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

Ghost in the 404 returns with new dance floor fillers from Throbbing Gristle, Frank Ocean, and more.
By    November 6, 2019

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Back in the day, Sam Ribakoff was a regular at Fabric.

Frank Ocean & Sango – “Cayendo”

Like jazz, if you love music, but you didn’t have a formative experience with the music in your youth, you’re going to eventually find your way to electronic/dance music.

Part of the point of writing this column is to not only chronicle all the great electronic/dance music that gets buried in the streaming ecosystem, but to also draw connections from electronic/dance music to hip hop and other popular music genres, and encourage people to take a look at electronic/dance music past the sort of Diplo and Bassnectar inspired red Solo Cup electro that for years in the mid to late 2000’s was the de facto go to sound when rappers wanted to interact with dance music. Maybe it was Kanye who lead the way out of that rut with baby steps towards sampling Daft Punk, then Aphex Twins, and for a couple of years now he’s been hard at work remixing Chicago house tracks into gospel MAGA anthems. Since then various big name rappers and producers have been dancing around the edges of dance music, plucking elements out at will, but, other than maybe Le1f, Frank Ocean seems to be the only big name artist to try to embrace the history and culture of dance music (emphasis on try).

Other than Frank stan gossip about him frequenting clubs in England, Frank has had a working relationship with Vegyn, one of U.K. dance music’s most eclectic stylists since the release of Endless, and he’s made multiple references to the New York City ball culture superstar Crystal LaBeija. Frank even celebrated his birthday with a 80’s ball culture theme.  From a distance it’s seemed like Frank’s interest in dance music has evolved parallel to his interest and embrace of queer history and culture, which has been the essential dynamic creative force and community that both created and sustained dance music from disco to house to techno and up until contemporary club and experimental music today. To celebrate that, and what seems like an extended rollout of a possible new project that Frank described in an interview with W Magazine as being influenced by “Detroit, Chicago, techno, house , French electronic…,” Frank announced a roaming club night in NYC called PrEP, named after a notoriously expensive type of antiviral drug used to prevent HIV infection.

The idea seemed good-hearted: what if this life saving drug had been readily available and accessible to queer people in the 80’s when the AIDS epidemic spread like a plague, killing thousands of people, especially in the queer black and brown community? To many, the concept in it of itself was a little troubling. HIV/AIDS positive people did go clubbing in the 80’s, in an effort to both defy the mainstream culture’s terror of HIV/AIDS positive people, and to be fully human in the face of both societal and physiological affliction. Things got a little more troubling when attendees of the PrEP party noticed that most of the DJs playing the party, including the headliners, blast from the past French bloghouse duo Justice, were white, and straight identifying, and not a part of the booming New York dance music community, and that most of the crowd seemed to also be white and straight. 

However well-intentioned the idea of the night was, even as a Frank stan myself, there’s no denying that it missed the mark, playing on a curious blend of both nostalgia for an imagined scene, and an ignorance of both history and the current, vibrant, queer electronic/dance music scene in New York. One good thing that the night did bring though was new Frank music.

Produced by Sango, who DJed a set at the PrEP party, “Cayendo,” utilizes Sango’s neglected years old expertise in combining Brazilian baile funk with Miami bass music, New Orleans bounce music, and futuristic R&B. Frank Ocean, voiced warped and pitch shifted like “Nike,” lives deep in the still ambience at the center of the beat, belting out lyrics in Spanish about the crushing weight of love and heartbreak that only Frank could feel through, while a roaring party goes on around him. Although Sango and the Long Beach, CA, Soulection Crew he is an essential part of, both had their moment in the proverbial underground spotlight in the mid 2010’s, and are not really a part of the queer dance music scene that Frank wants to celebrate, it might not be Umfang, but it’s better than Justice, and it’s pure Frank Ocean. 

Fred P – “Energies Collide (feat. Ceri B)”

Speaking of underground dance music, you think Frank Ocean has ever been to a three and a half hour Fred P deep house set? In the house music world Fred P is the deep house guy. His music, either under his name, or his moniker, Black Jazz Consortium, often takes the scenic path straight through W Hotel core deep house Muzak and somehow comes out the other side as almost trance inducing grooves that flow, not bump. With a very British sounding vocalist Ceri B doing a classic deep house monotone sprechgesang about tantric, and masculine and feminine energy under a bed of soft ambiance, bleeping synths, and shuffling drums, this is what is truly meant by “vibes.”

Throbbing Gristle – “Fed Up”

Hot take; industrial music sucks. No offense to S. Alexander Reed, who’s book on the history and ideology of industrial music, Assimilate, looks like a good read, but the music’s history of incorporating elements of totalitarian communist and fascist iconography, and the genres obsession with gore and violence might have at one time served to call out our silent complicity with the everyday violence of the state, and might have made audiences in the late 70’s and into the 80’s recognize symbols of control and violence in the benign, but now, now I hope we can all agree, with the rise of actual Nazis and fascists around the world, that this shit can finally be certified as played out.

Not to take away from the cool stuff that Clipping has been doing with directing industrial music’s rage towards the racist superstructure, or Mark Stewart’s Bristol white boy industrial amalgamation of Miles Davis’ On the Corner, early hip hop beats, and Jamaican dub, or Cabaret Voltaire’s decade long career of constant experimentation, or Esplendor Geometrico’s post-fascist Spain noise cleansings, but if edgy kids could just move on from their William S Burroughs, serial killers, and World War II phase, that would be great for all humanity, and the future of industrial music in general. 

The band Throbbing Gristle are largely responsible for all of this. Started in the late 70’s in northeastern England as an extension of a performing arts group called COUM Transmissions, Throbbing Gristle wanted to take British punk music’s ironic embrace of nihilism and Nazi iconography as far down the rabbit hole as possible. Inspired by European occultism and magic, European electronic experimental music, like Stockhausen, and Kraftwerk, the group hand wired noise machines, basic synthesizers, and made a early sampling keyboard by rigging up old keyboards to tape machines, and started making grungy, overly distorted, electronic music, often at a dirge tempo, topped off with often nightmarish or overtly violent lyrics screamed over it by the band’s frontperson, Genesis P-Orridge.

Unlike punk’s knowing courting of record labels and mainstream success, Throbbing Gristle wanted nothing to do with mainstream success. The band constantly played with fascist iconography, with song titled like Zyklon B Zombie, about the poison used to murder prisoners on mass at Nazi death camps. The logo for their label, Industrial Records, which their followers took to identify the type of music they were making, was a picture of a crematorium at the Auschwitz death camp. All of this was supposed to be a Burroughs like attempt at culture jamming, to remind people of the horrors of mindless sublimation to power.

A whole scene of industrial bands followed in their wake, vaulting Genesis P-Orridge to literal cult status, when P-Orridge left Throbbing Gristle and started a chaos magic cult called Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth in the early 80’s. P-Orridge went on to make music as a part of various projects, and other members of the band started various other projects like Coil and Chris and Cosey, experimenting with noise music and early house and electro. Nobody got famous or rich of their music, but undeniably Genesis P-Orridge received the most attention, and the most admiration for their work in developing the revolutionary sound of Throbbing Gristle. Only recently has that attention started to wane, as another Throbbing Gristle, Cosey Fanni Tutti, revealed in her book, Art Sex Music, that P-Orridge often pressured Fanni Tutti into having unprotected sex, ran at her with a knife, and attempted to kill her by throwing a brick at her.

But as P-Orridge begins to loose some of the mystique around them, I think it’s also important to point out how influential Fanni Tutti, and her partner Chris Carter were at forming the sound of Throbbing Gristle. 

Carter notably built most, if not all, of the keyboards and noise generators the band used to form their sound. Fanni Tutti contributed immensely to the sound herself by experimenting with how a guitar can be played, creating the band’s distorted, gritty, textures. Just listen to Fanni Tutti’s solo record, Time to Tell, or just about any of the music Fanni Tutti and Carter made as a duo under Chris and Cosey, and listen to newly released live tapes of a Throbbing Gristle reunion from 2004 like “Fed Up,” and I think their overarching influence on the sound of the band, that noisy, dark, euphoria, has had on all kinds of electronic music made after it, is clear. Especially since both Carter and Fanni Tutti didn’t have to rely on tired shock tactics of fascist imagery to achieve that sound. I just hope one day they, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti, get as much acknowledgment for their accomplishments as an abusive asshole like P-Orridge gets.       

Alton Miller – “When the Morning Comes (Kyle Hall and Amp Fiddler Remix)”

Released in 2010, the original Alton Miller and Amp Fiddler track was already deep and funky as hell, but this new remix by premier Detroit house producer Kyle Hall slows “When the Morning Comes” down to a neon lit twilight stride. Hall replaces the bass line of the original track with a slick sliding bass that pokes out of twinkling Rhodes keys as he makes Alton Miller repeat “I came to dance all night, and I ain’t leaving till the morning comes” like a softly spoken prayer to the gods of dimly lit dance floors. Amen.

Brown Irvin – Run Me That Soul

With the Brown Irvin moniker, Compton’s AshTreJinkins explores the dubby, spacier, ambient side of techno music. On the first of two tracks, “Locution,” a dirty as hell acid house bass line fights to be heard underneath a filtered Ras G inspired beat. On the second track, “Overcast,” percussion plings and rings out from all directions of the stereo sound around almost deep house synth chords buried beneath feet of ambiance and sound design. It’s more interesting genre and sound design experiments from one of the most exciting DJs and producers in L.A.       

Floating Points – Crush

I’ll be honest, I had never really enjoyed Floating Points’ music. Sam Shepard has seemed like a really cool guy, with a really cool taste in dance and jazz music, but something about his music seemed, too clinical maybe. On Crush, Shepard seems to have broken himself out of that sterile sound by messing around with a Buchla modular synthesizer. Developed by inventor Don Buchla in the 60’s, the Buchla doesn’t have the standard piano keyboard that most synths have, instead, musicians turn knobs and plug patch chords into the Buchla to generate an electronic musical signal. Buchla’s are notoriously hard to recreate sounds with, instead, musicians almost have to improvise with the instrument itself in order to play it.

Buchla designed the instrument to free musicians from the confines of the Western piano keyboard so that they could develop a new sound, and a new, improvisatory, electronic, style of music. Buchla masters like Suzanne Ciani, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, and Bob Ostertag did just that, making music that veered between real noise and surreal beauty, music impossible to think of inside the confines of a keyboard. On Crush, Shepard takes some inspiration from those Buchla masters, but combines the unwieldly raggedy noise of the Buchla with his own classical sense of symphonic harmony on the beautiful opener “Falaise,” and on a lot of tracks like “Bias,” with the drum and bass style drums of his experience as a dance music producer. Other parts like “Apoptose, Pt.2” sounds like if John Cage made electronic music with the I Ching. It’s the sound of a producer finding themselves in chaos, and making it work.

Bastiengoat – 1421 Vol. 2

The Earth moves, the sun rises, and Oakland’s Bastiengoat puts out yet another solidly enjoyable footwork EP on Soundcloud. These things just happen. Bastiengoat makes hyperkinetic, almost bubblegum, footwork, often a little faster than the traditional Teklife stuff, with a lot more influences from club and bass music, but still completely not corny. Just take a listen to the EP’s centerpiece, “Separate Image,” which starts as a drum and bass rager, then slows down to let the sweetest jazz chords ring out, then goes back to drum and bass madness, only to end with a banging footwork drum pattern. I’m sure Bastiengoat already has some more heat ready to go for next month.      

HTRK – Over the Rainbow

Made as a soundtrack for an impossible to find documentary of the same name about Scientology, Over the Rainbow loses the Cocteau Twins style floating vocals of HTRK’s [pronounced ‘Hate Rock’] Jonnine Standish and most of the Gothboiclique like style strumming guitars of their earlier work, and burrows down into the perverse optimism of their sound with glugging bass-ey synths accented with bright ambient keys and what sounds like modulated found bird sounds, or a dusty modular synth that sounds like bird sounds. With the best of HTRK’s music, a shroud of sonic gloom covers splotches of light in their sound, on Over the Rainbow that vibe fits perfectly with the theme of Scientology, and someone trying to find reprieve from their troubles in religion, and possibly finding only darkness.

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