Ghost in the 404: This Month’s Best Dance Music

Ghost in the 404 returns with new work from DJ Nate, Tujiko Noriko, and more.
By    May 8, 2019

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Sam Ribakoff‘s footwork is extra fancy.

Yu Su ft. Michelle Helene Mackenzie – “Little Birds, Moonbath”

In Taiwanese filmmaker Edward Yang’s Yi Yi, his last masterpiece before his untimely death, there’s a scene where Yang Yang, an elementary school kid bullied by both his peers and his teacher, sneaks out of class to walk around Taipei to take pictures with a disposable film camera. At first the photos are blurry pictures of light fixtures, flies resting on neon blue walls, sunlight reflecting on water. Maybe it’s cheesy, but these are moments of fleeting beauty that we often miss, or simply take for granted. Yu Su and Michelle Helen Mackenzie’s “Little Birds, Moonbath,” taken from an upcoming full length release on the essential Music from Memory label, feels like it’s working on that same frequency as Yang Yang.

Moving at a blissful Balearic tempo, the track weaves together a couple of soft, neon green, arpeggiated synth lines with what sounds like the gentlest of Linn drum machines working in the background, all tied together with waves of cresting ambient and found nature sounds, which takes center stage in a break in the middle of the track. This is music to rediscover the simple beauties of the world to.        

Emerson – “Sending All My Love Out”

Reissued by U.K. based Kalita Records for Record Store Day from an apparently difficult to find boogie record originally put out in 1988, Emerson’s “Sending All My Love Out” is just the purest of purple and dark green satin suited gothic electro-boogie. This is the kind of boogie music we would have gotten more of if Prince officially released “Purple Music.” Futuristic, sweaty, sexy, but whereas Prince worked along with the groove, Emerson digs into the pockets of his grooves, warping it as he pleads for someone to acknowledge the force of his emotions, as a heavy voice in the background chimes in “what’s wrong with you family?” This is music that would have played at The Roadhouse in Twin Peaks, if they ever booked boogie bands.     

Appian – “Space Out”

Sometimes as a music writer, especially one that writes about electronic music, you just want to say “please listen to this song because it bangs tremendously,” Appian’s “Space Out” is just one of those songs that bangs tremendously, no explanation or introduction required. Splitting the difference between Detroit minimal techno and deep house, a square wave synth bass just a nose hair away from being an acid house bass line basically jams over a bed of lifting ambient synths and a classic 909 groove, bespectacled with a little rimshot for flavor, for almost seven minutes. What more can you ask for?    

J Majik – “The Crow Knows”

Drum and bass/jungle music didn’t die in the 90’s after Goldie pushed it into the mainstream after years of gestating in Jamaican and Caribbean-British clubs where rave music mixed with hyped up ragga and dub music, the music just went back underground. In every mid size city in America there’s bound to be a collective of jungalists and drum and bass heads still keeping the 160 and 160 plus BPMs going, still feening after dubplates and super obscure 12 inches, still retouching and glitching the amen break and Lynn Collins’ “Think” break to make the perfect breakbeat loop. Recently footwork and juke artists have been re-energizing drum and bass breaks and molding them into footwork polyrhythms, but hardcore strict drum and bass heads still feen for that classic sound. J Majik’s “The Crow Knows,” is just about as close to the classic sound as you can get. Dark ambiance opens the track up, conjuring Silent Hill (the video game) scenes, until a hard drum and bass break comes in, stumbling and breaking everything in its way. And that’s about it, but that’s more than enough.             

DJ Nate – Take Off Mode

The story goes that Mike Paradinas, the founder and head of U.K. label Planet Mu was lost in a Youtube spiral, at a time when the algorithm, and the internet as a whole, seemed like a place to learn and discover things, not a place with nazis lurking around every corner, and Paradinas somehow stumbled on footwork music, Chicago’s hyperactive child of Chicago house and Detroit booty house. It was, and still is in some part, music made specifically for ultra competitive dance crews trying to outdo each other in dance competitions. Often the same people dancing were the ones who eventually started making footwork tracks themselves, because if nobody’s going to make the kind of music you want to dance to, I guess you have to do it yourself.

The tracks that Paradinas found were mostly from DJ Nate, a 20 year old producer from Chicago, who made music exclusively for dancers. You can hear it in tracks like “Lil Mama Bad as Hell,” later officially released by Paradinas on Planet Mu in a compilation called Da Trak Genious, where Nate pitches up a soul sample until it sounds like a Gameboy game, adding crashing triplet drums that you can imagine a dancer landing moves dramatically to, all while Nate taunts “boy your bangs week as hell.” Da Trak Genious was the first collection of footwork tracks that most people outside of Chicago heard, where it was met with equal parts curiosity and a constant refrain of “this is weird,” or “silly,” or worse. But it wasn’t for them, DJ Nate was making music for kids dancing on the west and southside of Chicago, besides, by the time the album came out, Nate was already out of the footwork scene, making R&B tracks like “Gucci Goggles.”

After being hospitalized, and paralyzed for a number of years, DJ Nate is back making footwork though, and specifically footwork music for footwork dancers. Compiled from years of work, the tracks on Take Off Mode sound like seamless transitions from Da Trak Genious, with tracks full of tumbling triplet drums, and sample flipping that stretches and bends samples to interrogate every nook and cranny for melody and texture, and again, only added to by DJ Nate repeatedly shouting out instructions to dancers like “get your ass back!” Where footwork pioneers DJ Rashad went on to smooth out the roughness of footwork, and RP Boo went on to make it even more minimal, it’s great to hear DJ Nate still make bombastic, confounding, experimental, dance music. And it’s great to see him still dancing himself.                

Sela – Unapologetically You

Sela is one of the artist that has taken DJ Nate’s experiments with stretching and warping samples to heart. Based in the city of Vallejo in the Bay Area, Sela has floated around the edges of the beat, ambient, vaporwave, and footwork scene for a couple of years, garnering some controversy for both naming an upcoming album “Make America Juke Again,” and curating Crack, a collection of early juke and footwork tracks and demos apparently culled from old Myspace, and the precursor to Myspace, Imeem, servers without the permission of the artists, which then may or may not have been sold through Sela’s Bandcamp page for a brief period of time, angering many footwork artists.

Sela was barely in his 20’s at the time Crack was released, and the music included in Crack is an invaluable document of the early footwork scene, showcasing artists who didn’t get to make full length records. They’re tracks that highlight the wild sampling and open experimentation in the early days of footwork and juke music. Like DJ Nate, Sela’s taken that ethos of centering sampling into his own music. Through years of releases, mostly on his Bandcamp page, Sela has created a singular style of finding fleeting moments of bliss in glossy soft R&B records from the 80s 90s and early 2000s, stretching and morphing those samples into melancholic footwork, house, ambient, or beat records. On Unapologetically You, the beats have a very “Lo-fi beats to study to,” vibe, and the ethereal nature of a lot of the tracks on the record can start to feel like letting your Youtube algorithm play unencumbered, but on Unapologetically You Sela gives that algorithm a soul, a terribly melancholic soul.               

Florian Kupfer – 4 Ever EP

I know very little about Florian Kupfer other than that he’s from Berlin, and that he’s associated with the New York hardcore techno label L.I.E.S., but more importantly, his remix of Sade’s “Couldn’t Love You More,” is the best house remix of a Sade song ever. In a lot of his tracks Florian sticks to the kind of “lo-fi tech-house” that’s become popular with people like Mall Grab and Ross from Friends, who are beginning to cross over from the internet dance music scene into a more mainstream, festival ready, kind of scene. But where a lot of those artist get stuck in aesthetics over musicality, Florian is able to bypass that stodginess through little affectations, like the floating background chords in “Why,” or simple pitch shifted bass drum hits in “Kaos,” or the slightly glitched and unorthodox tom tom drum pattern on the opener “4 Ever.” In dance music it’s sometimes just the little details that push a track from just okay background music to straight jams.

Tujiko Noriko – Kuro

The record label PAN specializes in the intersection of ambient, club, and noise music with artist like Puce Mary, Amnesia Scanner, and the excellent ambient compilation Mono No Aware, which Kanye sampled a track off of for that one Wyoming album that we can all forget about. So it’s fitting that this soundtrack wound up on PAN. Flirting with the line between noise and ambient music, Tujiko Noriko and friends build an atmosphere of amber colored light peeking through the eye of a rainstorm. It’s still music, influenced by the Japanese environmental music scene, with a tinge of darkness and sheen of cosmic grandeur that sounds in parts like it’s ripe for sampling for Kanye’s next gospel rap project. God help us all.  

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