By Joe Muggs September 29, 2022
Texture and physicality are everything in dance music – it is designed, after all, to surround and stimulate bodies, so physicality is integral to its function. The cry of “Can you feel it” in old house was not figurative, it was literal. And we’ve got some wild touch material for you this month. There’s granitic techno and amen firestorm breaks. There’s the Dutch gutter electro that doesn’t have a single smooth edge and the Turkish hopping that seems to grow like organic matter. So press play, crank up the volume and let your body be the judge of these tunes…
“Black Rain” b/w “Sixth Sense”
Two very different tunes from California Englishman James “ASC” Clements here. “Sixth Sense” is a rigid and regular rhythm through which flows a river of sparkling harmonic drone. Tense and intense, it will keep you spellbound. “Black Rain” is simply breathtaking: a firestorm of Amen surges through you surrounded by crackling electricity and songs of angels. When the bass isn’t there, it’s dizzying; when it does, it’s apocalyptic. This is drum & bass as it is meant to be.
In just a few outings, the young Georgia talent has twice delivered some of the Philadelphia and Jersey club’s most distinctive twists to the world, and his evolution continues apace. These two tracks are his most sonically advanced: both are barrages of percussion and found sound, constantly spooled with intricate kick patterns and clapping over unexpected beats, but always with a rock-solid groove. As always, his genius is in the texture; each individual sound feels alien and elemental. It is no exaggeration to say that in this respect she is to club music what Jeff Mills or Aphex Twin are to techno.
Another great innovator of textures is Emir Ongun from Istanbul. Even when he was dubstepping for Mala’s Deep Medi Muzik label, his sounds and beats were always off – and he’s only got weirder with time. These five tracks sound like hip-hop and footwork done by mountain-sized machines, and they’re some of the most mind-blowing things you’ll hear this month.
The San Francisco UFO! was one of the first promoters and producers of drum & bass in the United States, and clearly remains in love with the instant impact of high-speed rave on the dancefloor. The four tracks here are built from classic jungle tropes with a dash of modern footwork – bottomless dub bass, dancehall menace snippets and rolling rave breaks are all present and correct. It’s nothing you haven’t heard a million times before, but that’s kind of the point: it’s a tribute to the eternal joys of sound.
Ibrahim Alfa Junior
Nigerian-British producer Ibrahim Alfa Jnr has had one of the rockiest careers in electronic music, including stints in prison and academia. At the moment, he is at the height of his creativity: this month, he is releasing of them albums for the legendary German experimental brand Mille Plateaux. Whereas Count 0 is a scary set of drone interference patterns, on Messier87 it finds places to meditate among the pop and thump of raw breakcore and electro beats – unexpected sounds that grab your attention even as confusion reigns around you.
Sje Konka ft. Mandy Z.A.
The South African amapiano resists accusations of being the same as his bass drum and shaker formula becomes more familiar. But the two tracks here belie that, even containing those same elements. First, Amanda Ndaba’s songwriting continues to be distinctive and hypnotic. And Sje Konka’s production is ultra sharp, especially on “Njabulo”, where the bursts and swoops create a whole landscape of curves around the percussion.
Through her work in video games, Chicago producer Zvrra fell in love with great Berghain-style grooves and continues to excel in creating them. The three tracks here are ideal for dark places where you can forget what time it is, but the most remarkable is “Illuminance III”: its perfectly carved stone bass drums and soft, circular melody make it feel like you could swing on it with your eyes closed forever.
Acid Dub II Studies
Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. Digital dub reggae with the gloops and gurgles of the TB-303 makes 100% sense, and Bristol resident Jim “Om Unit” Coles did it absolutely perfectly on his 2021 Acid Dub Studies. The second volume has all the damp cavern bliss of the first, but where this one tended towards ambient, here there’s a lot more 808 electro crunch – and even a hint of grime – to the synthetic string hits that sometimes cross. He might not get the shock of “So it is how it’s supposed to be done” that the first one did, but the evolution of sound still keeps it as fresh as you want it to be.
While cruise/freebeat producers in Lagos, Nigeria have recently embarked on a sort of raw, ready-made Afro-techno by accelerating South African house and throwing samples everywhere, Ghanaian musician DJ Katapila is preparing something something similar for quite a while now. He first gained worldwide attention via Awesome Tapes From Africa from Los Angeles, and now has an absolutely slamming EP for Brit DJ Tash LC’s Club Yeke. The sound here is not a million miles from the raw jacking of mid-’90s Chicago label Dance Mania: the needs of the dancefloor boiled down to the bare essentials. Perfect for those times when a DJ needs to cut to the chase.
Scotland has a longstanding relationship with house and techno that has nothing to do with trends or subdivisions, but is cross-generational and only concerned with what works. Pseudonymous producer The Shen embodies that perfectly: every element here – snippets of soulful gospel vocals, Mr Fingers’ bass, three-note organ riffs, ride cymbals that lift a tune the second they start – n It’s not about retroism or referentiality, but knowing exactly how each quickens the pulse and uplifts the soul.
Bristol producer Dutchie was previously interested in fast, UK garage-adjacent club tracks. But on her debut EP for the Saffron label, she immersed herself in classic Bristol downtempo. You’ll hear hints of Tricky and Massive Attack here, as well as lesser-known locals Earthling in the bloody cool of the grooves. But it’s not stuck in the 90s. It’s very modern British soul, just right for the days of Jorja Smith and Ego Ella May. More importantly, the songwriter’s voice is also individualistic. This is a major talent emerging version by version.
The Hague in the Netherlands has always excelled in the dirtiest techno, acid and electro, and the founder of Viewlexx and Intergalactic FM, Ferenc E. van der Sluijs, aka IF, is one of the main masterminds evils of sound. More than 25 years after its debut, it’s actually getting dirtier and weirder: those extremely slow, crunchy, industrial grooves are exactly as bad as tracks called “Erotic Bongo” and “Clammy Cellar” should be. – and as such they are totally stunning.
Dave “Trax” Davies has been an unsung hero of British breakbeat music production since the rave days, and a champion DJ since his electro teenage years in the 80s. And he’s still making fantastically smooth drum & bass as he does on these two slick rolls plus a remix. The musicality here keeps everything buoyant and allows you to appreciate all the intricate elements at once, especially the deliciously woody drums that constantly jostle over each other.
We are a
Adopted Cornishman Big Vern Burns, aka Boxheater Jackson, certainly had a musical apprenticeship — DJing with Andrew Weatherall and working in the studio with Genesis P. Orridge — and it shows. These tracks exist in a hinterland between electropop, postpunk and acid house, but stand out from all the rest thanks to a radically individualistic and massively skilled production aesthetic that makes every sound deflect from your expectations. Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re downright dark, and often they surprise you with jaw-dropping beauty. There is deep magic here.
“Bang Your Head” b/w “Grimest Ever”
Sometimes you want your drums and bass to be smart, or ultra-musical, or coming your way from all directions. Other times you just want it to move forward with brutal simplicity and a bass tone that completely numbs your brain, which is what these two tracks do. But don’t confuse this simplicity with a lack of inspiration. The way these grooves are perfectly honed makes them as beautiful to look at as the deadliest fighter jet. Don’t get in their way.
Justyna Banaszczyk is a playwright, film and video game composer, LGBTQ+ activist and general cultural connector in Poland. She is also the producer of some of the most individualistic dance music around. Over the eight tracks here, she touches on pure noise and undulating abstract shapes à la Autechre. But its primary mode is slamming percussion that sounds like ritual music from a future post-human tribal society. A truly extraordinary world-building.