February felt momentous, with Amsterdam’s Sonic Acts festival gathering together artists working at the fringes of the nebulous world of club music.
Endless, Janus, NON, PAN, Staycore and more were all well represented, and while I wasn’t able to undertake the 6,000-mile trip, it was a pleasure to watch my timeline fill up with celebratory tweets and photos. It’s still difficult to gauge exactly how influential these artists, labels and parties are in the greater pop world, but that’s largely irrelevant as new spaces, both real and digital, are being created in front of our eyes.
Meanwhile, Venus X and Total Freedom can be found touring the world, KUNQ is infuriating Resident Advisor commenters and NAAFI continues to spread its brand and worldview to new listeners on a daily basis. In the face of adversity, a myriad of producers, vocalists, sound artists and beyond are hustling their respective crafts and creating both literal and figurative club spaces out of the ether. This month’s tracks inspire, and are inspired by, those club spaces.
It often feels wrong to codify nascent culture, and while there aren’t necessarily any coherent sonic similarities to the music in this month’s selection, there is an abiding sense of purpose – not just to change existing institutions, but to build entirely new and better ones outside of established constraints.
Nkisi infuses various strands of hardcore techno (doomcore and hard trance, namely) with a subtlety and polyrhythmic verve that is unmatched in contemporary dance music. ‘Mokonzi’ is the NON representative’s latest and greatest, an elastic four-on-the-floor number peppered with euphoric stabs and finishing up with a section of wistful, reverb-laden percussion recalling Nkisi’s Congolese roots.
As NON’s various projects are dispersed, expanding and abstracting at will, it’s easy to forget that Nkisi is still bringing huge, big-room-ready tracks like ‘Mokonzi’ to the table, a necessary balance to the world-building efforts of NON artists Dedekind Cut, Chino Amobi and Mhysa.
We’ve mentioned before the growing cohort of Berlin artists fighting against the city’s house and techno hegemony, and Ausschuss continues to impress in that regard, turning out a brutal Astral Plane mix and placing ‘Ravoir’ on Anti-Ghost Moon Ray’s Annual General Meeting Record (Vol. 1) compilation.
Full of dragging metal and flitting choirs, ‘Ravoir’ is slightly more forgiving than other Ausschuss tracks like ‘Regolith’ and ‘Mantle’. The track reflects his dance music base better than anything else released so far, building into a throttling composition of double-time kicks, angelic vox and snarling noise. It’s akin to Mechatok’s ‘Mass Appeal’ in a sense, and I wouldn’t mind more artists matching choirs with the harsher end of the sonic spectrum.
‘Lorenzo Senni Vs Nelly Furtado And A Helicopter’
Lorenzo Senni’s pointillist trance exercises have been utilized for edits and blends quite frequently in the past few years, appearing in Teki Latex’s ‘Deconstructed Trance Reconstructed’ mix and finding suitable partners in R&B and drum tracks alike.
Finland’s Keiska is the latest to take on Senni’s ‘PointillisticT’, matching it with Nelly Furtado’s 2001 hit ‘Turn Off The Light’ with great composure, fitting Furtado’s disembodied vocals into the seams of Senni’s immaculate chords and utilizing the harmonies from the original for a hoover-like sub effect. It’s rare that a blend can make you reconsider an artist’s whole career, but Furtado might just have a new fan after this one.
‘I’m Ready’ (Kayy Drizz Remix)
We don’t get new Jersey club output from DJ Jayhood often as he’s turned his attention towards rap (which is a bit tragic), but Kayy Drizz’s resuscitation of his 2011 classic ‘I’m Ready’, a collaboration with DJ Fresh, is the next best thing.
By adding muscle to the kick structure and rearranging the vocal, the Jersey up-and-comer reminds us why the original is such a feel-good anthem and adds her own flavor. If she introduces ‘I’m Ready’ to a new generation of listeners, dancers and DJs, all the better. And though Jayhood isn’t releasing club material all that often, he did recently upload a banging remix of Missy Elliot’s ‘Work It’, an unbeatable combination if we’ve ever heard one.
Zini is the latest artist to join the Tobago Tracks roster, and while his sound is not similar to anything else the label has released to date, its unrelenting energy and fresh sound palette make it a perfect fit for the Watford/Paris-based outfit. ‘Sirenzz’, from a three track EP of the same name, is the standout for me, a highly-strung UK funky banger that finds a niche where sirens and stadium anthems collide.
With a wealth of productions on her SoundCloud and a slew of first-rate releases scheduled, Berlin’s Ziúr is likely to become a star before the year is out. In the meantime, tracks like ‘Collar Bone’ should light up experimental-leaning dancefloors, combining taut, electro-inspired rhythms with pattering synths and deranged viral video clips. Ziúr’s work is both claustrophobic and elating, the sound of a dozen loops going off at the same time. It’s lean, fast, nearly defies classification and feels quintessentially now, so expect to hear a lot more from Ziúr.
Although technically out in January, it would be a huge mistake to let Quest?onmarc’s ‘Starshower Ha’ pass by, and if you’re not already up on the recent Qween Beat inductee this will surely get you on the bandwagon. Uploaded as a one-off free download, ‘Starshower Ha’ is a massive piece of room-filling ballroom, full of swaggering, foreboding energy and a sneering lead synth that more than justifies the song title.
‘What U Lookin’ At’
Ash B. is another recent Qween Beat recruit, a vocalist with a penchant for snappy, memorable choruses (“Optimus Prime / I’m the ultimate cunt”) and the ability to go in on hard on ballroom beats as well as sleek R&B. Hailing from Newark, Ash. B debuted this month with the Infinity & Beyond EP, a striking debut that establishes a dominant voice alongside artists like Kevin Jz Prodigy and Divoli S’vere. ‘What U Lookin’ At’ is one of several Infinity & Beyond highlights, a confrontational anthem arranged over a fierce drum arrangement that allows Ash to shine to the fullest.
‘Mente Livre 2016’
Artists like DJ Firmeza and DJ Lycox have become staples in this column and Príncipe Discos is an institution, but it only takes a little SoundCloud and YouTube digging to find a new generation of producers pushing kuduro into new and exciting territory. DJ Estraga’s work is hyper-melodic and often ecstatic, offering up the sort of short-burst energy that moves bodies with ease at parties around the world. ‘Mente Livre 2016’ was one of several favorites from the month, including forays into slower, more romantic kizomba. The track’s dense percussion and earworm lead form one of the most joyous tracks we’ve come across so far this year.
Out now on Beatgathers, ‘9eury’ is a bit of industrial madness from Tokyo-based Yoshitaka Hikawa which seems to jump from clangor to bliss at the touch of a button. Hardly a club track in the traditional sense, ‘9eury’ is a brilliant composition that seems to quite literally fill a space with undulating alien vocals and lush, reverb-laden pads. It might not be dance music, but Hikawa’s work certainly deserves club play.