Drowned In Sound's electronic music column returns under new management...
Possibly more so than anywhere else, in electronic music, record labels are important. In a world where singles tend to dominate over full-length albums, artists frequently collaborate, change identities and often disappear without a trace in the blink of an eye, record labels can provide key focal points from which to approach and track genres. Independent electronic labels often act less like businesses and more like lovingly-curated hubs for like-minded artists, releasing strings of singles, EPs and white labels that build collective identities beyond what any single artist would achieve on their own.
Based on that vague hypothesis, in the process of taking over DiS’s electronic music column, it seemed like a fairly decent idea to lead each edition on a short focus on one of these labels – a way to draw a bit of a road map amongst the great sprawl of electronic releases, and provide a bit of a snapshot of what each label has going on in 2012. Below you'll also find 'the playlist', for a round-up of current and forthcoming releases we're enjoying...
Label Focus: Hyperdub
Hyperdub, the label founded by Steve Goodman, aka Kode9, back in 2004, has emerged as one of the most important stables in the UK’s current electronic landscape. Originally created as an online-magazine, editorially-focused on tracing Jamaican influence on London’s music scene, the label is best known within the greater mainstream consciousness as the home of Burial. It’s not really worth recapping that part of the label’s history in-depth here; it’s safe to assume that the most of you know who Burial is, and the tales of Goodman being hounded by a certain Sun journalist bent on outing the then-anonymous producer ahead of the 2008 Brit Awards have been repeated plenty of times before.
We spoke to Hyperdub's behind-the-scenes label manager Marcus Scott for a quick catch-up last week, and he explained how, since its birth, the label has developed beyond a producer-focused affair. “We've never just released dancefloor music, and we still release dancefloor music as singles," he explains, "we have more people who can play live on the label now but that for us just makes us more exciting and confident as a label, hopefully in our own way we can reach a wider audience and not be defined by things that happened, say, 6 years ago.” Indeed, in Kevin Martin’s noisy dub project King Midas Sound and cryptic duo Hype Williams (more on them below), Hyperdub is home to two of the best live acts this writer has caught in recent years – not a bad claim for an electronic label.
Over the years the label’s club-focused output has seemingly shifted from the dark and desolate tone of Kode9 & The Spaceape’s early releases to embrace livelier, more colourful synth and percussion-heavy dance productions. In recent times the imprint has played a key role in the resurgence of instrumental grime – releasing an album and several singles from genre figurehead Terror Danjah – and putting out a number of funky-influenced tracks from the likes of Ossie, Funkysteps and *LV*. We put it to Hyperdub whether this apparent shift was a reaction to the way dubstep has developed over the past decade, but they insist there’s no conscious intention in this observed change in tone: “The releases just reflect what we like and who we enjoy working with, not any antipathy to anyone else's work or lifestyle.”
When we spoke to Hyperdub last week we asked if they could pick a handful of their past releases that they felt best represented what the label was about - they refused, telling us they “think it's best to let the forthcoming releases define what we do.” We have to respect that attitude, and with a crop of forthcoming releases like Hyperdub can boast, it’s one that isn’t going to steer them wrong. Although anyone in need of a refresher could do a lot worse than picking up the label's 2009 Five Years Of Hyperdub anniversary compilation...
Current Hyperdub releases...
There’s little point dwelling on label’s most recent release – Burial’s Kindred EP - seeing as it already received a spot-on 9/10 review from this very site only a couple of weeks ago. Needless to say it’s great, and a totally essential purchase.
The label's latest full length, Pretty Ugly comes from London DJ, producer and Rinse.fm presenter DVA (sometimes known as Scratcha DVA). It's an eclectic record; the beats and synths are soulful, often reminiscent of West-Coast instrumental hiphop, but with hooks and melodic touches pulled from grime, funky and r&b. Around half the tracks feature vocalists, and DVA skilfully molds his production style around the strengths of his various collaborators. It's exactly the sort of album you'd expect from a prolific DJ and radio host like Scratcha - characterised by a pick'n mix eclecticism that touches on the various roots of UK electronic music. Pretty Ugly is released March 19, but you can stream it now via Hype Machine.
The following release, Black Is Beautiful, comes from enigmatic Hype Williams members Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland. As with everything these two do, background details around the album are shrouded behind a layer of creative mystery (the duo claim their work to date to be part of an ongoing relay art project founded by a mysterious third figure, Denna Frances Glass). Hyperdub are quick to stress that this isn't a Hype Williams album, although followers of the band's work will find themselves in familiar territory; the record is comprised of short, untitled tracks, regularly featuring saturated, repetitive drum machine patterns and heavily detuned synths. That said, Black Is Beautiful is definitely a more natural-sounding, less electronic album than anything the duo has released previously as Hype Williams. Much like Dean Blunt’s recent free-download solo record, The Narcissist II, this album sees the duo emerging slightly from their layers of electronic fuzz to allow human personality to seep through slightly. The album is due for release April 16.
Other releases coming from the label this year include a new EP from veteran Philadelphia producer King Britt working under the relatively new moniker of Fhloston Paradigm, producing sci-fi influenced music using a range of analogue and vintage synth-tools. The Fhloston Paradigm EP is due for release at the end of this month.
You can now pick-up any Hyperdub release from their recently-launched web store.
The playlist: new and forthcoming releases
2562 – Air Jordan [When In Doubt]
This new four track EP from Dutch dubstep producer 2562 - also known for his more techno-inclined work as A Made Up Sound – was inspired by a roadtrip through Jordan in the summer of 2010. Appropriately, all four tracks are fairly scenic, cinematic affairs; slowly evolving around vaguely-Eastern percussion loops, vaguely reminiscent of Pinch’s classic work but with the ‘darkness’ knob turned down slightly. The EP drops via his own When In Doubt label later this month.
Airhead – Wait/South Congress [R&S]
Airhead is still something of a relative unknown – he put out a smattering of excellent tracks on BRAiNMATH back in 2010, while in the past year he’s appeared on R&S’s IOTDXI compilation and contributed a stunning remix to the flipside of Mount Kimbie’s ‘Carbonated’ single. This double-header, however, feels like his most significant move to date. The light, atmospherics production on the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s sampling (we think?) a-side will draw obvious comparisons with Kimbie and the early work of Airhead’s former collaborator James Blake. But there’s a healthy dose Balam Acab’s gentle emotiveness in there too, and a sort-of raw cleanliness to the production style that makes both these tracks utterly addictive.
Behling – Last Chance [Futureboogie]
Last month Bristol-based booking agency, fledgling record label and all-round house music connoisseurs Futureboogie celebrated 10 years of existence with the release of a compilation of 10 all-new tunes (titled, somewhat obviously, Futureboogie 10). To be honest, the whole record is a great showcase of the excellent brand of joyous house that the stable has been churning out of late. For our money though, this down-tempo, bass-heavy number from one half of Bristol duo Behling & Simpson is certainly the choice cut of the record.
Evian Christ - Kings and Them [Tri Angle/free mixtape]
Evian Christ - Payo Rent [free download]
Evian Christ's music has been doing the rounds for a few months now, but a quick search seems to indicate that he's yet to be mentioned on the pages of DiS, so it's worth a quick recap here. He first came to our attention towards the end of last year, initially posting a bunch anonymous tracks to YouTube and grabbing the attention of a few music sites. He's since revealed his identity and been announced as the latest signing to always-brilliant experimental label Tri angle, who released a free mixtape of his YouTube tracks, Kings And Them, at the start of Feb.
His music is relatively simple, and initially not that unlike things we've heard before - reverb-heavy takes on 808-focused hiphop beats, built around sliced up and warped r&b vocal samples. But his simplicity is also his biggest strength; the basic, spacey beats are hypnotically catchy, and it’s rare to find a new producer arrive with such a clearly defined sound. Plus, amidst at the rap snippets he samples Grouper, which is pretty cool. The track below, ‘Payo Rent’, emerged a couple of weeks ago, it was produced at the same time as the mixtape but not released until now. You can download it here.
Fort Romeau – Kingdoms [100% Silk]
Mike Norris, the man behind Fort Romeau, is the keyboard player in La Roux’s backing band – whether you find this fact a turn-on or turn-off is up to you (we’re not 100% sure how we feel about it ourselves). Curriculum vitae aside, however, his current solo work is certainly worthy of praise. At 25-minutes in length Kingdoms is the closest thing to a full-length album to be released so far by 100% Silk - the often-nostalgic, woozy-house sub-label run by Not Not Fun co-founder and LA Vampires woman Amanda Brown. The mini-album stands slightly apart from the lo-fi style that both NNF and 100% have become known for, the production is clean and tight throughout, taking the sounds of big-room, soulful house and repurposing it into slow-building, catch-as-hell dancefloor jams.
LHF – Keepers Of The Light [Keysound]
April 2nd sees the release of the debut double-CD album from much-praised London dubstep collective LHF. While a fair amount of the record's material has trickled out already across EPs and singles, Keepers Of The Light is still worth getting quite excited about. The collective have, over the past year-or-so, marked themselves out as one of the most interesting acts currently making music around the dubstep tempo. Their sound is fairly purist - they build tracks almost entirely from sampled material, and the collective's DJ sets usually comprise pretty much exclusively of their own dubplates - yet it's infused with elements of occasionally psychedelic experimentalism, reminiscent of the LA beat scene.
Moscow – The Hyaline EP [Donky Pitch]
Brighton-based clubnight-turned-label Donky Pitch have released a trilogy of free-download EPs from local producers over the past few months. This release from Moscow is the third and final installment, but all three (the first two come from Ghost Mutt and Boss Kite) are excellent and worth a download, acting as a tidy introduction to the bright, synth-heavy brand of hiphop-infused dance music the label is making a name out of.
Head over to the Donky Pitch Bandcamp page to stream and download all three EPs.
Pearson Sound – Untitled/Footloose [Pearson Sound]
By now the producer formally known as Ramadanman should be familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in underground dance music (if the name isn’t ringing any bells, last year’s 116 & Rising compilation is an utterly essential introduction to Pearson Sound and his Hessle Audio brethren).
This self-released 12” is his first proper output since March of last year, having largely dedicated the latter half of 2011 to DJing. If the lead track sounds familiar it’s because ‘Untitled’ has been floating around for a little while already, debuting in Pearson’s own Boiler Room session last year, and cropping up in various other mixes since then. Both tracks here (the b-side is vinyl only) are exactly what we’ve come to expect from him; precise percussion, minimal leads and rumbling, intermittent sub-bass. We’re almost inclined to say it sounds a little predictable, like Pearson Sound on auto-pilot. But fortunately, Pearson Sound coasting is still better than 90% of producers sound at their peak.
Rockwell – Tripwire/The Rain [Shogun Audio]
With last year’s beautifully crafted exercise in ambient dance music, ‘Aria’, Rockwell proved himself to be head-and-shoulders above most drum & bass producers out there. The a-side to this latest single for d&b heavyweights Shogun Audio is probably the most hard-edged thing that Rockwell has released to date – heavier than much of his previous output, but not lacking in his signature production touches. It’s b-side ‘The Rain’ that’s of most interest to us though; pulling back the beats to repeat many of ‘Aria’s atmospheric tricks, with an emphasis on emotive swells rather than bass drops.
Sculpture – Slime Code [Kaleidoscope]
Slime Code is the first cassette & download release from Kaleidoscope, the label helmed by London-based producer Patten, whose debut album picked up a 9/10 review on DiS last year. The release itself is a sprawling, experimental live recording from audio/visual duo Sculpture – 40 minutes of excellent ambient, tape-manipulated techno recorded last summer. The whole record can be downloaded for free from the label’s site, where you can also buy the limited cassette release.
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Main image courtesy of Lora English.