Like many people, for most of the pandemic I’ve been having a hard time keeping up with all the DJ live streams that kept accumulating on my tab bar. I think most of us have developed a love-hate relationship with this format and accepted it as a necessary evil that keeps the scene afloat for the time being. But in most cases, the experience of watching a person mixing in his or her own bedroom with some plants and colourful LED lights in the background wasn’t really that rewarding, no matter the selection. At one point, I just gave up and deleted most of the links I’ve been keeping for months, opting for the classic radio show and DJ mix format instead.
Still, there’s been a lot of effort invested in increasing the production and aesthetic value of DJ streams. It’s not my intention to advertise certain productions over others here, but in the last month I’ve experienced some of the most immersive streams of the past year that definitely deserve more attention. Among the initiatives that really stood out recently is London Unlocked, a series of streamed live performances initiated by Fabric in order to raise awareness and donations for the Music Venues Trust to support struggling grassroots music venues in the UK. The series includes some of your favourite artists playing in some of London’s most iconic cultural hubs—arts venues, galleries and historical landmarks.
Performing in a specially adapted Tower Bridge adorned with a nightclub lighting system, the UK bass wizard and vinyl virtuoso Djrum delivered one of the early contenders for mix of the year. It’s a symbolic place in which the architectural and musical heritage of the city are unified. Djrum’s game-changing mix on 3 decks looks so effortless and sounds so tight, it gives the impression of a digital mix on CDJs. Apart from his matchless technical skills that include impeccable scratching and cutting, inspired effect manipulations and polyrhythmic mixing, the selection in this mix is simply outstanding. He just keeps delivering bomb after bomb from his record box, swiftly transitioning between various tempos, rhythms, genres and eras. There’s so much beauty in the way he blends unlikely tracks and how he builds and releases tension, switching from fast-paced to low tempo tracks without ever losing the flow. Also props to the whole production team as they’ve really managed to capture London’s vibe and translate the tension of Djrum’s mix into an utterly cinematic video with a high cultural and historical value. As contested by a YouTube commenter, Djrum’s DJ set is a milestone in DJing history as we simply haven’t yet seen anything quite like it.
On the same night at Tower Bridge, LCY delivered a truly mind-blowing mix of razor-sharp breakbeat, metallic percussive workouts, rolling dubstep, modern jungle and fierce electro that really makes the listener clubsick; especially that moment at the 37 minutes mark. Other highlights of the past month include the spectacular Sherelle b2b Tim Reaper from the London Coliseum, a masterclass in 160 bpm ecstasy. Next, I was blown away by Kode9’s hyperkinetic performance at the Round Chapel, from the cartoonish intro of ‘Mister Diviner (The Mahjong Touhaiden) (Kode9 Remix)’ to the closing epiphany of Burial’s ‘Chemz’.
I’d also recommend you check out Batu’s sublimely eclectic and technically flawless mix on three CDJs from Smithfield Market, a performance that makes you wanna practice more. I especially love the moment at 33 minutes when he blends TAYHANA’s ‘Club Paraísoa’ into a percussive track, and the energy explodes, though there are many similar moments. But if you really want a taste of summer, there’s the Saoirse B2B Shanti Celeste from the Victoria and Albert Museum — 90 minutes of vibrant deep house and techy feel-good tunes that will bring to mind memories from the nights spent at Dimensions Festival and Love International.
And lastly, I encourage you to take some time off and dive into the first two full-length meta-DJ sets synthesised and mixed autonomously by the AI system OÍR. The system’s generative neural networks were trained on a list of videos and DJ mixes from the archive of the music platform HÖR Berlin and the results, EPOCH.000 and EPOCH.001, are unexpectedly stupefying — it almost feels like a proper simulation of tripping balls on acid both in terms of the amorphous blends and the psychotropic visuals. The shape of things to come in AI techno.
Facta – ‘Blush’
To those who got involved with the UK electronic scene after labels like Hessle Audio had already achieved heavyweight status, the Wisdom Teeth gang, along with Timedance, have been one of the foremost representatives of second gen mutant bass/UK techno. With their DJ careers at a standstill, the label’s head-honchos K-Lone and Facta recently decided to step away from the club, synthesizing their own strain of “bucolic” electronica — first with the former’s idyllic debut Cape Cira, a standout 2020 release, and now with the latter’s ode to springtime Blush. There’s a sense of brotherly connection between them, encapsulated in their “floral” sound palette, rhythmic intricacies and overall Eno-esque airlines. Though these days it sounds like a slur, Blush feels like a new phase of British sonic pastoralism divorced from the one-dimensional chill out formats, opting instead for a more eclectic and poetic world-building approach that is completely his own. You shouldn’t look for any palpable references, just elusive traces that connect the dots between the sources of his inspiration. It’s a really evocative listen, like a wanderer’s dream, fit for tranquil early morning contemplation, quiet city saunters and offline weekends spent in nature, the only exception being the eldritch-tinted jittery track ‘Brushes’. It’s hard not to write purple prose when describing the album, to not mention the feeling of a light breeze on one’s sun-kissed face, but why should there be any embarrassment? I couldn’t ask for a better soundtrack for walks through the floating petals of the blossoming cherry, peach and apricot orchards of my home region.
Iglooghost – ‘Lei Line Eon’
“These days I’m either making mind-bendingly thought-out multimedia work, or deranged forbidden cathartic joke music with my mates,” said the Dorset-based artist Seamus Malliagh recently in an interview for Loud & Quiet magazine. Moving forward from the maximalist, fast-paced, spiralling arrhythmia of Neō Wax Bloom (Brainfeeder, 2017) but retaining his signature orchestra of preternatural sound sources, Lei Line Eon is an aesthetically transgressive and sensorially excessive example of digital faux-folk laptop-music with neoclassical ambitions that pushes the boundaries of our imagination. A conceptualist in the vein of popular modernists, he’s fused the psychogeographical concept of ley lines with his futuristic fairytale world-building approach, came up with his own language (lei music, lei disks) and started his own research unit The Glyph Institute to investigate its potential. Marked by a baroque exuberance of over and underlapping sonic entities that co-exist in various dimensions next to one another, the listener imagines themselves in Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Room but instead of LED lights there is sound moving all around them. The tracks flow swimmingly into one another without any cue points to signify exactly where one is located. His otherworldly storytelling is indiscernible, but we still experience the narrative at a more primal sensory level. Sometimes it feels like he’s using CNC machines to cut actual materials to create his sound palette. It’s a very absorbing, ever-evolving world of futuristic pseudo-pop songs, fabled alien folk and phantasmagoric digital soundscapes that appeals to the inner child. In terms of its amorphous structures, it reminds me a bit of Objekt’s Cocoon Crush but it’s even more fantastic and adventurous. The interesting thing is that you simply can’t complement the sounds with any relevant pop cultural reference as there hasn’t been anything quite like it put on screen yet. The other fascinating fact is that – as discussed by Matt Bluemink in a recent essay – it represents a daring “anti-hauntological” move towards new futures where centuries old folk superstitions and ancient landmarks cohabitate with new cyberfolklores. A mind-boggling example of contemporary Western sonic esotericism that embraces an “enchanted” world-view in the face of increasing disenchantment.
Andy Stott – Never The Right Time
For more than a decade now, the music of this Mancunian melancholiac has led an interzonal existence, oozing through crevices between the here and the there. The problem’s that in the past year, also due to the undreamed-of mainstream break-through of The Caretaker’s Everywhere At The End Of Time saga, the concepts of spectrality, hauntology, melancholia, the nostalgia mode and other ideas popularised by the late Mark Fisher have been so memeified that it’s become almost impossible to use them seriously when writing about contemporary music. After a year of suffocating self-isolation and inevitable nostalgia, this is maybe why some who’ve praised Stott before aren’t that fascinated with his eighth album Never The Right Time, and why we read lines like, ”What once was exciting is now a bit boring, and it’s hard to say exactly why”, in a Pitchfork review. Stott’s been there and done that, true. There’s the ethereal voice of his regular collaborator Alison Skidmore functioning as the fulcrum of his vaporous pop songs, the signature multi-faceted sound-art stereo imaging and the fine balance between anxious atmospherics and forlorn club bangers. Similar to many of his momentous releases, the album functions like a fictitious rainy day playlist that’d get played regularly at the Black Lodge, “a place of dark forces that pull on this world”, in the words of Twin Peaks character Hawk. Never The Right Time, as suggested by the press release perhaps the final chapter of a decade-long exploration of the sonic anatomy of melancholy, isn’t as impactful or radical as its predecessors, mostly because these days the hype is reserved for diametrically opposite electronic aesthetics. In a weird turn of events, the album came out in April when the premonition of a possibly different summer dwelt on the horizon. This may sound far-fetched, but perhaps if released a few months before, during the apex of the COVID-19 pandemic, it might’ve been one of the AOTY. Now that things are about to turn for the better, I believe many will consciously ignore the heavy feelings evoked by Stott’s music. There’s still plenty of us enamoured of his phantasmatic soundtrack to 2010s anhedonia, though.
Rochelle Jordan – PLAY WITH THE CHANGES
(Young Art Records)
Talking about high hopes for summer, we’ve all been fantasising about sweaty bodies on a dancefloor for way too long, but the second full-length album by Los Angeles-based Canadian artist Rochelle Jordan might be one of the best pre-party companions this year has to offer. Out on TOKiMONSTA’s Young Art Records, PLAY WITH THE CHANGES signals a slight departure from the forward-leaning fusion R&B of the singles ‘How U Want It’ (2017) and ‘Fill Me In’ (2019) towards gleaming dancefloor anthems that celebrate life and reflect both the rich history of UK club genres and R&B mutations brought about by artists like Kelela and FKA Twigs. The album produced by KLSH, Jimmy Edgar and Machinedrum, who’s been working with her since 2015, stylistically transmutates from track to track in a flawless manner. Shifting between liquid d&b, Garage-infused R&B, shuffling breakbeats, inspired feel-good house, bedroom trap, subdued lovers rock 2.0 and so on, here you’ll find some of the finest pop tunes of the year, light-years ahead of the mainstream’s hackneyed disco nostalgia. Her feathery but round voice makes her part of a long lineage of R&B divas that came to define our lives, but instead of retracing the same old paths, Rochelle Jordan bets on a fully contemporary sound. Diverse, excellently produced and boasting with some serious songwriting, PLAY WITH THE CHANGES is a strong pop album calling for repeated listens that’ll hopefully open doors to new audiences. I can almost sense a collab with Special Request…
Lea Bertucci – A Visible Length of Light
The New York based composer, multi-instrumentalist and sound artist Lea Bertucci, an avid explorer of sound in relation to space-specific acoustics, is back with a new immersive album of electroacoustic hypnagogia, transcendental drone and frisson-inducing field recordings, out on her own imprint Cibachrome Editions. A saxophone and clarinet maverick, Bertucci is known for her exploratory use of loopers and daring tape manipulations, conjuring intricate soundscapes that transcend sterile academic music. Her approach might be studious in terms of composition and sound design, but especially on her new album there’s a human(ist) dimension to her sound-sculpting process. A Visible Length Of Light, recorded at her home in NYC and during her residency at the Bemis Center For Contemporary Art in Nebraska, is a case of narrative-driven experimental music with classical underpinnings with a focus on hypnotic melodicism and complex harmonics. It includes seven compositions and four different ‘Refrains’, with improvised outbursts on the venu flute. The longer compositions cocoon the listener in a veil of meticulously crafted atmospheres, somewhat static and slowly evolving one-tone drones with tickling sonic underswells, abstract field recordings and whirlpools of static and feedback that make one feel like a solitary ray of light crossing the Great Plains. A graceful and transportive listening experience.
DJ Khalab & M’berra Ensemble – M’berra
(Real World Record)
The Italian producer Raffaele Costantino AKA Khalab, is one of the most wholehearted advocates of traditional African musics on the electronic music circuit, making this name for himself by collaborating with Malian master Baba Sissoko, fellow Italian afrofuturist Clap! Clap! and UK jazz luminaries like Shabaka Hutchings as well as producing his 2018 gem Black Noise 2084. Many were introduced to him when Ben UFO opened his jaw-dropping set at Dekmantel 2019 with the kalimba-infused banger ‘Cannavaro’. In 2017, the Roman artist travelled to the M’berra Refugee Camp in the desert of Mauritania – home to 60,000 refugees – at the invitation of the progressive Italian NGO Intersos. There he hooked up with Arab and Tuareg artists, ranging from amateurs to touring professionals, such as members of the group Tartit, and coordinated the M’berra Ensemble, a collective of inventive artists employing their unique voices and particular musical sensibilities both on electric guitar and traditional instruments like the tenhardent and imzad. The various recordings were then further processed and conscientiously sewn together with Khalab’s trance-inducing electronic frequencies and propulsive polyrhythms, resulting in a psychedelic marriage of centuries of Tuareg traditions and state-of-the-art electronic Afrofuturism, epitomised on the gorgeous album cover. The album includes festival anthems like ‘Reste A L’Ombre’, Afro-techno running at 150 bpm, tracks marked by coarse spatial ambience and deconstructed beats, electrically powered desert rock, hallucinatory vocal workouts and celestial desert guitar laments, making it impossible to pinpoint a certain aesthetic or sound. We all know the concept of authenticity is supposed to be left rotting in 19th and 20th century treatises on Romantic and modernist geniuses, but M’berra is probably gonna be one of the most genuine transcontinental and cross-cultural collaborations you’re gonna hear in 2021.
Eomac – Cracks
I remember playing Eomac’s track ‘Shell of Dark’ at one of my first gigs at a local club, leaving half of the 15 people present dumbfounded while the other half left the room, probably nauseated by the massiveness of his production. Owing to Afro-Carribean dub wizardry, the physical aspect of his sound’s always been awe-inspiring to a spiritual degree. The Irish producer, also known as a member of Lakker, noeverything and Lena Andersson, recently moved from Berlin to the Irish countryside. With club life at a halt and a new inspiring environment to let his mind loose in, the working process behind Cracks was much more intuitive compared to the more intellectual and experimental Reconnect, released on his imprint Eotrax in 2018. The new album differs in its club-ready techno format and overall accessibility, but the recognisable ritualistic undertones, encapsulated in the spectral tribal screams and the kaleidoscopic voodoo drumming of tracks like ‘Falling Through The Cracks’, are still very prominent. It’s the emotional impact of tunes such as ‘What Does Your Heart Tell You?’ and ‘Canticle’ that really make it a treat, though. I’ve been having a hard time listening to techno LPs recently as many artists still struggle with fully grasping the format’s potential and its limitations, often just compiling functional techno tracks that’d otherwise might be included on a series of EPs. With Cracks, Eomac’s managed to deliver a structurally and aesthetically diverse and melodically sophisticated techno album that could appeal to more mainstream audiences as well as underground heads. On meditative club tracks like ‘Seashells’ and ‘All The Rabbits In The Tiergarten’, a nod to the pensive IDM techno of B12 via his trademark sound design, past nostalgia is combined with a hope for the future. He doesn’t shy away from being overtly political, most apparently in the tense overture ‘Mandate For Murder’ featuring UK rapper, poet and activist Akala. Even if the title refers to a beautifully strange aquatic creature, with its wailing sirens and heavy kicks ‘Portuguese Man O’ War’ feels like the sound of police brutality. There’s so much more going on, each track representing a powerful DJ tool as well as a piece of the puzzle that is Cracks. An essential record for all techno heads.
NR/MA – Shinkai
(Where To Now?)
I’ve been dreaming about a follow up to Robert Turman’s timeless masterpiece of avant minimalism Flux (1981) for a while now, but I never thought it would arrive in the form of soporific trip hop released in 2021. Working with a vocalist for the first time, Milan-based multi-instrumentalist and sound designer specialising in vibrant leftfield minimalism Nicola Ratti has joined forces with the poetic Japanese experimental rapper MA for a hushed myth-dream that echoes the music of Andrew Pekler, Jan Jelinek, Japan Blues, Roberto Musci and Tricky. Shinkai (translated as deep sea) immediately brings to mind the surreal atmosphere of Kurosawa’s masterpiece Dreams (1990), especially the vignette ‘The Weeping Demon’ in which a man wandering around a hazy mountainous terrain meets an Oni-like man — a mutated human victim of a nuclear nuclear holocaust. But the vibe isn’t always so spooky; the subaqueous quality of Ratti’s aesthetic, as heard on ‘Il Giardino Dei Numeri’ or ‘Yomi’, leaves you with a peculiar feeling of pleasurable disorientation in your guts. His approach to rhythmelody and iridescent harmonics is subtle but utterly effective. The minuscule gossamer sounds create evaporating soundscapes through which travel MA’s shamanistic chants, utterly beautiful in their bizarre inflections and intonations. It’s part mourning, part life-affirming music — a journey of subdued electronic expressiveness with a lot of attention to the grain of voice as a weapon of mass incantation. An extremely enjoyable and unique record that will awaken your inner mystic.
Various Artists – PRSNT
(Modern Obscure Music)
We conclude this month’s selection with a curious compilation lasting just 6 minutes and 32 seconds long. PRSNT, is “a statement on how we consume as a society today”, and a transgenerational, transcontinental multimedia project that brings together distinguished artists such as Ryuichi Sakamoto, Laurie Spiegel, Nicolas Godin and Lucretia Dalt. As a response to information oversaturation and ever-shortening attention spans — many of us tend to skip to the next track within the first 30 seconds of playing new streaming music — the compilation features 12 nano compositions conceptualised as “jingles” with artistic value comparable to Brian Eno’s Microsoft Windows 95 ident — imagine the stock music used in everyday apps, programmes, phones and operating systems if made by some of your favourite musicians. Each track could be seen as functional, even though most of them manage to leave a more lasting impression despite the compressed period of time they occupy. I visualise Laurie Spiegel’s ‘Fly By’ as a waiting room theme song, Visible Cloaks’ ‘Lifeworld’ as the title track of a pre-9/11 documentary on utopia, Chassol’s ‘ya!’ as the opening of a kids show on science and Raul Refree’s ‘Vid2020’ as my future alarm clock. The release is accompanied by an exquisite booklet with photos by Juergen Teller, Wolfgang Tillmans, Jack Davison and other renowned photographers plus writing by Shumon Basar, Francois J. Bonnet (AKA Kassel Jaeger) Maria Chavez and Yves Citton. A fleeting but gratifying experiment that reflects on how long we can endure in the here and now without succumbing to the temptation of a new tab.