Every few months, a conversation inevitably crops up about homogeneity in club music.
This often revolves around hype cycles, easily replicable sounds and visuals and the ever-flowing torrent of VST plug-ins, sample packs and “new” genres. The latest instance was sparked by producers Supraman and Etch; Supraman pointed out the mass of clones that crawl out of the woodwork every time new genres appear or evolve, while Etch satirized the perceived self-indulgence of “deconstructed” club music and its participants. Elsewhere, NON’s Chino Amobi criticized promoters and agents for booking based solely on the amount of Soundcloud followers an artist has accrued. This is an issue that should be worrying for anyone invested in modern music, but it feels particularly acute for those with an interest in the vitality of clubs.
Each artist points to different components of the same set of issues that club music faces, bringing up questions of innovation (or lack thereof), appropriation and how existing profit structures often utilize metrics in a manner that rarely benefits genuine artistry. The fact that this conversation is repeatedly dredged up is testament to issues inherent in club music’s development over the decades.
Whether meaningful change will, or even can, occur is a much larger question and one that tends to obscure the glut of quality music coming out on a daily basis. By means of reinventing what is acceptable to play out in dance spaces, a number of artists are incontrovertibly pushing club music forward and whether it ends up recycled endlessly or not we can still enjoy it as it comes.
DrumTrack x Rich Girl
‘(Kala 160 Edit)’
Louchie Lou and Michie One’s ‘Rich Girl’ wasn’t even the highest charting track on the London duo’s debut album, but it’s had a surprisingly long shelf life, due in no small part to a Dr. Dre-helmed Gwen Stefani and Eve cover that became a minor crossover hit in 2004. Occasionally dredged up by cheeky DJs, the original ‘Rich Girl’ isn’t exactly the most relevant dancehall track around, but that hasn’t stopped New York’s Kala from flipping it into this monstrous pseudo-footwork effort.
Utilizing a sped up drum track from fellow New Yorker Kush Jones, the KUNQ and Fake Accent representative’s production takes on a manic quality, a 160 BPM clatter that somehow manages to feverishly click into place under Louchie Lou and Michie One’s iconic vocal. I can’t wait to hear this one out.
Clara!’s ‘Reggaetoneras’ mix has been an absolute favorite since it was uploaded last November. It’s a thrilling all-female run through the best that reggaeton has to offer. This month, the Brussels-based DJ partners with Low Jack’s Editions Gravats label for ‘Reggaetoneras 2’ and there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s one of the most vital club releases of the month. Available on (almost sold out) cassette, Clara! masterfully blends hits from Ivy Queen, Lorna, Irenis, Keribel and more, all carefully arranged to elicit the most possible swing out of each song’s characteristic dembow swing.
‘Take A Picture’ (ft. Blaqstarr, Berko Lover & Greydolf)
Since debuting last year, Schwarz’s Nina Pop label has become a go-to for quality club and club-adjacent music, showing a rare willingness to work with vocalists and hosting must-have releases from TT The Artist and Ecelectic. The latest on the label, titled Everyday Is A Winding Road, is from Schwarz himself and features a collection of Nina Pop vocalists and friends, including the aforementioned TT The Artist (on the irresistible ‘Do Ya Dirty Dance’) and Kreayshawn (on the crypto currency referencing ‘Gimme Cash (I Want More)’).
Despite the starry guest spots, it’s Schwarz’s production that takes the spotlight, comprised of twisted takes on Baltimore’s signature sound with enough oomph to carry just about any dancefloor and plenty of room for vocalists to shine. ‘Take A Picture’ is a personal favorite, a playful beat strung up with vocals from Baltimore legend Blaqstarr, Berko Lover and Greydolf. Schwarz’s Club Illusion parties have been popping off here in LA and the bump-and-grind of Schwarz and Nina Pop’s latest release reveals why.
‘Erotic Heat’ (Rick Owens Fashion Show Version)
Debuted at a Rick Owens fashion show in Miami a few years back, this extended version of Jlin’s Dark Energy highlight ‘Erotic Heat’ functions as a time stretched reflection of the restraint, paranoia and aggression that made her debut album one of the most striking in recent memory.
The Gary, Indiana-based producer’s work on ‘Erotic Heat’ is shown in its full light on this 13-minute version and the sheer intensity of the drum programming really shines. Its a distorted take on footwork that seems to pulse and diverge from its core even as it rumbles along. Even with the sheer amount of dystopia-invoking music released each week in mind, nothing sounds quite as much like society unraveling as Jlin at her best.
Emptyset x Danny Brown
‘Income Tax Swag’ (Dis Fig Bootie)
Over the past few months, Berlin’s Dis Fig has hit Boiler Room twice, contributed a standout mix for Discwoman and continued turning in quality with the Call Dibs show, a joint venture with hunnidJAWS on Berlin Community Radio. One of the most dynamic DJs anywhere at this point, the PTP representative has also begun to release original blends, cutting up SHALT and The Supremes in delightfully unhinged fashion and, most recently, throwing a Danny Brown vocal over an Emptyset-produced slab of sub bass and distortion. Brown has always embraced the noisier side of the rap spectrum and Dis Fig has gone the extra mile, giving him the industrial backing he deserves.
Dedicated to the Anancy – a mystical character synonymous with Afro-Caribbean oral history – SHYBOI’s ‘Anansesem’ is easily one of the most hype tracks of August, a polyrhythmic four-on-the-floor number released in advance of the KUNQ representative’s set at MOMA PS1 earlier this month.
SHYBOI, who was interviewed by FACT earlier this year, is known for her intriguing narrative-oriented mixes, performance art and music video work as Yulan Grant. ‘Anansesem’, however, is on the dancefloor-focused end of the New Yorker’s aesthetic, moving forward with reckless abandon. It’s jungle-esque, but exists on its own wave, a quality that can be said about almost all of SHYBOI’s output.
Kayy Drizz & DJ Problem
Another month, another Kayy Drizz track in the round-up, this time a collaborative update on a DJ Technics classic and a vocal that should be familiar to even the most passive club music fan. Both Drizz and DJ Problem are among Jersey’s most consistent producers and The Marvelettes’ crooning hook is ideal fodder for their production style, a ceaseless percussive drive that fits snuggly in-between Jersey’s past and present and is primed to set the party off. It’s hard to say whether Technics’ original really needed an update, but I’d rather have these two handle it than just about anyone else.
Part of the extended Bala Club crew, Washington, DC’s Rules has emerged as one of 2016’s most invigorating vocalists, flaunting a strangled flow and broken production on tracks like ‘Whisper Game’ and Uli K collaboration ‘Mi Corazon’. Rules is part of a recent group of artists – like Lunarios, Palmistry and Organ Tapes – who distill pop tropes into their own hyper-emotional homebrew.
‘Sorry Rewire’ appears on Vague Culture, a compilation released by Jerome, the imprint that emerged from online group Classical Trax. It’s a cover of Justin Bieber’s mega hit ‘Sorry’, a wretched transformation seemingly built of razor wire, electrical tape and speaker feedback. Efforts from Swan Meat and Couou Chloé also highlight the release, which is available as a free download.
‘Gold Chainz’ (ft. Divoli S’vere)
V Kim and Divoli S’vere last collaborated on ‘Kiko Kicks’, a deviously muted effort that garnered plaudits from club music fans and techno snobs alike. ‘Kiko Kicks’ led off an EP of the same name on Car Crash Set, and now the duo collaborate again on ‘Gold Chainz’, a swaggering ballroom anthem out now on the Belgian Silverback Recordings imprint.
Aided by a Kingdom remix on the b-side, ‘Gold Chainz’ is neither a hybrid effort nor a classic runway track, it’s an exercise in mutual understanding – a work out track at its best. Formerly known as Victoria Kim, the Sydney-based producer twists a short vocal sample around Divoli’s raps, spraying snares and “ha” samples with reckless abandon. Meanwhile, the Atlanta-based Qween Beat representative is at his snarling best, equal parts seductive and menacing as he duets and quasi-harmonizes with Kim’s samples.
‘I Want To Thank You’ (DJ Juwan Baltimore Club Remix)
It’s easy to get caught up in the production process, especially in club music, but there’s no denying the effectiveness of a quality soul vocal and some well chopped breaks. Which is exactly what DJ Juwan brings on his remix of Alicia Myers’ 1981 hit ‘I Want To Thank You’, rolling out tempestuous ‘Think’ breaks over the looped vocal and one of the more subtle chant samples you’re likely to ever come across. Juwan executes the sound perfectly and if anything can unify dance music fans, it’s classic Baltimore.