Sam Ribakoff is latching onto you.
Disclosure– “Ultimatum (feat. Fatoumata Diawara)”
Disclosure is the hardest musical group in history to hate on, and it shouldn’t be that way. It should be easy to hate on two ridiculously young, pasty white brothers from Surrey, England who make nostalgia riddled electronic pop music out of the effervescent bones of disco music, UK garage, and American house music [ed. note: it is] . But if you were ever at a music festival, a club, a clothing store in a mall, or listening to any streaming music platform in the past five years, you know how hard it is to deny the pure poptimism of Disclosure. [ed note part 2: we don’t]
When their first album, Settle, came out in the summer of 2013, the country was still enveloped in the Budweiser foam of dissonant post-dubstep DJs like Skrillex and Afrojack. Hair metal music for the new century. Disclosure offered an alternative proposition to mainstream audiences, groove based electronic dance music that boiled down styles from all over the spectrum of the 30 plus years of disco derived dance music.
Disclosure was at once deeply reverential to the history of electronic dance music, and at the same time apart from it in its ahistorical insistence that the styles it was so heavily cribbing from and recontextualizing were contemporary and modern. That’s why tracks like the Sam Smith assisted “Latch” could play at sorority pool parties across the country, while “When the Fire Starts to Burn” found a just as welcome reception in house music sets in dance clubs.
For awhile it seemed like Disclosure’s amalgamated dance pop sound was everywhere, ushering acts like Flume and Kaytranada into the mainstream, undoubtedly influencing Ariana Grande’s recent turn in sound, and affecting DJ Mustard’s trap-house-EDM productions on “Whole Lotta Lovin” and Jeremih’s “Don’t Tell Em,” among other. But by their follow up album, 2015’s Caracal, the group started to sound like every other vaguely house music influenced EDM DJ, or well produced music for a “hip” luxury hotel lobby.
In the past three years Disclosure has slowly released loosie tracks and an EP that hinted at good things, but nothing has reached the apex of their latest track, “Ultimatum.” Based around a looping vocal sample from some yet revealed song by Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara, the track builds from low key double pulse claps, crisp Rhodes piano chords, and a clean, fat, bass line. It’s music that’s certain to find Disclosure back home and pool parties, dance clubs, and in hearts and minds.
Professor Rhythm– “Professor 3”
Released in 1991, the same year as the end of apartheid in South Africa, Professor Rhythm’s “Professor 3” is a a slice of early ’90s South African house music at its most bubbly and hopeful. With a reissue of a full 1991 album from Professor Rhythm from Awesome Tapes from Africa on the way next month, this track, with its Marshall Jefferson and Frankie Knuckles inspired step bass line, vamp chord progression, and glistening xylophone lead, could still rock any party.
But in thinking about this track, and what it must have meant to record such a bright and hopeful track as a black South African in the months leading up to the end of apartheid, adds an extra weight of importance to it, and acts as an interesting example of dance music’s ability to be in dialogue with politics and social change.
DJ Lilocox– “Fronteiras”
Lisbon, Portugal’s Principe record label has been working hard to spread the sounds and rhythms of electronic music made in Cape Verde, Angola, Mozambique, and other former Portuguese African colonies, emphasizing how they all interact and reimagine each other in Lisbon itself. While the title track to this record, “Paz & Amor,” is getting a considerable amount of press attention, to me the real standout track on the record is “Fronteiras.” Contrary to what the title of the track suggests, “Fronteiras” catapults across imposed borders, separating traditional music from popular electronic dance music.
Throughout the four previous tracks on the record, DJ Lilocox presents electronic re-imaginings of traditional rhythms, layering rhythms on top of each other with few melodic components, letting texture and atmosphere drive the tracks. But on “Fronteiras,” the closing track of the album, Lilocox points the way towards a sound that melds traditional Cape Verdean rhythms with house music. Lilocox starts the track out with a traditional rhythm, adding in ambient synth pads, a fluttering bass line, and an oscillating flute melody. Once it all comes together it sounds like it would perfectly fit into a UK garage mix, for anybody open enough to see just how connected dance music can be to African rhythms.
Zuli– Trigger Finger
For years, Egyptian DJ and producer Zuli has been trying to reforge the bonds between techno and UK bass music with hip hop. He’s done so by making beats for Egyptian and other Arab MCs, while also pushing his own brand of sludgy techno that’s as influenced by Kevin Saunderson as it is by Mobb Deep. Traces of those influences are the grounding to Trigger Finger, but only the grounding.
Trigger Finger goes deeper into the history of electronic dance music, and further into an idiosyncratic version of the future of the music, than any other release this year. Throughout the relatively short runtime, Zuli flings ideas out from a molten stew of musique concrete, trance, jungle, drum and bass, techno, and hip hop, seemingly reflecting a personal history and connecting it to history writ large.
Tracks like the opener “Everyday” and the title track recall the revolutionary sampling experiments of Egyptian artist Halim El-Dabh, who recorded an exorcism ceremony and then manipulated the recording with tape splices and effects. The result is a spooky composition called “Wire Recorder Piece” from 1944 that became one of the first ‘sampled’ compositions. Zuli contrasts this with distorted drum and bass breaks, connecting the rave scene in England to the streets of Cairo.
Other tracks like “Your Tracks are Too Short” present an almost chopped and screwed techno beat, and then build droning synth lines atop until it becomes almost mystical religious trance music. At times, the album sounds like a not so distant relative of music being made by American producers like Chino Amobi, Elysia Crampton, and the House of Kenzo collective, music that touches on the historical and political, the hypermodern and the traditional, to paint an abstract, powerful panorama of our times.
Neuropunk– Ghetto Child
At best, footwork and juke music expresses pure joy. Pure joy often in the form of finding the perfect sample, the perfect loop, jacking it up to 180 BPM, and letting it repeat ad nauseum. This leaves enough time and room for dancers and listeners to be enveloped and subsumed by that joy. Neuropunk, an essential part of the L.A. juke and footwork crew Juke Bounce Werk, reaches into those states of transcendence on his most recent collection, Ghetto Child. On “On My Mind,” Neuropunk remixes Jorja Smith and Preditah’s “On My Mind” as a glitchy triplet footwork banger, speeding up and and slowing down Jorja’s voice, parsing out ambient textures, then speeding the whole thing up to a manic speed garage beat. It’s a beautiful reminder of the real art of remixing, and a good opportunity to lose yourself in a flurry of bass for three minutes.
Daedelus, one of the O.G.s of the L.A. beat scene, is never content to rest in a place of musical comfortability. Over the past 17 years of releasing music, Daedelus has experimented heavily with finding different ways to tease out lyricism and grace from juxtaposing chaotic clashes of EDM, broken beat, and dance bass and drums with wildly arpeggiated synths and layered samples. Tracks like “Tangled” on Taut follow that M.O., sounding like a track that would work perfectly at Low End Theory. Showcasing his diversity, tracks like the opener “Pulse Width” find Daedelus sounding like instrumental bubbly J-pop, with layers of skipping synth lines falling on top of each other.
Throughout the album Daedelus plays with what sound like a combination of synth and acoustic string sounds, adding a cinematic sheen to all the tracks, and leaving behind a whiff of melancholy throughout the record. Nowhere does this work better than on “Cash on Out,” where strings serve to juxtapose and uplift the 8-bit glitch rhythm, culminating in this replicant android crying in the rain type tableau. The closing track, “A Slow Brush,” brings it back to a more human level, where Daedelus establishes a very Sela-esque earthworm undulating ambient flow, adding on bright crackling drums, and layers of competing synth pads until it all feels like the film of the bubble holding the track together is going to burst. When it does, Daedelus lets you know it’s alright. And that’s comfort enough.