Hyperspecific: Dance Music For May Reviewed By Jaša Bužinel

Jaša Bužinel considers how best to hunt for musical discoveries in the age of algorithmic determinism, and reviews cutting-edge releases by Blawan, Metrist, DJ Danifox, Rắn Cạp Đuôi Collective, REZZETT, ZULI and more

DJ Danifox, photo by Marta Pina

After two months of intensely working on the curation, organisation and production of Sonica Festival, and a feeling of exhaustion accompanying my every evening, it’s been refreshing to spend the May holidays scrolling through hundreds of chaotic bookmarks and promos.

My hunger for new stuff was even more pronounced by having a very rested ear. Usually when I dig for new music in the early hours of the night after my girlfriend’s already gone to sleep, I often succumb to reminiscences of my university years when procrastination was still high on my priorities list. Back then, I’d take the whole day off just to scan YouTube channels and pirate MP3 blogs. Most of you, I’m sure, have also fallen into Discogs rabbit holes and emerged many hours later to the realisation that it’s almost time for the morning lectures. I’m just now realising how important those sleepless nights were, and how irreversible these years are if you want to develop your sensibilities before you get too old, and contemporary pop culture gradually becomes alien.

These special moments have become much rarer in the age of algorithmic determinism. I sometimes ponder on how other people actually seek new music in 2023. Do they do it regularly or sporadically? In the early morning with a cup of coffee or late at night with a spliff? Is 99 percent coming from influential PR firms and Spotify suggestions? How many of the things you ‘discover’ are actually your discoveries and not just something that was served to you? Much of the discovery process that remains has expanded over various platforms, including social media, which to me is still very useful for staying up to date. Besides, you can scan the millions of Discogs catalogues and listings of various online record shops, plus you can go shopping for physical releases in specialist stores. I wouldn’t really call it an artform, but it’s certainly becoming a kind of sacred knowledge.

You start to realise this particularly vividly when you speak to friends who are music fans just like you, but less invested in the personal discovery of new artists and more dependent on the will of algorithms. This is why probably columns like this one are still relevant to at least a fraction of music aficionados who put faith in other people’s tastes. For me though, that’s exactly the case. The most important strategy is still word of mouth, or in more contemporary terms, Facebook suggestions, Instagram stories, blog posts or newsletters with sick new releases shared by people I trust fondly. I discovered a few of the new releases presented below exactly this way. The sharing is caring motto still holds true.

Metrist – Pollen Pt​. ​III

Four years in the making, Metrist’s Pollen trilogy is, for me, a pivotal release. In fact, it’s probably meaningful to anyone who’s been attentively tracing the development of post-dubstep expressions and the invention of leftfield strains of UK bass music and techno. Its final instalment is a culmination of the producer’s invested exploration of sculptural, architectonic, hyper-synthetic sounds, squelching like crypto transactions on the Blockchain. Sharing the late SOPHIE’s obsession with the plasticity of sound and potentials of unorthodox sound synthesis, the trilogy could potentially be described as 3D-printed UK club music or a sound contortionist’s love letter to global club genres. Still, his productions are as much about sound design as they’re about ingenious overdramatic arrangements, packed with left turns, off the wall timbres, synth ballistics, cyborgian voices, fake-outs, unexpected caesuras and sonic memes (different iterations of his signature sound design moments).

Pollen Pt. III is my favourite instalment of the trilogy. A true gem, it’s arguably a little less mind-boggling in terms of design novelties than the two previous volumes (the standards skyrocketed already on Pt. I), but is instead the most perfectly sequenced, executed and accessible for club usage. Among the five tracks, all trusted allies on the dancefloor, is ‘Bullet Time’, his first vocal track with the excellent Older Brother on the mic and a slow-burn mystical journey in the mould of Joy Orbison. Call it braindance 3.0 or whatever, Metrist makes electronic music with the ability to activate some yet unknown parts of your neutral pathway.

Rắn Cạp Đuôi Collective – *1
(Nhạc Gãy)

Too many experimental records I stumble upon sound as uninspired as any generic house track, like a badly executed meme. The second LP from the Rắn Cạp Đuôi Collective, a representative of Ho Chi Minh City’s sound art and experimental music scene formed in 2015, is quite the opposite. An explosion of fresh ideas cleverly interwoven into a complex and colourful sonic fabric, the record breathes like a living organism. Though the collective give the impression of being a well-oiled one-man machine, this dream team of Vietnamese artists has a rotating membership, which hugely impacts the fluidity of their stylistic leanings.

1 is a free-flowing, freewheeling listening experience, almost like a four-deck ambient DJ set where textures are layered scrupulously, coming in and out of the mix – a kaleidoscopic collage of fantastical aural events. In ‘What Cherubs’, cascades of shimmering pads and birds chirping give way to acoustic guitar-tuning which then bursts into clanging deconstructed club beats and Skrillex-esque sound design brushes, concluding with mellow IDM beats and angelic vocals. ‘Pressure’ is a nostalgia booster that takes me back to my time obsessing over post-rock outfits like 65daysofstatic. At the core of their blend of psychotropic electronic deconstructions, celestial soundscapes, cherubic choruses, experimental rock and free improv digressions, is the drive for unpretentious experimentation. It’s joie de vivre, a vitalising energy spreading through your veins. 1 is a venturesome affair, and like a transformative mushroom trip, it’s impossible to guess where it will take you next.

Laksa – Body Score

A major reason I still love contemporary dance music is that so many artists keep on dumbfounding me, no matter what the naysayers may claim. You see a new Laksa record, and you immediately think it’s going be special, but when you hear it you’re still floored by its greatness. Out on his and re:ni’s newfound label, which takes its name from their NTS show, the three-tracker sees Laksa further explore the 150-BPM tempo zone previously tackled on releases for Hessle Audio and Timedance while adding some consciousness-expanding tones to the mix.

There’s always been great emphasis on bassweight and hard drumming in Laksa’s work, but the sinister, hallucinatory ambience that permeates his latest EP transports you to the late rave era when drug abuse had already started taking its toll, resulting in darker, more menacing hardcore and proto-jungle. It’s not all dark, though. Laksa hits the sweet spot between the uplifting and the dreadful, with whooshes of ecstasy interchanging with existential pondering – a balance between flow and energy, as he described it. Instead of hackneyed rave throwbacks, generic piano rolls, time-worn breaks and overused chipmunk samples, it’s this kind of vision of modern rave music, emphasising its communal and transcendental aspects, that I wish more producers would pursue.

DJ Danifox – Ansiedade

The influence of the Lisbon label Príncipe has been immense in the global cross-pollination of what they call "new sounds, forms and structures with their own set of poetics and cultural identity." While blending genres like house, techno, kuduro, batida, kizomba, funaná and others into fresh combinations is an established trend now, it’s worth remembering that that wasn’t always the case. Príncipe has managed to maintain a considerable reputation over the years, always finding new talent to support like producer DJ Danifox, member of the affiliate group Tia Maria Produções. Even if anxiety is probably the last thing that comes to mind when you hear mention of the word batida, the Portuguese title of his debut album beautifully encapsulates the tense, pensive, inward-facing atmospheres that characterise his very personal take on the sound.

It’s one of those filler-free albums that keeps on getting better with each listen – a sweet melancholic jam with a particularly tangible aural character, as if being performed by a dreamed-up ensemble. The electroacoustic patina of its various instruments, nuanced piano chords and guitar licks, skeletal bass grooves, sensual vocals, and vibrant percussive timbres conjure a saudade-informed cloudland. There’s a jazzy soulfulness of the Theo Parrish kind at the heart of it all. Plus, the crossover potential of DJ Danifox’s songs is huge. I can easily imagine guest vocals by Erika de Casier, Rosalía or even Sade on some of these songs.

Sister Zo – Arcana
(All Centre)

Along with compatriot and Scuffed Recordings associate Ayesha, New Yorker Sister Zo is a representative of the younger generation of bass-obsessed East Coast DJs and producers whose spiritual home is probably Bristol. Her first two releases for Scuffed and Martyn’s 3024 made some well-deserved rounds, and it seems almost natural that her third EP is out on London’s All Centre, a label with a keen ear for new talent, including early releases by the likes of BFTT, Yushh and Toumba.

With track titles that reference tarot cards, Arcana sees Sister Zo further explore the potential of inventively harnessed bassbin pressure and refined rhythmic programming without fussing too much over melodic structures. The dubstep meets UK techno influence is apparent, and associations to the likes of Rhyw instantly spring to mind, but she uses this familiar framework to her own advantage. It’s the kind of club music that builds on a certain legacy, pays homage to it, and in the process refines it, even if only slightly, by bringing specific personal sensibilities to the table. This obviously isn’t Sister Zo’s final form yet, but it’s exciting to observe an artist’s capabilities expand with each new release.

Konduku – Hayal

The sporadic curatorial policy of Bitta, the Japanese label run by techno icon DJ Nobu, suggests that those who release on the label are selected somewhat carefully. In the case of Dutch techno artist Konduku, it must be the solid string of music for acclaimed labels like Nous’klaer Audio, Delsin and Spazio Disponibile that earned him a call-up. It was 2019’s Gegek EP that first forced me to take notice of his work, seducing me with its subtle polyrhythmic workouts. Throughout the years, he’s become one of the most inspired disciples of psychedelic techno greats like Donato Dozzy, Wata Igarashi, Marco Shuttle and DJ Nobu himself. Evidently though, this incarnation of the techno sound – deep, immersive and atmospheric – is the complete opposite of what’s deemed relevant amongst the younger techno crowd across much of Europe right now.

Hayal‘s minimalistic, stripped-back construction and, at first listen, seemingly static arrangements favour repetition. My highlights are the rhythmically tricky half-tempo stepper ‘Damla’ (85 or 170-BPM, depending on your counting) with its resonating, fog horn-like synth line and brilliantly employed envelope filtering. Closer ‘Yakamoz’, which revolves around spiralling crystalline synths and low sub vibrations, is in the vein of some of Wata Igarashi’s The Bunker New York-period classics.

Blawan – Dismantled Into Juice

How can you top an unabashedly catchy and weird release like 2021’s Woke Up Right Handed? By making it even more weird, I suppose. It takes time, vision and financial security to find time to create something truly astounding these days, and Blawan’s got it all. Like its predecessor, the EP marks a new chapter in the producer’s career, though this time in a totally different sense. We find Blawan at his most confident and adventure-seeking, an inquisitive experimenter unafraid of charting hidden sonic realms.

Apart from the low slung heavy-hitter ‘Body Ramen’, the tracks run at around the 80-to-100-BPM mark and at approximately three minutes long they are explorations of singular ideas compressed to the fullest. The music is confrontational at times, pushing the levels into the red with no remorse. Most importantly, you can sense that a lot of joy must’ve accompanied its making. Like a sonic alchemist, I can imagine Blawan’s child-like amazement with certain sounds he synthesised in the process. Finding a balance between cerebral and fun is something not many producers can achieve. The biggest surprises are the title track and ‘You Can Build Me’, both featuring vocalist Monstera Black where Blawan steers toward Overmono/Joy Orbison-indebted "home listening electronica," though of course in his completely unique and distinctive way.

Proc Fiskal – Rt Hon

As much as I was fascinated, I had some problems with Proc Fiskal’s last release, Spine Siren Sysex, because it was inundated with too many ideas presented in too short a time. Discovering that his new EP takes a different turn ignited my interest. In a sense, the EP feels like a premonition of what Two Shell will likely sound like in the future, which is funny as I still regard them as the trailblazers of the new generation of UK producers. I’d easily place Proc Fiskal shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Koreless or aya, producers whose sound design techniques and post-grime experimentations set the bar incredibly high for their peers.

Rt Hon heavily relies on sparse, bubbly, subaqueous, sparkling, iridescent, stereo-panned sounds, built around abstracted vocal fragments from Proc Fiskal himself and his girlfriend that console you like a new Alexa. Large parts of it comes off like pitch-shifted retro ringtones that send you back to your mid-2k middle school years. Somehow I can find a lot of comfort in these tracks. They kind of make me feel like I’m 10 and playing The Sims 2 but with the knowledge of being a grown man in 2023 who is familiar with post-internet culture and hyperpop. It’s a strange feeling I can’t really pinpoint, which they say is typical of all great art.

ZULI – Digla Dive-Live

The influential Egyptian producer, irsh label co-founder and UIQ-affiliate goes heavy on his machinery for this limited new album for Nashazphone, an Egyptian/Algerian label based in Cairo, run by Hicham Chadly. Ironically though, despite having the sonic image of music produced with expensive analogue means, the machinery involved is probably just his laptop. There are signs of ZULI’s fondness for punishingly distorted sounds all over his discography. Still, I think here we find him at his most untamed. Loosely inspired by hardware jams characterised by trial and error, impulsive knob-twisting and hands-on mixing, some obvious associations come to mind, both in the realms of ’80s industrial punk rhythm machine explorations and the hardware lo-fi house and techno we associate with the aesthetic of the label L.I.E.S..

Imagine the L.I.E.S. sound on steroids, inspired by post-club adventurism and, most importantly, coming from a producer who can marvellously harness his equipment, making it roar like a pissed off alpha male howler monkey. The music is visceral, clamorous, grimey and unrelenting – distorted beat music with a punk attitude, oblivious to the structural limitations of the genres it dissects and reconstructs such as hip hop, jungle, grime, IDM and electro, as on the oversaturated stomper ‘Papercuts Pt. 3’. The rhythmic noise of ‘3agn’ is also something else. Yet there’s also room for occasional moments of bliss, achieved through the brilliant manipulation of various samples as in my top picks ‘Mafakkat’ and ‘Jump’.

REZZETT – Meant Like This
(The Trilogy Tapes)

The cult UK duo REZZETT, one of the critical discoveries by The Trilogy Tapes’ Will Bankhead, who defined an epoch of scuzzy, tape saturation-loving, crunchy post-rave explorations for many millennials, dropped a new album out of the blue in early April. To my amazement, it slipped under the radar, bar the mandatory Boomkat review. What would’ve been a small tectonic event for leftfield scenes some years back is now just welcome news for their diehard fans. Their aesthetic might’ve lost some of its "retro-future shock" value, but Meant Like This is still a stunning successor to their epochal self-titled debut LP from 2018. It’s been a slow-grower, though, creeping under my skin with each rewind. Similarly to Burial’s vinyl crackles, some of their stylistic trademarks have become established tropes by now, but their grainy, damaged patina, as if recorded on tapes dissolved in lysergic acid, still does the job for me.

Their uncanny timbres haunt me on an unconscious level, evoking a sense of a future of infinite possibilities, the Black Secret Technology type of futurism. In the same breath, an aura of Fisherian lost futures informs the record, making it a succession of elusive autobiographical flashbacks and flashforwards. Tracks like ‘Hevvy’ and ‘The Defiance’ pass you by like ghostly apparitions of early UK house and Detroit techno, sonic palimpsests built on the foundations that are slowly disintegrating into nothingness. The spectral monochrome aura of their atmospheric jungle tunes like ‘Vivz Portal’, meanwhile, function as gateways to nostalgic musings on half-forgotten lovers. It’s a record I know I’ll be returning to regularly this year.

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