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Hyperspecific

Hyperspecific: Dance Music For August Reviewed By Jaša Bužinel
Jaša Bužinel , August 2nd, 2022 12:00

Jaša Bužinel reflects on recent natural catastrophes which affected his home region and influenced this month's selection of electronic highlights, which includes the immersive soundscapes of Richie Culver & Pavel Milyakov, Kali Malone and Lamin Fofana along with dance gems by Nick León, Kincaid, Ido Plumes and more

Lamin Fofana, photo by Taliesin Gilkes-Bower

I have seen more concerts (black midi, Yves Tumor, Rodrigo Cuevas, Fred Wesley) and DJ sets (DJ Marcelle, Donato Dozzy, Crystalmess, PLO Man, DVS1) in the past two months than in the whole first two years of the coronavirus pandemic, which makes me really satisfied as a music lover. It was only in late May that I felt that things really got back to normal in terms of how I experienced going out, socialising and letting myself go with the flow. I had the best time at Terraforma festival in Milan (I cannot recommend it enough) and I really enjoyed performing at one of the most picturesque festival sites in Europe at Butik Festival in Tolmin, Slovenia.

I really cannot complain about my summer so far. Yet, as much as I would want to think and write about the festivals, gigs and raves I attended, along with all the new exciting music that I listened to, there is something else, much more important, that has been on the minds of people from my region, homeland and the wider Mediterranean.

July was a kind of biblical experience for me. Never in my life before have I spent so much time talking about natural catastrophes in such apocalyptic terms – drought and wildfires everywhere, bad omens on the horizon, disheartening weather forecasts, deciduous trees shedding their leaves midsummer, forests coloured in brown and orange like in autumn… I know that this is supposed to be a music column, but I guess there won't be any people lefy to read my columns once we fuck this world for good, so I better start preaching.

It may sound pathetic and perversely eurocentric, but perhaps my biggest realisation has been that no part of Europe is immune to these radical climate shifts, endless droughts and eventual famine. I used to think that our wine-making region, nestled between the Adriatic Sea and Julian Alps, was safe from all this, but after half a year with barely any rain, the elders are telling us how they've never experienced anything like it before, that vines are shrivelling their leaves due to lack of water; it makes you worry.

Once you are really in touch with your land and begin to notice smaller – and, sooner or later, also bigger – changes, it is hard to ignore it. I imagine most of you are quite aware of everything that has been going on recently (the UK has not had it any better) but I would feel stupid if I decided to write this month instead about petty topics like beef on techno Twitter, the latest Instagram affairs, or even recent tax changes on Bandcamp. It feels just so mundane and redundant after you observe your whole home region engulfed with dark smoke from an uncontrolled wildfire spreading between Slovenia and Italy, wreaking havoc for more than a week and devastating all nature and agricultural land in the process.

Still, music was here for me during these uncertain times. I tended to pick more contemplative stuff to listen to at home, which resounded with me on a deeper level. You will find some very moving pieces below, but there is also, as always, so much exciting new music coming from the various realms of dance music. Some stuff I have not included but you should definitely also check out are the latest releases by Ploy, Nicola Cruz, Vladislav Delay, ABADIR, Caterina Barbieri and Al Wootton (and you can find my reviews of Kode9, Two Shell and The Maghreban in the reviews section of this site).

Richie Culver & Pavel Milyakov – A Change Of Nothing
(Participant)

The unlikely collaboration between a Hull-born conceptual artist, hailed for his visceral expression, and a Russian master of melancholy ambient sonics (also known as Buttechno) is a fine example of two differently brutalist worlds colliding, and two singular aesthetics synchronising through music. Taking references from both artists' lives (the former's years-long struggles with various addictions, anxiety and depression; the latter's traumatic experience of living in post-Soviet Russia from the 1990s until his recent escape to Europe with his Ukrainian wife), the EP reflects on the impending doom standing at the corner of the street.

A Change Of Nothing is a gloomy netherworld with occasional moments of paradisiacal bliss. It is constructed of Pavel Milyakov's signature glitchy and airy synth sounds, foreboding amorphous textures, swells of noise, occasional guitar licks and echoey percussion. His immersive, thickly-layered and cavernous soundscapes are transfixed by Culver's grim and apathetic spoken word, revealing his inner observations on his hometown, the unavoidable escape, and the ultimate return to his roots as a sober man. The record really spoke to me over the dreadful past two weeks. It functioned as a reflection of the outside world as I (and the whole country) observed the biggest wildfire in the history of Slovenia devastate the Karst Plateau, engulfing my home region's sun-soaked hills in a veil of impenetrable silver smoke and ash-flakes.

ST AGNIS – ॐ मणि पद्मे हूँ
(5 GATE TEMPLE)

If you are looking for a fix of distorted and abrasive electronic weirdness, look no further. Boasting a batch of six short-breath tracks (or, rather, sketches), ॐ मणि पद्मे हूँ is the work of UK producer and vocalist Victoria M. The EP, out on John T. Gast's label, should resonate with you if you like to get enveloped in the dark sounds of the likes of DJ Richard and Tribe Of Colin. Filled with punchy production, tracks range from spiralling noisy IDM-via-singeli mutations and bubbly acid bangers in the Luke Vibert mould, to grossly saturated hyper trance and jerky, glitchy leftfield beats. Interestingly, the release is filed under the tag 'devotional' on Bandcamp, perhaps in an attempt to address the transcendental dimensions of over-saturated sounds verging on noise. ॐ मणि पद्मे हूँ is more an exercise in style than a fully rounded EP, but it's a very promising one.

Okzharp – Outside The Ride
(Hyperdub)

Revolutionary musical discoveries are most often a consequence of chance or trial and error, and that is also the case with the latest outing by the South Africa-born producer Okzharp, which follows his strong collaborative EP with Durban luminary DJ Lag. The epitome of modern-day UK dancefloor fusionism (much like the other recent Hyperdub release by Kode9), Outside The Ride sees Okzharp serve up a fresh and potent blend of gqom, kwaito, techstep, footwork and trap.

A simple switch from 127 to 156 BPM and some additional rearrangements, as was the case with one of the tracks from this EP, which inspired all others, results in undreamed of breakthroughs, especially when it comes to kinetic energy (remember when the early UK hardcore / jungle producers would speed up hip hop breaks, coming up with something unprecedented?). Sophisticated gqom-inflected syncopations running at almost drum and bass tempos result in exhilarating riddims that call for new dance moves and body contortions. My favourite track, 'Fall In Up In The CLK', comes across as if you stretched your favourite Scratch DVA, Tribal Brothers or DJ Polo track to its uppermost speed limit without losing its tight and impactful sound image in the process. A state of the art dance music hybrid for 2022.

Ido Plumes – Balancing
(Livity Sound)

By far the most outstanding and highly detailed EP from Bristol producer Ido Plumes to date, I love each and every moment of this formidable Livity Sound release, which builds on the tradition of UK trailblazers like Ploy, Bruce and Batu – a form of techno which can be simultaneously brainy and visceral. Much like Two Shell, Ido Plumes has got a singular aesthetic direction in the sphere of forward-thinking UK techno. In terms of atmosphere, arrangement and dramatic structure, it is as quirky, playful and twisty as it gets.

The sound design and overall production on Balancing are awe-inspiring, full of dense modular explorations and micro modulations, piercing frequencies and abstract sound objects that have a shiver-inducing effect. It is polyrhythmic programming and nit-picky groove science that really shines on here, though. He is always playing with dynamics, using an extensive hyper polished sound palette (analog warmth, abrasive noise, crunchy synth textures) that makes my heart go boom. And not just mine – I tested out 'Sitting In The Clouds' and 'Waiting 4 Us' at a recent rave I played and they separately caused total bliss and devastation on the dance floor. They sound huge when played through eight subwoofers.

Kincaid – Sugar
(Control Freak)

I like my club music balmy and sweet sometimes – something that manages to stay in the middle on the 'cheese' spectrum, all the while creating a sentimental and tender vibe. There seems to be a whole new generation of artists pushing forward new strains of sophisticated UK techno with a profoundly saccharine character of late. The rising London talent Kincaid, whose recent EP for Bristol imprint Control Freak is one of my favourite releases of the year so far, is definitely one of its most visible and promising representatives.

Taking notes from the pop sensibilities of Four Tet and Floating Points and squeezing them through a distinct Bristol techno frame, on Sugar, he provides four warm and blissful tunes optimised for club and festival use. Stylistically, he comes up with wholly singular peak-time productions (except for the more atmospheric closer 'Sycamore') that take notes from the world of new-gen garage, trance 3.0 and Bristolian bass-via-techno mutations. The ultra HD patina of his productions brings to mind the advanced synth programming of Barker as well as the aforementioned UK techno/pop hybridisations of Two Shell. I have not heard such a powerful tribute to Es as Kincaid's 'E' in a really long time.

Nick León – Xtasis
(TraTraTrax )

Nick León is on fire at the moment. It's like he has found the perfect formula for percussion-driven techno with a Latin touch, connecting the dots between Latin American club riddims (notably dancehall, reggaeton, dembow and guaracha) and accessible four-to-the-floor stompers. I covered his recent collaborative EP with Bitter Babe, Delirio, in a previous addition of this column. It perfectly captured the essence of Florida's contemporary cutting-edge club scene, and this latest record goes even further in terms of providing certified bangers that will cause devastation both at 20k capacity raves and in intimate club settings. The production (featuring Venezuelan raptor house boss DJ Babatr on the title track) is even more crystalline and in-your-face than on that last EP, while the remixes by Pearson Sound and Doctor Jeep (who adds a new layer of meaning to the phrase 'hyperactive mix') are just as mind-blowing as the originals (if not even more).

Most European dance music heads (especially those considering themselves techno connoisseurs) have despised these sexy and sweaty riddims until not so long ago (and they still do). This totally eurocentric perspective associates them with hackneyed Latin-influenced summer hits, their horrendous European ripoffs, open air zumba workouts, mainstream clubs and local parties for recent divorcees looking for hookups. In recent years, though, a new generation of visionary producers has extrapolated them into the modern club context and the results have been nothing but exhilarating. Attentively engineered for hip-shaking activities, intricate hand gestures and uncontrolled grins of euphoria, the unapologetically ecstatic dance music found on Xtasis makes for some of the most rewarding club music of 2022 so far.

Lamin Fofana – Shafts Of Sunlight
(Black Studies)

I was very thrilled to run into this two-piece release by the Sierra Leonean techno and ambient musician/artist and NTS regular Lamin Fofana, with whom I was not familiar before. Part of a full length triptych in the making, the second part Shafts of Sunlight is one of those deep listening challenges par excellence. The whole trilogy (Ballad Air & Fire is already out and The Open Boat is coming out in late August) partly addresses the influence and paradigms of Western rationality in music and “reimagines geographies of African diasporic people”. The wider contemporary art context permeates his work, which was exhibited from both in various European cities and New York, but the two compositions presented on here are moving enough even without any additional contextualisation. It is all about that "after the end of the world" vibe (or maybe the primordial times of first creation, the birth of light and matter?). This music triggers me in a most profound way. A sense of mourning and pure devotion permeates my whole being. Think of Burial’s recent release Antidawn bereft of any trace of human activity, leaving only vinyl crackling, noise particles, echoes, reverbs, heavily-processed field recordings and other hauntological sonic entities floating in soundspace. It is avant-minimalism à la Robert Turman with a contemporary twist – hypnagogic microsounds that feel as if emitted directly from the soil of the earth.

V/A - did you mean: irish vol. 2
(irsh)

The second compilation of Egyptian and wider Middle Eastern cutting-edge electronic music by the Cairo label irsh (established in uncertain circumstances in 2020) is really essential stuff. The label was primarily conceptualised as a community building project, which offers a platform for emerging and already established artists working on various collabs, sharing knowledge and insights as well as representing the complexities of local and regional Arab scenes, which have been defined by years of historical tangents and specific cultural processes. Compiled by two of the most visible representatives of the Egyptian progressive dance music scene, producers in the know Rama and ZULI, did you mean: irish vol. 2 is in my opinion the most rewarding V/A electronic release of the year so far (and by far). This bonanza of cross-genre creativity and envelope-pushing sonics at the intersection between club and experimental music feel like a map for the discovery of young artists pushing the envelope in the region. Besides well-known names like ABADIR (make sure you check out his recently released album Mutate), 3Phaz and ZULI, the compilation presents lots of up-and-coming Egyptian artists, such as Ashrar, Assyouti, Islam Elnabawi, Seleem and Yaseen (who collaborated with Palestinian MC Dakn on the opening grime roller ‘Siteh’). Nu skool jungle heads, post-trance junkies, techno abstractionists, lovers of mutant club sounds and lo-fi beats, everyone gets their share.

East Man - HI TEK MUSIC
(HI TEK SOUNDS)

Producing under the banner "hi tek grime & 8 bar techno", London’s East Man (born Anthoney J Hart) returns with a batch of 13 skeletal instrumental tracks designed to be used on almost any dancefloor at least vaguely familiar with grime, 2-step, mutant dancehall, UK funky and adjacent genres. His productions, or rather tools, are boldly stripped-back and low slung, enveloped in a kind of dusty and abrasive patina. Barring the well-known ideas about compositional inertia and absence of change, typical of the minimalists posse, there is nothing particularly mind-boggling about East Man’s approach. It is as straightforward as it gets – coming up with funky and offbeat grooves, sequencing them in tight arrangements (with occasional vocal chops, static noise and other tricks) and letting repetition do its magic. Still, the massiveness of his unembellished sound image and aggressive nature of his beats (with the absolute stomper ‘Tin Pan Techno’ as my favourite) makes for a harsh and powerful impact in any given context.

Kali Malone - Living Torch
(Portraits GRM)

As usual, we conclude with something that exists outside the immediate realms of electronic and dance music. I know different people who have, and others who have not jumped on the Kali Malone bandwagon (depending how deep your love is for the pipe organ). I guess that I used to be somewhere in between. But since July was pretty harsh here in Slovenia with all the drought and continuous wildfires spreading across the country, I guess (as always) music has been an important coping mechanism for handling stress and fears. On her latest two-part piece Living Torch, the Swedish experimental composer jettisons "the king of instruments" for a new "electroacoustic ensemble", which features various orchestral instruments (trombone, bass clarinet), the quaint "drone box" boîte à bourdon and iconic vintage synth ARP 2500. The composition was originally commissioned by GRM (Groupe de Recherches Musicales) to be played on the gargantuan Acousmonioum loudspeaker system. I can only imagine how intense and all-absorbing the multichannel premiere of this piece was. Taking from the heritage of American minimalism and the French 20th century avant-garde, despite its monolithic soundwaves (like the most powerful sun rays piercing your body at noon at the height of summer) and apparently static nature Living Torch is Malone’s most dynamic and eventful work so far. There is almost a kind of Christian dimension to it, which I associate with the divine music of visionary polymath Hildegard of Bingen. It has that rare ability to take you on a really transportative journey through the most secluded inner landscapes and alleys of your mind.