This edition of Armchair Dancefloor is something of an epic - like The Iliad but with less Greeks and more ambeint bleeping noises - in which we get under the skin of one of our favourite record labels of recent years, alongside a flood of noteworthy new tunes.
Focus: Tri Angle
Chances are, most DiS readers have at least heard of Tri Angle Records by this point; the label and its enigmatic circle of artists have – quite rightly – been the subject of no shortage of praise and hype since the imprint emerged as a reluctant focal point for the loose movement of atmospheric, hiphop-influenced electronic musicians labelled witch house, drag or trap. Acclaimed releases from the likes of How To Dress Well, Balam Acab, Holy Other and Clams Casino have quickly propelled the imprint to become one of the most reliable outlets in underground music – beyond what anyone could have expected back when Tri Angle first appeared back in 2010.
The label’s inaugural release, Let Me Shine For You, was quite a statement of intent though; a free six track EP that saw the like of Laurel Halo, Oneohtrix Point Never and Autre Ne Veut reinterpreting the scattered remnants of Lindsay Lohan’s fleeting pop career. Inevitably drawing such a direct connection between a brash pop-culture reference point and underground electronic music divided opinion, but for label boss Robin Corolan - of influential blog 20jazzfunkgreats (XXJFG) and founder of the wonderfully earnest r&b clubnight So Bones - it was about a lot more than gimmicks or scene chasing.
“I guess the one thing I always knew was that I wanted was for the label to operate with a cohesive vision in mind,” Carolan explains. “I suppose Let Me Shine For You was my way of throwing down the gauntlet, knowing full well that for every person who would get it, there would be others who wouldn't and who might be suspicious of where I was coming from. One of my friends actually showed me a thread on this very website where someone called me a 'hipster idiot' or something like that, as a result of the Lindsay release, but I couldn't have cared less and I wasn't particularly surprised. That release was put together in an honest way, and it wasn't about convincing people that Lindsay Lohan's songs should be canonized. I just happen to be someone who likes those songs and wanted to conduct an experiment with them.”
Perhaps it's Corolan's straight-faced affection for modern pop that initially led some to write Tri Angle off as some hipster gimmick; even aside from that debut EP and So Bones, he'll regularly be found exalting the virtues of urban pop and chart-ready hiphop on the label's Twitter feed. It seems that however experimental things get, pop and r&b are always an important part of the label’s identity.
“I wouldn't say everything comes from a pop place,” he counteracts, “you haven't heard the Haxan Cloak album yet! This year has been about seeing how far I feel I can take things. So I've released our poppiest record yet in the form of Alunageorge, and I'm about to release probably the most avant-garde thing on Tri Angle to date, in the form of the Haxan Cloak album.”
It's this broadening of scope that leads to the label's inclusion in this here electronic music column. While it would be untrue to say that the producers that make up the label's roster hadn't been taking cues from - and in turn influencing - the wider dance music community this whole time, Tri Angle's current sting of releases see the label confronting the dancefloor in a more direct manner than ever before. Lay Hallow, the recent debut EP from Howse - aka Rhode Island producer Nate Oak - is the label’s most directly club-influenced release to date, blending the hyperactive rhythms of Chicago footwork with a backdrop of ethereal, ambient soundscapes. For its creator though, it’s simply a logical step on from the slow-motion textures of the label’s early releases.
“Not to be reductive but juke played a big part in the whole witch house thing too,” Oak explains. “The first time I remember hearing of [juke/footwork figurehead] DJ Nate was on the XXJFG mix Salem did. You listen to King Night and the influence is definitely there. Some might call it trap though, just splitting hairs really.”
It seems that, from there, the meeting of sounds on Lay Hallow emerged organically: “I was doing my radio show when Bangs & Works Vol. 1 and Returnal both came out around the same time. I didn't really have any other music at juke tempo so I started mixing footwork and Oneohtrix Point Never to help me transition into other tempos. It worked really, really well so I tried making tracks like that.”
Going back, Oak’s affection for dance music came via a bedroom-based appreciation of emerging scenes hundreds of miles away; he talks about discovering Tectonic and Lucky Me via a love of Flying Lotus and the LA beat scene: “Madlib blew my mind when I was 15/16. 2-steppy dubstep started an obsession with dance music even though I wasn't going to raves or anything, just kind of geeking out in my room alone.”
Howse’s roots seem fitting for Tri Angle’s ethos; maybe it’s because of Corolan’s background as a blogger, but few other labels seem as naturally at home on the internet. Arguably, electronic music is generally best experienced in person – heard through DJs at clubs and raves, dug for in the racks of records stores – but Tri Angle appears to operate in an online realm detached from local scenes, geographical locations and, at times, even reality. Recent label signing Evian Christ - aka Merseyside-based producer Joshua Leary – epitomizes this ethos better than anyone. He first came to light shortly after New Year this year, when online magazine Dummy picked up on the tracks he was uploading to YouTube – spacious cuts of 808-driven hip-hop that mangled rap vocals and looped Grouper samples to dark ambient effect – with no background information attached, just simple, hypnotic videos of flashing shapes.
“I think YouTube is a great platform for music because of the potential for an a/v element’” Leary explains on his use of the platform. “Guys like Oneohtrix Point Never and Jam City found brilliant ways to create DIY music videos which fit the aesthetic of their music. Watching something while you listen is way more engaging than staring at a waveform.”
Tri Angle eventually collected and released those tracks as the free mixtape Kings and Them. But in the few months between the discovery of Leary’s YouTube channel and his official signing to the label (an event that came about via a long exchange of messages on YouTube) the lack of any searchable biographical information, press shots or a real name led to no shortage of speculation as to the true identity behind Evian Christ. But he claims he never intended to use the internet as a cloak for his real identity: “I've said it a few times now, but I never really understood the anonymous thing. It's not really in my nature to be this hazy, mysterious internet figure, but for some reason I got portrayed as that right away,” he explains. “I don't really mind at all, it's kinda funny and it added a dimensions of interest when people were initially talking about my music. But that's not really me, I don't tend to indulge in that whole artist persona type thing.”
Evian Christ is far from the only artist within the Tri Angle roster to have held back parts of his identity from the internet though; Holy Other still prefers to remain anonymous, preferring to avoid interviews (including this one) and, in an age where major music outlets are falling over themselves to connect with fans across social networks, Corolan seems to prefer to keep the whole operation fairly enigmatic.
“I think the internet makes it very easy for people to give everything away immediately, and I definitely like when people hold back and leave some things as a question mark.” Robin explains. “If you give all the answers away, there's nothing more to learn. I guess it's fair to say the label is somewhat enigmatic. Personally, I turn down most interviews just because I feel like if I did every interview going I'd be repeating myself. Ditto photo shoots; when I've been asked to do them I've politely declined, because I'm just not interested and because I'm probably a private person who doesn't see the relevance in having a photo taken.”
This polite reluctance to step into the spotlight is fully evident in the way Corolan handled the release of his own music on the label. In March of this year, Robin released a record under the moniker Lie - it was fairly widely reported by the usual magazines, but few people have ever heard the record.
“It's not something I really have any interest in promoting all that much, just because I feel uncomfortable promoting myself on that level,” he explains. “I released the record in a purposefully difficult way, which I think has upset some people, not that it was my intention to provoke at all. I just liked the idea that the music would kind of find it's own way out there. A few months ago I dropped ten copies of it off in a shop very unceremoniously and never checked in afterwards to see what had happened to them. I have 90 more copies that I’ll probably distribute here and there in the foreseeable future. It’ll most likely leak sooner or later. I’d say only a handful of my friends have even heard it.”
While both Howse and Evian Christ both drag Tri Angle's discography tentatively close to the edges of the dancefloor, the full-lengths set for release this summer take things even further. Holy Other's debut album, Held sounds like Ostgut Ton-style Berlin techno played at half speed - the tracks are stripped of the degraded, lo-fi quality associated with witch-house to create clean, densely produced electronic music played at achingly slow tempos. Meanwhile, Order Of Noise the debut LP from Bristol-based producer and Young Echo associate Vessel (aka Seb Gainsborough) steps into realm of intricate, underground house music - taking the Tri Angle blueprint, laying a hazy techno beat under it and adding more than a hint of Actress-style rhythmic experimentation.
“Sonically, there's certainly a dose of grit in my music that you could trace through Tri Angle's back catalogue,” Gainsborough explains, on his relation to the rest of the label's output. “I think that the common thread connecting the artists on Tri Angle's roster is probably more of an attitude towards electronic composition, than it is the sonic traits of the music. Of course there are similarities, but each artist has a uniquely strong vision about what progressive, interesting electronic music can be. Which strands of musical DNA they choose to work with is ultimately irrelevant, as the result is so distinct.
“Expect sickly dub etudes, impassioned synth swells, anorexic dubstep and one 'big gay Kylie moment' (Robin's words, not mine).”
Similarly, the previously mentioned Tri Angle debut from Haxan Cloak - aka London based composer Bobby Krlic - is set to see him taking a step away from the classically influenced drones of his eponymous debut in favour of a more electronic sound.
"Tonally, it's treading a similar path, however, this record differs thematically from the first," Krlic explains, "so there is a shift instrumentally; the record is almost entirely electronic. Bar one song, there are no strings. There's a handful of orchestral percussion scattered around the record, but this has been heavily processed.
"This record was much more about kind of breaking all the sounds down - kind of crushing them to a powder and painting with them; it's very textural. I don't want to say much about the record thematically for now, but when it is revealed, the approach I have taken will make a lot of sense. This record has come to fruition a lot quicker than the last, but I think the theme of the last one only came to me as the pieces were emerging, whereas with this, I knew what it had to sound like before I even started writing it."
Ultimately it's Klric - who signed to the imprint after remixing a previous release by Holy Other - that pays the label its biggest compliment: "I view Tri Angle as being a very forward-thinking and restless label," he explains. "From my perspective, [it's] a label born from a true passion for music. Of course when anything of a curatorial nature is at the helm of one individual there are inevitably going to be similarities of taste that crop up, but I do genuinely think that Tri Angle is a very eclectic label - this is just the start of things to come."
Howse’s Lay Hallow is out now. Holy Other’s Held is released 28 August. Vessel’s Order Of Noise is due 24 September. Holy Other and Vessel are touring the UK together late August.
The playlist: new and forthcoming releases
Bicep - You/Don’t [AUS]
The production duo and Feel My Bicep bloggers follow up their ubiquitous single ‘$tripper’ with a pair of deep, garage-tinged numbers, featuring collaborations with Ejeca and Serge Santiago and topped off with a stellar remix from Panorama Bar-mainstay Steffi. The pair have also recently unveiled an exceptionally good remix of Ripperton's Let's Hope.
Champion - Crystal Meth/Speed [Butterz]
Coming from scene figurehead Champion and arriving on last AD’s featured label Butterz, ‘Crystal Meth’ is an utterly infectious, tightly-wound track that spans the divide between grime, UK funky and house. One of summer 2012’s undisputed floor-filling bangers. The tense, tribal b-side ‘Speed’, meanwhile, is one of the most intricate, interesting things the label has released to date.
Colonel Red - Spacesleep EP [Apollo]
Originally operating as an ambient leaning sub-label of R&S between the mid-‘90s and early-‘00s, Apollo Records has recently followed the lead of its parent brand and started releasing records again. Colonel Red’s Spacesleep EP is the imprint’s latest offering, pairing Mount Kimbie-style compressed atmospherics with a laid back take on funk akin to Flying Lotus. It’s merely one of a run of excellent recent releases from the revived label however, and the slow-motion garage of Remember by Gacha and Submerse’s excellent They Always Come Back EP both come highly recommended.
Danny Scrilla - Flash Powder EP [Cosmic Bridge]
This four track EP from Munich-based producer Danny Scrilla is out now on Cosmic Bridge, the imprint operated by UK underground favourite Om Unit, who also features on the final track. It’s a fairly hard-hitting blend of late-night club music with hints of dub and instrumental hiphop - the result isn’t a million miles away from some of Joker’s earlier work, but approached from a techno perspective rather than dubstep.
Dusk + Blackdown + - High Road [Keysound]
‘High Road’ is officially credited to Dusk + Blackdown + but there’s no prizes going for guessing which previously Mercury-nominated South Londoner is sitting in that not-so-secret guest spot (Hint: it’s not Adele). It sounds a little Burial-on-autopilot, which raises suspicion that it could be a fairly old contribution that’s had new life breathed into it with the help of that bouncy bassline and a tightened-up beat. The bigger news however, is that the track is precedes a sophomore collaborative album from the Keysound boss and his long-time bass music wingman, which is set to arrive in September. Check out a preview here.
Mala - Cuba Electronic/Calle F [Brownswood Recordings]
This 12” arrives ahead of the Digital Mystikz man’s much-anticipated Mala In Cuba album in September. The LP is the result of the South London producer visiting Havana - at the behest of Giles Peterson - to collaborate with an ensemble of local musicians. The results are not exactly difficult to predict - think Latin percussion rhythms and stabs of samba, layered over a brooding low-end and some delicate atmospherics and you’re pretty much there - but the whole thing is executed exceptionally well; Havana aside, the whole project is injected with enough moody dubstep classicism to remind us all why we got so excited by the genre in the first place.
Old Apparatus - Derren EP [Sullen Tone]
Old Apparatus first appeared last year, their self-titled debut EP being something of an ambient curveball release for Mala’s reliable trad-dubstep imprint Deep Medi Muzik. Now they christen their own label Sullen Tone with probably their best work yet. It’s four tracks of expertly composed ambient electonics - led by probably their most directly accessible track to date - that intermittently bring to mind Demdike Stare, Forest Swords and the more ambient ends of Vex’d.
Rumah & Progression - Chance Meeting/E1 [Nineteen89]
The first release from fledgling London label Nineteen89 - a collaboration between up-and-coming producer Rumah and Progression that sits somewhere between the realms of pristine Ostgut Ton-style techno and icy dubstep.
Scuba - The Hope (Recondite remixes) [Hotflush]
Scuba raised a few eyebrows with the release of his third album, Personality earlier this year; apparently cutting all ties with the ambient ends of dubstep with which he made his name in favour of toying with Berlin techno, ‘90s house and the odd playful experiment with trance. ‘The Hope’ was probably the most in-your-face moment of that LP, complete with rave-worthy vocal chant and a synth drop that hits like a surprise head-butt to the nose. These two remixes - from fellow Berlin resident Recondite - reclaim the track in the name of minimal, eyes-down techno; intended to summon the mood of a late-night car ride and morning stroll respectively. Both are lovely, sprawling takes that provide a nice contrast to the note-perfect aggression of the original.
Wattville - We Jostle [Sonic Router]
We Jostle is the second release on the recently launched label arm of online magazine Sonic Router - the first being the superb Torus EP a few months back. This release - from London via Birmingham producer Wattville - is considerably more dancefloor focused, comprising three tracks of percussion-driven, UK funky-inclined dance music built around found sounds and chant-like vocal samples. An excellent instrumental dub from NY’s Archie Pelago trio adds an extra slice of jazz-funk to the b-side.
Ziro - Coded/Omi [Crazylegs]
This inaugural release from reliable Bristol promoters-turned-record label Crazylegs comes from rising producer Ziro. It’s one of the finest, all-out floor-focused releases you’re likely to hear this year - both tracks blending a driving four-four beat, some incredibly catchy percussion and a lot of personality. A pair of decent remixes from Om Unit and Thefft make up the b-side.
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