How Contemporary Electronic Artists Are Challenging The Illusion Of Great Britain

This post ran originally on THUMP UK.

Undoubtedly one of 2016’s enduring images was that of a Union-Jack emblazoned swegway, paused over a cinema-ready view of contemporary London, the sky an eddy of rich royal blues and honey-yellows, the buildings below all glass and light. It was an image of Britain.

To risk falling into the cycles of fruitless deconstruction that typify most things written about his work, it’s probably best not to try and be too clever exacting what Babyfather (Dean Blunt) was trying to say with the cover for “BBF” Hosted by DJ Escrowbut it seems reasonable to assume it was about as genuine in its display of patriotism as it was its celebration of swegways. The artwork was a deliberately garish imagining of a country intent on glorifying its past and its future, without ever trying to understand either of them. It was the dream of a modern, proud United Kingdom, turned into a lurid nightmare.

It’s a nightmare that shares unlikely lineage with William Blake’s Jerusalem. Perhaps the most well-knownand consequently most misunderstoodexample of satirical national pride. The poem, most often sung to Edward Parry’s hymn-like melody, was recently suggested as a new national anthem for England, despite the fact most readings of the original text understand it to be deeply caustic in its sentiment. As Kate Maltby points out in the Spectator, the answer to the question “And did those feet in ancient time, Walk upon England’s mountains green, And was the holy Lamb of God, On England’s pleasant pastures seen?” is a resounding no. Blake’s exercise was to hold exultant national fervor up to the reality of the nation itself. There was no Jerusalem to be found among the dark, Satanic mills of England’s industrial revolution.

As we enter this remarkable time in our national historyas the reasons to be proud of the UK diminish by the day, yet in tandem the ignorant voices celebrating it grow louderit is up to artists to continue this tradition. Respond to jingoism and xenophobia with statements that challenge the illusion of Great Britain.

Photo via Flickr.

If the cover’s mood evokes anything from recent aesthetic history, it’s the 2012 Olympicsa cultural event that tried its absolutely hardest to fashion a version of national pride that was modern, inclusive and self-aware. That summerin particular the opening ceremonywas a dreamlike moment for the nation. Tripping off Danny Boyle’s social-political fantasia we were briefly allowed to imagine a country still in the throes of ongoing progression. A place of great wealth and achievement, but of even greater valuesthe multicultural paradise we’d been promised by New Labour. Like the cover of “BBF” the ceremony was a vision of Union Jacks against a sleek, chrome, commercially-minded city, and like the cover, the gloss was a mask.

The previous summer, London, alongside countless other major cities, had been ablaze with discontent gone nuclear, when a protest following the death of Mark Duggan at the hands of the metropolitan police escalated into five days of riots and looting. The incidents spoke of a city, and a nation on the verge of collapsea collapse David Cameron saw as moral, but might be better understood as the structural collapse of the Big Society, his vision of the nation as an empowered civil community. In his recent interview (alongside Gaika) in Crack Magazine, Blunt characterized the riots as a final, doomed charge. “The riots happenedthat was a battle. The Olympics happenedthat was the big parade. The world is over now. And London, it’s like, it’s done. We’re living in Armageddon, we’ve all been in a zombie like existence since London 2012.”

In 2017 the distance between image and reality has become truly impossible to ignore, the nation now bearing the scars of austerity and a demonstration of division as gaping as Brexit. Theresa May and Boris Johnson’s constant references to an illustrious future for a great nation, let alone Farage’s lyrical waxing about control and independence, are so out-of-sync with reality they sound almost cruel. If the illusion of a Great Britain is laughable, the question is, what does the laughter sound like?

Photo via Flickr.

Mock-patriotism is a storied tradition in music, through the sneering sarcasm of the Sex Pistol’s “God Save the Queen,” to heart-on-the-sleeve slagging of Big Hard Excellent Fish’ “Imperfect List,” artists have long challenged the supposed virtues of the UK by gorging on them. It’s a deft and satisfying form of protest that undermines authority by glorifying its hypocrisies. It’s no mistake that Dean Blunt’s “BBF” opened with a seemingly infinite loop of Craig David’s voice at the 2003 Brit Awards, repeating the words “that makes me proud to be British.” It introduces the album with a statement of national pride that becomes hypnotic, and then nauseating. As on the cover, celebrating Britishness is pushed to gratuitous lengths.

It wouldn’t be over-zealous to describe “BBF” as anti-British, or at least, anti the idea of a United Kingdom. It represents a poststructural response to the flawed idea of British values, exposing them as meaningless symbols and gestures through Blunt’s irreverent, dense style. For a more delicate approach, Darkstar’s 2015 LP Foam Island served as a far more frank portrait of Tory Britain’s widespread neglect. Rooted in the pre-Brexit world of Cameron’s big society, their record deserves even more credit now than it did on its release for just how presciently it evoked the desperation of the nation’s forgotten corners, and how close to breaking point they were.

The album is comprised in part of field recordings and interviews with young people in Huddersfield. Paired with the Darkstar’s lilting but unsettled melodies, the album is another exercise in the resentful, disenfranchised reality fizzing underneath the veneer. Album track “Cuts” is based around a recorded message from Kirklees Council. The pleasant, cheery female voice imparts the magnitude of savings demanded of them by the government, and the effect these cuts are having on public services. It’s a clinical and straightforward unfolding of a Northern community dealing with systemic abandonment, yet paired with the pastoral bliss of the productionall quaint textures and whimsical melodiesit again communicates an unnerving, saccharine vision of a country rotting behind the scenes.

Interestingly, it is another album that opens with a well-intentioned audio clippingthis time a young woman saying “Loyalty, and kindness, honesty, just basic things”looped until it becomes gently bewildering.

Another powerful tool in the pursuit of faux-pride is nostalgia. Nostalgia is normally a dirty word when we talk about music, but in the past few years two London-based acts have weaponized it as something revealing. Real Lies’ debut album Real Life (2015) is a study in rave-malaise, pulling fragmented, cigarette burnt memories of 1990s club culture back together to tell modern romances. Its an album that leaves you longing for a world you never knew in the first place, softening England’s edges through the glitch and fuzz of a VHS player. It’s not a political album by any stretch, but it is concerned with communing with a country whose best days are behind itif they ever existed at all. After all, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to presume the men who drink in A-road pubs of “North Circular” would’ve voted to leave the EU.

“Home Sweet Home,” by the Rhythm Method, described previously on THUMP as the “perfect post-fabric anthem,” back when we thought the club was gone for good, is built around a simple refrain: “And all the girls are singing home sweet home, London, with every closing bar, there’s hollows in my heart.” It’s a beautiful song, and a deeply knowing one. London, as is regrettably so often the way, is the inspiration for too much material, but perhaps a lot of that is due to its usefulness as a totem. The “Home Sweet Home,” the Rhythm Method sing of is of course no home at all, but an increasingly faceless facsimile, the bland edifice of post-Blair Britain writ large. Similar things could be said of their song “Party Politics,” with its killer line “things could only get bitter.” Blair’s kids grew up to discover he was, like all bad dads, little more than expensive suits and empty promises. And this is how Real Lies and the Rhythm Method sing of Englandthe hollowness of today via the fullness of yesterday.

There are, of course, artists who are invested in more abrasive explorations of the UK as a scorched, alien environment. From the continued post-dubstep experiments of Kode9 to the skittish landscapes of London label Tekres. Gaika’s work doesn’t bother with nods or winks in evoking a city, and a nation, already poisoned beyond recovery. His work on last year’s SECURITY, accompanied by a short film of the same name, is a lived hallucination, created by an artist intent on communicating just how toxic the capital has become”This is my city, and these are my streets, and it’s murder out here,” goes album track “GKZ.” As he told Blunt in the same Crack Magazine feature, “They say this is the sound of ‘dystopian London’. Listen you fucker, London is dystopian now! There’s cameras everywhere! I’m not making it up.”

Dean Blunt is not a prankster, as the Guardian once called him, and we shouldn’t take his work as anything but serious, but what he shares with all the artists featured is just how effectively he captures the delicious ironies of contemporary Britaina country committing suicide in its Sunday best. Given the UK’s self-aggrandizing in the face of decay, Blake and Blunt’s mock-patriot zeal serves a far higher purpose than a conventional protest ever could. For as long as there are politicians waxing lyrical about British values and identity, it’s better to respond with overdoses of their own medicine.

It’s worth noting that much of the work featured in this piece was released before the Brexit vote, meaning thatbeyond perhaps Sleaford Mods recent “B.H.S.”we’re in dire need of more reaction. In some respects, we need these acts of sarcasm and sickly nostalgia more than direct protest, and electronic music and clubland make the perfect vessel for this model of irreverence. Firstly, it’s a world distanced from a Brit Awards friendly mainstream that will always remain too cautious to really sneer at authority. Yet more importantly, at its core the production of dance music is concerned repurposing of existing material, so it’s no surprise it provides the ideal context for an almost Dadaist repurposing of symbols. What’s more UK rave culture in 2017 is cripplingly nostalgic, reliant on the notion that a warehouse party charging 25 a ticket is somehow authentica culture trying to escape the weight of its own legacy.

This abuse of memory sets the soundtrack for Brexit Britain: a pseudo-sincere yearning for yesteryear, looking back in anger through rose-tinted glasses. Because in times of crisis nothing sounds as disconcerting as a national anthem.

Follow Angus on Twitter.

The 33 Best Albums Of 2016

Illustration by Dana Kim

Never question the efficacy of a great album. Dance singles offer concentrated dopamine hits and lengthy mixes offer IV drips of all sorts of pleasant neurotransmitters, but 2016’s vast slate of electronic full-lengths, while sometimes more gradual in their effects, are no less life-altering. Afforded the opportunity to take up a little more space, producers made a number of complex statements, offering up electro-protest anthems, rose-tinted remembrances of childhood, and collections of club tracks as harrowing as War of the Worlds. Below are 33 albums that went beyond a single track’s impact to offer expansive discourse and complicated feelingsin a year that demanded both.

33. Baauer – Aa

Though Aa didn’t come out until March, Baauer heralded his debut studio album’s arrival back in January, when the producer debuted “Days Ones,” a collaboration with Novelist and Leikeli47, on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Leikeli47 was wearing her signature balaclava; the Brooklyn-based producer, whose real name is Harry Rodrigues, was seated casually on a couch to the side of the stage, wearing headphones and staring at a laptop. Even for someone who has lived, at various times, in Philly, Germany, London, and Connecticut, the ruse positioned Rodrigues first and foremost as a child of the internet.

And Aa cements that interpretation, leveraging bass music, grime, hip-hop, and twinkling ambience less as ends in themselves than as shifting emotional terrains in an LED-lit journey into the end of the night. The stacked lineup of guests on the albumamong them, Future, Pusha T, MIA, and South Korean rapper G-Dragonmake for some of the highest highs, but to Baauer’s credit, in his first big look since the “Harlem Shake,” the moments of wide-eyed lyricism leave as much of an impression as the drops.Emilie Friedlander

32. DJ Tiga – The Sound Vol. 1

DJ TiGa describes his craft in surprisingly functional terms. Discussing the philosophy that informed The Sound Vol. 1, his debut mixtape for J-Cush’s influential Brooklyn label Lit City Trax, the Newark-based producer put it simply: “Club music isn’t beautiful. It’s supposed to make you sweat, you’re supposed to jump, you’re supposed to be able to scream to the top of your lungs.”

Caffeine-pill flips of Rocko’s “U.O.E.N.O” and Biggie’s “Dead Wrong” (presented in filleted form here as “Take Note (Who the Man),” fulfill that mandate of dancefloor destruction. But the real triumph of The Sound Vol. 1, contrary to TiGa’s own claims, is the paradoxical beauty of the thing; he has a knack for presenting simple melodies that roil colorfully against the TV static of the drum programming. It’s often an austere sort of allure, but the kaleidoscopic sweetness underpinning songs like the Tink and Aaliyah-sampling “Your Love” is part of what makes The Sound so addictive outside of dancefloor contextsa little saccharine to accompany the sweat.Colin Joyce

31. Ana Caprix – M6 Ultra

Since I started working a 9-5 last year, my listening sessions during my daily bus commute have acquired a level of personal sanctity similar in emotional intensity to Helga’s shrine to Arnold in her closet. This is my time, and whatever I put on better fucking jam. So it’s not faint praise to say that the album I’ve played most often after wrenching myself out of bed and crumpling into a blue plastic bus seat is this under-the-radar stunner from British producer Ana Caprix. It’s hard to quantify exactly what’s going with it musically: there are elements of trance, sure, but there’s also hip-hop percussion, dreamy ambient pads, and a nasty Dido sample or two. It doesn’t matter, ultimately; just throw it on and melt away.Ezra Marcus

30. Mock the Zuma – Gauss

Mexican producer born Kevin Santana is known for making bold statements; his alias of Mock the Zuma is a parody of the notorious ninth governor of Tenochtitlan, Moctezuma II. Released on influential Mexican label and collective NAAFI, Gauss is plagued with sounds extracted from video games and internet clips and is about the realities of living and making music in Mexico. The record’s seven tracks aren’t intended to shine on the dancefloor, but rather to provoke introspection from its dark production. Santana’s hometown of Ciudad Jurez is one of the most violent cities in Mexico, and his EP is a reminder of what it’s like to create music in a city at war with drug trafficking, where the hours after curfew are passed with friends and video games. Ultimately, Gauss is a reflection of the border reality that is lived in Mexico.Valeria Anzaldo

29. Tommy Awards – Sessions II

Even if my listening has been colored by the repeated occasions I’ve imagined that this Swedish Balearic duo’s name is some sort of porn award, Sessions II is a strangely sexy recordif your idea of a perfect fuck involves lapping waves, silk sheets, and the prurient bliss of Ash Ra Tempel records. Even if all that isn’t your bag, this tantric two-trackerwhich plods along gently on puttering drums, then recedes as gentle mystical Environments recording soundalikes and lackadaisical guitars swell around itis a perfect accompaniment to any activity that involves two consenting adults and a pair of speakers. Highly recommended for those of you out there into rainforests, Steve Roach, post-coital glows.Josh Baines

28. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani – Sunergy

Since their inception in 2009, RVNG Intl.’s FRKWYS series has become a kind of fantasy football for people who read The Wire and despise actual football. Previous installments have seen Blues Control jamming with zither-maestro Laraaji, Sun Araw hanging out with reggae legends the Congos, and the formation of what is possibly the world’s greatest modular synth supergroup to date, Borden, Ferraro, Godin, Halo, and Lopatin.

This time around, the label has paired the celestial and perennially soothing Suzanne Ciani with fellow Buchla player Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith for a languorous waltz down the Pacific Coast Highway. Sunergy is an unhurried minor masterpiecea burbling and barely-there set of synth-jams that breathe themselves into the most subtle of beings. This is intricate and understandably ornate music that demandsand rewardsdeep listening.Josh Baines

27. Foodman – Ez Minzoku

Critics have largely described the sonic riddles that Takahide Higuchi issues as Foodman as if he were still in the throes of an early fascination with the caffeinated kick drum programming of footwork. But in the years since he debuted back in 2012, he’s taken real glee in frustrating those expectations, channelling the twitchy programming he learned from that genre into a barrage of harebrained samples.

His full-length return to the absurdo-futurist imprint Orange Milk, Ez Minzoku, is his most hilarious effort yetand perhaps his record least linked to footwork, or the dance floor at all for that matter. Within the space of just a few tracks, there’s jaw-dropping samples of metal riffs, referee whistles, dial-tone drops, pinched “ow”s, Japanese rapping, and treacly synth lines that sound kind of like Dntel’s cotton candy programming for the Postal Serviceand sometimes more. It’s a joyous cacophony of sounds that shouldn’t be able to coexist, let alone produce moments as sublime as the new age-y bliss of “Ure Pill.” Mostly, though, it’s the sound of cartoon neurons juking at the same speed as his bass drums once did.Colin Joyce

26. Umfang – Riffs

Emma Burgess-Olson’s productions as Umfang tend to be even more multifarious than her DJ sets. On a split earlier this year for the Danish experimental label Phinery, she demonstrated a taste for the totally fucked, tossing up acidic screwballs that lifted her sound away from the dancefloor entirely. Her August release for 1080p, Riffs, is perhaps even more skyward-sounding. Over five tracks, she flits through spacious synth sequences and sparse kick drums; there’s an overbearing anxiousness in the air, a sick awareness of the rapidly decreasing oxygen as she drags you closer to the stratosphere. Riffs is the rare record that baffles me every time I play it, both because of its own harrowing internal logic and because of what its triumphs suggest for an artist who hits stranger heights on every release. What earthly realms are left to conquer once you’ve broken orbit?Colin Joyce

25. Powell – Sport

In the short time that he’s been signed to XL Recordings, Oscar Powell has developed a reputation as one of dance music’s merry pranksters. Last year, Powell took out a billboard featuring the full text of a sample clearance letter from legendary punk grump Steve Albini that allowed Powell to sample one of his recordings but stated that he “detest own agency.”

Self-determination is a difficult topic to untangle on a record full of collaborations, especially given that it ends on the white-hot sunrise of “Red Eyez,” a track made by the London-based Lexxi alone. But the answer to her question proves relatively intuitive here, both because all of her collaborators are longtime pals, and because nearly overstuffed and nauseous pieces like “Dummy Track” demonstrate she’s a natural for the director’s chairknowing just how much detail to creep in before cutting it off. Like most of her work, an atmosphere of optimistic longing underpins the proceedings, but with the help of her friends, her work feels more impactful than it’s ever beena testament to the power of pushing ahead, with friends on your side.Colin Joyce

4. Kornel Kovacs – The Bells

The Bells begins with a half-remembered melody, a shadowy prelude-that-never-was to a 2014 track about getting fucked up. It sets a precedent for an album that revels in its weightlessness, and a producer who seems to defy standard conventions of time. Kornel Kovacs plays with this temporal slipperiness over the course his debut double LPthe first two sides are a sparkling FM tribute to 80s synth-pop and funky disco-house, while the second slab is a glittering journey through disco atmospherics. Meanwhile, the album title refers to another decade, and specifically to Jeff Mills’s seminal 1997 techno track “The Bells,” a hypnotic roller which shares little in common with Kovacs’ record, other than its layered and organic approach. All of this makes for an album which confidently knows it can’t be easily bracketed by epoch or genre. So don’t think about it too hard, throw this one on at home while the album art cheekily smiles back, and do as one of its timeless tracks implores you: “Dance… While The Record Spins.”Jesse Weiss

3. Kaytranada – 99.9%

Overflowing with four-on-the-floor rhythms, washed-out bass lines, and crate-plucked samples, Kaytranada‘s music sits somewhere between the booty-bouncing beats of house and the funk of 90s R&B. It takes cues from the artists he grew up listening to as the child of immigrant parents in Montreal, but it also sounds fresher than anything you’ll find on the radio today.

His long-awaited debut album, 99.9%, pushes that outside-of-time logic even further, setting rising talents like rapper Vic Mensa and jazz experimentalists BadBadNotGood alongside unsung veterans like Craig David and Phonte of Little Brother. Whereas lesser producers would be overshadowed by such a cabal of guests, here, they only serve to accentuate the producer’s kaleidoscopic, percussion-first instrumentals. “You’re the One,” a collaboration with vocalist Syd tha Kyd, is a frontrunner for the best distillation of the Kaytranada sound. From the hand claps, to the Internet co-founder’s feather-light coos, to its reverberating synth bass, the track flows through you in an instant, infectious, loving rush of music.Britt Julious


2. Huerco S – For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)

Brian Eno famously first conceived of the idea of ambient music while bedridden after he was hit by a car. Unable to get across the room to turn up the stereoso the story goeshe found himself annoyed by, then enamored of music that blended into the room’s preexisting sonic environment. The genre he proposed was to beas he wrote in the liner notes for Music for Airportsas “ignorable as it is interesting.” But the beauty of For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)the producer Brian Leeds‘ first album-length foray into ambient musicis in its apparent rejection of this idea.

Leeds has said that he too uses this music to relax and recover while on his intercontinental travels between DJ sets. But this album is nestled more in the lineage of Hiroshi Yoshimura’s new age-adjacent tone pieces than the delicate drones of the Eno strain of ambience. There’s just a whole lot more movement on For Those of You than you might expect from an ambient record, from spectrally swelling synthesizers and gently sequenced electronics, to pieces that sound like sleepwalking club tracks with the drums skillfully excised. Instead of augmenting the spaces you inhabit, this gauzy latticework breathes and coalesces into something darker, wispier, more cocoon-like. The album’s not a way of coping with the world around you; it’s another world entirely.Colin Joyce

1. ANOHNI – Hopelessness

Earlier this year, sitting in the lobby of the Roxy Hotel in Lower Manhattan, ANOHNI informed me that she was going on an “eyes-wide-open” campaign.

“How wide can I hold my eyes, how much can I try to see, knowing that I’ll never see it all?” she mused. The former Antony and the Johnsons mastermind was referring, of course, not to the physical faculty of sight, but to a kind of psychic equivalent of ita willingness to hold open a space in her heart and her mind for the alarming headlines about American foreign policy and corporate surveillance and climate change she’d been reading in the news for the past 15 years, to allow the terror and sadness they elicited in her to sink in, to refuse to look away. Later on, I realized that she’d offered me a pretty perfect summation of what it means to be an artistnot to report the news, but to channel what it feels like to live it, to articulate what it feels like to be human in the midst of, or in spite of, the political, social, and economic realities of one’s time.

Hopelessness, her sixth album, embraces this definition of art more literally than most, using palatial, club-inspired production from Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never as a launch pad for some of the most disarmingly direct social commentary our generation has heard from an artist. She sings a song about Obama that calls the president by name. She sings a song from the perspective of a young girl whose family has been killed by an American drone bomb, and another about how incremental temperature changes may be slowly killing off species of flora and fauna.

Were it not for the motherly cradle of her voice and the ecstatic bombast of the synthetic horns and strings, it would all probably be too much to take inand to many listeners, it probably was. But after the election, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that while many of us spent that past few years hermetically sealed inside our hyper-liberal Facebook bubbles, blissfully ignorant of the things we didn’t want to see, ANOHNI was already looking. That didn’t make Hopelessness any less quixotic, any less crazy of an undertaking; it just reminded us that it was only as crazy as the world that ANOHNI is singing about.Emilie Friedlander

The 33 Best Albums Of 2016

Illustration by Dana Kim

Never question the efficacy of a great album. Dance singles offer concentrated dopamine hits and lengthy mixes offer IV drips of all sorts of pleasant neurotransmitters, but 2016’s vast slate of electronic full-lengths, while sometimes more gradual in their effects, are no less life-altering. Afforded the opportunity to take up a little more space, producers made a number of complex statements, offering up electro-protest anthems, rose-tinted remembrances of childhood, and collections of club tracks as harrowing as War of the Worlds. Below are 33 albums that went beyond a single track’s impact to offer expansive discourse and complicated feelingsin a year that demanded both.

33. Baauer – Aa

Though Aa didn’t come out until March, Baauer heralded his debut studio album’s arrival back in January, when the producer debuted “Days Ones,” a collaboration with Novelist and Leikeli47, on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Leikeli47 was wearing her signature balaclava; the Brooklyn-based producer, whose real name is Harry Rodrigues, was seated casually on a couch to the side of the stage, wearing headphones and staring at a laptop. Even for someone who has lived, at various times, in Philly, Germany, London, and Connecticut, the ruse positioned Rodrigues first and foremost as a child of the internet.

And Aa cements that interpretation, leveraging bass music, grime, hip-hop, and twinkling ambience less as ends in themselves than as shifting emotional terrains in an LED-lit journey into the end of the night. The stacked lineup of guests on the albumamong them, Future, Pusha T, MIA, and South Korean rapper G-Dragonmake for some of the highest highs, but to Baauer’s credit, in his first big look since the “Harlem Shake,” the moments of wide-eyed lyricism leave as much of an impression as the drops.Emilie Friedlander

32. DJ Tiga – The Sound Vol. 1

DJ TiGa describes his craft in surprisingly functional terms. Discussing the philosophy that informed The Sound Vol. 1, his debut mixtape for J-Cush’s influential Brooklyn label Lit City Trax, the Newark-based producer put it simply: “Club music isn’t beautiful. It’s supposed to make you sweat, you’re supposed to jump, you’re supposed to be able to scream to the top of your lungs.”

Caffeine-pill flips of Rocko’s “U.O.E.N.O” and Biggie’s “Dead Wrong” (presented in filleted form here as “Take Note (Who the Man),” fulfill that mandate of dancefloor destruction. But the real triumph of The Sound Vol. 1, contrary to TiGa’s own claims, is the paradoxical beauty of the thing; he has a knack for presenting simple melodies that roil colorfully against the TV static of the drum programming. It’s often an austere sort of allure, but the kaleidoscopic sweetness underpinning songs like the Tink and Aaliyah-sampling “Your Love” is part of what makes The Sound so addictive outside of dancefloor contextsa little saccharine to accompany the sweat.Colin Joyce

31. Ana Caprix – M6 Ultra

Since I started working a 9-5 last year, my listening sessions during my daily bus commute have acquired a level of personal sanctity similar in emotional intensity to Helga’s shrine to Arnold in her closet. This is my time, and whatever I put on better fucking jam. So it’s not faint praise to say that the album I’ve played most often after wrenching myself out of bed and crumpling into a blue plastic bus seat is this under-the-radar stunner from British producer Ana Caprix. It’s hard to quantify exactly what’s going with it musically: there are elements of trance, sure, but there’s also hip-hop percussion, dreamy ambient pads, and a nasty Dido sample or two. It doesn’t matter, ultimately; just throw it on and melt away.Ezra Marcus

30. Mock the Zuma – Gauss

Mexican producer born Kevin Santana is known for making bold statements; his alias of Mock the Zuma is a parody of the notorious ninth governor of Tenochtitlan, Moctezuma II. Released on influential Mexican label and collective NAAFI, Gauss is plagued with sounds extracted from video games and internet clips and is about the realities of living and making music in Mexico. The record’s seven tracks aren’t intended to shine on the dancefloor, but rather to provoke introspection from its dark production. Santana’s hometown of Ciudad Jurez is one of the most violent cities in Mexico, and his EP is a reminder of what it’s like to create music in a city at war with drug trafficking, where the hours after curfew are passed with friends and video games. Ultimately, Gauss is a reflection of the border reality that is lived in Mexico.Valeria Anzaldo

29. Tommy Awards – Sessions II

Even if my listening has been colored by the repeated occasions I’ve imagined that this Swedish Balearic duo’s name is some sort of porn award, Sessions II is a strangely sexy recordif your idea of a perfect fuck involves lapping waves, silk sheets, and the prurient bliss of Ash Ra Tempel records. Even if all that isn’t your bag, this tantric two-trackerwhich plods along gently on puttering drums, then recedes as gentle mystical Environments recording soundalikes and lackadaisical guitars swell around itis a perfect accompaniment to any activity that involves two consenting adults and a pair of speakers. Highly recommended for those of you out there into rainforests, Steve Roach, post-coital glows.Josh Baines

28. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani – Sunergy

Since their inception in 2009, RVNG Intl.’s FRKWYS series has become a kind of fantasy football for people who read The Wire and despise actual football. Previous installments have seen Blues Control jamming with zither-maestro Laraaji, Sun Araw hanging out with reggae legends the Congos, and the formation of what is possibly the world’s greatest modular synth supergroup to date, Borden, Ferraro, Godin, Halo, and Lopatin.

This time around, the label has paired the celestial and perennially soothing Suzanne Ciani with fellow Buchla player Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith for a languorous waltz down the Pacific Coast Highway. Sunergy is an unhurried minor masterpiecea burbling and barely-there set of synth-jams that breathe themselves into the most subtle of beings. This is intricate and understandably ornate music that demandsand rewardsdeep listening.Josh Baines

27. Foodman – Ez Minzoku

Critics have largely described the sonic riddles that Takahide Higuchi issues as Foodman as if he were still in the throes of an early fascination with the caffeinated kick drum programming of footwork. But in the years since he debuted back in 2012, he’s taken real glee in frustrating those expectations, channelling the twitchy programming he learned from that genre into a barrage of harebrained samples.

His full-length return to the absurdo-futurist imprint Orange Milk, Ez Minzoku, is his most hilarious effort yetand perhaps his record least linked to footwork, or the dance floor at all for that matter. Within the space of just a few tracks, there’s jaw-dropping samples of metal riffs, referee whistles, dial-tone drops, pinched “ow”s, Japanese rapping, and treacly synth lines that sound kind of like Dntel’s cotton candy programming for the Postal Serviceand sometimes more. It’s a joyous cacophony of sounds that shouldn’t be able to coexist, let alone produce moments as sublime as the new age-y bliss of “Ure Pill.” Mostly, though, it’s the sound of cartoon neurons juking at the same speed as his bass drums once did.Colin Joyce

26. Umfang – Riffs

Emma Burgess-Olson’s productions as Umfang tend to be even more multifarious than her DJ sets. On a split earlier this year for the Danish experimental label Phinery, she demonstrated a taste for the totally fucked, tossing up acidic screwballs that lifted her sound away from the dancefloor entirely. Her August release for 1080p, Riffs, is perhaps even more skyward-sounding. Over five tracks, she flits through spacious synth sequences and sparse kick drums; there’s an overbearing anxiousness in the air, a sick awareness of the rapidly decreasing oxygen as she drags you closer to the stratosphere. Riffs is the rare record that baffles me every time I play it, both because of its own harrowing internal logic and because of what its triumphs suggest for an artist who hits stranger heights on every release. What earthly realms are left to conquer once you’ve broken orbit?Colin Joyce

25. Powell – Sport

In the short time that he’s been signed to XL Recordings, Oscar Powell has developed a reputation as one of dance music’s merry pranksters. Last year, Powell took out a billboard featuring the full text of a sample clearance letter from legendary punk grump Steve Albini that allowed Powell to sample one of his recordings but stated that he “detest own agency.”

Self-determination is a difficult topic to untangle on a record full of collaborations, especially given that it ends on the white-hot sunrise of “Red Eyez,” a track made by the London-based Lexxi alone. But the answer to her question proves relatively intuitive here, both because all of her collaborators are longtime pals, and because nearly overstuffed and nauseous pieces like “Dummy Track” demonstrate she’s a natural for the director’s chairknowing just how much detail to creep in before cutting it off. Like most of her work, an atmosphere of optimistic longing underpins the proceedings, but with the help of her friends, her work feels more impactful than it’s ever beena testament to the power of pushing ahead, with friends on your side.Colin Joyce

4. Kornel Kovacs – The Bells

The Bells begins with a half-remembered melody, a shadowy prelude-that-never-was to a 2014 track about getting fucked up. It sets a precedent for an album that revels in its weightlessness, and a producer who seems to defy standard conventions of time. Kornel Kovacs plays with this temporal slipperiness over the course his debut double LPthe first two sides are a sparkling FM tribute to 80s synth-pop and funky disco-house, while the second slab is a glittering journey through disco atmospherics. Meanwhile, the album title refers to another decade, and specifically to Jeff Mills’s seminal 1997 techno track “The Bells,” a hypnotic roller which shares little in common with Kovacs’ record, other than its layered and organic approach. All of this makes for an album which confidently knows it can’t be easily bracketed by epoch or genre. So don’t think about it too hard, throw this one on at home while the album art cheekily smiles back, and do as one of its timeless tracks implores you: “Dance… While The Record Spins.”Jesse Weiss

3. Kaytranada – 99.9%

Overflowing with four-on-the-floor rhythms, washed-out bass lines, and crate-plucked samples, Kaytranada‘s music sits somewhere between the booty-bouncing beats of house and the funk of 90s R&B. It takes cues from the artists he grew up listening to as the child of immigrant parents in Montreal, but it also sounds fresher than anything you’ll find on the radio today.

His long-awaited debut album, 99.9%, pushes that outside-of-time logic even further, setting rising talents like rapper Vic Mensa and jazz experimentalists BadBadNotGood alongside unsung veterans like Craig David and Phonte of Little Brother. Whereas lesser producers would be overshadowed by such a cabal of guests, here, they only serve to accentuate the producer’s kaleidoscopic, percussion-first instrumentals. “You’re the One,” a collaboration with vocalist Syd tha Kyd, is a frontrunner for the best distillation of the Kaytranada sound. From the hand claps, to the Internet co-founder’s feather-light coos, to its reverberating synth bass, the track flows through you in an instant, infectious, loving rush of music.Britt Julious


2. Huerco S – For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)

Brian Eno famously first conceived of the idea of ambient music while bedridden after he was hit by a car. Unable to get across the room to turn up the stereoso the story goeshe found himself annoyed by, then enamored of music that blended into the room’s preexisting sonic environment. The genre he proposed was to beas he wrote in the liner notes for Music for Airportsas “ignorable as it is interesting.” But the beauty of For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)the producer Brian Leeds‘ first album-length foray into ambient musicis in its apparent rejection of this idea.

Leeds has said that he too uses this music to relax and recover while on his intercontinental travels between DJ sets. But this album is nestled more in the lineage of Hiroshi Yoshimura’s new age-adjacent tone pieces than the delicate drones of the Eno strain of ambience. There’s just a whole lot more movement on For Those of You than you might expect from an ambient record, from spectrally swelling synthesizers and gently sequenced electronics, to pieces that sound like sleepwalking club tracks with the drums skillfully excised. Instead of augmenting the spaces you inhabit, this gauzy latticework breathes and coalesces into something darker, wispier, more cocoon-like. The album’s not a way of coping with the world around you; it’s another world entirely.Colin Joyce

1. ANOHNI – Hopelessness

Earlier this year, sitting in the lobby of the Roxy Hotel in Lower Manhattan, ANOHNI informed me that she was going on an “eyes-wide-open” campaign.

“How wide can I hold my eyes, how much can I try to see, knowing that I’ll never see it all?” she mused. The former Antony and the Johnsons mastermind was referring, of course, not to the physical faculty of sight, but to a kind of psychic equivalent of ita willingness to hold open a space in her heart and her mind for the alarming headlines about American foreign policy and corporate surveillance and climate change she’d been reading in the news for the past 15 years, to allow the terror and sadness they elicited in her to sink in, to refuse to look away. Later on, I realized that she’d offered me a pretty perfect summation of what it means to be an artistnot to report the news, but to channel what it feels like to live it, to articulate what it feels like to be human in the midst of, or in spite of, the political, social, and economic realities of one’s time.

Hopelessness, her sixth album, embraces this definition of art more literally than most, using palatial, club-inspired production from Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never as a launch pad for some of the most disarmingly direct social commentary our generation has heard from an artist. She sings a song about Obama that calls the president by name. She sings a song from the perspective of a young girl whose family has been killed by an American drone bomb, and another about how incremental temperature changes may be slowly killing off species of flora and fauna.

Were it not for the motherly cradle of her voice and the ecstatic bombast of the synthetic horns and strings, it would all probably be too much to take inand to many listeners, it probably was. But after the election, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that while many of us spent that past few years hermetically sealed inside our hyper-liberal Facebook bubbles, blissfully ignorant of the things we didn’t want to see, ANOHNI was already looking. That didn’t make Hopelessness any less quixotic, any less crazy of an undertaking; it just reminded us that it was only as crazy as the world that ANOHNI is singing about.Emilie Friedlander

The Best Things We Saw On The Dance Music Internet This Week

1. A brief history of masked DJs

Michaelangelo Matos examines the history of masked musicians in DJ and producer culture in his regular column, Off the Record.

2. Justice is back

Reporter Angus Harrison spent time with the secretive French duo for THUMP on the heels of their latest album and new music video.

3. Artificial intelligence and music production

Deep House Amsterdam looks at the ways in which artificial intelligence will change the course of the music industry and music production.

4. Austra’s THUMP mix

After three years, the Toronto synth-pop project Austra returns with their third studio album, Future Politics. In anticipation of its release, they’ve made an exclusive THUMP mix filled with a wide variety of tracks that spark their curiosity and influence their sound.

5. A beginner’s guide to Colonel Abrams

Last week, we reported that house music vocalist Colonel Abrams passed away. In honor of his life, Electronic Beats compiled a beginner’s guide for newbies unfamiliar with his eclectic and iconic work.

6. Queer nightlife in the Trump era

Do safe spaces in nightlife even exist? If so, how do we keep our safe spaces “safe”?

THUMP features editor Michelle Lhooq examines how queer nightlife can move forward in this new political era with President-elect Donald Trump.

7. Colleen Murphy’s David Mancuso tribute mix

Murphy created this tribute to her mentor David Mancuso (who recently passed) for Solid Steel Radio. True to the sprit of The Loft, Murphy’s mix features an eclectic array of musicians, from Francois Kevorkian to Brian Eno & David Byrne.

8. The man with 40,000 rave flyers

We spoke with Matthew Johnson of the Rave Preservation Project about the preservation of flyers and his five favorite designs.

9. ANOHNI’s ‘Marrow”

For her latest video, ANOHNI features the inimitable Lorraine O’Grady and we are so in love.

10. A Babyfather weed grinder

It exists.

Dean Blunt Discusses Racial Discrimination And The Death Of London, In A Rare Interview With Gaika

Photo credit: Joshua Gordon.

London-based producer and experimental artist Dean Bluntalso known as Babyfatherhas given a rare interview for Crack Magazine, in conversation with Brixton-born producer Gaika. Their dialogue is wide-ranging, but largely evokes the lived experiences and ideological struggles of being black in modern Britain. The interview coincides with the pair’s collaboration, Hackney Vs Brixton.

On the subject of London, Blunt’s feelings are apocalyptic, stating, “Before the Olympics, we were leading up to Armageddon and after the Olympics the world ended…The riots happened that was a battle. The Olympics happened that was the big parade. The world is over now. And London, it’s like, it’s done.” He also has some specific words regarding racial discrimination in clublandrecalling his own experiences putting on nights, and being asked not to play hip hop because “it brings in the wrong kind of people.”

Elsewhere in the far-reaching conversation, the producers discuss the “pantomime” of Donald Trumplikening his election to WWEand Blunt’s personal frustrations with being considered a satirical artist.

Blunt also tells Gaika he is currently working on a feature film and is “writing an opera with a friend also.”

Read the full interview here.

Dean Blunt Discusses Racial Discrimination And The Death Of London, In A Rare Interview With Gaika

Photo credit: Joshua Gordon.

London-based producer and experimental artist Dean Bluntalso known as Babyfatherhas given a rare interview for Crack Magazine, in conversation with Brixton-born producer Gaika. Their dialogue is wide-ranging, but largely evokes the lived experiences and ideological struggles of being black in modern Britain. The interview coincides with the pair’s collaboration, Hackney Vs Brixton.

On the subject of London, Blunt’s feelings are apocalyptic, stating, “Before the Olympics, we were leading up to Armageddon and after the Olympics the world ended…The riots happened that was a battle. The Olympics happened that was the big parade. The world is over now. And London, it’s like, it’s done.” He also has some specific words regarding racial discrimination in clublandrecalling his own experiences putting on nights, and being asked not to play hip hop because “it brings in the wrong kind of people.”

Elsewhere in the far-reaching conversation, the producers discuss the “pantomime” of Donald Trumplikening his election to WWEand Blunt’s personal frustrations with being considered a satirical artist.

Blunt also tells Gaika he is currently working on a feature film and is “writing an opera with a friend also.”

Read the full interview here.

The Best Things We Saw On The Dance Music Internet This Week

1. A brief history of masked DJs

Michaelangelo Matos examines the history of masked musicians in DJ and producer culture in his regular column, Off the Record.

2. Justice is back

Reporter Angus Harrison spent time with the secretive French duo for THUMP on the heels of their latest album and new music video.

3. Artificial intelligence and music production

Deep House Amsterdam looks at the ways in which artificial intelligence will change the course of the music industry and music production.

4. Austra’s THUMP mix

After three years, the Toronto synth-pop project Austra returns with their third studio album, Future Politics. In anticipation of its release, they’ve made an exclusive THUMP mix filled with a wide variety of tracks that spark their curiosity and influence their sound.

5. A beginner’s guide to Colonel Abrams

Last week, we reported that house music vocalist Colonel Abrams passed away. In honor of his life, Electronic Beats compiled a beginner’s guide for newbies unfamiliar with his eclectic and iconic work.

6. Queer nightlife in the Trump era

Do safe spaces in nightlife even exist? If so, how do we keep our safe spaces “safe”?

THUMP features editor Michelle Lhooq examines how queer nightlife can move forward in this new political era with President-elect Donald Trump.

7. Colleen Murphy’s David Mancuso tribute mix

Murphy created this tribute to her mentor David Mancuso (who recently passed) for Solid Steel Radio. True to the sprit of The Loft, Murphy’s mix features an eclectic array of musicians, from Francois Kevorkian to Brian Eno & David Byrne.

8. The man with 40,000 rave flyers

We spoke with Matthew Johnson of the Rave Preservation Project about the preservation of flyers and his five favorite designs.

9. ANOHNI’s ‘Marrow”

For her latest video, ANOHNI features the inimitable Lorraine O’Grady and we are so in love.

10. A Babyfather weed grinder

It exists.

Hyperdub Just Dropped A New Mixtape From Dean Blunt’s Babyfather Project

Image via Hyperdub Twitter.

On Friday, Hyperdub dropped 419, a new T14-track mixtape from Babyfather. The new mixtape was released with no warning and little details, like previous Babyfather releases. The mixtape largely includes a number of remixes of pre-released tracks and freestyle raps.

Hyperdub Just Dropped A New Mixtape From Dean Blunt’s Babyfather Project

Image via Hyperdub Twitter.

On Friday, Hyperdub dropped 419, a new T14-track mixtape from Babyfather. The new mixtape was released with no warning and little details, like previous Babyfather releases. The mixtape largely includes a number of remixes of pre-released tracks and freestyle raps.

Gaika And Dean Blunt Team Up On Knocking New Track

Photo of Gaika courtesy of Powerline Agency

UK experimental musicians Dean Blunt and Gaika teamed up today to share a self-released, reggae-sampling new track. At only a minute and a half, the raw, knocking tune might be a snippet, but it’s an earworm nonetheless, finding Blunt perform a couple sharp verses in his signature deadpan while Gaika sings “Are you really ridin’ for me?/Are you that girl?” on the chorus.

The song arrives via a website called hackneyvsbrixton.comlikely a reference to the two artists’ neighborhoods of birth (Blunt is from Hackney, while Gaika is from Brixton)and hosted not by SoundCloud or YouTube but Amazing Audio Player Free Version. The only text on the site is “R6,” so we might assume that’s the song’s title.

Both artists will perform at Bristol, UK, venue The Black Swan this Saturday, October 29, alongside previous Blunt collaborator Mica Levi. Blunt will present a set from his Babyfather project for the occasion.

Gaika shared his debut EP on Warp Records last week, titled Spaghetto, which he described as “a collection of love letters to humanity and individuals I’ve loved and lost.”

Follow Alexander on Twitter.

Gaika And Dean Blunt Team Up On Thumping New Track

Photo of Gaika courtesy of Powerline Agency

UK experimental musicians Dean Blunt and Gaika teamed up today to share a self-released, reggae-sampling new track. At only a minute and a half, the raw, thumping tune might be a snippet, but it’s an earworm nonetheless, finding Blunt perform a couple sharp verses in his signature deadpan while Gaika sings “Are you really ridin’ for me?/Are you that girl?” on the chorus.

The song arrives via a website called hackneyvsbrixton.comlikely a reference to the two artists’ neighborhoods of birth (Blunt is from Hackney, while Gaika is from Brixton)and hosted not by SoundCloud or YouTube but Amazing Audio Player Free Version. The only text on the site is “R6,” so we might assume that’s the song’s title.

Both artists will perform at Bristol, UK, venue The Black Swan this Saturday, October 29, alongside previous Blunt collaborator Mica Levi. Blunt will present a set from his Babyfather project for the occasion.

Gaika shared his debut EP on Warp Records last week, titled Spaghetto, which he described as “a collection of love letters to humanity and individuals I’ve loved and lost.”

Follow Alexander on Twitter.

Dean Blunt Shares Mysterious Snippet Of Ambience Titled "18:18"

Dean Blunt has spent the last five months dropping a stream of loosies on his Soundcloud in the wake of his April release BBF Hosted By DJ Escrow, as part of the trio Babyfather. These include the Mary J. Blige-sampling “Bubble” and the languid “Skywalker Freestyle,” followed up this morning by the beguiling “18:18.” The short track comprises only a few elementselegiac synth tones, crackling drums, and a clip of British guy (not Blunt) speaking cryptically about sailors and burning ships. At the end, we catch a brief snippet of what may be Blunt rapping imperceptibly beneath the static-y beat. What can it all mean? As usual with Blunt, there are no easy answers, but few artists today are as skilled at posing questions. Listen to the track and check out Babyfather’s tour dates below.

Babyfather tour dates:

September 14 – New York, NY – Panther Room
September 15 – Detroit, MI – El Club
September 17 – Atlanta, GA – 787 Windsor
September 21 – Toronto, CA – The Velvet Underground
September 22 – Montreal, CA – POP Festival