The Month’s Electronic Music: Frayed Nerves & Fried Circuits

In this month's electronic music column, Rory Gibb delves into fathomless darkness, paranoid sub-bass and circuitry gone haywire, from Cold War techno and alien mandibles to abstract grime and new forms of dark UK sound system music

Welcome to the first Hyperspecific of 2013! Once again, rather than being anything close to a comprehensive round-up of each month’s best dance releases – there’s simply too much worth mentioning to attempt to construct a readable-length column around – this column offers a purely personal perspective on recent developments in electronic music, via some of the artists that have been dominating my listening as of late.

Bandshell – Caustic View

(Liberation Technologies)

A Made Up Sound – ‘Ahead’/’Endgame’


As a result, none of this is exactly what you’d call ‘club-friendly’, but it’s easy enough to tell that Bandshell is well-versed in the mechanics of dance music: ‘Landfill’ would likely fling dancers headlong into one another on a club floor, and the pulsating bioluminescence and muffled beats of ‘Perc’ – the most quiet and pretty thing here – recall the crumbling techno and UK funky of Werk Discs heads Actress and Lukid. An impressive salvo from an intriguing producer, and it’s great to see that Mute – via their recently established Liberation Technologies sublabel – are supporting such strange and uncompromising electronic music.

Dave Huismans’ new club cluster-bomb as A Made Up Sound has a similarly disconcerting effect upon those doomed souls attempting to dance to it. What makes Huismans (pictured, top) such a remarkable hand with rhythm – and what makes his work immediately discernable in the mix – is that the gaps and silences in his tracks are even more highly charged than the (comparatively little) sonic matter that they contain. There’s so much space in ‘Ahead’, such yawning distances between individual hits of percussion and silvery synth, that the entire construction ought to simply fall apart. Like the rest of his work though, its awkwardness is carefully counterbalanced by a mean and predatory sense of swing that causes beats to bear down upon the listener, like birds of prey swooping to pluck their unsuspecting victims from the ground. It feels primed to stop a dancefloor in its tracks: an opening of clipped vocal phrases explodes as if a bomb’s gone off, leaving a chasmic moment of silence in its wake. The track’s core rhythm, such as it is, then self-assembles from the fragments of debris left drifting through the air, tracing an itchy groove that’s all angles, negative space and treacherous sharp edges. It’s terrifying, bizarre and utterly brilliant. ‘Endgame’, on the flip, is only marginally more straightforward. Its fat, squelching bassline recalls – of all things – the overdriven fuzz of Mr. Oizo and similar French contemporaries, but it’s torn to shreds, moving in jittery fits and starts.

Metasplice – ‘Decant’/’Churn’


V. Hold – Antagions


Last year’s Topographical Interference EP, their first for Morphine, had a pleasingly raw and chaotic air – techno’s rhythmic structures were present, but seemed to have emerged more as a result of spontaneous interactions between the various instruments in the duo’s hardware network, rather than anything intentionally constructed by human volition. In that sense the duo’s approach is aligned with UK noise artists like Helm, Hacker Farm and Ekoplekz – and indeed their live set at Unsound last year seemed intent on exploring as nerve-shredding a dynamic range as possible: treble-boosted squeals, beats that sparked like exposed electrical cables and floury low-end fuzz. Unlike the latter three, though, their tracks also hit hard in a club setting – Morphosis in particular has been using them to great effect in his DJ sets. (You can download a great hour of him mixing only Metasplice music here.)

Morphine’s newly released follow-up to Topographical Interference is markedly less jarring than its predecessor, but similarly psychoactive. A hallucinatory aurora of high-pitched tones shimmers across ‘Decant’s surface, seeming to resolve into any number of different shapes during its opening minutes. The beat that emerges halfway through drags the track into an escalating upward trajectory, to the point that the whole assembly sounds ready to blast off into orbit, while jets of static spurt like high-pressure steam in all directions. ‘Churn’ opens like a full-scale instrument malfunction in a spacecraft cockpit, before its deafening cacophony of whirrs and alarm bleeps slowly assembles into a marching rhythmic formation.

Levon Vincent – NS08

(Novel Sound)

Like 2011’s wonderful ‘Pivotal Moments In Life’, NS08 highlight ‘Rainstorm II’ draws deep from Kraftwerk and 80s synth-pop: across its surface skate yearning melodies picked out in translucent notes, which trigger equal sensations of nostalgia and hope for the future. In essence it’s among the simplest things he’s released to date – little but a straightforward four-to-the-floor house chug – but he’s an understated master with echo, applying it to individual percussive elements in doses that range from miniscule to massive, turning the track into a disorienting and continually reshuffling hall of mirrors. The EP’s other new track (it’s rounded off with an inclusion of 2009’s stormy ‘Double Jointed Sex Freak Part II’) finds him on harsher form: ‘People’ crunches, clangs and drangs itself into a dank and polluted stew reminiscent in tone of 80s NY no wave.

Kassem Mosse – ‘Broken Patterns’


E.m.m.a – Rainbow Dust EP

(Wavey Tones)

As yet I haven’t decided whether or not this segment will end up being a regular fixture in Hyperspecific, though I rather like the idea. Because of the brief shelf-life of club tracks and the sheer frequency of new 12"s released in whatever niche you choose to follow, there’s a tendency for dance music heads to remain strongly focused on what’s coming out right now, in any given week/month. Equally, there’s serious DJ currency to be had by unearthing overlooked old records for dancefloor secret weapons – something that’s become more popular recently, with a wholescale shift towards house tempos across the breadth of UK club music – but by its very nature that approach tends to favour tracks upwards of five years old. As a result it’s fairly rare to find DJs or writers taking stock of – still fairly new – releases that have come out within the past year or two, and it’s all too easy for great music to slip by near-unnoticed, especially if it inhabits a genre-space not currently in the limelight.

So it is with Rainbow Dust Part II, whose Lego-block chiptune melodies and sparse steppers’ bounce channel the swooping strings of Ruff Sqwad or Ikonika’s rawer early material, albeit pared back further still to leave the least material required to make bodies shuffle. The title track’s melody closely resembles Peverelist’s heavy-lidded ‘Roll With The Punches’, but with the weed haze blown away, casting its contours in sharper relief. Like Darkstar’s pre-song material, there’s something deliciously sticky and sour about ‘Dream Phone’; its synth melodies are like Refreshers, orange Panda Pop, Irn-Bru bars or any of those other ridiculously unhealthy childhood sweets – entirely synthetic and perfectly comfortable with that fact. Its kick-snare syncopations swagger like UK funky, but are arranged in 3/4, lending the whole arrangement a lopsided, runaway-fairground-ride feel that’s both queasy and exhilarating.

Their Rinse Christmas special – click here to download – was a particularly strong distillation of that zone of operation, and is well worth a good listen (I’ve had it on repeat for the last month). Five affiliated producers – Logos, Gerv from LV, Visionist, Emma and Wen – each took to the decks for 20 minutes or so, largely to play their own productions. The overall effect was similar to Hyperdub’s formidable showcase for Mary Anne Hobbs back in 2008 (you can still listen to that here, and it hasn’t dulled with age), which showcased the then-nascent likes of Zomby, Darkstar and Ikonika in an impressively focused way, highlighting both their differences and shared traits.

Similarly, this Keysound session reveals the similarities between all five producers – a love of grime, a rooting in sound system culture, and a knack for swung rhythms that touch on techno, garage and dubstep without quite landing in any camp – while highlighting each one’s idiosyncrasies. Expect to hear far more from this camp in coming months: there’s already a great debut 12" from Wen on the horizon (the Commotion EP on Keysound) and Beneath has just released a punchy and paranoid salvo on Tectonic (‘Duty’/’Texers’). Keysound have also just announced a compilation – This Is How We Roll – featuring tracks from all the above producers plus a few more, including Gremino and LHF’s Double Helix, that includes some of the best tracks from the Rinse showcase (including Mumdance & Logos’ static-addled ‘In Reverse’). Watch this space for more to come.

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