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Hyperspecific: Dance Music For May Reviewed By Jaša Bužinel
Jaša Bužinel , May 3rd, 2022 10:29

Jaša Bužinel shares his observations on the positive post-COVID changes on local electronic scenes, and reviews his favourite club gems and deep listening releases of the month, including BFTT, Siete Catorce and Ben Bondy

Nikki Nair, photo by Ian Flannery

In most of Europe, the clubs have been open for the past two months. After some visits to those here in Ljubljana, I started to think that it would be rather interesting to hear from various promoters and protagonists from other cities how the local scenes have changed in the past two years, or if they have changed at all.

In my experience, one of the defining, and most welcoming things about the current scene here, is the enormous amount of young DJs from totally different backgrounds, be it on the mainstream techno circuit or the deep underground of small Slovenian towns. As a result, clubs are being overbooked and the competition is fierce, with a lot of new crews looking for their place. It may anger the established promoters and collectives, though I see it as a productive trend in the long term.

One of the malaises that has been plaguing the local scene in Ljubljana was the compartmentalisation between, say, the techno or the house scene and so forth. DJs from Gen Z seem to be much more effective at transcending these divisions and bringing people of various tastes together. I am sure that one of the main reasons for this is that a whole new generation of aspiring clubbers have discovered dance music during the pandemic, fallen in love with it and waited a long time to actually experience it for the first time in its natural environment. The large number of young faces on the dancefloor, who have been brought up on a typical 21st century diet of eclectic sounds and post-genre tastes, is undoubtedly a good sign.

Even though the main thing now is bombastic hard techno (which made an elegant comeback to the mainstream during the pandemic), and youngsters seem to love it (I have not recently seen a local DJ play any techno slower than at least 135 bpm), there is also a tiny, but important pool of more ambitious younger DJs that discovered the more progressive side of contemporary club music and are representing newer sounds that have been largely overlooked by older, already established DJs. Another important aspect is that the wave of new DJs means less need for international bookings and more space for new talents to bloom, playing week after week.

So yeah, things have definitely changed around here, in my opinion for the better, at least when it comes to the variety of genres played in clubs and also the representation of female and non-binary DJs here in Ljubljana. I imagine similar tendencies could also be observed in other European cities. To me, it is symbolic that in May I am playing a hard techno night with a second stage dedicated to DJs playing more breaks-y stuff, which could never have happened before the pandemic. Let's see how it goes.

Siete Catorce - Cruda

One of the most ingenious representatives of forward-thinking Latin American- and Afro-Mexican-influenced club sounds of the past decade, SUBREAL co-founder Marco Polo Gutierrez returns with his full-length debut, following last year's excellent EP Temperatura, which made a big impression on me with the percussive intricacies that define his imaginary folk club music. The Mexican producer meticulously constructs every minute detail of his polyrhythmic grooves while always retaining an air of hip-shaking propulsion.

Heavily relying on syncretic synthesis, Cruda is a study in exploring texture and rhythm along with dancefloor ambitions. Its arrangements centre on spiralling interplays between synthesised and acoustic drum skin timbres and dynamic low frequency modulations. The melodic dimension of his productions is usually less prominent, relying merely on digital flutes, ghostly pads, glitchy and bubbly pulses and occasionally gloomy synth stabs backed by a sinister forest ambience. Despite its undoubtedly functionalist disposition, the album unfolds more like a deeply immersive, trance-inducing drum seance during which we attempt to communicate with the other world through rhythm. Just like trailblazing Peruvian duo Dengue Dengue Dengue, Siete Catorce is one of the most important faces of avant-garde digital tribalism, whose debut album excitingly connects the dots between African-American drum technology, autochthonous Mexican traditions and transcontinental hybrid club trends.

Duckett - Angel's In Another Place

This gem from March is the work of the brilliant, too often overlooked North Wales-based Freerotation resident and acclaimed live performer Duckett, who has been delivering unique, jazz-influenced productions at the intersection between house, techno, ambient and experimental music for the past two decades. A true underground figure detached from everyday hype, I hold his albums Emperor's New Clothes parts one and two for Berceuse Heroique especially close to my heart due to the heavy emotional heft that defines his texturally delicate, almost free-floating style.

Since I have not really heard from him in the past two years, it was quite revelatory to discover the absolutely fabulous track 'Never Will I Change' in the last Hessle Audio Show, co-hosted by Ben UFO and Four Tet. Characterised by sublime and comforting female vocals, intertwined with ethereal pads that swallow you whole – its feathery ambience brings to mind certain FKA twigs moments – it is almost something the UK mainstream could have produced back in the early 2010s. From the mellow R&B of opener 'You Don't Even Talk Like You Used To' to the micro digi-dubs and pleasing male vocals of 'This Place Keeps Killing Our Dreams' and the submerged jazzy motif and processed vocal abstractions of 'Took It Out On You', this unpretentious, straightforwardly beautiful EP is perfect for sunset contemplation and late night bliss-seeking sessions.

Baby Blue - End Of Sleep
(Planet Euphorique)

Is there any such thing as dream techno? This album by the Canadian producer could definitely make the case for it. Swiftly transitioning between blissfulness and paranoia, there is something uncanny about the dualism between hard-pounding loopy beats (running at above 140 bpm) that bring to mind the golden techno era of the late '90s and the celestial, almost fairytale-like atmospheres that complement them. I cannot bring to mind anything really comparable from the techno realm as my mind drifts towards Kevin Shields' gliding guitars, the crackling ambience of Burial and rave-era spiritualism.

Baby Blue's multi-layered productions are constructed from a wide palette of textures that tend to be dusty, grainy and distorted, boasting a kind of faux-lo-fi patina that nevertheless results in a powerful impact. It could almost pose as a soundtrack to a fantasy indie video game where the main protagonist would have to confront her inner demons and meet the fantastical creatures that inhabit her dreamworld. It is true that the core of End Of Sleep is still the modern day uptempo techno mould, but I really love how Baby BLue expands it into a singular misty-eyed dream sequence.

Nikki Nair - 1overf

Nikki Nair, one of the most prolific US breakbeat producers of the moment, has had a several-year string of outstanding EPs and singles. He was especially great in the past few months, churning out so many great tunes that I could barely even keep track. And there are even more exciting stompers already waiting to be released. I do not usually just focus on singles here, but '1overf' definitely deserves some exposure even if it is already a month old. One of my favourite tunes of the year so far, it boasts Nair's instantly recognisable crystal-clear breaks, accompanied by Overmono-esque (Joy O, Two Shell and Disclosure also spring to mind) vocal manipulations in the UK mould and groovy '80s synths in the vein of recent releases by Anz. 'loverf' is an outstanding summer track reflecting Nikki Nair's unparalleled knack for new-gen breakbeat science and electronic poptimism.

BFTT - Redefines

This one too falls into its own category. The YCO and Mutualism head honcho BFTT has been one of my favourite "leftfield weirdos" in the realm of boundary-pushing UK club music (along with fellow artists aya and Iceboy Violet), producing music that is glitchy, punchy, and often very dramatic; some would call it deconstructed while others might categorise it as an alliance between sound design, IDM, club futurism and avant-garde pop. While not directly comparable, Redefines reminds me of the world-building approach and overall ambitiousness that marked last year's LPs Lei Line Eon by Iglooghost and Agor by Koreless.

The product of four years of personal discovery, it comes across as a culmination of his adventurous sonic explorations found on labels like AD 93, Gobstopper and Polity Records. Despite the obvious flirtation with the dancefloor (the track 'Disp' being my favourite club weapon on offer), there is an intimate quality to his productions, reflected in his artistic choices, be it quirky vocal samples, fragments from YouTube videos or personal recordings, making it a rewarding, albeit intense candidate for armchair listening sessions. Like a true sound sculptor, BFTT bends, breaks, cuts, glues together and reassembles his sound material making it sound scarily hyper-realistic. A tasty blend of bubblegum bass nostalgia, intricate syncopated beats, ASMR-esque frequency modulations, gargantuan basslines and masterfully processed cyber vocals, despite its obvious lineage in the UK bass tradition, Redefines is the epitome of shiver-inducing futuristic club music.

Ben Bondy - Ben Bondy
(Quiet Time)

The latest release by Brooklyn producer Ben Bondy might not be all that unparalleled on its own, but the fact that I first listened to it on a quiet and rainy Sunday afternoon in April after intentionally avoiding ambient music (I was fed up with it due to the hyper-production that marked the pandemic) for the past few months made the experience all the more special. Similar to two of last year's best ambient pieces, Nothing Blues by Nick Malkin and °s by Aboutface, which were also characterised by a densely layered sonic fabric made of phantom field recordings and vaporous melodies, the record covers you with a blanket of empathy.

There is something deeply poetic about its overall vibe, as clichéd as that may sound, which could be attributed to its diaristic structure, as described by the artist. A marriage between modern classical composition and dusty experimental sonics, Ben Bondy is a calming and immersive body of work that will appeal to you especially when you are crestfallen, reflecting back on old days, looking for new directions and finding solace in fond memories.

Various Artists - Hallow Ground presents: EPIPHANIES
(Hallow Ground)

This epic 81-minute conceptual compilation by the Swiss label Hallow Ground, who describe themselves in a mission statement as "a platform for music and art that leads to visions," presents 16 commissioned compositions inspired by the phenomenon of epiphany. Including mainstays like Maria W Horn, FUJI||||||||||TA, Lawrence English and Siavash Amini, as well as newer names to the label such as Magda Drozd, Akira Sileas and Valentina Magaletti, it makes for a great starting point for the discovery of new favourite composers and producers operating on the fringes of ambient, drone, electro-acoustic, experimental and neo classical music.

A deep listening compilation par excellence, the compositions range in scope and structure, employing both short and long forms, some leaning towards apocryphal spiritual music or shadowy pseudo-ritual soundscapes, others coming from more sterile sound art backgrounds. It is hard to pick a favourite piece, because it's best listened to in one go, as a unified chain of different, yet somehow connected sonic iterations trying to capture the elusive and esoteric experience of sudden life-changing realisations.

Kabal - Vampire Castle
(Dalmata Daniel)

I just recently revisited Bratislava, where I went on a sightseeing tour and got the chance to observe the iconic Soviet-era concrete-block district Petražalka (also dubbed as the Bronx of Bratislava) from the top of Bratislava Castle through raindrops and unpleasant winds. It is right there, the most densely populated residential district anywhere in Central Europe, that the now Prague-based artist Andrej Kabal recorded this three-track EP, mostly late at night, which is immediately felt in the overall dark atmosphere of the record.

It takes from the tradition of horror soundtrack maestros like John Carpenter, building on suspense and release. The '80s-influenced synth melodies are intertwined with EBM and industrial-adjacent sonics and sewn together with fragments from Mark Fisher's much debated 2013 essay Exiting The Vampire Castle. The record speaks to me, because there are many similar Yugoslav-era rough concrete high-rise housing units here in Slovenia, so I am familiar with the vibe in these districts. It is clear that there is a special interest for these specific aesthetics, especially with bands like Molchat Doma who have been monetising it very successfully. Kabal's EP is much more to my taste, though, as it brilliantly translates the retrofuturist nature of the architecture from that period into a brutalist, retrofuturist soundworld.