For Club Use Only: The month’s best under-the-radar dance tracks
Dance music has long had an awkward relationship with the album format, preferring the single or DJ mix for obvious reasons.
July saw a glut of dance and dance-adjacent albums, though, from Elysia Crampton’s collaborative “poem” Demon City to Konx-om-Pax’s nostalgic Caramel, releases that not only attempt to tell stories through instrumental music, but successfully get their message across without excessive PR campaigns, music videos or a gaudy physical package.
Lisbon’s DJ NK and Jamaica’s Equiknoxx provided unique takes on kuduro and dancehall respectively, offering up plenty of material for both DJs and home listeners. In particular, the latter’s Bird Sound Power, released on Demdike Stare’s DDS label, has struck a chord – an alien take on dancehall that bridges the genre’s roots-y past with its high-flying, unpredictable future.
Expectations of albums can often be artificially high, but this month a talented selection of artists have gone above and beyond. With those recommendations in mind, these are the best singles, one-offs, bootlegs, blends and remixes of the month.
Argentinian producer Moro’s ‘Surrender’ is the first single from the forthcoming NON WORLDWIDE COMPILATION VOLUME II. Juxtaposing tranquil beauty and jagged, overdriven percussion, it excels in a field that seems to be getting more and more crowded every week – all atmosphere and neck-snapping drums.
It might be more obvious for DJs to fit this one towards the beginning of a set, but I want to hear it in its grotesque splendor at peak time.
‘You Not About That Lyfe’ (feat. Bianca)
E. Jane of Philadelphia duo SCRAAATCH becomes a “Queer Black Diva and popstar for the underground resistance” as Mhysa, and on her debut NON release, Hivemind, that vision becomes visceral reality. On tracks like ‘Jezebel’ and ‘No Ordinary Love’ (a collaboration with DJ Haram), Mhysa’s vocal refrains emerge through a sea of billowing effects, fighting off sirens and searing noise. And with the exception of ‘Jezebel remix’, Hivemind exists on its own plane, maintaining a physical spirit while functioning outside of any conceivable club context.
On ‘You Not About That Life’, a collaboration with Young B, Mhysa takes a more direct approach, with rapid kicks and breaking glass samples allowing the title refrain to exist in the track’s own menacing milieu. Mhysa’s online presence often has strong political and interpersonal messages, but it’s in her most somatic output that those sentiments often come to fruition.
‘For The Streetz 9’
The ninth edition of Baltimore originator DJ Pierre’s For The Streetz mix series isn’t necessarily any more or less essential than volumes one through eight, but it’s always important to remember that many of club music’s originators are still active and churning out bombs with regularity.
Despite the likes of Mighty Mark, James Nasty and DJ AngelBaby drawing lines from past to present, there’s still a generation of young DJs and producers who need an education, and DJ Pierre’s new material is as good a place to start as any. Most genres don’t have the privilege of having most of their originators still active, and it’s time proponents of the Baltimore sound begin recognizing Pierre, Technics, Booman and Scottie B’s presence.
With all the remix love for Popcaan, Vybz Kartel and Mavado, it sometimes feels like Alkaline gets left out of the mix despite having the voice of an angel. French producer Oklou, a member of the 2016 RBMA class, has stepped up to fill the gap, contributing ‘Silicium’ to Staycore’s excellent ERELITHA comp.
Oklou twists up 2013’s anthemic ‘Gyal A Bruk Out’, one of Alkaline’s hardest songs to date and a feat in verbal gymnastics, pitching the dancehall artist’s vocals way up and adding bird calls, squelching synths and corkscrew drums.
The producer previously garnered attention for gorgeous trance arrangements like ‘Defeat’, and ‘Silicium’ is a welcome step into more dancefloor-focused material. It’s hard to imagine a more welcome home than Staycore’s annual compilation series.
‘Fractal Beats 15050605’
Renick Bell’s ‘Fractal Beats’ series has been a source of inspiration all year, and while the algorithmically composed productions can veer dangerously close to IDM-esque self-indulgence at times, the majority of Bell’s productions inhabit a visceral space somewhere on the edge of Lee Gamble’s techno deviancy and Jlin’s mutant footwork.
There’s a danger that this kind of generative music can be overly noodly, but Bell manages to hit on a more emotional level and his tracks always sounds great on a proper system.
‘Got Me Good’ (Drum Acapella)
v1984’s blends and edits have been popping up in mixes and DJ sets for several years, and knowing this material rarely surfaces is part of the excitement. This makes ‘Got Me Good (Drum Acapella)’ something of a special occasion – a gift from the Cleveland-based producer who just released the excellent Becoming N(one) on Glacial Industries (fka Glacial Sounds).
It takes a special ear to wrangle a vocal as large as Ciara’s performance on ‘Got Me Good’, but this “Drum Acapella” holds it own, a sparse, hydraulic-sounding structure that scaffolds the original track’s soaring chorus. And no hate to the original, but v1984 has greatly improved it by stripping it down to its essence, a skill that producer Darkchild certainly could have utilized when putting together its glitzy electro backdrop.
Soda Plains x Wisin x Daddy Yankee
‘Traiana x Saoco’ (Tayhana Bootleg)
NAAFI’s 28-track Pirata 3 compilation is stuffed with quality material, often provided by some of the less prominent names in the Mexico City-based crew’s extended universe. Argentina’s Tayhana contributed a guest mix to the NAAFI show on NTS in May, but ‘Traiana x Saoco’ is her first official appearance.
The HiedraH Club de Baile founder has previously graced Club Etiquette with a whirlwind of cutting rhythms and big hooks, showing off a blend-happy mixing style that is as effortless as it is bewildering. Which makes sense considering this vicious mash of Soda Plains’ ‘Traiana’ with Wisin & Daddy Yankee’s 2004 hit ‘Saoco’ sounds like it’s coming apart at the seams, before Tayhana’s own well-placed dembow beat kicks in halfway through.
With reggaeton approximations being taken by everyone from Drake to Justin Bieber, the genre is having a crossover moment right now, but NAAFI continues to push innovative takes on the sound well outside of the hype currents.
‘Luv (DJ Tray Remix)’
Despite an underlying awkwardness, Tory Lanez’s ‘Luv’, the Toronto-born artist’s stab at dancehall, is a real joy – and one of the only recent attempts at Caribbean music to actually sound like its source material. An Alkaline remix wouldn’t sound remotely out of place and Lanez nails patois effortlessly, switching between his signature croon and twisted come-ons with ease.
Until that remix becomes reality, we have Cartel Music’s DJ Tray bringing the Newark bounce to ‘Luv’, allowing the core synth line from Benny Blanco and Cashmere Cat’s original production to add a cerebral air to the whole track. ‘Luv’ is another example of Tray working magic out of a Lanez hit, and if the R&B artist’s I Told You lives up to expectations it’s fair to expect a few more flips.
‘Bang Drown (Gqom Original Mix)’
With Goon Club Allstars and Nan Kole’s Gqom Oh! operation leading the charge in the UK and abroad, Durban’s buzzing dance sounds are reaching wider audiences at a rapid pace. And with talent like DJ Lusiman continuing to push quality tracks through Kasimp3 and Datafilehost, the scene is rife with new material.
Taking a breezy approach to the driving, polyrhythmic sound, Lusiman’s ‘Bang Drown (Gqom Original Mix)’ mixes a lofty flute melody with insistent, tension-laden strings, allowing the high notes to drive the track forward as a subtle bass line provides a distinct machine funk.
Lusiman has dabbled in a number of sounds, including poppier Afro-house, but his gqom dalliances are most ready to set off dancefloors from Durban to London. ‘Bang Drown’ is another notch in an impressive belt.
‘Cloudbursting’ (Iglew Remix)
Iglew hasn’t exactly been absent since releasing the insta-classic Urban Myth EP on Mr. Mitch’s Gobstopper label last year, but after a relatively steady stream of edits (Mic Ty, Capo Lee and Novelist) and Radar Radio appearances, it appears that a period of abundance is upon us.
In the past two months, mixes for Truants and Clash, a Justin Timberlake bootleg and a contribution to the latest Boxed release have set this corner of the world alight. And while his weightless contributions to the Truancy series and BOXED002 are pristine, it’s his belated remix of Logos’ ‘Cloudbursting’ (from Boxed Vol. 1) that had me jumping out of my seat.
Perfectly matching an angelic melodic sensibility, weighty sub-bass and an ascending sawtooth synth line, the remix is primed for the dance, and while most of Iglew’s output is situated away from, or at least in alternative club spaces, this take should get plenty of peak time play.