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Hyperspecific: Electronic Music For February Reviewed By Jaša Bužinel
Jaša Bužinel , February 12th, 2024 09:41

Our dance music columnist returns with his highlights from the start of 2024, from lethal dancefloor material by Aya and re:ni to superb compilations by TraTraTrax and Wisdom Teeth, the latest from Burial and more


One of the biggest lies that we’ve come to believe is that you can find everything on the internet. We’ve been conditioned to think that we’re familiar with the history of electronic music because we’re familiar with its historical peaks, the most influential labels and artists, compilations, books, documentaries and so on. But I’ve noticed that the focus, both in media and with labels, is still weighted towards the late 80s and early 90s, and historically established hubs and genres such as Chicago house, Detroit techno, acid house, UK hardcore, jungle, and so on. It’s like we’re stuck in a cultural echo chamber. You can access a lot of this stuff, legally or otherwise, on various platforms, but as soon as you start to seek material outside the established ‘Golden eras’, things get a bit trickier.

Lately, I’ve been digging progressive house and trance records from between 1998 and 2004. In keeping with the ‘20 year rule’, this is stuff that’s now being rehashed and repackaged by a new generation of producers. The same is true of the loopy tribal techno of the 2000s, now appearing in more embellished 2.0 iterations all over Bandcamp. The point is not one of aesthetic cycles, however, more about the fact that a huge amount of lesser-known dance music from the same era remains inaccessible to the new generation, except through obscure YouTube uploads by old school ravers (God bless them!) and Discogs sellers.

Even when I find something on YouTube that really blows me away, it’s not available on any mp3 platform. Even on peer-to-peer services you’ll mostly find tracks in poor quality, or if you’re lucky, a proper vinyl rip of a track that’s on sale for the price of a full LP. Even worse, you’ll find a rare vinyl on Discogs that’s getting sold for the price of a family dinner. This is music from the vinyl DJ era, and most labels never digitalised their catalogue, which remains locked onto vinyl and dispersed throughout the world in the collections of a few hundred selectors.

So I find myself in this ridiculous situation, where I actually want to buy something but it isn’t available, and if it is, only at absurd prices. Nevertheless, it’s helped me understand vinyl culture a bit more, people’s desire to travel and haggle just to get their hands on something special. I’ve even started considering buying VG+ vinyl only to rip a single track. It’s exciting to think that there are still so many ‘undiscovered’ labels and artists from dance music history that haven’t yet found their way to our contemporary ears.

Aya – Lip Flip

People can complain all they want about the incurable retromania of our age, but you can’t help but hear the present as well as glimpses of the future in Aya’s music. You can sense a hyper-modernist willingness to rethink and remould, to stretch and compress familiar forms, not in an effort to show off but simply because being boring is a waste of time. Club technicians will be thrown into rapture when the grossly distorted ‘grime’ tune ‘Essente’ (with Ecko Bazz’s impactful delivery reaching nuclear fission-levels of energy, and a brutally abrasive surface akin to Truss’ tune ‘Brockweir’) ravages the bassbins’ membranes. ‘Leftenant Keith’ is a digitally enhanced, Christopher Nolan’d, earth-shattering ‘baile’ flip – something I’d like to hear on the preposterously large Carreta Treme Treme soundystem. In ‘Dexxy Is A Midnight Runner’, Aya really starts fucking with your brain with a track like Escher’s impossible constructions. I’m at a loss for words here, and not only due to technicalities. It’s hard to articulate the changes in measure, rhythm and time, the mind-boggling sound design and the affective dimension of this sound. It’s not braindance, however, but a lethal dancefloor weapon.

SZCH – Fight Or Flight

This one has sentimental value as Filip Ščekić, aka SZCH, was a role model for me in the mid 2010s. A lo fi house trailblazer in the Balkans and master of melancholy summervibez™, his tracks such as ‘Untitled (B)’ were being played by Objekt at a time when our local scenes felt detached from the epicentre, always lagging behind. He’s helped increase the visibility of the region in recent years, both via the Low Income $quad label and their NTS show. Bar his hilarious 'Balkanised baile' edits and rare Bandcamp dumps, I’ve been waiting for his proper comeback for years. Fight Or Flight must have been gestating for a long time. Connected by a scintillating ambient intro and Burial-esque outro, its core is made of ‘No Frenz’ and ‘Mess’, two saccharine, unabashedly euphoric, UK bass-indebted breaky tunes that revolve around declamations that recall forest sprites, and vocal chops. Like a charming Jadrolinija sailor trying his best pickup lines on the Brits as he heads towards Tišno, SZCH conspicuously flirts with hyperdigital patinas, syncopated beats and cyborgian timbres to great effect.

Burial – Dreamfear​/​Boy Sent From Above
(XL Recordings)

It’s fascinating how Burial’s legacy has endured the rise and fall of the blogosphere, the vinyl revival, various culture wars and the changing of the generational guard. It’ll probably also survive the downfall of music journalism we’re supposedly witnessing right now. His transition to XL Recordings seems to mark a symbolic return to the source. Forget the ASMR-esque, video game-like experience of Antidawn and Streetlands; we’re back at caustic rave maximalism, albeit still characterised by his signature vinyl crackle, spectral vocals, sorrowful melodies and countless samples from all corners. Running at 26 minutes, the new release comes across like a forlorn mini cassette mix from the 90s vaults, with both compositions divided into various stylistic sections, epic breaks and atmospheric transitions. I love how downtrodden, washed out and disorderly it all sounds, like an echo of the hands-on vinyl wizardry of Jeff Mills’ Liquid Room mix or the Fantazia-era mixes found on YouTube. I’m conditioned to associate the low audio fidelity with authenticity; the interwoven samples, barely holding together, feel like they’re bursting at the seams. Although there’s nothing particularly revolutionary about it, it somehow makes me feel differently. It’s like Burial has become the David Lynch of electronic music – an artist with a distinct vision has become part of our common vocabulary, but who can still occasionally surprise us by finding new angles to approach the most familiar things.

re:ni – BeautySick

Lauren Bush has been making waves in recent years with her hypnotic DJ sets, marked by depth, propulsive rhythms and psychedelic tension. Her Ilian Tape debut EP from 2022 came as a surprise, and she further cemented her breakthrough status with the launch of the re:lax label, co-run with Laksa. As creative partners, they’ve been pushing the boundaries of mutant bass and techno, conjuring a style of hyperactive, uptempo dancefloor psychedelia. ‘BURSTTRAP’, a kind of accelerated mutant dancehall tune, stands out on this new release with a transfixing vocal chop to energise ravers. The metallic percussion, internet dial-up ‘melody’, and distorted ghostly utterances make ‘Blame Is The Name Of The Game’ peak-time material. ‘BeautySick’ builds tension for the small hours when sweat is dripping from the ceiling, while ‘Below Sanpaku’ strays away from packed dancefloors towards more contemplative realms akin to Bruce’s Sonder Somatic. Like her companions Batu, Laksa and others, re:ni bets on low freq weight, impressive sound design, melodic interplays between dark and light, complex rhythmic structures and time-stretched, pitched up vocal chops that cut through the noise.

Various Artists – No Pare, Sigue Sigue 2

While TraTraTrax’s first V/A compilation was a standout from 2022, an all killer no filler release showcasing some of the most exciting contemporary club and techno sounds (from Verraco's 'Ronaldinho Hace La Elástica' to DJ Babatr’s ‘Cabo E’), the follow up feels even more important. The Colombian label has become a driving force in modern dance music, providing a platform for Latin American artists as well as global names who share their vision. Rather than resting on their laurels, the label’s new comp presents the crème de la crème of sound design-based club music via 18 global artists from the extended TraTraTrax family. It’s an intergenerational affair, with established names like Maoupa Mazzocchetti, Atrice, De Grandi and OCTUBRXLIBRV as well as rising talents like Surusinghe, WOST, Chicloso, LWS and Uxile. The selection is really on point, with no underwhelming contributions. Apart from providing beautifully crafted DJ material, with De Grandi’s ‘Of Course’, Jabes’ ‘Tech Heresy’ and Siete Catorce’s ‘Freno’ as my favourites, the compilation is also a great entry point for newcomers discovering this hyperspecific section of contemporary dance music.

Boštjan Simon – Fermented Reality
(Nature Scene Records)

Saxophonist and producer Boštjan Simon is a household name in the Slovenian jazz and experimental music scene, co-founder of the AV ‘futurist jazz’ trio Etceteral from the Glitterbeat roster, leader of the There Be Monsters quintet and a rotating member of various bands. He approaches composition in a very inventive way, focusing on technicalities in an way that would almost befit IDM, but also imbuing his music with emotion, which is particularly true of his solo debut Fermented Reality. In recent years, he’s delved into the potentials of extended saxophone techniques and modular synthesis (amplified saxophone keys connected to the synths’ oscillators, external audio effects and interactive modules). A dialogue between jazzy ambient, electroacoustic music and protoelectronica, the album’s characterised by free-flowing arrangements that sound both nostalgic and strangely ahistorical. Momentarily, his vintage synth timbres transport me to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The synthesised bubbles and soothing sax-synth harmony of opener ‘Miru’ hints to the graceful warmth of Mort Garson’s Plantasia. Instead of playing it to your plants, however, maybe you should try it on your kefir, kombucha or kimchi. It’s an immensely playful and multilayered record.

Various Artists – Club Moss
(Wisdom Teeth)

The acclaimed London label Wisdom Teeth, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, shifts gears on its latest V/A release. A follow up to the 2022 To Illustrate compilation, dedicated to the 100 bpm mark, Club Moss takes us into the 150-170 bpm zone. Don’t expect many fist-pumping tunes, though. Club Moss, whose title already suggests an interpretative angle, mostly retains the trademark mellowness, lushness and softness of the Wisdom Teeth sound. The label describes it as a “collaborative LP”, which considering its aesthetic cohesion isn’t far from the truth. For me, Wisdom Teeth is a hub for modern-day electronica with a softly psychedelic touch, taking the latter as an umbrella term for an amalgamation of various dance music tropes repurposed for home listening and special club occasions. It transcends geographical scenes to form a transglobal ‘movement’ of artists with shared sensibilities. You’ll find familiar names from the Wisdom Teeth family, but also new protegees like Luxe (I really rate the aquatic vibe of ‘Diamond Dub’), fresh talents like Purelink and Cousin, and established producers like Leif (don’t miss the polyrhythmic extravaganza of ‘Kallt’) and Ehua (check ‘Gesso’, the only big room contender).

Polygonia – Da Nao Tian Gong
(Midgar Records)

Polygonia has carved a special contemporary techno sound, a soul-soothing, mesmerising vision of delicate melodic flourishes, iridescent harmonics and new age vibes that resonate with the music of fellow Munich artist Sam Goku. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before she also lands a release on Wisdom Teeth, as there’s much in common here with Facta and K-Lone, particularly the opener ‘Jin Dou Yun’ and closer ‘Disha Shu’. It may be the pentatonic scales, the laid-back vibes of their productions or just a shared love for goosebumps-inducing melodies that avoids corny trance and progressive house tropes. You can also trace influences from the Miami sound in the various uses of the dembow riddim. ‘Shen Wai Shenfa’ would easily blend into some recent Coffintexts releases, while ‘Ruyi Jingu Bang’ would go hand in hand with Jonny From Space’s productions. The EP was inspired by Da Nao Tian Gong, the last major animated film of the second golden era of Chinese cinema before the cultural revolution.

Scotch Rolex, Shackleton & Omutaba – The Three Hands of Doom
(Nyege Nyege Tapes)

I personally think there’s a difference between experimental versus “exploratory music”, the latter describing a certain inquisitiveness, a will to avoid familiar musical forms and to discard pretentious concepts in order to focus on pure rhythm and sound. The Three Hands of Doom is exactly this, an immersive, hallucinogenic drum therapy for those who seek glimpses of transcendence in propulsive polyrhythmic interplays. Considering the solo releases of each of the musicians involved, it’s not surprising they’ve managed to produce some of the most organic-sounding percussion-based electronic music in recent memory. It’s a release that will resonate with fans of hybrid percussion ensembles like Nihiloxica, HHY & The Kampala Unit and Mark Ernestus' Ndagga Rhythm Force, but the textural touches, dramatic pads and sombre synths also add the more esoteric, spiritual dimension present in Shackleton’s output. In the past few years Nyege Nyege Tapes has refined its aesthetic vision, exploring new genre mutations and stylistic innovations that have now become a norm. Its releases may not be as ground-breaking as in the early days, but, this EP is for me an undisputed highlight of their catalogue.

E-Saggila – Gamma Tag
(Northern Electronics)

I’ve always associated E-Saggila’s productions with the new generation of ‘deconstructed’ electronic music, augmented reality sound design, compressed noise, impossible broken riddims, anxiety-inducing intensity and Arctic coldness. The Canadian artist is now apparently slowing down a bit, or at least finding a new focus, considering Gamma Tag’s more pronounced dancefloor orientation and a newfound spaciousness that leaves more room for her arrangements to breathe. Though her breakcore and gabber roots are still felt throughout the EP, particularly in the title track, there’s more emotional depth and melodic nuance to her new productions, encapsulated in intriguing synth motifs. In ‘N3n’, she ingeniously remoulds Basic Channel-esque grooves to fit her aesthetic frame, while in ‘Tick’ there are hints of Barker’s signature synthworks. I particularly enjoy the dense textures of stomper ‘Profiteer’, where the chaotic frequencies of human-like voices are complemented with trance-inspired arpeggios – an imaginative Scandinavian techno banger that could work well with Peder Mannerfelt’s productions. E-Saggila resolves the drama triangle with the foggy sunset vibes of closer ‘Stalking Star’, a track the late Andrew Weatherall would definitely fuck with.