Hyperspecific: Dance Music For February, Reviewed By Jaša Bužinel

Hyperspecific is back with the first instalment from our new columnist Jaša Bužinel, bringing you a selection of exciting new releases from Kode9, Autechre, Rian Treanor, Venus Ex Machina, Pauline Anna Strom and Giant Swan, among others

Venus Ex Machina by Karsten Buch

My name is Jaša Bužinel, a music writer from Slovenia, and I’m going to be taking over tQ’s monthly Hyperspecific column, dedicated to pinpointing the most intriguing electronic, dance and experimental electronic records released each month. I’m writing this from my Central European motherland where I currently live. As the pandemic slowly approaches another year, we’ve reached a, hopefully temporary, point in dance music history where it doesn’t really matter where you are situated as a music writer. Be it in London or Ljubljana, we all have access to the same nexus of deterritorialised electronic music scenes which currently only exist in cyberspace via a constant flow of streams, uploads and social media posts.

I’d argue that electronic music journalism has never been this convenient. Unlike in the case of exclusivist practices of the past like dubplate culture, most electronic music releases are now immediately accessible online, opening up new possibilities for collective critical reflections. But as Simon Reynolds noted in a recent interview, this is perhaps also why we’ve witnessed a decline in empirical on-site reporting and an increase in theory-driven criticism. There’s no need to experience a dubplate in a club when everything’s on Bandcamp. Unsurprisingly, the trend was even more pronounced in the past year due to COVID-related restrictions.

Isolation from physical spaces and people that comprise scenes produces a limited, more detached experience of dance music culture. I really love it but I’m currently allowed to cherish only a few of its many dimensions. The element of dance culture as a living scene is being lost. To quote the late music icon SOPHIE, it seems like the scene is becoming immaterial. That’s not to be pessimistic but I wonder how much longer it can survive in this impaired, half-alive state. The Night Time Industries Association recently stated that 81% of UK-based clubs won’t survive past February without additional financial support while more than 100 venues reported problems like unpaid rent and laid-off workers. But at least now there’s some hope on the horizon. According to Boris Johnson’s new COVID-19 roadmap, nightclubs, which fall under the final step of the government’s four-step plan alongside major music festivals, may reopen on Monday, 21 June at the earliest.

Until then, we have all the weekends in the world to keep track of the various transglobal trends in genre-ology. And it’s clear there are so many vibrant scenes out there. But it’s getting harder to pinpoint new genres as most aesthetic developments take place at the intersection of various genre trajectories. Right now it’s all about hybridity. In this light, the first new edition of Hyperspecific for 2021 is mostly dedicated to hybrid electronic genres, which have been making their way into clubland for the past half decade. January and February highlights include the much-discussed SOPHIE remix by Autechre, fresh sonic weaponry from Kode9, Rian Treanor and Giant Swan, as well as releases from rising talents like Jurango and Venus Ex Machina, to mention a few.

SOPHIE – ‘BIPP (Autechre Mx)’


Two weeks before SOPHIE’s untimely death, several electronic music groups on Facebook and Reddit that I’m a member of were flooded with polarising threads on the latest Autechre remix of the artist’s masterpiece ‘BIPP’. On the one hand, there were wails of disappointment with people proclaiming it the most disappointing remix in decades, and on the other, there were those defending it. Perversely enough, I observed this public ventilation as proof of dance music’s vitality.

Many devotees of the visionary music duo have discarded it as a primitive ‘unremix’ of SOPHIE’s euphoric anthem. Autechre’s tripped-out version really lacks the original’s energy flash. Yet, we could also argue this is a shining example of creative restraint. It feels like a tribute to their Lego Feet-era, through a retrofuturist electro-funk template. Although regressive from a producer’s point of view, this choice also opens up new potentialities. The pitched-down female voice acquires a street soul diva character. And honestly, the more I listen to it the more I love the oozy bassline, which, as one YouTube commenter put it, mimics the feeling one might get "when the Xanax sets in during the SOPHIE concert."

Kode9 – The Jackpot


In recent years, Kode9, AKA Steve Goodman, has been busy working on various remixes (Mr. Fingers, Burial), video game music (Diggin’ In The Carts), and other projects like the Hyperswim compilation. Mid-January though, he surprised us with his first proper solo material since 2015 album Nothing. As I’m currently reading Goodman’s book Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, And The Ecology of Fear (2009), I cannot help but apply his "exploration of the production, transmission, and mutation of affective tonality – when sound helps produce a bad vibe" idea to his latest output.

The first time I heard ‘The Jackpot’ – a full-on assault on our senses – I couldn’t wrap my head around its eerie synth stabs. It was as if Arnold Schoenberg’s piano or Alban Berg’s violin concertos had been introduced to hyperkinetic ghetto-tech riddims. Soon I couldn’t get enough of it. With its dark, brooding presence it could work as the theme song of the sci-fi thriller video game Detroit: Become Human. The B-side, ‘Rona City Blues’, opts for a more sedated vibe. Its airy staccatos float around skeletal juke syncopations, creating a lot of tension – one that reminds me of the early Underground Resistance classics which existed in the vaporous sonic interzone between elation and gloom. TL;DR: Filthy dance floor weaponry!

Rian Treanor – Obstacle Scattering

(Planet Mu)

In a recent talk published by The Wire with his son Rian Treanor, Mark Fell declared the musical score the worst thing in the history of music. Soon all hell broke loose in what seemed a battle between traditionalists and renegades, resulting in some completely free-improvised shit-posting right across the composed music internet. Treanor and his father may not be the best interlocutors when discussing sheet music but they certainly know their trade in the sphere of electronic music.

Obstacle Scattering is a continuation of the sonic explorations of Treanor’s 2020 album File Under UK Metaplasm, though this time there’s less emphasis on experimentation and more focus on dance floor functionality. Still, don’t expect anything too straightforward. The recognisable perplexing rhythmic pulses and squelching, FM noise-infused synth whirlpools are still present. But the tracks are now conceptualised as tongue-in-cheek challenges for ravers’ bodies, testing dancers’ ability to lock into a complex groove. ‘Obstacle 1’ exists as a kind of bastard son of Barker’s beatless techno while also being infused with the high-intensity groove of singeli. ‘Obstacle 3’ comes across as a sped-up take on a Don’t DJ production, and I’d really love to see my friends dance to the breakneck ‘Obstacle 2’ and ‘Obstacle 4’ without getting hurt.

Venus Ex Machina – Lux


As a graduate in Sound and Music Computing from Queen Mary, London, Zimbabwean-Scottish composer, sound designer and interdisciplinary artist Nontokozo F. Sihwa, AKA Venus Ex Machna, feels at home with interactive digital systems, machine learning and computational creativity. This is perhaps why her debut album, Lux, manages to absorb you into a plasma-like sonic blanket of synthetic bliss.

Sihwa is quite successful in finding a sweet spot between direction and open-endedness. The industrial slow stomper ‘Mysterium’ and acidic tribal banger ‘Nachtspiel’ remind me of Patricia Kokett’s recent output for Knekelhuis. With its rolling drums, ‘Elephant’ is something one could expect from the programmed percussion maestro Ploy. While in the case of ‘Grace’, the syncopated kicks and wobbly bassline bear a resemblance to the music of Serbian techno producer Lag. Bearing a heavy sound design mark, the album is filled with moments of experimentation. Just listen to the opening and closing tracks ‘Avril’ and ‘Paraquat’, whose shiver-inducing frequencies possess an almost ASMR quality. Existing somewhere in between von Hildegard’s celestial compositions, polyrhythmic percussive modes, sinister ambience, mutant bass modulations and sound art practices, Lux is one of the most exciting debut albums of the year so far.

Giant Swan – Do Not Be Afraid Of Tenderness


In 2019, Giant Swan’s self-titled debut album landed on my end-of-year list. Now the Bristolian techno punk pair are back with the second release for their own imprint Keck. Known for their chemistry both in the studio and on stage, it’s interesting to know that the EP was produced in isolation through an online back and forth process of fine-tuning.

The self-reassuring title is there with a purpose as the motto, which helped the duo’s Harry Wright through recent personal struggles regarding loss, consolation and serenity. "It’s about knowing there is love and help around," said Wright of the title. It’s not the most obvious theme for a techno release, but we know that Giant Swan isn’t your typical techno act by now. Lead track ‘Silkworm’ is one of those grossly massive Berghain anthems with chopped cyborg vocals and razor-sharp synth stabs à la Blawan, a weapon of choice for peak time sets that’d mix perfectly with, say, Bruce’s 2016 track ‘I’m Alright Mate’. Contrarily, the downtempo techno of ‘DYFLGOT’ sets a more meditative yet still menacing tone. It’s the closing title track that really exposes their versatility, though. The sludgy bass, skunky pads, fractured rhythms and reverberated Al Cisneros-like vocals make for a great techno tribute to Sleep. All in all, it’s a terrific return from one of my favourite male duos since Wham!

Pauline Anna Strom – Angel Tears In Sunlight

(RVNG Intl.)

An interest in the work of the Bay Area ambient pioneer Pauline Anna Strom, who left us last December at the age of 74, was reignited back in 2017 when RVNG Intl. released Trans-Millenia Music, an anthology of her music from the period between 1982 and 1988, which spanned across seven rare albums. The newfound love for her kosmische aural collages and ambient music prompted Strom to return to composing. Her first release of original material in more than 30 years was announced back in November, just a month before her passing.

The diverse trance-inducing compositions from her posthumous LP, produced in the same San Francisco residence as her ’80s output in the company of her two pet iguanas, are entrenched in the tradition of West Coast synthesis at the crossroads between minimalism, drone and new age. Strom was born blind and developed a sympathetic ear both in terms of spirituality and technicality. Talking about her relationship with synths, she explained that "it’s the only way this stuff can be pulled out of myself, the universe." Transportative and celestial, Angel Tears In Sunlight may be characterised as the sonic equivalent of reiki, AKA "energy healing," a Japanese form of alternative medicine. But instead of transferring ‘universal energy’ through the palms, she delivers it directly to our ears.

Maoupa Mazzocchetti – UXY DOSING

(Brothers From Different Mothers)

Few artists dare boast that they’ve created a new genre but the press release for the Brussels-based producer Maoupa Mazzocchetti’s third solo album, which includes various collaborators, half-jokingly reads like a modernist manifesto. The Italian hardware enthusiast’s been crystallising his own strain of maniacal, industrial-tinged electronics since 2014, straddling between experimentation and functionality. On his debut for the French label BFDM, he’s taken his vision a step further.

With UXY DOSING, he describes his sound as belonging to an art-affiliated maximalist genre, which "embraces heterogeneity and allows for complex systems of juxtapositions and collisions" – a handy concept for his chaotic aesthetic. Chock-full with intricate details, listening to his tracks is more like watching the rendering of a virtual space real-time, loading as you move your VR headset. The crunchy percussion and HD laser synths of ‘A Serenade For Gelatin’, featuring ZULI, make for the perfect soundtrack to a near-future ballroom party where Boston Dynamics’ robots vogue against one another. There’s also the gritty textural ‘Rekt II’, featuring vocalist Charmaine Lee, an electrifying tribute to Diamanda Galás. But these are just bits of this extravagant album with a hyperreal sonic quality. After years of post-club aesthetic synthesis, this one really feels like a culmination of his past work. For fans of Amnesia Scanner, AYA, Air Max ’97 and the likes.

Siete Catorce – Temperatura EP


Marco Polo Gutierrez is a representative of the forward-thinking Mexican electronic music community, who is leaving a mark on the sphere of experimental club music with signature releases for labels like NAAFI, Nostro Hood System and Hypermedium. Known for his inventive approach to Latin American rhythms and time signatures, Gutierrez’s productions manage to translate the pulsating energy of traditional polyrhythms into a modern sonic palette. In 2019, he co-founded the Subreal label with his Korean-American collaborator Amazondotcom with the mission to offer a space for a diaspora of artists that have trouble defining themselves. True to this vision, his music remains as elusive as ever.

His latest EP, Temperatura, sonic hybridity in a nutshell, was released on the Berlin-based BRUK Records, and my personal highlight is opening track ‘Todo’. As the title suggests, it’s got a bit of everything in it – Attenborough’s birdsongs, Parris-like dubs, Dengue Dengue Dengue’s polyrhythmic vortices, breaks and more. ‘Menos’ is a ritualistic roller of pure Latin American electronic futurism, marked by fluctuating time signatures and bouncy synths à la Rian Treanor. It’d be great to see Siete Catorce bring his sound to European stages more regularly in the near future.

Nilotika Cultural Ensemble – Ejokawulida

(Nyege Nyege Tapes)

If the majority of the presented releases revolve around synthetic polyrhythmia, the seven members of the Nilotika Cultural Ensemble rely exclusively on their own kinetic energy. Formed 11 years ago in Kampala and led by percussionist Jajja Kalanda, today the ensemble represents the core of the critically acclaimed Nyege Nyege-affiliated project Nihiloxica, who’ve been covered extensively on this site.

Following the track ‘We Love Nilotika’ from the L’Esprit De Nyege 2020 compilation on Nyege Nyege Tapes, the ensemble’s debut EP brings forth two sonically raw but utterly vigorous percussive workouts. Both tracks are built on the sounds of drums from the Bugandan percussion family. A-side ‘Ejokawulida’, which derives its percussive modes from the traditional Iteso music, hits you with its undulating, mesmerising polyrhythms. On the flipside, the Bakisiimba-inspired ‘Kekusimbe’ starts with a simple groove, then another rhythmic phrase is added, and another, and soon you find yourself in a transcendental vortex of pulses. The ensemble’s music could be the point where ancestral traditions and contemporary electronic music trends meet. Just imagine people’s reactions when someone plays these gems in a club!

Special Request & Tim Reaper – Hooversound Presents: Special Request x Tim Reaper


The fifth release from SHERELLE and NAINA’s label Hooversound, established a year ago as a platform for jungle, footwork and fast-paced club genres, is a collaboration between two scene figureheads representing two generations with a shared love for the amen break. Providing the material is Paul Woolford, one of the most prolific UK producers of our time, with four tracks from his 2019 Special Request album Zero Fucks. On remix duties is Tim Reaper, head of the jungle-focused club night and label Future Retro and probably the most recognisable name of the modern-day London jungle community.

The young but knowledgeable Londoner’s been making his mark on the international electronic music scene with an astounding strain of quality releases for various UK labels, most recently for Lobster Theremin. Even though we can sense ’90s nostalgia in Reaper’s productions, they’re far from pastiche. As in the case of producers Dead Man’s Chest and Sully, there’s a fine balance between tradition and innovation. While Woolford’s originals possess more punch and hi-fi clarity, Reaper’s remixes are enveloped with a dusty aura, a nod to lost futures and new horizons. Special kudos for the sensual ‘Quiet Storm’ remix!

Jurango – Retreat Ites

(Livity Sound)

One of the most consistent UK-based electronic music labels of the last decade, Livity Sound, returns here with another brilliant EP for its reverse series, this time from local talent Nathan Reece, AKA Jurango. His releases for labels like INTERVENTION, Resources and Woozy, which rhythmically revolved around dubby techno-dancehall, have placed him among the likes of Laksa, Batu, TSVI and Kouslin, artists currently pushing the boundaries of UK dance music and soundsystem culture.

Retreat Ites, Reece’s debut for the respected Bristolian institution, brings forth four magnificent slow-burners for the club. It may not be nothing that we haven’t yet heard but I like the way he limits himself, focusing on minimalist rhythmic elements and Arctic atmospherics. If the title track and ‘This Better Worth’ bet on dark tribal ecstasy, at 100 BPM, ‘Theeves’ must be one the finest specimens of UK mutant dancehall in recent memory. Its crystalline synths leave you with a tingling sensation in the head. But it’s the epilogue, ‘Compassed’, with its hypnotic percussive overtones and soothing ambient drones that really does the work for me. The sheer idea of hearing it on a massive soundsystem makes me smile.

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