Hyperspecific’s Electronic/Dance 12″s Of 2011 In Words & A Mix

For the final edition of Hyperspecific in 2011, Rory Gibb lists and mixes twenty of the best dance/electronic tracks of the year

As this is the year when I joined the Quietus staff, proceeded to add a disproportionate volume of techno and house to the office soundtrack and started this monthly column, it feels appropriate to finish 2011 with a list of Hyperspecific’s tracks of the year.

The idea behind this round-up was to focus on tracks that were released on individual 12"s and would therefore not qualify for the main albums of the year lists. It’s not intended to be comprehensive or objective – more something of a guided tour through some of the best musical moments of this year, both on and off the dancefloor (mainly on), as seen through my own eyes.

Despite talk from certain parties of 2011 being a bad year for music, it’s been tough to feel that way from this angle. Admittedly, the ongoing dissolution of dubstep, grime, house, techno and funky into something of a catch-all bass music stew has resulted in a peculiar lack of focus on many – though not all – UK dancefloors (and an attendant growth in the signal:noise ratio, as a growing number of Joy Orbison/Hessle Audio clones clog up the airwaves).

Outside of that world, though, there’s been plenty to celebrate: a stunning year from James Leyland Kirby; some fantastic British techno and industrial-related music in the shape of Perc, Factory Floor, Cut Hands and the Blackest Ever Black label; lots of great house music, both homegrown and from further afield; Not Not Fun and relatives bridging a gap between stoned noisy dub and dancefloor.

Certainly there’s a greater sense of fragmentation than I’ve been aware of in previous years, and this list bears out the fact that there’s been no one concentrated directional drive in dancefloor music in 2011, but there’s still been a great deal of quality in amongst the variety.

So here’s to another twelve months, and with certain emergent trends crystallising fast, we could be in for a very enjoyable ride. Until then, Hyperspecific’s tracks of the year, handily mixed for your listening pleasure, and with further details below.

Hype Williams – ‘Rise Up’ [Hyperdub]

Hype Williams’ signing to Hyperdub made a lot of sense: the deep sub-bass and radioactive synth glow that make up the core of their sound share much with the machine sorrow of Darkstar, or Kode9 & The Spaceape’s neon-splattered dissonance. This first track from their Hyperdub debut Kelly Price W8 Gain Vol. II was a further exploration of that album’s net-fried, detached air: buried within the melody loop from Photek’s ‘Kanei’ (another example of their cheeky, scavenging nature), Inga Copeland’s vocals communicate as if through the mediated artificiality of a computer screen.

Emptyset – ‘Altogether Lost’ [CLR]

Included both by virtue of its shockingly violent minimalism and the fact that it spawned a series of excellent remixes from the likes of Peverelist, Ben Klock, Ripperton and Behling & Simpson. Emptyset’s second album Demiurge featured the a capella version of ‘Altogether Lost’ – heaving, corrosive walls of static, great lurching chasms of sub-bass like the throes of an earthquake – but the vocal version released through CLR was better still. Underground Resistance’s Cornelius Harris’ apocalyptic, post-everything monologue on the crumbling of the walls of society offered perfect accompanying imagery to the steel wrecking-balls that tore through the music surrounding him.

El Kid – ‘Le Corbusier’ [Immerse]

There’s been a lot of chatter about Bristol’s newer house producers in this column, but El Kid’s ‘Le Corbusier’ was one of the best tracks that emerged from the city this year. As Sam Kidel’s debut 12" release, it’s precociously brilliant: slowed to a balmy 115 bpm, its thick low-end undertow is shrouded in wispy synth drones and a quietly catchy central motif. But it’s how beautifully it all holds together that really sets it apart. His more recent releases through Left Blank and an experimental string loops cassette provide further evidence of Kidel’s versatility – one to watch, for sure.

Levon Vincent – ‘Pivotal Moments In Life’ [Novel Sound]

It’s impossible not to recognise a Levon Vincent track when it drifts into hearing range. The New Yorker’s sound balances on a knife edge between chaos and control, with a half-busted heat that makes his tracks peculiarly difficult to mix into anyone else’s but his own. Of the six tracks across two 12" he put out in 2011 (his first solo releases since 2009), ‘Pivotal Moments In Life’ marks a dizzying high. Running at a svelte 4:22, its characteristic low-end grind is softened by its core melody, a disarmingly starry-eyed, very Kraftwerkian twinkle that tugs delicately against Vincent’s brusque approach to percussion. The result is a beatific, crushed house track that battles with its own demons for three minutes before finally ascending into a gorgeous, synth-washed coda.

The Oliverwho Factory – ‘Galactic Transit (Recall Mix)’ [Rush Hour]

Rush Hour have had many a good release this year, but this rattling, cosmically minded slab of Detroit house was my favourite of the last 12 months, from comparatively little known husband-and-wife duo The Oliverwho Factory. ‘Galactic Transit’ doesn’t stop gathering momentum throughout its eight-and-a-half minute runtime, ascending on a loping gallop of a beat that keeps accruing additional percussive and melodic elements like a comet gathering space detritus. Its arrival in any DJ set comes as a re-energising force, firing great arcs of electricity across a dancefloor. It’s only a surprise that more people haven’t utterly rinsed it this year.

Floating Points – ‘ARP3’ [Eglo]

‘ARP3’, meanwhile, seems to operate in zero-gravity. Premiered on a deliriously enjoyable Rinse FM back-to-back session between four of London’s finest – Ben UFO, Pearson Sound, Joy Orbison and Floating Points himself – its central repeated chords simply hang in space above whatever track it’s being mixed into. When the track finally collapses and rolls forward like a wave breaking, they continue to play onward, surfing above one of Sam Shepherd’s roughest basslines so far and slowly building to one of the subtlest drops I’ve heard all year. A worthy successor to Shepherd’s still stunning ‘Vacuum Boogie’ and further evidence of his status as one of our most consistent producers.

Perc – ‘My Head Is Slowly Exploding (Chris Carter Remix)’ [Perc Trax]

In a year where many musicians drew from the rich seams of noisy post-punk and early industrial, Throbbing Gristle’s Chris Carter remixing Perc’s ‘My Head Is Slowly Exploding’ felt like the drawing together of several narrative strands. Perc’s own music did very well on its own this year: his debut album Wicker & Steel marked the highpoint of his production career so far, and reached No. 5 in our albums of the year list. Here, Carter’s menacing rework serves to emphasise the strong connections between Perc’s music and the approach Throbbing Gristle were pioneering three decades ago – not to mention TG’s immeasurable influence on the British techno landscape. The ghosts of Perc’s original still hover just within earshot, but the tessellated percussion and wispy synth figures that skim across the surface are uniquely Carter’s own. As an impeccable sound designer, it goes without saying that Carter’s remix is sonically stunning, but even more impressive is his seemingly intrinsic grasp of the dynamics of modern techno. These waters run deep.

Cooly G – ‘Landscapes (featuring Simbad)’ [Hyperdub]

With ‘Landscapes’, one of the first tracks to emerge from her upcoming Hyperdub album, Cooly G finally shook off the rather simplistic ‘UK funky’ tags that had clung on for quite some time. Drowning a diffuse, clattering beat beneath a sea of warm synth tones (in the manner of her labelmates Hype Williams), it pared away all of the edges but left her music’s usual sultry, coy atmosphere intact. Closer to Karizma-style broken house than to many of her UK contemporaries – appropriate, given that its B-side was a collaboration with the man himself – it signaled a real step forward for Cooly’s music. On its evidence, next year’s album will be a wonder to behold.

Factory Floor – ‘The Second Way’ [DFA]

Factory Floor are another current concern forging tight connections with Throbbing Gristle. This year they’ve collaborated with Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti, and their driving debut for DFA Two Different Ways displayed equal parts techno brutality and sexy electro-pop finesse (courtesy of Nik Colk Void’s deliciously detached vocal performance). But for purposes of dancefloor efficiency, at least, its reversioned B-side ‘The Second Way’ took the prize. Its juddering drum machine percussion and squashed four-to-the-floor pulse jack like early Chicago house, but it’s all about the tiny scraps of acidic bassline that percolate through its fine rhythmic sieve. Deliciously minimalist and all too short at seven minutes, it’s a track that feels like it could quite happily extend outward for far longer.

Ital – ‘Culture Clubs’ [Lovers Rock]

Unknown at the start of 2011, Ital ends the year with a debut full-length imminent through Planet Mu. Where his earlier material was great, it didn’t quite ignite in the way that the output of a label supposedly focused on the dancefloor ought to; ‘Culture Clubs’ was the first time Ital’s woozy, dubby take on house showed that it could work beautifully on a crowd. Pivoting around a brittle woodblock figure and glutinous bass bubbles, Ital allowed it to unfold over nearly nine minutes, twisting core melodic motifs into all kinds of off-kilter shapes in the process. Often jarring, but strangely relaxing, it was evidence of how fertile the liminal zone between NNF-styled post-noise pop and drum machiney dance music could potentially be.

Kassem Mosse – ‘Untitled A1’ [Workshop]

Kassem ‘The Bosse’ Mosse has had a reasonably busy year, releasing a number of 12"s, none of which dropped below his usual standard of excellence. Still, the simplicity of the first track from his latest Workshop 12 is its strength: a female voice repeats, ‘Sensuality’, clipped to ‘-ensuali-‘, while beneath a slowed house rhythm chops and jars, and a fat, subby bassline bounces its midsection along happily. A snip at 13 minutes, it feels less like an individual track than a segment chopped from one of his fantastic live sets, which allow a single, hefty drum machine groove to run its course through minutes and hours.

Champion – ‘Sensitivity’ [Formula]

In 2011, the idea of ‘UK funky’ simply vanished off the map, as its toughly syncopated, grimey UK house sound melted outward into all corners of the ‘bass music’ spectrum. Of those sticking to something of a purist take on funky, Champion’s output this year was most impressive, and ‘Sensitivity’ – featuring a silken vocal performance from Ruby Lee Ryder – fitted into an already grand lineage of vocal tracks. A tune to match Ill Blu & Princess Nyah’s ‘Frontline’, or Crazy Cousinz & Kyla’s masterful 2008 anthem ‘Do You Mind’ (one of the best pop songs of last decade).

Peverelist – ‘Dance Til The Police Come’ [Hessle Audio]

It would be unfair to say that ‘Dance Til The Police Come’ marks the highlight, per se, of Tom Ford’s production career so far, as not a single record he’s put out has been anything other than a modern gem. But it certainly marks something of a turning point, in that it’s the first time he’s released a track anywhere near this ravey. Ford’s signature sound, all staggered snares and the rolling sensibility of a junglist, is still present, but put to the service of sprawing, broken techno. Dissonant synthlines crisscross its length like binding lengths of rope, hanging off its central rhythm as though struggling to prevent its internal momentum simply ripping the track apart. As experimental and out there as they come, but able to demolish dancefloors in seconds, this is what the future ought to sound like.

Objekt – ‘Unglued’ [Objekt]

The same is true of Objekt. It would have been easy to choose any of the seven tracks TJ Hertz has released this year, but ‘Unglued’ takes the prize, simply for the gobsmacked, ‘what the fuck?’ confusion I’ve seen it impose upon numerous dancefloors. A series of four monster synth stabs near the beginning, vaguely reminiscent of Untold’s ‘Stop What You’re Doing’ but even more alien, pave the way for a loping groove that’s almost two-step, but violently lopsided (as if Shed, in his EQD guise, were let loose on a garage beat). Its brilliance lies in the fact that you can dance to it – just – but like the rest of Hertz’s music it seems to demand the body come up with new ways in which to do so. People have been throwing around a lot of ‘future-‘s and ‘post-‘s with reference to this year’s bass music, but Objekt is one of the few producers at the moment making genuinely futuristic, UK-at-heart dance tracks.

Mosca – ‘Bax’ [Numbers]

In a year when ‘UK bass’, or ‘post-dubstep’, or ‘future garage’ (ad infinitum) felt more self-referential than ever, the producers and institutions still pushing excellent UK nuum music (Hessle, Punch Drunk), were forced to up the ante a little. Mosca, whose 2009 dubplate (later Night Slugs release) ‘Square One’ was one of the first tracks to perfectly triangulate that loping mid-point between dubstep, two-step and house, was more than a match for the naysayers. He’s seemingly capable of taking on any genre he fancies with equally striking results – with ‘Bax’, an unnervingly infectious blend of bassline and speed garage. One of the most played tracks of the year, there was little ‘future’-thinking about ‘Bax’, but that didn’t stop it being a rocket up the backside of any club floor with legs and arms to spare.

Commodo – ‘Saracen’ [DEEP MEDi]

Dubstep was in something of a confused state this year. Between your Skrengas and your Skrillexes, (admittedly brilliant) pop from Katy B and a whole raft of greasy moshstep, it’s been tougher to find stripped-back, experimental tracks that tap into the power of 140bpm. ‘Saracen’, though, from new DEEP MEDi signing Commodo, was a whole world unto itself. Among the most brutally efficient, tough-talking dancefloor tracks of the year, it stripped Coki-style robot groans down to the sparsest hiccups of heavy machinery and set them to a bounding halfstep shuffle. The mid-bar kink still well and truly intact, it offered manna for the gloomy, hoods-up skanking crowd.

Double Helix – ‘Chamber Of Light’ [Keysound]

Refracting dubstep through a spooked, RZA-production filter of Eastern mysticism, intrigue and urban space as living, breathing being, London’s shadowy LHF collective released two EPs of excellent 140bpm tracks last winter. Amen Ra’s contributions to second EP The Line Path had something of the Brainfeeder collective’s astral sensibility about them, but crew member Double Helix stole the show with a pair of tracks equally in thrall to jungle (both genre and geographically), DMZ, sci-fi and Wu Tang. ‘Chamber Of Light’ was the highpoint, all snakelike rhythms, disembodied voices and tough, burnished synth drones. Like wandering around darkened alleyways in South London, cigar in mouth, Indiana Jones hat jammed firmly onto your head.

Swindle – ‘Mood Swings VIP’ [Butterz]

Butterz have had an auspicious year in their quest to reignite the fire beneath the grime instrumental. Label heads Elijah & Skilliam’s Rinse.017 mix played a blinder, and the Butterz sound, such as it is – zooming, headrushy synths; chattering machine gun percussion; huge, colourful melodies – was responsible for some of the year’s more iconic dancefloor bangers. Its biggest curveball came from upcoming producer Swindle. ‘Mood Swings VIP’ was an eight-minute long, space-facing funk odyssey, its roots in London dubstep and grime but given a healthy whack of R’n’B polish and hip-hop swagger. A delicious alternate take on a genre unusually associated with bravado and aggression, which offered a reminder of grime’s widening reach, and posed bold questions as to its future.

Leyland Kirby – ‘Eventually, It Eats Your Lungs’ [History Always Favours The Winners]

In a particularly good year for James Kirby (albums as The Caretaker and Leyland Kirby, a series of three stunning EPs), this opener from the second volume of Intrigue & Stuff marked a heady high point. Twelve minutes of scrambled static and memorystuff (voices leering from across the void of time), it’s repeatedly cut through by ascending whorls of synth that tower momentarily before dropping away. During Kirby’s live show at Unsound this year, it was accompanied by perfectly matching visuals: snapshots and brief video snippets from his own life, always half obscured by the invading phantoms of other memories, other people, places, spaces and times.

Andy Stott – ‘We Stay Together (Part 1)’ [Modern Love]

The highlight of a pair of EPs that this year marked the peak thus far of Andy Stott’s already formidable production career, ‘We Stay Together (Part 1)’ epitomises the ultra-slow, scratchy take on house that the man himself jokingly described as ‘knackered house’ (a term I then ran with, for purposes of my own amusement/journalistic tendency to group things together into neat little boxes). It is an incredibly apt term, though – when the track finally rouses itself into life it’s muted and sweaty, and doesn’t seem capable of much other than to plod along. During its second half, though, tiny flashes of disco joy manage to break the surface tension and rise into earshot, covered in muck.

Stay tuned for more Hyperspecific in January.

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