Ghost in the 404: The Best Dance Music of March, 2018

Ghost in the 404 returns with words on Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, DJ Taye, and more.
By    April 4, 2018

Sam Ribakoff will not be attending Moog Fest.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith– “Abstractions”

In the mid 1960s, a music obsessed physicist named Don Buchla started working on a completely electronic musical instrument for experimental composers Ramon Sender and Morton Subotnick. Unlike Robert Moog, who had been developing his own electronic music synthesizer around the same time, Buchla ditched the idea of adding a keyboard to his synthesizer to make it both easier to play and less alien looking. Instead, Buchla’s modular synthesizers required users to plug patch cords into different modules connecting different musical functions, and turning velocity knobs to create sounds. Buchla meant for his instruments to both create new sounds that no other instrument could make, and for the musicians using his instrument to think outside of the constraints of Western music by being detached from the keyboard.

Unlike the Moog, which was readily adopted to rock and funk music, Buchla’s instruments were used by experimental electronic weirdos like Morton Subotnick, Bob Ostertag, and Suzanne Ciani, who took Buchla’s instructions and went all out, creating everything from rupturing low end heavy noise, to pillowy oceanic melodies, to sound effects for carbonated soda running down ice cubes. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith is a lot younger than those previously mentioned, and probably getting more attention than any of them too — often venturing into much poppier directions than her predecessors.

On, “Abstractions,” Aurelia Smith returns to classic Buchla improvisations, soaking a bassy arpeggiated melody with ambient textures, fuzzy blips, and cartoonish soapy bubble pops. An excellent throwback to what Suzanne Ciani — who made a record with Aurelia Smith a couple of years ago — was doing in the ’70s and ’80s.

Slimburn– “My Phone”

Oakland-based producer Slimburn used to make tracks that sounded like DJ Screw making ambient. Now, he’s steadily dropping Soundcloud loosies on a exploring Brazilian Baile funk rhythms and footwork music. With “My Phone,” Slimburn sets up a sweet Nintendo 64-esque melody and drops a subtle footwork beat under it that propels the beat to an almost pop music sensibility, for anybody brave enough to take him up on it.

DJ TayeStill Trippin

Born out of a mutation of Chicago and Detroit booty house music in backyard parties throughout Chicago, footwork from the jump has been relentlessly experimental and open minded, but at the same time highly aware and reverential to its history and the genre’s elders — especially the legacy of the late DJ Rashad. On Still Trippin, DJ Taye, a member of the biggest and most influential footwork crew, Teklife, manages to stick that dichotomy perfectly, creating tracks that at once respond and interact with the past, while looking excitingly towards the future of the genre. Tracks like “Bonfire” with DJ Paypal encapsulate the joy and energy of the genre, triplet sub bass and head snapping snares dance over samples of a bar or less that ring out incessantly, creating a phase like hypnotic effect that last until a saxophone and keyboard sample breaks the spell for a chorus.

You could imagine King Charles, or any footwork dancer, dancing to “Bonfire,” but it’s tracks like “Smokeout” with DJ Lucky, or “Same Sound” with singer Odile Mrytil that really take this record above and beyond. The tracks appear back-to-back on the album and share a similarly minded aesthetic, with DJ Taye exploring the possibilities of slowing down footworks restless energy by letting slow, meditative ambient synth pads control the flow of the track.

The sequencing of the album goes from straight instrumental footwork tracks and weaves in these songs with guest rappers like Chuck Inglish making appearances, contextualizing these experiments in the history and tradition of the genre perfectly. But it’s on the last track of the album that Taye really plunges into the future: “I Don’t Know” leads with an ambient synth pad then introduces a reverb heavy guitar and a light footwork drum track behind singer Fabi Reyna’s pensive nonchalant monotone refrain of “I don’t know,” the guitar mimicking her vocals with plucked strings. For all the talk about rappers getting on footwork tracks, “I Don’t Know” is maddeningly incomplete and beautiful in its simplicity, pointing toward the pop potential for footwork.

8ulentinaEucalyptus EP

8elentina makes “club music,” which is about as descriptive a term as calling a book a collection of words. Derived from New York ballroom and voguing’s  emphasis on rhythm over groove and instrumentation, club music has come to be a catch all term for music. It’s meant to be played in a club, at full volume, and not necessarily to make people dance. Club music has been used to describe the kind of grime musique concrete that U.K. producer Mumdance and Texas weirdo Rabit make, but it’s also used to describe the dance music hodge podge that 8ulentina and her Club Chai crew in Oakland make.

Formed with an explicit intent of highlighting queer and transgender people of color who make electronic music that incorporates diasporic instruments and styles from around the world into club music, Club Chai’s tracks in the past have seemed somewhat unfinished ideas, with drum loops looping ad infinitum, or interesting synth lines that mimic Syrian dabke music just sort of fading out into the void. But with Eucalyptus, 8ulentina really seems to have nailed down  solid tracks that fully articulate that vision of cross cultural dance music. On the opener “Metal Clip,” a gentle, Middle Eastern sounding flute line sits side by side with an eager club music beat. Other tracks like “Dissolve in Water” play footsie with snap music beats before launching into a crunchy club beat that leaves room for an Indian tabla.

Rest CorpInfinity Scroll

Made by two solo Canadian producers named Project Pablo and Khotin, Rest Corp specializes in that generalized feel good kind of tech-house where reverb laden and overly filtered Fender Rhodes simulators are struck over house grooves. Arpeggiated synth lines flutter in the foreground, and everybody has a good time on the dance floor. Tracks like “Love it TBH” can and will be thrown on at the next Resident Advisor sponsored event in your city, and there’s no way you can’t fall for it.

Delroy EdwardsRio Grande

Delroy Edwards used to sound like if John Carpenter made techno. It was grimey, lo-fi, aggressive music that sounded like it was spewed straight out of The Thing. On his last couple of records, however, Edwards has stepped out of that style and into something even more engagingly strange.

Seemingly inspired by both the lo-fi aesthetic of his earlier work and Memphis hip hop, Rio Grande pulls from electro music, mid-tempo freestyle, library music, and ’80s movie soundtracks, all of which are brought into Edwards’ singular vision of what sounds like the soundtrack to a Youtube rip of a water warped VHS copy of a cult indoctrination video narrated by Kenneth Anger.

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