Hyperspecific: Electronic Music For September Reviewed By Jaša Bužinel

Our dance music columnist reflects on the impact of unstable weather on this year’s festival season, and reviews his favourite new releases from the likes of Simo Cell, ABADIR, Deena Abdelwahed, Sam Goku and more

Deena Abdelwahed, photo by Yassine Meddeb Hamrouni

With the world observing the "tech bro drama" at this year’s Burning Man, it’s worth considering the situation as an omen of sorts. For those unaware, heavy monsoon rains caused flash flooding, making the festival site practically useless and turning the ground into a sea of mud. Not that I care for Burning Man, but it’s interesting to see one of the biggest festival brands on earth face the same issues as hundreds of smaller organisers all over the world.

To quote the liner notes from the brilliant album Almanac Behind by American guitarist Daniel Bachman, "weather is happening." It’s because of last year’s heatwaves and drought in the Lombardy region in Italy that I missed this year’s edition of Terraforma Festival after the organisers were forced to push back the date a whole month. This got me thinking that a similar trend may soon emerge throughout the rest of the European festival circuit.

Perhaps in a few years time, summers will have become too hot or simply too unstable to organise open air festivals. You may have heard that in Slovenia we experienced a once-every-hundred-years flood this summer. The destruction was unfathomable. We also experienced our worst hurricane in years, with regular destructive thunderstorms and tornadoes in July. People would joke that in a strange turn of events the weather we associate with Kansas suddenly came to our door.

Fortunately, the Soča valley, where festivals like Butik, Punk Rock Holiday and Tolminator take place, was spared any direct damage or injury. Still, summer 2023 will go down in history as a turning point for everyone – the year when climate anxiety reached a new peak in Europe. We may soon be attending summer festivals in late spring and early autumn.

Checkpoint 303 – Naji
(Checkpoint 303)

It’s refreshing to come across politically-charged dance music that isn’t preoccupied with identity politics or other hot topics. The "mini album" from Tunisian-led collective Checkpoint 303 is a heartfelt tribute to the late Palestinian political cartoonist and satirist Naji Al-Ali, whose allegedly politically-motivated murder in London in 1987 was never solved. Having experienced the Nakba, he was highly critical of Israeli occupation, but also of the Palestine Liberation Organization and corrupt Arab politicians – an authentic critical mind unaligned to any ruling ideology. Checkpoint 303 could be considered a kindred spirit of Muslimgauze, whose music was also based on political facts, as their productions are interwoven with archival material, interviews, speeches, TV reports, film excerpts and other samples related to Al-Ali. This adds a historical and biographical dimension to already exciting music. Tracks vary in character, from pensive breakbeat rollers like ‘London Fog’ and minimal techno groovers like ‘Handala’ to the mutant dancehall of ‘Cartoon Life’ and sample-heavy electronica productions like ‘Spilled Blood’ and ‘Handala Inspiration’. Electronic music usually isn’t the preferred alley to profile subversive anti-establishment figures, which makes Naji an even more relevant and timely political statement in the wider electronic music arena.

Simo Cell – Cuspide Des Sir​è​nes
(TEMƎT Music)

I’ve been admiring the "French polite rudboi" since his 2015 Dnuos Ytivil debut. When you see an artist you cherish grow, you get the feeling that you’re growing together. He’s today one of the most respected representatives of the French progressive electronic music scene, and I recently had the honour of hosting Simo Cell in Ljubljana. Among other topics, we also discussed his upcoming record. He stated he wants to overstep his categorisation as an electronic/experimental music producer, and be simply an artist. Cuspide Des Sir​è​nes is no doubt Cell’s magnum opus so far, a world-building album that transcends his past club music endeavours. Envisaged as a fictitious action-adventure video game soundtrack that takes you through 12 levels, it’s to be consumed in a single sitting. Its conceptual frame reminds me of Kode9 and Iglooghost’s recent output, and Cell mentioned The Legend Of Zelda as a critical reference point too. Themes of magic, enchantment, charm, allure and personal fears are central to the storyline, but he’s created something completely unique. It’s a kind of Ocarina Of Time 3.0 universe that’s perfectly encapsulated by the album cover. Imagine ultra-HD bass music that isn’t tailored for the club, but for fantastical adventures in VR. Cell’s sound design is on steroids, the intricate textures of his sonic entities are almost palpable.

Abadir – Ison

I’m always inspired by the lucid explanations that accompany the releases of Egyptian DJ/producer Abadir, be it his exploration of the intricacies of the human voice on Pause​/​Stutter​/​Uh​/​Repeat or the mixture of Arabic rhythms and Western dance music forms of Mutate. The intent behind his work is usually very precisely laid out, his art contextualised through critical theory and music history. His new album Ison takes an autobiographical turn, taking us back to his Christian upbringing as a member of Cairo’s Coptic community. The title refers to the low slung drone note that accompanies the main melodic chant in Greek Orthodox Church. There’s a deeper meaning to each track title, references to standard hymns of the divine liturgy, tributes to his grandmother and other "flashbacks". In contemporary electronic music circles, the Christian musical tradition ostensibly remains peripheral, bar the interest for the work of Hildegard Von Bingen. On Ison, we see it transformed and repurposed in a completely unique way. Ison is an uplifting concoction of various Christian choral traditions, field recordings of church bells and holy masses, and Abadir’s Proustian musical reminiscences from his childhood years. This results in a serene, soulful sonic fiction, a sort of "choral club music", presented through a cutting-edge electronic music lens.

Temp-Illusion – Failsafe

A post-singularity vibe worthy of the interactive video game Detroit: Become Human permeates the tracks on the latest EP by the Tehran-based project Temp-Illusion. Coming from the realms of radical sonics, it could function as a soundtrack for an even grimier, wholly anti-human vision of the future. The duo, affiliates of the labels Opal Tapes and Zabte Sote, consists of artists Behrang Najaf and Shahin Entezami aka Tegh. The latter’s collaborative album Ima with Adel Poursamadi is considered one of last year’s highlights in the spheres of drone and dark ambient. Though Temp-Illusion are prominent figures on the Iranian experimental scene, they rarely appear in Europe bar the occasional performance in Berlin. Their new EP is out on the New York label PTP, a platform for "counter-industrial purveyors of weaponized media and information", a credo that resonates with their past releases like Pend. Their anxiety-inducing music reminds me of Zuli and the Svbkvlt roster, particularly Hyph11E. The main aesthetic references are a slick, "artificial" patina of hardstep/darkstep drum’n’bass, post-Scorn illbient and ASMR-esque sound design à la Amnesia Scanner. There’s a sinister IDM backbone there too, encapsulated in menacing acidic basslines and ingeniously saturated downtempo beats. Cerebral and inward-looking, yet also very physical due to exaggerated low freq modulations, it’s music that builds on tension. But you wait in vain. Release never comes.

Various Artists – GROUNDED – PEACE

The festival of electronic music, critical thought and activism Grounded recently took place in Ljubljana, and this year has released its first compilation, featuring 25 artists from the Balkan region, central Europe and elsewhere. It’s a great entry point for anyone interested in this arguably overlooked part of Europe, especially if you’d like to get to know the Slovenian and Croatian scenes, which are best represented. The track selection is excitingly diverse, from hyperpop-adjacent artists, post-internet electronica, off-the-wall club music, techno and electro to leftfield singer-songwriter projects, noise and ambient acts. Fans of Ariel Zetina may discover Slovenian talents, for example the experimental club music of Warrego Valles, the nu-skool jungle of Fujita Pinnacle, breakcore extravaganza from SsmKOSK, Detroit-indebted electro from Dvidevat, the broken techno of Luka Prinčič, or saccharine garage from msn gf. Croatian fans of N/OBE, Mapalma, Varboska and Tonota will be easily introduced to Czech artist Toyota Vangelis, Romanian producer Miss Jay, Hungarian experimentalist Fausto Mercier, Italian avant-gardist Kuthi JJinIN and the rising New York duo Sha Ru. The compilation marks a key moment for the Slovenian underground scene, bringing together artists from different parts of the world who share a similar musical sensibility.

Lukid – Tilt

Rezzett’s recent comeback album comforted me on many occasions this year, functioning as an emotional support blanket of sorts. I was excited to learn that half of the band decided to add another treat to the table – just in time for autumn strolls. Some hardcore devotees of the duo’s charmingly saturated, tape-hissed music will remain disappointed by the somewhat cleaner, more easily digestible sound of Lukid’s Tilt. His first solo album in 11 years, it’s a fine example of loop-based minimal techno with an IDM bent – minimal not as in Robert Hood, more in its skeletal, airy, "locked groove" arrangements. With Rezzett the focus is more on saturated textures, in the case of Lukid it’s more about nostalgia, translated through delicate melodic loops and glossy pads. The music is somewhat monotonous, monochrome, simplistic at first listen, but it’s actually rather sophisticated when you focus on mixing, EQing and timbre. I could listen to the loopy string motif of ‘The Great Schlep’ for hours on end, just like the click-beats and kaleidoscopic synth flourishes of ‘Anatolia’. ‘Belly 2’ sounds like a grime track coming from a 100-year old music box. There’s something disarmingly ethereal, fairy-like in these tracks, with ‘Daisy Cutter’ sounding like a prelude to an LSD-era Czech cartoon. The distinct patina of his music evokes a feeling of distance, particularly the track ‘Confessions Of A Wimp’ where the toned down loops give the impression of coming through a small portal to a parallel world.

Deena Abdelwahed – Jbal Rrsas

Tunisian luminary Deena Abdelwahed was my entry point into the contemporary dance music of the Middle East and North Africa. Her gig in Ljubljana in 2018 in support of her critically acclaimed debut album Khonnar was a revelation. Her second album is described as a continuation of her "reimagining" of Arabic club music. Despite the dance-oriented structures, I see Jbal Rrsas as an armchair, even music hall record. These aren’t schematic DJ tools for easy blends, but more like extended compositions exploring the various elements used in her earlier club music in different forms and shapes. With its dramatic laser synth motif, opener ‘The Key To The Exit’ is a cinematic tension builder that sets the tone. ‘Each Day’, a psychedelic tapestry of polyrhythmic pulses, ominous drones, twisted rhythmic synths and Abdelwahed’s commanding voice, is something Jodorowsky could’ve used in his never realised Dune adaptation. Her prominent vocals appear elsewhere, making the music even more ritualistic. In ‘Complain’, the oozing low frequency drones remind me of the rippling, "melting" landscape found on the fantastic album cover. Mahraganat riddims remain central to her compositions, but she deconstructs and reassembles them in a singular way, as in ‘Six As Oil’, creating a peculiar sonic language. Though the atmosphere is prevalently sombre, at times even gloomy, the dialogue between kick drum and vocals in ‘Violence For Free’ and ‘Pre-Island’ are of a more mischievous nature. An outstanding example of forward-thinking post-club music with an explicit avant-garde bent that expands on traditional Arabic rhythmic, melodic vocal modes.

Loppy B – A Loppy Lesson

The debut album from Loppy B, the project of Australian producers and best friends Air Max ’97 and Scam, shares a lot of sensibilities with Simo Cell’s debut. Its visual identity, style and the motifs presented in the press release (magic spells, chalices, rites etc.) seem to also emerge from the era of Nintendo classics. Still, there’s a decidedly contemporary bent to it all. As I understand it, Loppy B is an entity, a twisted genius, a master of sonic wizardry, who creates these pieces of sound design-inspired "bass techno" with a very artificial, hyperdigital, gleaming, spotless patina. The track sequencing is brilliant, making A Loppy Lesson a very dynamic and eclectic listen. There’s a pleasant flow between atmospheric tracks that give the impression of level theme songs (‘Tepid Brine’, ‘Bug In A Rug’, ‘Wegal Leed’, ‘Syzygy’) and tracks that are perfectly cut for adventurous dancefloors (‘Ergot Of Rye’, ‘The Chariot’, ‘Potato Nation’, ‘Inner Ditch’). The beat-less, euphoric big room banger ‘Ulittlefreak’, with its familiar-sounding rave chords, stands out as a superb tool for pitch transitions in DJ sets. Even though you don’t feel like indulging into its storytelling, this is a standout club music record that ticks all the boxes in terms of imagination, concept and execution.

MPU420 – BPM1
(Ilian tape)

The latest Ilian Tape release by Bavaria-based, Polish-born producer MPU420 is a slow-grower that caters to fans of authentic Detroit electro. Sure, you could argue that it feels too much of a tribute to the aesthetic forged by the legendary duo of James Stinson and Gerald Donald. Really strong vibes of Transllusion (Stinson’s side project that in 2001 bore the masterpiece The Opening Of The Cerebral Gate) permeate the whole EP in particular, not least in terms of employing mystical chords that invoke the divinest melancholy. It’s like a genuine sonic eulogy to the immensely influential heritage of Drexciya. MPU420’s productions are as skeletal as it gets, stripped down to basics and mostly constructed around a crisp electro beat and a central synth motif that’s repeated throughout a track. It’s the tone, the timbre, the soothing patina of these aged synth sounds that make it a sonically extremely pleasant EP. It’s no surprise that MPU420 is the owner of a vintage synth repair shop; some of the legendary pieces used here are the Korg MS-50, the Yamaha DX7 and the OSC OSCar. The brilliant tear-jerkers ‘WantU’ and ‘OSC’ will soundtrack emotive transitions on the dancefloor, while ‘Sinister808’ and ‘Chiemgau606’ will add an aura of mystique.

Sam Goku – Glistening Club Music Vol. 3
(Permanent Vacation)

German DJ/producer Sam Goku is one of the breakthrough artists of 2023; Glistening Club Music Vol. 3 is the latest instalment in an outstanding run of singles, edits and EPs. In just a few years since his debut in 2019, he’s managed to forge a sound he can easily call his own – a celestial, iridescent, shimmering, glittering, dazzling, melodically-enhanced, liquid-sounding, fantastical vision of contemporary techno. You could hardly ask for better mood boosters than tracks like ‘Rushing Radiants’ and ‘B-nova’. You won’t find any cheap tricks in his productions, though, no hackneyed samples or overused tropes. In other words, this is some of the most sincerely euphoric, endorphin-boosting dance music around. The subtle interplays between gossamer pads and synths and the driving four-to-the-floor kick drums come across as completely natural. There’s certainly a new age/Japanese ambient trajectory to his aesthetic, but it’s never too pronounced. Even if I were forced to pick a favourite track from the EP, it would be impossible. The quality of his releases is just too consistent. When Sam Goku drops a new release, I click.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today