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

Ghost in the 404 returns with new jams from Arca, Damar Davis, and more.
By    July 8, 2020

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Sam Ribakoff‘s drip is like Pete Campbell’s faucet in Cos Cob.

Kareem Ali – “Come Back to Me”

and MoMA Ready – “If I’m in Love (feat. Bass Bear)”

Kareem Ali’s “Come Back to Me” is the platonic ideal of a house music track in 2020. Propelled forward by what sounds like a detuned trumpet or a harmonica sample from The Dude-era Quincy Jones records but turned into an air raid siren, Ali softly pleads for a distant lover over a head bobbing house beat, occasionally accompanied by a wordless chorus of ghostly female vocals. It’s a house track, but it calls back to elements of techno, bass music, hip hop, soul, and maybe even a little jazz and gospel. It’s an exuberant and almost celebratory, sounding like it was just as fun to make as it is to listen to. 

“If I’m in Love” is MoMA Ready’s clearest and best expression of the gabber/early 2000’s r&b mashup sound that he’s been exploring since he put out a 200 bpm gabber remix of Amerie’s “One Thing” at the beginning of the year. “If I’m in Love” slows that bpm down a little to match the tempo of a sultry r&b slow jam vocalist, but keeps the pounding four on the floor hardcore gabber drums crushing behind her. Mashed together, the track is an urgent moan of liberation.      

Foreigner – “Touch Ground”

and Kush Jones – “Leave Em”

Speaking of urgent cries for liberation, “Touch Ground” is underground L.A. Carribean dance music legend Foreigner’s techno-soca party track for Black liberation against white violence. Over a rapturous techno-soca beat and a filtered acid house bass line, Foreigner samples an impassioned speech by Kwame Ture admonishing white audience members for not putting their bodies on the line to stop white violence directed against people of color. “You don’t want to stop white violence do you?” Ture thunders, “It’s my survival that I’m fighting for white boy! Have you stopped it?” Ture saying “have you stopped it?” repeats again towards the end of the track, hammering home the idea that just thoughts and feelings won’t stop the worldwide pandemic of white violence, but that only direct action against the system that holds it in place will stop it, then the drums kick back in, loud and clear. 

Kush Jones’ “Leave Em” does what my favorite juke/footwork tracks do, building transcendent music through sampling and looping small snippets of sound. Building mountains out of molehills. New York’s Kush Jones is one of the most prolific and most eclectic dance music producers making footwork/juke music now, and on “Leave Em” Jones makes that transcendent mountain out of a loop of Sounwave and Terrance Martin’s instrumental for Kendrick Lamar’s “For Sale? Interlude,” and another loop of someone saying “he ain’t bothering you so don’t fuck with em.” It doesn’t make sense on paper, but the importability of turning two simple elements into transcendent electronic soul music is the liberation theology that juke/footwork music preaches.          

Florian T M Zeisig – “Been Listening a Lot”

and Nelio Pires – “Baion”

If you’re looking for a little calm audio oasis to relax into this month, German producer Forian T M Zeisig’s got you covered. On “Been Listening a Lot,” a track off an upcoming album of his that’s supposed to put listeners in the shoes of workers in different parts of a nightclub, Zeisig lays down a deep, meditative, ambient dub techno soundscape to get lost in.

I couldn’t find any information about who Nelio Pires is, but this Soundcloud loosey from this mysterious producer is just gorgeously simple downtempo. Gliding off repeating ambient synth pads, Pires slowly adds an acoustic sounding clave rhythm, what sounds like maybe a bassy berimbau, and simple but perfect malleted wood accents. It’s a musical lavender aromatherapy session.    

Speaker Music – Black Revolutionary Sonic Weaponry

and Haus of Altr – HOA010

Speaker Music’s Molotov cocktail of a record, Black Revolutionary Sonic Weaponry, opens with a poem written and spoken by Mala Sanaa: “Too tight. Too tight. In the hands of his oppressor he feels the pressure of his people’s strife. She knows that if she dies, the man who so viciously took her life will be able to go home that very same night and joyfully eat dinner with his kids and wife then kiss them goodnight, forgetting about the little girl that he just made a memory.”

Set above a free wheeling thunderstorm of drums and cymbals, it sounds like if free jazz drummer Milford Graves had a 909 drum machine. This is the kind of radical music that The Last Poets could fuck with. Speaker Music is the musical project of DeForrest Brown Jr, a writer and artist whose work focuses on re-centering the Black radical tradition in the arts and resisting white gentrification and co-option – especially in techno music.

Black Revolutionary Sonic Weaponry is a distillation and expansion of both of those ideas. It’s 50-minutes of thundering 909 drums punctuated with contemporary clips of talking heads on news shows, police scanner recordings, and ominous synthesizer textures that build into a crescendo of crying saxophones and sirens. A soundtrack and reflection of the  rage in the streets, but also a rejection of the gentrification of techno and dance music. Black Revolutionary Sonic Weaponry re-centers techno as revolutionary Black music that speaks to the condition of the country, the liberation of oppressed peoples, and make you dance. 

MoMA Ready’s NYC based Haus of Altr label has been steadily putting out good New York City-based dance music records for about two years now, from some of MoMA Ready’s own work, to his collaboration with AceMo as AceMoMA, to Kush Jones. HOA010 is a compilation that expands the Haus of Altr collective across the globe, with tracks from Lorraine James, AshTreJinkins, Galcher Lustwerk, and others, taking in the full expanse of what Black dance music is, from electro to house, and whatever style is next. The artists on this compilation are the future of dance music.            

Damar Davis – Bronze

and Divine Interference – Seeking Arrangement

Damar Davis is an L.A.-based DJ and producer who makes glossy, hi-fi, gospel-tinged house. Inspired by Moodymann’s obtuse sampling and Hanna’s glossy gospel-house sounds, Davis’ tracks are tight, hi-hat heavy, and pristine with glimmers of gritty electro bass bumps and accents of ecstatic vocalists lying just beneath the surface of the tracks, especially on the last two tracks, “GF” and “Restart.”

Atlanta’s Divine Interference is all into gospel, the gospel of the flesh. Through I Want You-era Marvin Gaye midnight funk, Gaclcher Lustwerk style electro-funk-house beats, and Dance Mania style sensual monotone vocals, and a little bit of Ariel Pink style lo-fi weirdness, Divine Interference moves through the excitement and confusion of relationships, hookups and breakups in a haze of electro house drum machines buzzing and ambient synth chords. It radiates through dimly lit apartments, lonely nightclubs and smoky back rooms with the specificity and lyrical and simplicity of a haiku writer.         

Arca – KiCk i

and Iceboy Violet – Drown to Float

If you can expect anything from Arca, expect that she’ll always find new and innovative ways to express her complicated thoughts and feelings about gender, sex, and identity through gloriously violent cacophonous electronic music. On her last album, spiritual, sexual, and emotional longing was worked through sparse ballads accented with electronic noise. On previous releases, sensuality and body dysmorphia were explored through warped soundscapes that blended classical motifs with club music chaos.

On KiCk i, we hear Arca, after transitioning, coming out as non-binary, and living with her partner in Spain, integrating both the gut-wrenching ballads and the chaotic club beats with PC Music’s brand of Europop. On “Time,” “Carlor,” and “No Queda Nada,”  Arca really digs into the pop song as club track that really sets this record apart. In those track,  her high falsetto voice is bolstered by expertly crafted drums and synths. Music without superficial boundaries.

Iceboy Violet’s Drown to Float lives in a similar ambient mire . Using samples of ambient synth patches in hip-hop tracks like Lil Baby and Gunna’s “Drip Too Hard,” Iceboy Violet loops the samples, adds digital texture, brief snatches of rapper’s wordless vocalizations, and creates dreamy ambient utopias where Young Thug and Lil Durk tuck you into bed and sing you to sleep every night.      

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