Hard Vapour Resistance Front Is Releasing Music As Confusing As The World Is

The album cover for WORLD WAR 2020 – EPISODE FOUR (2016 Version): WIKILEAKS VS. DNC

In a world where political leaders are realizing that they can govern on outright lies and even the words used to impugn such behavior have quickly been adopted to further their mission of disarray, the only response that makes sense is confusion. You can do your best to untangle the wide webs of fake news and garbled conspiracy, but immersed in a constant flow of absurd information, it can become hard to tell which way is up.

No music mirrors this feeling of constant bewilderment as well as hardvapoura brutalist, high energy response to the lackadaisical nostalgia of vaporwave. The genre emerged over the past couple of years as a thumb in the eye of the complacency and relaxation implied by its parent genre’s narcotine bliss. Proponents adopted the serrated edges and unpredictable programming of electronic music’s more aggro genreslike gabber, industrial, and IDMas an ear-bleeding mirror of the state of the world.

At the forefront of the genre is the absurdly prolific collective and label H.V.R.F. (short for Hardvapour Resistance Front). According to their Bandcamp, they’re based in Pryp’Yat’, Ukraine, a ghost town near the border the country shares with Belarus. It seems unlikely, however, that anyone associated with the collective is actually based there, given that the city was evacuated after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. But in such misdirection lies the appeal of the loosely defined group, which has been responsible for upwards of 80 releases of shuddering, dystopian beats since they first formed May of last year. It’s hard to tell exactly what’s real, except for the fear and anxiety in their music.

Every 20 releases, the collective issues an installment of a series they’ve called World War 2020. The series is a politically minded collection of pieces that to date has dealt with themes as wide-ranging as the global influence of Russia, the rise of ISIS, and most recently Wikileaks (they also issued a compilation called This Is the Zodiac Speaking…”I Am Not Ted Cruz” that was not officially a part of this series). Over blistered beats, producersranging from pseudonymous producers with sketchy monikers like TRUMP2016 to more recognized underground figures like NMESHemploy surrealist samples of sacred chants in Arabic, stump speeches, or absurdist dialogue from the 2016 campaign trail, twisting them into dadaist collages as disordered as the world itself. It’s unclear when you listen to something like their most recent compilation WORLD WAR 2020 – EPISODE FOUR (2016 VERSION): WIKILEAKS VS. DNC (released on January 5), if the forces behind the music believe in anything except for chaos.

To attempt to understand the music and message of H.V.R.F., I traded emails with the official email account of the label and collectivethough they wouldn’t tell me exactly who was speaking for the group. Their responsesinsomuch as they were occasionally combative and contradictoryraise as many questions as answers, but in a world like this one, how could it really be any other way? Below is an edited and condensed transcript of those emails.

THUMP: The idea of “resistance” is in the very name of your collective, when you first formed, was there some idea that you would be a political force?
H.V.R.F. Central Command: Being based in the Ukraine (albeit in an uninhabited zone) during wartime, it made sense to adopt a militant stance. Although a couple of the early releases hint at battlefield engagements and wargame strategies, it wasn’t until release #20 when an artist came to us with the whole “World War 2020” concept. The fact that he subtitled it “Episode One” lent itself from the beginning to be an ongoing series. Every 20th release is a new episode of World War 2020, but overall most of our releases do not have a political context. Does this make us a political force? Maybe for these specific times, it does if compared to all of the labels that have zero politics. It should also be noted how prescient the initial WW2020 release was being that it came out in May 2016 yet predicted a Trump presidency and a Russian focal point.

Do you take any joy in the degree to which you’ve prefigured the state of things? Does it make you feel weird that the world is now reflecting the darkest timeline that your work suggests?
We weren’t really gloating regarding being a predictorartists in the vanguard are typically precognitive to a certain degree. As for this reflecting the “darkest timeline” we would have to disagree. First off, we don’t really know the future, but it seemed like the globalist agenda of the US political machine was marching us straight towards World War 3. Full speed ahead.

We were engaged in conflicts for every single day of Obama’s presidency and these battles took place in eleven different nations in all. Obama’s reign was hardly a time of “peace.” Government surveillance of citizens reached an all-time high as well. fill that slot. It was right after the US election and of course Wikileaks was one of the biggest storylines of 2016. This seemed like an amazing launchpad for track ideas because Wikileaks and the election overall had taken so many bizarre and unexpected directions and the emails (whether hacked or deleted) were a constant talking point.

Even before Pizzagate unspooled there were those emails between Podesta and the Blink-182 guy about UFOs and extraterrestrial intelligence along with the “spirit cooking” threads that suggested occult rituals were the DNC’s “party activity” of choice. So yeah the Wikileaks theme was timely more than anythingas was the Ted Cruz/RNC compilation before it. There’s no “overall mission” for H.V.R.F. per sewe’re just a platform for sounds/concepts/ideas that are based both in reality and fantasy.

Between this compilation and the Ted Cruz-themed compilation last year, there’s a sense of humoror maybe surrealismat the heart of your overtly political gestures. Do you look at the state of the world and feel like you have to laugh?
It would be an honor to be considered part of the surrealist/dada lineage of course, but there’s also a fair amount of hyper-realism going down as well. For the Ted Cruz compilation we did get some mileage out of inverting the Ted Cruz = Zodiac Killer meme, and at the core many of us were paying tribute to 80’s era pop songs that used political soundbytes like Bonzo Goes To Hollywood’s “5 Minutes”. But you are perceptive as to H.V.R.F. having a sense of comedy towards all of thiswhere others see horror, we are poking sticks around to find the pockets of laughing gasmuch like the Surrealists did during wartime.

This brings up another parallel because in Europe the artist class was heavily displaced during WWII and several Hardvapour artists have also been displaced because of the wars in Ukraine and are now operating from new posts. So this isn’t all an absurdist/abstract take on world eventsas these wars carry a grave impact on civilian populations and people have to flee their homelands for safety. This brings us back full-circle to Wikileaks exposing the machinations and horrors of these wars.

Do you feel a responsibility to make your actual political views known? I feel I can read them in the concepts on your releases, but it’s a bit ambiguous. Is there a goal for this stuff, aside from commentary?
Our views are entirely ambiguous and there is no consensus. The paradoxes are myriad and that’s what makes it interesting. While we certainly can’t speak for all of our artists we can say that many of our artists liked both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the recent election. So right there, we are “oxymoronic” by nature. We have noticed that the youngest artists are part of what we call the “Wikileaks Generation” and they have a healthy distrust of the mainstream media (propaganda?) machine, but it’s not like any of us are going out and protesting on the streets for some “cause.”

So there’s no explicit message to be found and even if there was one, to state it as an absolute in a written interview would be stripping the “art” of interpretation out of the equation. Let’s take the Wikileaks compilation as an examplethere’s 33 tracks in all on the compilationthis means that there are 33 differing and relatively ambiguous artistic takes (or “commentaries”) on the subject of Wikileaks. Isn’t that a hell of a lot more interesting than someone trying to ram a narrow and specific political agenda down the public’s throats? The “goal” was to make an engaging album on the subject of Wikileaksmission accomplished.

Are you feeling optimistic about a Trump presidency? What would you say to those whoreasonably I thinkworry that he threatens the lives and livelihoods of marginalized people both here and abroad?
We have to be optimistic and hope that some “Power of Positive Thinking” holds true. As for your “marginalized people” comment, we can say that there were some “marginalized” (Hispanics, LGBTQ, etc.) artists on H.V.R.F. who felt that Trump was a less scary option than HRC and that some of those feelings were generated by what Wikileaks revealed. Does this mean that we are a bunch of “Trumpers”? Absolutely not. As we stated before, had it been Bernie Sanders vs. Trump it’s likely that many of us would have been “Feeling The Bern.”

One of the artists on the Wikileaks comp works for the Green Party. Another artist on the Wikileaks comp is non-political, but was fascinated in exploring the Alex Jones/Infowars angle for this. There were definitely some HRC supporters on the Wikileaks comp as well. There were no instructions given to any of the artists aside from “make something that fits the theme of Wikileaks and the 2016 election”but it’s fitting that feelings of absurdity and terror were reflected in many of the tracks as the 2016 election was truly stranger than fiction.

You release a lot of really heavy electronic music, stuff that’s influenced by or directly indebted to gabber and hardstyle and industrial. Other than the links to the political contexts in which much of that music was originally constructed, what does it mean to pair music like that with some sort of “political” message?
Well H.V.R.F. has had 80+ releases so far and maybe eight of those have some kind of explicit or hinted-at “political” message. Probably 20-30 of our releases so far have sci-fi or cyberpunk themes. Really we’re just an open platform for artists to put their ideas and concepts across. There were no instructions relayed to artists for the Wikileaks albumif 20 pro-HRC tracks had been submitted then that’s what we would have released.

One more important point to get across is this: with the likelihood of nuclear weapons being deployed against civilian populations when and if there is another world war then groups like Wikileaks are an extremely vital public service. Our leaders are literally toying with our lives with their wargames and we desperately need organizations that can help keep those who hold power “in check”. Survival is not a “left” or “right” concept.

You specifically mention not wanting to be affiliated with the “alt-right,” how do you see what you do as related to or distinct from another offshoot of the internet underground music that people have been calling “fashwave”?
Re: the “alt-right,” we highly doubt that many members of the true alt-right are very enthusiastic about Bernie Sanders. As for “fashwave” that’s a relatively new genre term and out of curiosity we did check out CyberNazi’s music and found it to be well composed and skillfully produced. It reminded us of Com Truise with some Wagnerian flourishes.

His music is instrumental so technically there is no hate speech being conveyed beyond the visual aesthetic so it is very interesting that he has been banned from Bandcamp and YouTube while some explicitly hate-speech filled nazi punk and metal have not been censored from those platforms. But musically there is little to no overlap and hardvapour and fashwave are coming from such different perspectives ideologically that we don’t see much relation at all. For those people who accuse the H.V.R.F. logo of looking “Nazi,” it should be stated that the design was sourced from the logo of a Chinese construction company and is far more similar to NATO’s logo than to anything related to fascism.

Is there a lineon either side of the political spectrumfor what you consider to be a perspective valid to represent?
Thus far we’ve never had to deal with any submissions that we felt were “too sketchy” but there has been an instance when an artist decided against submitting a finished album on their own accord. It was the original version of the World War 2020: Episode 3 “ISIS” and the artist was concerned that his usage of a specific Muslim prayer song could possibly be seen as disrespectful or blasphemous. So then we contacted a different artist who was already experimenting with sound collages on top of distorted Islamic beats and they quickly made an album for that slot to replace the canceled version.

Why use your platform to provide a voice to everyone? I’m sure you have friends and collaborators on each side who doubt that approach, why is that important to H.V.R.F.?
“Everyone” would be an exaggeration obviously, but if someone submits an album that they strongly feel belongs in our catalog then we’re not going to question their motives unless it seems (or sounds) like an act of sabotage to us. We see H.V.R.F. as the musical counterpart to an accelerated particle colliderthrowing these disparate styles, sounds, and viewpoints onto a fast-forward collision course with each other. Who knows what new creations/formations/mutations may result?

Also your framing of this question is interestingyou say “each side” as if there are only two sidesbut in reality it is infinite and there are no “sides” or drawn lines. It’s just a bunch of artists thinking for themselves and reacting to both the world and the works of their peers. This lack of “taking sides” is exactly why a number of artists that we work with loved Bernie Sanders and then when he was eliminated they cheered for Donald Trump to win this year’s Super Bowl. It’s not an issue of Right/Left or Democrat/Republicanand those antiquated dichotomies were turned upside down and inside out over this last year anyways.

Arrest Made In Homicide Of New York Nightclub Owner

Savyon Zabar, pictured with Rihanna. Photo via Facebook

New York authorities earlier this month made an arrest in the murder of 54-year-old Savyon “Big Ben” Zabar, the owner of popular gay nightclub Escuelita.

As CBS New York reported, Daquan King, a 23-year-old masseuse from the Bronx, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder on Friday, January 13. Zabar was found dead in his Upper West Side apartment by his roommate, with no reported signs of forced entry or robbery. Following an autopsy, Zabar’s death was officially ruled a homicide.

Zabar’s roommate told DNAinfo that he had seen King and Zabar together multiple times before the murder, as King “used to give massages to Ben.” The publication, citing police sources, also reported that King confessed to the murder but told detectives it was an act of self-defense. However, unnamed law-enforcement sources told the New York Post that it was a sex act gone wrong.

A memorial service for Zabar will be held in the coming weeks.

Arca Collaborator Jesse Kanda Shares Debut ‘Heart’ EP As Doon Kanda

Album artwork courtesy of the artist

British visual artist Jesse Kanda, a collaborator of artists including Arca, Bjrk, and FKA Twigs, today released his debut EP, Heart, under the doon kanda alias for London label Hyperdub. The five-tracker maintains Kanda’s cinematic aesthetic, albeit with a club-friendly tint, that’s dark and atmospheric in its distorted, unnerving beauty.

In a statement, Kanda said of the EP, “My work might sometimes be coated with a layer of sharp pain like a blade to the eye or ears. But at the heart of it is always love, compassion, empathy… Each of the songs on this EP have this quality. The melodies are treated to cut you like a serrated knife. But hopefully they are beautiful enough that you’d want to listen anyway.”

Listen to doon kanda’s Heart EP below.

Nadus Gives Ezrakh’s “Infinite Fabric” A Sultry Halftime Spin

Photo courtesy of the artist

Last week, the day before New Jersey producer Rahshon Bright (a.k.a. Nadus) traveled over halfway around the world to Seoul, he tweeted, “Mornings like this remind me I’m blessed… I’m supposed to be in somebody’s jail… not headed to Asia to play music we created in the neighborhood…”

Born and raised in the city of Newark, the home of Jersey club and also once ranked “The Most Dangerous City in the Nation” by finance publication Money, Bright began producing, DJing, and promoting by the time he was in high school with the help of seminal Jersey club crew Brick Bandits. He himself has become a standout in the scene, co-founding a local party called Thread, releasing an album on Belgian label Pelican Fly, and donating his earnings from said album to organizations providing local youth with musical education.

Read More: How Nadus Is Using Jersey Club to Keep Kids Off the Streets of Newark

After a couple years in the making, Nadus is taking the next step in his career by expanding Thread to an imprint, which today launches with the Infinite Fabric EP from label co-founder Ezrakh.

In “Infinite Fabric (Lost Tribe),” Ezrakh utilizes his skills as a vocalist, producer, and multi-instrumentalist to craft a song that’s celestial and sensual. Getting in on the action, Nadus contributes a remix, handing in a stripped-down halftime version that revolves around the original’s spiritual refrain: “Traces of blue in her brown eyes, feeling like we were from a lost tribe.” With each crisp snap, he amps up the sultriness while simultaneously slowing down time. Speaking to THUMP over email, Nadus simply says of the track, “It’s just a glimpse of what’s to come.”

Listen to Nadus’s “Infinite Fabric” remix below.

DJ Ravidrums’ Inauguration Concert Performance Was… Something

Photo courtesy of ABC News

Yesterday, President Trump’s inauguration weekend kicked off with the official “Make America Great Again” concert. Among the few artists performing, including rock group 3 Doors Down, America‘s Got Talent runner-up Jackie Evancho, and country singer Toby Keith, was the ceremony’s true highlight: party DJ-drummer and former reality television contest, Ravidrums.

Read More: Here’s the DJ Who Agreed to Play Trump’s Inauguration Concert

The self-described inventor of the “live remix” brought EDM-like excess to the proceedings, bashing away at his drum set in a frenzied rendition of “America the Beautiful” while a group of LED screens screamed a list of all the country’s states. Absolutely no one in the audience seemed to care. It was kind of, to borrow a word from our newly instated 45th President, sad. Watch a video clip below.

Shanti Celeste, Happa, Novelist, And The Seven Best Things We Heard This Week

This post ran originally on THUMP UK.

On this Fridayan ordinary, “nothingy” Friday that will all likely be forgotten in history like every other Fridaylet’s have a look back at the best music we heard over the past seven days. Shanti Celeste has come through with a couple of woozy workouts to christen her own imprint Peach Discs, our favorite of which was “Selector,” Sporting Life has produced the blissful “No More Stress” with Novelist (who turns 20 today), Happa has turned in one of our favorite tracks of the year already in the shape of “Bum Trance,” and we were also super into London-based Z Lovecraft’s “The Creator”. We enjoyed three big mixes this week, Seb Wildblood mixing “100% forthcoming material,” MikeQ and Rizzla tearing up the Rinse FM studio and finally FACT’s tribute to Daft Punk’s Homeworkwhich like Novelist, also turns 20 today. Happy Donald Day!

1. Shanti Celeste – Selector

2. Sporting Life – No More Stress (feat. Novelist)

3. Happa – Bum Trance

4. Z Lovecraft – The Creator

5. Seb Wildblood – 100% Forthcoming Material

6. MikeQ & Rizzla – Kingdom Tribute Mix on Rinse FM

7. CK – Daft Punk ‘Teachers’ Influences Mix Vol.III

Follow Angus on Twitter.

Manni Dee Is Sending "Throbs Of Discontentment" Through Brexit Britain

Like you, Perc Trax producer Manni Dee is fed up of the state of the United Kingdom at present. Or, at least, we’d assume you shared the same anti-May. anti-Brexit, anti-everything-shit-about-the-country. We’d like to assume that, anyway.

Manni Dee’s so fed up of it all, he’s recorded an EPThrobs of Discontentmentabout the whole thing, and you can hear a ferocious track from it below. You’ll also be able to read a super in-depth interview with him carried out by our good friends at THUMP DE!

THUMP: First things first, what’s your take on this week’s Brexit plan as presented by Theresa May?
Manni Dee: I’d like to state, and I feel like this is something I’ll be repeating, it’s not the job of the artist to be didactic. I don’t want an artist telling me how to vote, I’m sure many of your readers feel the same way. I encourage people to think for themselves and that’s an essential caveat if you call a track “Cameron On a Guillotine.”

Now that’s out of the way, to answer your question, political developments have lost the ability to shock me as of late, which can be dangerous as the absurd can become normalized. I can’t say I’m surprised by May’s layout, it’s simply reaffirmed my disappointment. I sensed an air of desperation in her speech. Certain phrases seemed to have the intention of appeasing and ameliorating from a position of embarrassment.

I assume that although you wanted to see “Cameron on a Guillotine”, you weren’t too relieved by his recent departure, were you?
No unfortunately not. I’m pleased I don’t have to see his corpulent pink boyish face so often anymore, but the monster’s grown a new head that pontificates the same ideology.

How have the Brexit vote and current developments affected your life so far?
The exacerbation and inflation of hate crimes following the referendum has increased my sensitivity to racial discrimination, but I can’t say it’s had any physical or economic affects yet.

As well as a lack of constructive discourse, there’s the palpable sense of polarization. The sectarianism on the left is also (and seemingly always) a problem. The referendum, which never should have happened, appeared to be a choice between austerity and austerity, especially when you consider the sanctions imposed by the EU on countries like Portugal, Ireland and more obviously Greece, as well as countries like Kenya and others in Africa. It’s difficult to share the socialist sentiment of celebration due to the slight dismantling of state apparatus, when you consider the potential impact of Brexit on British workers and on institutions such as the NHS. Contrary to that is the mobilization of those formally disaffected.

After the US election people started speculating on the possible impact Trump’s presidency could have on the electronic music scene, and the queer one in particular. With the further surge of nationalist and isolationist attitudes within the UK, where do you think the local scene should develop to? Should it become more open and opinionated for instance, or more reclusive and underground?
Recently, on a global level, we’ve seen the rise of female and feminist DJ collectives. Long may this continue. What I’m not for is exclusion, whether that’s Trump coming to England or certain speakers being banned from university campuses. Hate speech is one thing, but if you’re simply unable to sit in the same room as someone you profoundly disagree with then there’s a problem. It’s our responsibility to right what we think is wrong through open debate and discussion. If you’re a person of your convictions you shouldn’t be afraid to have them challenged. Conversing with someone of opposing views often leads to refinement of your arguments, thus strengthening them, greater empathy and understanding.

The cover of the new EP shows what is presumably a statue, gagged and silenced, strangulated under plastic foil. A comment on the state of free speech in the UK or more on the situation of young people and creatives?
The image was included in the batch Perc sent over via his photographer James Guppy. It worked with the EP perfectly, as for me it represents the suffocation of thought, the parochial nature of supposed freethinkers, the suppression of political alternatives and the efficacy of algorithms that place us firmly in our echo chambers.

You are from industrial Wolverhampton and you live in London now. The idea of a counterculture has been an important motive throughout your work. Do you consider either the hyper capitalist capital or the rest of England as the ideal environment for such?
Both. The hyper capitalist capital consumes the countries resources leaving other parts of England emaciated and abandoned, while providing stark visual and actual antagonisms between the centre of London and surrounding areas. The poorer cities endure London’s centralized opulence with a paucity of resources, almost an extension of London itself. The sanguineness counterculture provides is indispensable in both circumstances.

Currently, many British producers are living outside of the UK in places such as Berlin. How do you think the post-Brexit situation will look like?
Uncertainty is the only certainty at the moment. The elections throughout Europe in 2017 will add additional shape to the terrain. Having said that, we have a pro-austerity government until 2020 at least, unless there’s a snap election and the opposition win and provide an alternative. Some people describe London as a sinking ship. If that’s the case, which I’m not sure it is, I think it’s important to attempt to prevent said sinking before deciding to alight.

Throbs Of Discontent is out on Perc Trax January 27.

Daft Punk Released 'Homework' Twenty-Years Ago Today And They've Rarely Sounded As Exciting Since

This post ran originally on THUMP UK.

The year is 1993, the setting EuroDisney; home surprisingly to a rave. Somewhere backstagewe could optimistically imagine between a collapsed Donald Duck and Goofy grinding his two buck-teeth into oblivionGlaswegian DJ Stuart MacMillan, part of double-act Slam, is talking to a pair of waifish, conspicuous French teenagers. Shouting over the music, they can barely hear each-other, but the conversation gets far enough for Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo to press a cassette into his sweaty palms.

On the tape sits a track called “The New Wave” which would become a track called “Alive”the first semblance of Homework, Daft Punk’s debut album, twenty-years old today. It’s a strange, but suitable, genesis.

The rest of this story is probably known to any head with even a passing knowledge of the history of pop-cum-dance music. MacMillan’s label Soma released the contents of the tape, followed by subsequent releases of “Da Funk” and “Rollin’ and Scratchin'”. After “Da Funk” hit, mainstream interest in the duo quickly outpaced the small Glasgow imprint’s capacity. With Soma’s blessing, Thomas and Guy-Man moved the party over to Virgin Records, and set about recording their debut album. The album which turned Daft Punk into the next big thing, then the current big thing, and then a cultural phenomenon.

As the album celebrates this milestone anniversary, you’re likely to hear a lot about how it “introduced house music to the masses” or “reinvigorated the underground.” With all due respect, that’s sort of bullshit. In 1997 the UK free party scene was turning into a corporate club culture, drum & bass was hitting the USA, Armand Van Halen was remixing Barbara Tucker, Drexciya were releasing their debut LP and the KLF were calling on all to “Fuck the Millennium”. Electronic music was a diverse and fierce culture that had its nails well and truly in the mainstream consciousness. It’s nice to buy the narrative that two French lads with funny masks on introduced the world to house music, but the constant urge to fit the duo into some grand history of dance musicin a lineage somewhere between Jeff Mills and David Guettaalways comes off a little clumsy.

Homework didn’t introduce the dance music to the masses. Dance music was doing just fine. This record was responsible for introducing something far more singular than that to the global population. Homework introduced Daft Punk.

Homework remains to this day one of the boldest statements of intent ever released. It is a mischievous, irreverent, rough-hewn album that could as comfortably be called punk as it could funk. Aside from the Big Tracks We All Know And Lovewe’ll get to those soonit’s easy to forget that the second half of the LP is packed with jagged, at times violent workouts. The bump and wail of “Rock’n Roll,” the relentless, spangled spinning of “Burnin'” and the aggressive feedback loop of “Rollin’ & Scratchin'” all serve as reminders of Daft Punk’s raucous edge, as well as their early fondness for the apologetic apostrophe. This was Daft Punk before they were lost to the cosmos, and in the time since they’ve rarely sounded as exciting.

Talk of the noisy end is of course only half the picture. Any reflection on Homework that failed to talk about its two, towering hits would be more than incomplete. Firstly, in the shape of “Da Funk” Daft Punk showcased their inherent gift for fusing dancefloor swagger with a metallic crunchsomething that would come to define the French electronic scene that followed them, best personified perhaps in the shape of Justice. Then there’s “Around the World”Daft Punk’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”which I doubt any of us will ever forget hearing for the first time. Three words long, and quite simply one of the finest pop songs ever made.

Yet perhaps the greatest indication as to their true spirit comes nine tracks in. “Teachers,” if you don’t know itand if you don’t congratulations on getting this far into an article about an album you’ve never listened topairs a clattering big-beat with Thomas Bangalter’s voice, pitched simultaneously up and down, as he reels off Daft Punk’s guiding influences. From Joey Beltram to Romanthony to Dr. Dre to DJ Sneak to Brian Wilson, so it goes on and on. For a new act to lay their debts out so blatantly is testament to Daft Punk’s deification of pop culture’s past. They are unashamed nostalgists, and Homework began a career of re-calibrating their musical heritage into a bizarre and never-bettered voice of their own.

After all, their debut was overwhelmingly independent. This spiritembodied in the music as it was their decision to retain ownership of their master-recordings via their label Daft Traxremains their greatest achievement. As Bangalter put it in an interview with the Guardian in 2001, “We are freedom freaks because we want the liberty to do anything. Freedom is the control of your art and we live in a society where those who pay for art control it.” Words that remain as prescient today, if not more so.

In terms of classic albums, it’s hard to call Homework perfect. It’s not the sort of album that deserves canonizing on the grounds of aesthetic completion. Instead Homework is something else entirely: an indelible, immovable, fixed point in culturea joyous, spunky youthful expression, and over-excited noise. It lacks the ear for melody and narrative possessed by Discoverywhich remains their masterpiecenor does it bear the grandiose self-worth of Random Access Memories. Nevertheless, their debut still holds a vital quality that none of their work since has come close to recreating.

Homework is a reminder that big things don’t always sound important, or weighty. When was the last time electronic music, or music more broadly, enjoyed a revolution that was this fun? In a world where “Important Culture” so often comes in monochrome, surrounded in commentary and analysis, wielding political statements like sixth-formers, Homework stands exultant as a reminder that the radical works best when it is also playful.

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The Xx's Reflective New Album Casts A Light Into The Darkness

The album cover for I See You, as it appears on streaming services.

There was always a little bit of voyeurism in the appeal of the xx. The British trio of Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim, and Jamie Smith (best known as Jamie xx) emerged in 2009 fully formed as pop songwriters, but their unique spin on the form was in making volcanic emotionslike the last flickers of lost love or the first sparks of a new onefeel like overheard whispers. Their lyrics, which were often simple declarations of intent, resembled (and were, it turns out) transcripts from the high-drama web chats of a pair of young kidsin this case guitarist Madley Croft and bassist Sim.

That intimacy, paired with the fragile embroidery of their instrumentation, made their 2009 self-titled debut feel like it was something you weren’t supposed to be listening toas if you’d been digging through an abandoned USB drive and uncovered a mysterious file called “Album 1.” Their 2012 album Coexist largely followed in this vein. Though they branched out a bit on their muted guitar and bass instrumentals, allowing brief swirls of colors to overcome the understated monochromes of their debut, the songs were still the same sort of hushed singing and nonspecific lyricslike Madley Croft’s ad infinitum repetition of just the word “love” on “Angels”that made them feel either disposable or universal depending on your openness to it. There wasn’t much sense of the people behind the songs beyond that, just the simply affecting lyricsjust the bathroom wall scrawlings, little trace of the shy kids who put them there.

If you pick up a physical copy of the xx’s new album, the first thing you’ll see is yourself. Like their first two albums, the cover for I See You features a distinctive blocky ‘X’ set on a monochromatic background (xx featured white text on black, Coexist was the inverse, with an oily swirl of color in the middle), but this time it’s a reflective, nearly luminescent object that turns the focus back on whoever gazes at it. For the first time, it puts a face on the records of a band that’s deliberately shirked public attention in favor of ghostly emotions. Look closely at the version of the art that appears on streaming services and you’ll even catch the vague outlines of the trio themselvesit’s a symbolic a step into the spotlight, however hazy.

The revelation that there are actually real people behind the wispy songs plays out on the record too. As distinct as the darkened, glassy sound that they settled on for their first couple albums one, listening to I See You feels like a sudden jog of the dimmer switch, like this is the first time we’ve seen the band in full daylight. The first sound on “Dangerous”the opening trackisn’t a droning guitar line or and the throb of an 808, but a glimmering horn line, like a herald announcing the arrival of low-key pop royalty. The album is full of these sorts of colorful moments. Madley Croft and Sim’s guitar and bass lines are a fair bit busier and brightereven on the otherwise subdued “Say Something Loving”but Smith is given more room to shine than he ever has on an xx record proper. Following the technicolor success of his solo work, he’s afforded a little extra space here, for the neon vomit of trance synthesizers (“A Violent Noise”), warped Hall and Oates samples (“On Hold”), or mournful piano lines (“Test Me”). Though his additions skew synthetic, they still add a new sort of humanity to their work, as if he’s filling in the gaps in their DNA implied by the sad silence of their first couple of records.

Madley Croft and Sim have also taken the time to show a bit more of themselves in their lyrics. Once reluctant and shy in their interactions with the press, the pair have opened up in their interviews around this album, detailing more than ever the life events that informed the record. Sim has talked about his struggles with alcoholism; Madley Croft has opened up about how coping with deaths in her family has shaped her writing. Songs like “Replica”with its depiction of long, lonely nights outand “Brave for You”which leans on yearning lyrics like “Though you’re not here/I can feel you there”take on weightier meanings in the light of this biographical info they’ve decided to share.

Still, for all of I See You‘s self-reflective innovations, they still rely on the non-specific universalist emoting that they’ve made their bedrock. It wouldn’t be an xx album without Sim and Madley Croft dryly intoning things like “I just don’t remember the thrill of affection,” but those moments feel different in the light of the specificity and bounteousness that I See You suggests. Sim even seems aware of this, at least obliquely, on “Replica” that he “feels like the song’s already been sung.” But after he murmurs that self-referential barb, Smith lifts the simple guitar and bass figure into something more ascendant than they’ve ever done. The beauty of I See You is that they’re able to flit between the spectral sentimentality of their past records and something a little more human. They’re finally ready to be seen, and even if the edges are still a little fuzzy, if their presence is a little vaporous, it’s still something to behold.

Let Unknown Archetype's "Voyeurism" Lead You Over The Edge

Image courtesy of the label

After releasing a free beat-tape from Paul White, Belgian label R&S continues its strong 2017 with the debut EP of Unknown Archetype.

The duo, a collaboration between British conceptual artist-producer Roxy Tripp and Czech-born producer Oliver Kucera, are soon to release their three-tracker, Tripp, on January 27. According to a press release, the record was inspired by “Jungian psychology, symbolism, and mythology.” Today, they’re sharing lead track “Voyeurism,” a sizzling slice of experimental techno; its ostensibly calming vocals lulls listeners into a false sense of security before barreling into a claustrophobic combination of breaks, blistering snares, and screeches. It’s the type of track that can lead you willingly over the edge.

The duo tell THUMP over email, “The vocals from ‘Voyeurism’ performed by Roxy Tripp were born from an inside joke with a friend. The idea of the loud and quiet dynamics became the main focus for the tracks productionmixing dark humor with the experimental character of Unknown Archetype productions.”

Listen to “Voyeurism” below ahead of its release on January 27 via R&S.

Nicaragua's Largest EDM Festival Was A Volcano-Shadowed Celebration Of Central America's Best Music

All photos by Alfredo Zuniga, courtesy of Magma Fest.

This post ran originally on THUMP Canada.

It’s past three in the morning and I was perched precariously on the back of a beaten-up Honda motorbike barreling down a pitch black dirt road cut through the Nicaraguan jungle. I had no crash helmet and was traveling at a speed that stopped being fun several kilometers back. There was nobody else on the road and the only illumination came from whatever moonlight managed to seep through the palms overhead. The road was strewn with potholes and makeshift speed bumps, and several animals including a dog and a cow had already attempted to kill us all by wandering into view without warning. As terrifying as this experience was, I felt lucky to be able to get back to the guesthouse I was staying at on another part of Ometepe (population approximately 3,000), as there was no alternate transport at this hour. My driver Jairowho ran his family’s furniture store in the village I was staying inhad kindly woken up at our arranged time of stupid o’clock to drive me the 13 kilometres back from Magma Fest, the otherwise tranquil southern Nicaragua island’s only electronic music festival, and the country’s largest.

Concepcin and Madera volcanoes.

I first discovered the two-day event entirely by chance, spotting the poster in a Guatemalan hostel a month previously. I was intrigued by the idea of a rave at the base of a volcano, and judging by the poster it looked like a legit festival. By the time the festival arrived, I had been backpacking through Nicaragua for almost a month, and Central America for close to three months, and traveller’s fatigue had definitely started to set in. I’d been staying mostly in small towns off the beaten track, eating rice and beans twice a day, and getting eaten alive by a thousand different species of insects, who clearly were also surviving off of a limited menu. I hadn’t had a hot shower since El Salvadormy last landlady actually laughed when I asked if there was hot waterand Magma Fest seemed like a great opportunity to have a vacation from my vacation.

Magma Festnot to be confused with other festivals with the same name in the Canary Islands, Czech Republic, and Seattle respectivelytakes place every December on Ometepe, an island in Lake Nicaragua formed of two volcanoes, Concepcin to the north and the dormant Madera to the east. Started in 2012 by a collective of five Nicaragua-based artists and sound engineers, the festival was conceived to promote the Central American music scene with the first iteration scheduled to coincide with the Mayan “doomsday” prophecy on December 21, 2012.

Ferry ride to the festival site.

The world didn’t end however, and four years later, Magma Fest continues to draw top electronic names from across Central America, and international headliners like Sweden’s Alexi Delano and Francesca Lombardo of Crosstown Rebels. The dance-floor for the 1,000-plus attendees both daysessentially the beachwas overlooked by a gigantic 400-year old ceiba tree (which the Mayans believed was a tree that connected to the underworld), lit up with abstract projections and a light show that must have been using half of the island’s power supply.

On Friday, the first official night, the majority of the crowd was mostly made up of fellow backpackers, as well a smattering of Nicaraguan students from the capital of Managua and nearby Rivas. One student, Charlie, told me that he’s come every year since the beginning, although he barely looked old enough for that to have been true. I asked whether he came more for the party or the music and he replied, “The music, the drugs, the girls, everything. There’s nothing else like this in Nicaragua.”

Nina Garay.

Standout sets were delivered by Nina Garay, a Honduran DJ who beautifully skirted the edges of disco and house, and El Salvador’s Carlos Padilla, who brought a more muscular sound but still very much grooving and percussive. Not that I was in much shape to be dancingI could barely feel my legs following the previous day’s hike up the side of the still-active Concepcin (its last period of eruption ended only five years ago in 2009). To make matters worse, rain clouds had prevented me and my affable guide Ivn from making it to the peak, and I accidentally smashed my iPhone to smithereens after dropping it on volcanic rock. My sole consolation was that I managed to get my revenge on the biting insects by eating a handful of termites, which disappointingly tasted like wood.

The second night was more heavily focussed on techno, and although it got off to a slow start, the payoff eventually came with Costa Rica’s Esteban Howell. The San Jose-based DJ and producer played a straight up techno set, with a liberal sprinkling of acid throughout. The audience was a more even split of tourists and locals, making for a far more interesting dynamic than Friday. I bumped into the managers from both guesthouses I stayed at in OmetepeManuel from Hotel Kencho was delivering 40 orders of chicken and rice to the festival VIPs, and Edwin from Casa de Charly was there raving with a couple of pals.

Magma Fest crowd.

What makes the two-day event such a unique experience is first and foremost its location. It’s impossible to ignore the incongruity of partying to electronic music on the beach of a volcanic island, on the edge of a nature reserve. A space usually frequented by middle-aged hikers relaxing after a day of photographing butterflies with oversized lenses, or 20-something backpackers drawn to Ometepe for the punishing volcano hikes, suddenly became one of the least organic experiences human nature can provide. That it actually went off without a hitch on an isle where there is no public transportation after 6 PM, and access to the facilities needed to throw such a festival are close to non-existent, is quite impressive. Additionally, the two international headlining acts aside, Magma Fest focuses entirely on Central American electronic producers, a small-but-dedicated pool of talent often dwarfed by the number of contemporary artists from neighbouring Mexico and South America.

I finally bid farewell to Magma Fest at 7 AM on Sunday morning, exhausted yet invigorated, and I could still hear the music from several kilometres away, along the dirt road towards the port where the passenger ferry leaves for the mainland. Several locals were sitting by the roadside with expressions on their faces best-described as a mixture of bemusement and curiosity. As I trudged past with my huge backpack, one resident resting outside of his zinc-roofed shack hollered at me good-naturedly, “Buena musica, buena fiesta?” Suddenly feeling guilty for the noise we generated over the past two days, I shouted back somewhat apologetically “S, una buena fiesta, gracias!” as a baby chicken ran under my feet almost tripping me over.

Esteban Howell.

Vincent Pollard is on Twitter.

Gorillaz Bring Cartoons And Social Commentary In New Track, “Hallelujah Money”

Moby’s not the only artist with something to say today about President-elect Trump’s impending reign. After a six-year absence, British band Gorillaz have returned with a biting new track, “Hallelujah Money.”

The track features British vocalist Benjamin Clementine, who with a slow-burning warble sings of power, corruption, and humanity. In the track’s accompanying music video, he stares down the camera in an elevator, its walls projecting a variety of images, including cartoons, KKK gatherings, killer clowns, and western movies. Climaxing in a flurry of red, white, and blue animations, the video abruptly ends with a clip from the popular cartoon series Spongebob Squarepants.

A new Tweet from Gorillaz sharing the video reads: “Dark times – u need someone to look up to. Me. Here’s a lightning bolt of truth in a black night. Now piss on! New stuff won’t write itself.”

“Hallelujah Money” is the first new music heard from the group since they released their last album, The Fall, in 2011, but it’s not the first single from their as-yet-untitled fifth album. “So far, it’s really fast, and it’s got quite a lot of energy,” co-founder Damon Albarn told Rolling Stone of the record back in 2015. According to fellow Gorillaz member Jamie Hewlett, it’s slated to come out sometime this year.

Watch “Hallelujah Money” above.