Hyperspecific: Electronic Music For April Reviewed By Jaša Bužinel

Jaša Bužinel shares his recent highlights in electronic music, from top-notch techno to politically charged experimental beats, bagpipe drones, ominous breakcore, high-tech bass and more

Christoph De Babalon

Do you remember the last time you experienced your aural surroundings in full 3D? I’ve been thinking a lot about headphone-less walks recently. Regular walks are one of my few routines, my self-medication, and also my vehicle for the consumption of new mixes, podcasts and records as I can hardly focus on them when sitting at home. I realised I’ve become totally conditioned to use headphones on practically every walk I take around Ljubljana’s Šiška district.

Some years ago I read somewhere that Brian Eno couldn’t bear walking around with headphones. Back then, I really didn’t get it. Meanwhile, I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to just go for a walk just for the sake of walking, to clear your head rather than consume all the information you didn’t get a chance to while at home. It almost sounds absurd to even point this out, but looking at all the people walking down the streets in their noise-less bubbles, it’s maybe not that obvious after all.

After months of heavy use I also finally admitted to myself that I don’t really enjoy the noise cancelling function on my headphones. It’s strange how it seemingly compresses my brain into a hermetically closed box, putting a strange pressure on my eardrums which somehow translates into pressure on my prefrontal cortex. There’s something uncanny, “unnatural” to it, as if our brains weren’t engineered to process sound in such a manner. After an hour or so I tend to get ear fatigue and I’m curious if others feel the same.

I’ve been trying to “reverse engineer” things, save walks for walking and home listening time for new music. Admittedly it’s been challenging. These days it’s not easy to find time and inner peace for pleasure listening, to put on a podcast or a new album while sitting on the balcony with the sun over the horizon. It almost sounds like an ancient practice we’ve forgotten how to do. It’s refreshing to just let your moving body set your mind in motion, and vice versa, let the music set your mind in motion while you are chilling somewhere. So, next time you’re going for a walk, maybe leave your headphones at home and try to fully absorb your surroundings, even if that’s just traffic and heavy machinery. An immersive A/V experience for free, your fatigued, oversaturated brains are gonna love it.

Skee Mask – ISS010
(Ilian Tape)

I recently read a New York Times interview with Daniel Lopatin from 2018, and this line resonated with me: "The thing that I’ve always been a bit jealous of is a complete, a total giving to one form, like a genre, and just a mastery of it." I kept returning to this idea while listening to the new Skee Mask release. It’s an example of pure techno mastery, and instant classic that reflects the age-old debate about the re-envisioning of known forms for the sake of innovation. There’s been a lot of late 90s/early 00s-inspired techno music around in the past year or two, but nothing comes close to how Skee Mask takes the tropes forged by Jeff Mills, Basic Channel, Ben Sims and other forerunners and fulfills their untapped potential in unexpected ways. The grooves, pads, chord progressions, even the claps sound familiar, but these tracks could hardly have been produced 25 years ago. It’s their depth and multilayered nature that give them away. Comparable older techno productions with more treble lack the impact and “HD quality” of his productions. With intricately arranged, ever-evolving grooves backed by melancholy dub-wise pads and shimmering sonic flourishes, these tracks come across as some of his best so far. What makes Skee Mask stand out is the deeply personal nature of his music, with each track bearing a distinct emotional weight.

Carme López – Quintela
(Warm Winters Ltd.)

I didn’t know that the bagpipe didn’t originate in Scotland or Ireland, though I do know you can find it all over Europe, Northern Africa, Western Asia, the Persian Gulf, even northern parts of South Asia. Last year the instrument had a major moment with the fantastic release Carry Them With Us by Scottish player Brìghde Chaimbeul. While Chaimbeul’s album had more traditional underpinnings, the Galician performer, teacher and researcher of traditional oral music Carme López dives into more experimental spheres with her Galician bagpipe on her debut album. Her inventive use of this traditional instrument, the playing of which has historically been male-dominated, reminds me of how Samo Kutin from Širom employs the medieval hurdy-gurdy in fresh contexts, and invites me to consider what other unexplored instruments with very specific timbres are still waiting to be rediscovered by new generations. Some of López’s gradually-evolving compositions remind me of Lea Bertucci’s sax-driven pieces from A Visible Length Of Light as well as Kali Malone’s organ drone pieces. It’s the kind of liminal music that takes you to otherworldly places which you cannot really pinnpoint. If mesmerising droney harmonies and hallucinatory overtones in the vein of trailblazers like Éliane Radigue and Pauline Oliveros are your thing, this a no brainer, and yet López does so much more than just offer tributes to the drone godmothers.

Saint Abdullah & Eomac – Light meteors crashing around you will not confuse you

The new album by the now well-established American-Irish partnership evokes a sense of sonic purging – an attempt at finding catharsis through disorienting distortion and brutally harsh sonics. The trio consisting of NY-based brothers Mohammad and Mehdi Mehrabani-Yeganeh and Irish producer Ian McDonnell says the record was heavily influenced by the ongoing gencide in Gaza (all proceeds from the release are going to the UNWRA). This shows in an asphyxiating atmosphere that permeates the record, which is arguably a beats record, though surgically removed from a hip hop context. Their disorienting, glitched-out tracks are very textural, timbre-oriented, mostly on the abrasive side of things. There’s a lineage that can be traced to post-industrial, experimental trip hop (think of early 00s Scorn). But their music is much more narrative-driven, interwoven with samples, instrumental and vocal parts (the way they compress their crunchy vocals reminds me of Egyptian trailblazer ZULI’s techniques). You’ll also hear various original voice recordings, including Mehrabani-Yeganeh’s sister reciting parts of the Quran and guest artist Abdel Ja7eem Hafeth singing a rendition of the old American showtune ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’. These two moments provide a brief moment of relief, before the listener is plunged back into chaos. It’s a demanding, confronting, merciless album that translates the depravitiy of our world into violent, gut-wrenching, but very meaningful electronic music.

Morwell – Into The Light
( Spiritual Transmissions)

Croatian expat Morwell has been “free-soloing” since 2018, self-releasing music from his home in north east England and developing a singular aesthetic, that he describes as “dark, immersive psychedelia”. This new mixtape marks a new chapter as he announces the launch of his own label Spiritual Transmissions, a home for “alien, glitchy, transcendental sounds”. Morwell’s sound doesn’t offer many parallels in the wider electronic music landscape even though there’s definitely a UK flair to it. In a way Into the Light comes across like an electronic relative of hypnagogic pop – a strange, mutant brew of a variety of aesthetic references, oddly fascinating genre collages and vocal excerpts that trigger multiple associations, yet never anything too palpable. As one of those producers bent on carving their own musical path, he truly makes “outsider electronic music” of the most thrilling kind. What sets him apart from certain other colleagues in familiar spheres is that he lacks music industry backing, the kind of strong PR machinery that’d help him reach wider audiences, even secure some commercial success. Conversely, however, I think it’s exactly that distaste for cynical self-mythologisation that’s allowed him to focus on his musicianship and develop such a unique method of expression.

Christoph de Babalon – Ach, Mensch
(Midnight Shift)

The Hamburg veteran, known for his singular drone and dark ambient-indebted “gothic jungle” sound, would probably get along well with Morwell. They seem to have a similar creative ethos, they both work in obscurity and make idiosyncratic electronic music outside any trend. If you’re new to de Babalon, you can immediately get an idea about his aesthetic by looking at Apolo Cacho’s captivating artwork for his latest release. Like the opening track’s title ‘Non Human Things’ suggests, there’s a certain fascination with that which transcends our conceptions of the organic. The brooding synthlines seemingly take the forms of strange creatures and weird vocal manipulations add to its surreal atmosphere. Ach, Mensch takes me back to the Centre Pompidou in Paris where I first saw the works of Yugoslav surrealist Dado. Both artists’ works are informed by intricate compositions, hybrid forms and dreamlike landscapes. Their uncanny art has an enigmatic quality, exploring the human psyche through expression and playing with motifs like violence and death.

Aroma Nice – Old Haunts

More haunting breaks! north west England-based Luke Fashoni has been around since 2013, mostly keeping a low profile with only two releases for Hyperchamber Music and Heresy Beats up until recently. His well-received 2023 debut for the Prague label YUKU Lost Realms catapulted him into the wider contemporary drum & bass/jungle scene. Bandcamp supporters hailed it as “everything you’d want if you’re a fan of AFX, Amon Tobin and dgoHn”, describing it as “a trip down memory lane with Breakcore, Jungle, Drum and Bass and IDM reminiscent of the hay days between 94 and 98”. The follow up Old Haunts continues where he left off, offering a bonanza of breakneck breaks, earth-shaking bass and floaty melancholy pads. I can’t even start to fathom how much work has been invested into drum-programming. I’ve always associated breakcore with this kind of absurdist, cartoonish postmodernist tendency to take things to the farthest extreme. Just play the track ‘bmw with blacked out windows and 2 subs in the back blasting michael bolton’, you’ll immediately understand what I mean. I think this is the kind of electronic music that shouldn’t be overintellectualised and turned into an object of admiration. It’s more like a sinister, chimerian incarnation of “funk” that’s been taken to its furthest extreme.

SUCHI – Ghungroo EP
(!K7 Records)

While writing this column, I realised I’d been consuming a lot of gloomy electronic music in the past two months. Of course, you also need some light in your life, so the sophomore EP from rising Norwegian-born, Manchester-based producer SUCHI represents the opposite. It’s a prime case of sun-soaked, bubbly, woobly and breezy club music optimised to boost your serotonin levels. Think of it along the lines of the likes of Polygonia, Facta, K-Lone and Sam Goku, who’s also featured on here with an outstanding remix of ‘Blåmerke’. Her 2023 EP Birdy Bell for Ghostly International propelled her into the international circuit, and I’m certain she’s going to solidify her reputation even more with this new release. While they may appear minimalistic at first listen, there’s really a lot going on in these tracks. ‘Bottlepop’ is sure to make the rounds at upcoming festivals with its gently euphoric sunset vibes. And listening to ‘Blåmerke’, I feel like she and Miami’s Coffintexts might soon join forces on a joint studio effort as they seem to have a shared vision for high-energy Latin club-adjacent bangers. It’s not that much about radical innovation as much as it is about finding a fine balance between funky grooves, a solid low end, soulful trancey pads and shimmering melodic flourishes.

Pugilist – Serenity
(Banoffee Pies)

You are probably familiar with Australian DJ/producer Pugilist as a forward-thinking purveyor of contemporary dubstep, bass and drum & bass, but on his latest release for the Bristol label Banoffee Pies he proposes a different direction. The dub-wise sluggish jams of Serenity take us back to early 90s chillout rooms, or at least a fictionalised “millennial version” of them since we never had the chance to experience them first hand. His lush and moody downtempo productions exist at the intersection of dub, trip hop and ambient. While it’s true you can find plenty of similar releases exploring the exact same sonic realms, many of them often feel too directly 90s-indebted. The punch and weight of Pugilist’s bass weight cuts through all of the eight productions in the same way as it does in his most energetic club tracks. Serenity isn’t the type of record that requires all your attention. It’s more bent on setting and keeping a hazy, “ganja-smoke filled room” vibe throughout its entirety. Once it clicks, you’re probably gonna be coming back regularly.

Kreggo – Swaying
(Nous’klaer Audio)

When it comes to dancefloor-ready recent releases, the new EP by Italian producer and founder of the labels Secret Rave and art-aud Kreggo really hits my sweet spot. Kreggo keeps a mid-tempo pace throughout these four emotive tracks, capturing your attention with delicate, spacious arrangements and a collection of delicate timbres. He goes from a skeletal yet bass-heavy drum workout (‘Hi Tec Perc’) and a transitional chugger designed to calm down the dancefloor (‘Dadolata Mix’) to an atmospheric stomper with nostalgic pads (‘Rubbery Smack’) and a dubby deep house roller for the wee hours (‘Tochi’). As with most Nous’klaer Audio outings, you can expect that signature psychedelic touch typical of most of their catalogue. It’s not about full frontal assault as Kreggo is more keen on setting a pensive atmosphere on the floor. Compared to label mates such as Konduku and Tammo Hesselink, though, his productions are perhaps more on the UK bass/techno and less on the Dozzy-esque deep techno side of things.

Less-O – Cri Du Cœur
(TEMƎT Music)

In recent years Simon Aussell’s (Simo Cell) label TEMƎT Music has become one of the most inspiring hubs for cutting-edge bass music. Talent runs in the Ausssell family as Simo’s younger brother Maxime pushes the envelope even further on his sophomore release as Less-O. With its 5 tracks, Cri Du Cœur is bursting at the seams with fresh ideas. Apart from his brother’s output, and maybe some Mumdance releases, you can hardly come up with any concrete references. ‘Last Mic Jack’, with its violent bursts of amen breaks and kick/sub pressure that will send seismic waves down the floor, is really something else. It’s telling that like many other producers with a pronounced knack for complex rhythmics he is also a drummer. While ‘Petrichor’ comes across as a heartfelt, peculiar tribute to amapiano tropes and riddims, ‘Ghost’ boasts a dirty Southern hip hop/trap vibe with 4K sub frequencies. The most impressive is the title track, a cinematic affair worthy of the Dune 2 soundtrack, with massive polyrhythms, horn staccatos and ominous vocal chops. There’s a ‘throw down the gauntlet’ vibe with the Aussell brothers now. But if the two decided to get together one day like UK’s Russell brothers, we may well witness the birth of bass music’s Overmono.

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