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Michael McKinney is king of techno.
Electronic music has long held a seemingly paradoxical idea at its core: an unrelenting push into the future without leaving the past behind. This elongated timeline results in a genre that splays in wildly different directions. In keeping with the genre’s history, it’s this two-sided longing that defined much of electronic music’s first six months in 2018. Something can be futuristic, ancient, or both at once, and visions of each side of that coin vary from artist to artist, style to style, country to country. The releases compiled below represent daring looks in either direction or both at once.
They also serve as a brief survey into a variety of styles that the genre offers: Motion, whether musical, physical, or both, knows no genre or aesthetic. This means that seemingly disparate musical propositions can play well together: Alva Noto’s skeletal and chilled techno and Nicolas Jaar’s excursion into dusty and loose-limbed house music; Griffit Vigo’s hyper-focused vision of South Africa’s gqom and DJ Bus Replacement Service’s tongue-in-cheek Sheffield February 2018 Mix; DJ Taye’s joy in crashing footwork into hip-hop and GAS’ ominous ambient. The sonic similarities range from striking to completely absent, but the ideology remains the same: push any particular sound far enough and you’re likely to find a world worth exploring.
In taking a variety of approaches to finding, or forming, another version of now, the selected releases are striking and singular: the audacity of the blends in Teki Latex’s The Naked King; the fleeting, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ambient shards of P X A; the noise and field recordings scattered throughout Hercegovina’s Esprit de corps. While these records often have little in common sonically, their sensibilities are, more often than not, in sync. There’s another world just outside of our grasp, and through fleeting moments on a dance floor, awe inspired by alien atmospheres, or the quiet beauty of refined sonic sculpting, it may be within reach.
A.A.L. (Against All Logic) – 2012 – 2017
Nicolas Jaar has always worked in house music. That’s where he started out, after all, and both his live shows and DJ sets turn his more unassuming songs into behemoths using a blown-out kick and a few vocal samples. But his studio records have slowly shifted away from those roots: 2015’s Sirens pulled from Can and Suicide to make a spaced-out and disarmingly quiet release, one that showed Jaar’s focus to be on silence and the sounds of echoes. 2012 – 2017, his debut LP as A.A.L., is the sound of Jaar more explicitly gesturing towards the dance floor, letting his former sounds back into his studio records and loosening up again; it’s his most straightforward record since 2010’s Edits LP. Intentionally left rough around the edges, 2012 – 2017 feels like a pile of sun-warped vinyl cut just so, with fussed-over, no-nonsense beats forming the foundation to a monument to house and disco alike.
Actress x London Contemporary Orchestra – LAGEOS
An elaboration upon, and exploration of, Darren J. Cunningham’s collaboration with the London Contemporary Orchestra on 2017’s AZD (“FAURE IN CHROME”), LAGEOS is simultaneously bewildering and engrossing in the way that recalls his best material under the alias. Cunningham seems to treat the orchestra as both accompaniment and sample fodder, letting it drive the conversation on some tracks and using microscopic moments in others. But at every point on that spectrum, LAGEOS feels like a conversation between musicians that strengthens both sides. It serves as a glimpse into what Actress’ future may look like as well as a reinterpretation of his past work (“Voodoo Posse, Chronic Illusion” and “N.E.W.,” transformed here, first appeared on 2013’s excellent Silver Cloud EP and 2012’s R.I.P., respectively). Glitchy, fuzzed-out beats and decaying violins engage in a deliberate but entirely foreign dance, and the earth cracks open underneath them.
Alva Noto – Unieqav
Unieqav, the conclusion of a trilogy that started ten years ago, has the exact aesthetic commitment implied by such an undertaking. The drums are crisp and precise, punching in and out of the mix with a robotic accuracy; were it not for the occasional guttural synth, belch of static, or aerodynamic keyboard, it would be sub-zero rather than frigid. On paper, Unieqav runs the risk of appearing like a clinical exercise in drum programming and exploring the how large of an impact tiny sounds can have; in practice, it’s captivating in the deft of its execution and the distant familiarity of its world.
Aïsha Devi – DNA Feelings
Somehow both claustrophobic and cavernous, Aïsha Devi’s sophomore LP is a Gordian knot, a maze of sonic sculptures, and a glance inside Pandora’s box. Its primary instrument, her heavily manipulated voice, is stretched, bent, and twisted until it loses all form. DNA Feelings scatters it over a wide range of fields: acidic synth stabs, ambient washes, pummeling drums drawn from another world. Its geographic and temporal influences are clear, but Devi takes them to somewhere totally new, as tantalizing as it is viscerally bewildering.
Autechre – NTS Sessions
The NTS Sessions, first released over a four-week period on the London-based radio station NTS, feel like the past and future of “IDM” combined and tossed into a gravity well. The rhythmic foundation formed by madly chopped Amen breaks is palpable on the more frenetic cuts; elsewhere, that footing is replaced with a yawning chasm. Over the course of their eight hours, the Sessions move from garbled dance music to scarce ambient, their coded language never revealing itself to the listener. Whenever a melody arrives, either during cacophonies of digital detritus or alone in the emptiness of space, it feels long-forgotten, or maybe a transmission from the distant future. It lingers for a few minutes before disappearing, and the Sessions move on.
Cloistral & Drottning Omma – Nya katedraler
On Nya katedraler, filthy, pummeling beats fight their way out of an industrial din, or maybe it’s the other way around. It’s the sound of alien machinery sputtering to life and slowly powering down, as the weighty first half gives way to an eerie, desolate landscape, populated with a distant breeze of synths and little else. Regardless of setting, though, the effect is the same: a uniformly foreboding atmosphere spread across fifty-five minutes of thoroughly distant and gritty techno.
DJ Bus Replacement Service – Sheffield February 2018
Reminiscent of mashup pioneer Girl Talk’s early CD-skip releases Secret Diary, Unstoppable, Kids & Explosions’ scatterbrained and chopped-up Shit Computer, and Neil Cicierega’s Mouth series, DJ Bus Replacement Service’s Sheffield February 2018 is drunk on pop culture. It’s knowingly kitschy and, at times, obnoxious. The Tetris theme crashes into early-2010s dubstep; Eurythmics and Blackstreet share a room. It’s a wonder that it all works; if it weren’t for the BPM, there wouldn’t be anything tying most of these tracks together. But there’s a certain thrill in watching her smash cultural touchstones together with such glee, and the ways it breaks on impact is no accident. This alchemy is anchored by uniformly hard-hitting beats, resulting in a mix that’s equal parts subversive, intoxicating, and invigorating.
DJ Richard – Dies Iræ Xerox
On the follow-up to his excellent 2015 LP Grind, DJ Richard broadens his palette while zooming in. Where that record was quiet and forlorn, the mood here is uniformly dour, but with clearer delineation between tracks. His “techno” and “ambient” tracks are more distinct here, and they both hit with the heft of an elder statesman; the drumless tracks are both disarmingly beautiful and strikingly hazy, and when the drums come in they break necks with a dissatisfied and hypnotic distance. In bringing these worlds together, DJ Richard makes something captivating, a relentlessly forward-looking techno album that isn’t sure it likes what it sees.
DJ Taye – Still Trippin’
As much as any genre can be about any particular thing, footwork is about dancing. The genre and its dance have pushed each other to more and more complex dimensions over the years, and Still Trippin’ seems to explicitly acknowledge this. The sixteen tracks’ communal joy is palpable: you can practically hear the crowd cheering the dancers on as drums ricochet around and eight-bit synths jump octaves; the DJs act as cohort, co-producers, and co-hosts; and whenever someone shows up to throw in a verse, it feels like they grabbed the mic impromptu. Taye manages an impressive balancing act: he maintains the rhythmic precision associated with footwork but stays loose enough to let new ideas and energies into the mix. Still Trippin’ embraces the late DJ Rashad’s vision for expanding footwork’s palette and reach while sticking to its foundation, and it’s stronger for it.
Edward – Fortune Teller
The unhelpfully named Edward and the unhelpfully elusive German label Giegling start 2018 with Fortune Teller, eighty minutes of pulsing deep house—elliptical hand drumming, synthy stabs, dead-eyed pounding—with touches of microhouse thrown on top. It manages a notably wide range of tones while sticking to a uniformly surreal and nocturnal vibe: the grooves run the gamut from pristine to damaged and greasy; the keyboards fill in variously as glimpses of sunlight, ravey pulses, and swarms of locusts. Sometimes the LP focuses on the microscopic details, like the clicks and whistles that keep “Wait” in a state of unease; elsewhere, it zooms out, letting textural collision take center stage. But throughout, it’s muggy, queasy, and driving, a monument to 3 AM both inside the club and out.
GAS – Rausch
Wolfgang Voigt’s second release as GAS since reviving the moniker in 2017 continues trudging through the forest that the first finished in, and Rausch makes it seem endless. It’s hazy and disorienting, filled with a quiet, gnawing anxiety, a sense of dread, and a maybe-irrational paranoia. Cellos and upright basses act as an ever-shifting ground; discordant clouds (of strings, or synths, or brass, or something in between) fill the air; distant thuds and a high-pitched alarm keep the listener on edge, maintaining the sense of urgency, unease, apocalypse.
Griffit Vigo – Gqom Oh! Takeover: Griffit Vigo – 17th March 2018
The final of twelve DJ sets put out during Gqom Oh!’s takeover of Rinse FM, Griffit Vigo’s mix is bursting with life. His ability to craft an indelible yet ever-shifting groove is on full display here, with deceptively minimal beats working hypnotically and physically at once. The drums run circles around the keyboards, the vocals pant and wail, and the energy never gives in. The vigor he’s able to pull from a few drums and a synth is impressive; that he keeps it up for an hour, despite significant shifts in moods, tones, and tracks, is a testament to his deftness behind the boards.
Hercegovina – Esprit de corps
On Esprit de corps, Hercegovina takes waves of noise, rattling percussion, field recordings, and dirt-encrusted buzzsaw synthesizers to make something that moves from anxious to ascendant. The ever-shifting din is textured and somehow melodic, a dull roar that blankets morose cellos, slammed drums, and riots alike in a strange sort of melancholic serenity. These are melodies echoing from the back of a cave, or the din of a crowd turning to harmony for just a moment before returning to dissonance. Esprit de corps is striking in its beauty, if only for how deliberate it is in revealing it.
Jon Hassell – Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume One)
Jon Hassell’s first release in nine years is all impressionistic and half-faded brushstrokes. “Pentimento” refers to a “reappearance in a painting of earlier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and painted over,” and Listening to Pictures applies that approach to sonic layering. The compositional roughness is tangible, with parts eroding away suddenly and returning later, recontextualized by their new environment. Old ideas are made new, and new ideas sound old. Phantoms of drum and bass fade in and out of the background; urgent hand-drumming alternates between ghostly and pounding; and Hassell’s trumpet quivers in chorus or as a quiet lead. It’s a fascinating record to observe, one that seems to be in perpetual motion without moving an inch.
Leon Vynehall – Nothing is Still
What’s being billed as Leon Vynhall’s first official album plays instead like a great DJ set, weaving supposedly disparate sounds together and coming up with something cohesive in the process. It’s more ambient than either of his more explicitly house-oriented “extended EPs” might suggest, moving from wafting jazz to guttural house and back. Modern-classically tinged strings weave their way in and out of the mix, and clouds of piano play as much of a role as the drum machine. It’s uniformly forlorn, meditative, and beautiful.
Maenad Veyl – Somehow, Somewhere They Have Heard This Before
An ugly, heaving slab of industrial techno, Thomas Feriero’s latest album lingers in muted blacks and greys throughout the duration of its half-hour runtime. It’s all about the tones here, with the drums alternating between satisfying thuds and anxious clatters and uniformly dreary synths. Together, they make Somehow an uncomfortably close-up listen, and its grit only grows as each track bleeds into the next. It’s this atmosphere, simultaneously unsettling and magnetic, that powers the release, with invigorating drum programming and filthy textures communicating a sense of barely-contained disarray that’s both gripping and alien.
Oneohtrix Point Never – Age Of
The most striking thing about Age Of is its beauty. Previous Oneohtrix Point Never records have had moments shine through, of course, but they’ve had to fight their way out from the alien and mechanical goop covering them. Here, that dynamic is turned on its head. It’s fitting that Age Of is also very empty—many sounds here feel like ghosts of ideas flying past, and the open space around them gives them room to resonate. It’s remnants of past civilizations and decades of our own, garbled and re-processed and dumped out a hatch, and the results are like sunbursts: terrifying up close, but gorgeous from a distance.
P X A – S P A C E S
The press release for P X A’s S P A C E S positions the ambient record as a collection of abandoned musical ideas culled from the past four years, and its structure—nineteen tracks squeezed into forty-one minutes—suggests that little has been done to make the scraps line up. But it may be stronger for that. The result, from angles structural, musical, and metatextual, is a sort of temporal dysphoria; as tape hiss and delicately smeared synths collide with echoes of keyboards and birdsong, sense of both time and place dissolve. S P A C E S may show its seams, but in doing so it casts the familiar in the uncanny valley and makes every crack emotionally arresting.
P. Adrix – Álbum Desconhecido
For a record whose title translates as “Unknown Album,” P. Adrix’s debut on Príncipe comes off as unusually self-assured and perfectly at home. Like seemingly everything else the label has attached its name to, Álbum Desconhecido wastes no time, its nine tracks barely passing twenty minutes in total. This isn’t to say they’re spare, just focused: this is high-energy, highly dancable kuduro, with a heavy focus on polyrhythms and frantic drums bouncing off each other in exciting ways. It’s a solid showcase for P. Adrix, whose technical skill and sheer delight in creation shine through in abundance.
Rezzett – Rezzett LP
Rezzett’s self-titled record is a scuzzy dive into their take on lo-fi house, and it’s a surprisingly cohesive vision coming from a genre based in YouTube algorithms. It takes the central tenants of the style—static-drenched kicks, busted synthesizers, insistent drum programming—and expands its horizons without losing sight of its roots, making a long-player that’s as emotive as the genre’s best without confining itself stylistically. The duo chases the genre down a variety of different rabbit holes, moving from grimy, low-bit samples to ambient techno tracks as heard through a payphone and back again. More than anything else, it’s a full-bodied exploration of aesthetic, one that argues that gritty synthesizers, if played enough, turn to a sort of beauty.
SOPHIE – OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES
Prior to releasing her debut record, SOPHIE’s music was about taut compositions and metallic textures; it was spartan in sensibility but futuristic in tone. OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES, then, is a daring leap for the producer. Trading in tightly wound grooves for a sprawl befitting a record twice its length, it is unmistakably her work—the radio-befitting melodies, textural maximalism, and anxious sexual energy are all present. But its themes are more explicit and evenly distributed; its most exploratory moments go further out of her supposed comfort zone, and its hardest edges are messier than those on prior work. She used to trade in PC Music’s ideas of the ideologies of pop music; with OIL, she crafts a wider, deeper, and more proudly rough vision.
SSTROM – Otider
Given he’s one half of industrial techno duo SHXCXCHCXSH and that the record’s name roughly translates to “un-times,” it should come as no surprise that SSTROM’s debut solo record is shuddering, off-balance, and disorienting. Synths have to be shoved into place on top of the beat, and the low-end would be all gurgles and ruptures if it weren’t for the kick drum grounding it all. Anything straightforward and on-the-nose is given a few counters in the form of textural fuss or rhythmic unsettlement. This is alien music with an undeniable level of craft; it may be queasy and off-center, but it also can be enveloping and hypnotic. It just depends on where your center of gravity lies.
Terekke – Improvisational Loops
Terekke’s second album in as many years is a smear of watercolored synths, tones clearly distinguishing themselves at first but blurring into a uniform composition soon after. The twenty-minute “Nuwav2” is the clear centerpiece here, given it takes up over half of the nine-track LP’s runtime, but it earns its length through an ever-evolving series of shimmers; its synths crest and give way to others, and the ensuing waves are entrancing. The following seven tracks work within a similar textural palette, with tiny details (a passing-by arpeggio, a guitar strummed on another continent) keeping things varied but never distracting from the overall atmosphere.
Teki Latex – The Naked King
The Naked King, the third release in Teki Latex’s “King of Blends” series, makes a compelling case for the series’ title: opening with the improbable mix of Lil’ Flip and Squarepusher and never quite letting up from there, the set is consistently exploratory and well-crafted. It plays as both a stream of consciousness and exercise in genre without turning clinical; the mixing is fluid, natural, and inspired, no matter which records he’s pulling out. It’s a party record that’s studied without being studious, a thrill ride through tracks old and new that never turns exhausting. The Naked King achieves a joy in contrast from the get-go, and nothing comes off as on-the-nose or reliant upon plain nostalgia. Everything is recontextualized, pushed around, and slotted into a new and unexpected place that immediately makes sense.
Traumprinz & DJ Metatron / Prime Minister of Doom /DJ Healer – Traumprinz B2B DJ Metatron Live at Planet Uterus / Mudshadow Propaganda / Planet Lonely / Nothing 2 Loose
The artist first known as Traumprinz has had a prolific 2018 so far, having released four releases under as many alises. Their back-to-back set as Traumprinz and DJ Metatron, released first, showcases two different sides of their output: Traumprinz’s set is minimal techno masquerading as house, or possibly the other way around, while DJ Metatron’s set is all washes of synth and breathy drums. Prime Minister of Doom’s Mudshadow Propaganda hews closer to the first half; it’s surreal and warm minimal techno, with each track giving out a tiny hook: the smack of a bongo, an elongated synthesizer riff.
The two releases from DJ Healer, Nothing 2 Loose and Planet Lonely, take the religious overtones in Metatron’s set and make them more explicit. Each release falls somewhere between hopeful and melancholy; glassy synthesizers, heartfelt vocal samples, and pattering drums form the foundation for prayer. All four releases are comfortably warm and alive, and they show that Traumprinz hasn’t lost their grip on the heart or head.