria Prymachenko adorns the cover. The symbolic value of this choice is profound since between 10 and 25 of her works were destroyed last February during the Battle of Ivankiv. The compilation is as eclectic as you would expect, spanning club deconstructions by Ukrainian composer Zavoloka and German producer AGF, contemplative broken techno by Russian Moa Pillar, dense ominous soundscapes by Finnish dub techno veteran Vladislav Delay and leftfield house jams by US musician Fumbata Phiri, to mention but a few highlights. Apart from the humanitarian and political function of such projects, We Stand With Ukraine provides a great entry point for anyone interested in the discovery of budding new talents and already established artists from this region and beyond, since most of the included names have not yet broken onto the global electronic music circuit.

Various Artists - Sounds From The Iranian Ultraverse

I love it when I get my hands on such revelatory compilations as this one. Being only familiar with a few artists found here, like the acclaimed Frenchman techno producer Voiski and Shaytoon head honcho Sepehr, Sounds From The Iranian Ultraverse provides a great insight into the contemporary Iranian electronic underground, both from artists based in the motherland and the diaspora. Apart from the above-mentioned producers, who each deliver a track that bears their distinctive sound (Voiski with his recognisably hypnotic synthworks, and Sepher with his cavernous drums and sinister vibe), there is so much to dive into. The opener by Aria Rostami takes us towards Hans Zimmer territory – I cannot get the hilarious ending scene from Dune out of my mind… "Desert power!" – except this is much more captivating than his recent efforts. The New York duo Saint Abdullah do a great job on the downtempo illbient jam 'Lustre Ware' (a treat for fans of Scorn), and I also recommend their release To Live A La West from last year. On 'Konbanwa (Ibiza Mix)', which brings to mind Soichi Terada's '90s house gems, Berlin-based producer PARAMiDA steers towards Balearic waters. Another favourite is the slow burner 'Sick On Me' by Iran-based artist Milad Ahmadi, which could be loosely described as a switched-on Muslimgauze jam, but of actual Muslim origin. Instead of focusing on a particular concept or aesthetic trajectory, this excellently curated collection of Iraninan electronic music showcases the producers' distinct musical expressions.

Morwell - Strange Heart

Hailing from Croatia but long situated in the UK, this elusive producer experienced a breakthrough with last year's debut album Souls on which he encapsulated his unconventional take on the hardcore continuum and UK bass. Some of you may have learnt about him via his frisky remixes and edits. Recently, he successfully squeezed some of Oklou's tracks through a D&B mould, gaining a constant presence on NTS Radio. His latest batch of original productions is comprised of four short tracks that explore similar trajectories. It is not armchair audiophile music, but it is also not straightforwardly functional club music.

Even during their most warehouse-y moments, Morwell's productions are informed by a kind of sonic dizziness. There is sometimes a strange swing in his grooves, like in the track 'So Much' with its echoey dub vocals and off-kilter rhythm. On 'Falling', he flips into sugar-sweet jungle mode. The centrepiece of the EP, 'Can You Be', employs a mutant dancehall template, but instead of betting on soundsystem pressure, he explores its jazzy and soulful potentials. Closing with 'Something's Wrong', which features an excerpt from a Sun Ra interview, confusing polyrhythms and mesmerising dub delays, Morwell reveals how far he can go when he unleashes his imagination. I truly hope he focuses even more on these unorthodox new directions as there is obviously a lot more to explore.

IVVVO - Bleached Butterfly
(AD 93)

Seeing the tags experimental, grunge and rave describing this release on Bandcamp, it immediately caught my attention because I thought it was bullshit, and I like it when producers are trying hard to sell me something extravagant. Out on the celebrated UK label AD 93, which rarely disappoints when it comes to providing music that exists outside the box, Bleached Butterfly is the kind of album I wish more people would dare to create. Its creator, the Portuguese musician and Terrain Ahead co-founder Ivo Pacheco, has been around since 2011, releasing on Opal Tapes, moun10, Halcyon Veil and other labels, and it is telling that his mini-album from 2017 bears the name Prince Of Grunge even though there is no grunge on it. As a producer, he operates at the intersection between deconstructed and reconstructed electronica and post-club sonics, but on his third proper full length (not counting last year's Greatest Hits, Archive 2010-2015) he heads off on a "songwriter" tangent.

The opening song, featuring singer Abyss X, which I absolutely adore, takes me back to my uncle's room where he introduced his collection of '90s music when I was a kid, while simultaneously echoing collaborations between Dean Blunt and Joanne Robertson. IVVVO constantly switches between more guitar-oriented tracks and trance-infused post-club bangers ('Trance', 'You Know You're Just Like Me', 'E.T.'), but the patina of his productions is always very much in the sound design realm. The blissful closer 'WORLD', a warm and comforting blend of hyperpop and ambient sonics not unlike Iglooghost, will (temporarily) reignite your hope in humanity. But even more transportive are the guitar feedback drones and celestial strings of the simple but stunning piece 'Drugs'. It is the more grungy parts of this record I enjoy most, especially the song 'I'm Not Dead', which imaginatively samples one of Kurt Cobain's memorable "yeahs" over some beautiful riffs and primitive thunderous beats. If recent releases by Mica Levi and Yves Tumor work for you and you are also into post-club trends, this one should make you very happy.

Azu Tiwaline & Al Wootton - Alandazu EP
(Livity Sound)

It is always nice to hear some of your favourite producers joining forces in the studio. Inspired by the recent success of the Hodge and Simo Cell collaboration on Drums From The West, the Bristolian UK techno institution Livity Sound delivers another fertile joint effort. This is by the Trule Records founder and percussive (dub) techno maestro Al Wootton and the Tunisian electronic music visionary Azu Tiwaline, who debuted on Livity Sound in 2020 with the EP Magnetic Service. Both represent the new wave of producers who in recent years have delved into the potentials of dub techno, but instead of focusing on plain subaqueous pulses and echoing melodic lines, have explored the interplay between low-slung frequencies and highly complex percussive modes to conjure a bewitchingly ritualistic atmosphere.

Their mastery translates into a faux feeling of hearing the fingertips of ghost drum ensembles tapping on skins. The dramatic opener 'Blue Dub' immediately reveals their immersive sound image, an amalgam of Basic Channel-inspired chords, submerged basslines and shiver-inducing polyrhythms. While the more introspective deep roller 'Light Transmission' combines sophisticated 2-step rhythms with esoteric background noises, the four-to-the-floor kick and percussive adornments of 'Nine Points' are readymade for big room occasions. The duo dispense with percussion altogether in the closer 'Last Scene', exploring droning low frequencies accompanied by insectile sonics and ecstatic low-filtered synth stabs. On Alandazu, two artists with shared sonic sensibilities present their remarkable mastery for complex drum programming, gargantuan sub frequencies and ill-omened atmospherics that bring to mind still images from Chris Marker's La Jetée.

Various Artists - Nervous Horizon Vol. 4
(Nervous Horizon)

The London label Nervous Horizon, founded by Italian producer TSVI (AKA Anunaku) and UK producer Wallwork, has been seminal in the dissemination and popularisation of mutant dancehall, UK funky, hard drum and bass aesthetics throughout European clubland in recent years. Their compilation series has introduced me to plenty of young producers operating in these segments of club music, and I am glad to discover their latest outing continues with this tradition. Apart from the label's previously established affiliates, such as SIM, Ehua, DJ JM (his track 'Rammed' is a must listen!), DJ Plead (really happy to have him back with a signature tune like 'RB C'), and other vanguard producers like Seven Orbits and Happa, Vol. 4 includes the rising Mexican producer Ultima Esuna, whose chugger 'Salidas' is an effective tool for dancefloor introspection.

Expanding on the typical gliding drill basslines and dembow syncopations in the track 'Breathe Easy', the Bristolian Josi Devil is also a name worth remembering. Just recently, Aquarian released a monstrous EP on Dekmantel, but his contribution 'Saule Dub', a halfstep interplay between 100 bpm riddims and 200 bpm breaks pulsating below pensive hoover synth ornaments, is just as essential. The second half of this 13-song compilation is dedicated to fast-paced club strains, and the most unique track presented is 'Mediocre' by the Congolese luminary Chrisman, which is an exploration of gqom patterns, blast beats, bodiless chants and Afro grime atmospherics. The whole package might not sound as refreshing and cutting-edge as it would have three years ago, but it definitely provides more than enough heat for any adventure-seeking dancefloor.