Sam Ribakoff is bringing drill music to South America.
It’s been a minute, but we’re back this month, shouting out and recognizing some of the best dance and club music released last month. In this edition, we’ve got two great EPs from San Antonio, Texas, the metal sounds of House of Kenzo, and the cumbia footwork of MoondoctoR and Orion Garcia. We’ve also got new heat from Mexico’s N.A.A.F.I. collective, and some vintage NY house sounds from Sound Metaphors. Go forth and prosper on the dance floor.
House of Kenzo– Bonfires of Urbanity
Dance music—especially electronic, experimental, and club music—that doesn’t fall under the house or techno umbrella, is severely underreported in what’s left of the blogosphere. Vice’s Thump platform, which just closed down due to massive layoffs at Vice, was one of the only sites that reliably covered and supported electronic musicians and producers on the fringes, those that were pushing the boundaries of what was possible in dance and club music, a lot of them with something important to say.
House of Kenzo, a collective of queer musicians, producers, DJs, artists, and dancers from San Antonio, Texas, are one of those up and coming experimental club groups that Thump championed. Bonfire of Urbanity, the first EP by the group, is just three tracks long, but those three tracks can rip a hole through this fucked up country. The first track, “Purity Bynez,” starts off as a thrash metal song, with scratchy distorted guitars, double bass drum kicks, then somehow morphs into a club track with wailing synths and snapping percussion.
“Melania Carry” distorts Trump’s inaugural address until it’s a growling mess from hell, then uses it as ambiance to propel forward a harrowing club soundscape that ends with a cool, confident voice speaking out with the dictum, “America won’t let us ring our liberty bell, so we’ll ring our own.” On this EP, House of Kenzo presents a sound of resistance and perseverance that needs to be heard.
N.A.A.F.I.– Pirata 4
N.A.A.F.I. is another experimental electronic collective championed by the good people at Thump. This Mexican collective of DJs and producers has been steadily spreading their eclectic jumble of club music that mixes in sounds of cumbia, reggaeton, dancehall, Brazilian club music, noise, and radical politics. Although meant mainly for DJs in the sense that this isn’t necessarily a cohesive album, Pirata 4 is a good introduction to the exciting and intentionally confounding aesthetic of the N.A.A.F.I. collective.
There’s an amazing remix of Ricky Martin’s “Maria” (something I thought I’d never write) by Tayhana that extends a kind of ambient, ghostly background vocal, before throwing it off the deep end with a wild sped up and manipulated “Ha Dance” drum break. Listening to Pirata 4 is like listening to American capitalism being spit back at you with style and humor.
MoonDoctoR & Orion Garcia–Elephant EP
MoonDoctoR, a Chicago native now based out San Antonio, Texas, has been on the edges of the footwork scene for a minute, making appearances on DJ Earl’s 2016 album Open Your Eyes. On Elephant, he really busts out his own sound. Working with Discos Peligrosa label head Orion Garcia, who sings, plays accordion, and a Colombian flute called a gaitas on this EP.
MoonDoctoR is somehow able to connect the polyrhythmic sped up house of Chicago footwork with Colombian and cumbia rhythms, which Orion nimbly sings around in both English and Spanish, sometimes accented by a pretty heavy autotune sheen. Like Jlin’s work in the past, MoonDoctoR is showing just how fluid footwork can be on a track like “Na,” which combined with Orion’s vocals, sounds like the Lil Durk of Colombia belting his autotuned heart out over a lost classic Chicago footwork track.
Sound Metaphors– Instinct EP
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to make great music. Artists in all mediums often mimic their heroes, trying to figure out how they do what they do. See: Young Thug’s early Lil Wayne sounding days, Paul Thomas Anderson’s early Robert Altman-esque movies, Pablo Picasso’s early, technically amazing realist paintings. The music on this Sound Metaphors EP have been heard before. The soulful, late night deep grooves of New York house, with a little hint of Detroit booty music’s penchant for vocal chops and lo-fi distortion is an oft-deployed style, but that doesn’t make the music made by Sound Metaphor any less fun to listen and dance to.
Jana Rush– Pariah
Jana Rush, who’s gone by the name JARu in the past, has been around and involved in the Chicago footwork movement since she was a kid. Rush made a short EP back in the late ’90s for the legendary Chicago house and juke music label Dance Mania, and one more EP on a smaller label a couple of years after that. But for a number of years Jana has been on a hiatus from making music, instead getting a degree in chemical engineering, and working as a CAT scan technologist.
Now, almost 19 years later, Jana is back with a full length that sounds like someone coming out of long hibernation, ready to bust shit up. The first two tracks present a very brooding and minimalistic sounds, full of background breathy vocal chops and fluttering footwork snare work, but it’s the third track, “Divine,” where things get crucial.
As the title would suggest, “Divine” is one of the most ecstatic footwork tracks you’ve ever heard. The track builds and repeats off of a subdued, soulful, floating synth line. A lot of the songs on Pariah aim towards the more hardcore battle tracks, music made explicitly for footwork dancers to dance to, but “Divine,” the chopped up paranoid soul sampling of “Old Skool,” and the late night bliss of “Chill Mode,” are worth your time and money.