Digital/Divide is a monthly column devoted to any and all genres and subgenres in the great big beautiful world of electronic and dance music.
Whether you consider Diplo an opportunistic culture plunderer, a shrewd sonic curator, or some hybrid of the two, the success of his Major Lazer project with Jillionaire and Walshy Fire has arguably played a significant role in pushing forward global sounds to Western audiences. While a white male face might not be what some folks care to see when hearing a track like “Lean On,” a massive single that borrows from Bollywood and Kingston alike, his work might hopefully prove a gateway for producers in those regions to introduce their own music to broader audiences.
With the apparent freefall of American and European EDM already underway, that is, if we are to believe the media doomsayers and Vegas oddsmakers, the sort of world beating beats that have reached mainstream charts in the past six-to-twelve months could congeal into a more formal and broadly appealing movement in dance. Were that to occur, surely some opportunities abound for the gqom acts in Durban or the club producers coming out of South American cities. Or perhaps I’m just being overly optimistic.
Still, by now most savvy followers of bass music have caught on to the absolutely stunning sounds coming out of Lisbon. The often maddeningly fast Afro-Portuguese polyrhythmic techno produced by artists like DJ Firmeza and DJ Nervoso freely taps into kuduro and other international influences to yield a diverse and fresh contemporary sound. Perhaps the scene’s most notable figure, DJ Marfox returns to his city’s Principe Discos label with Chapa Quente, a scorching six-track affair that demonstrates just how multifaceted this music can get.
An urgent thump opens “2685”, lulling the listener into a familiar place of straightforward dancefloor styles. Quickly, Marfox dismantles that with a delirious woodwind loop and enveloping percussion, rejecting convention to make one of the year’s best dance tracks. Utilizing his signature drop, his stop-start tendencies pour over like molten metal into the industrial fury and frenzied warp of "Unsound." Comparatively more playful, dembow relative "Tarraxo Everyday" showcases more melodious vibes. But it’s his uptempo cuts like “Cobra Preta” that make Marfox such a vital artist, one whose potential has only begun to be revealed.
This Canadian artist may not be a familiar name as of yet, but his approach to electronic music both aligns him with, and distinguishes him from, several of today’s most admirable club provocateurs. As stubbornly and demonstrably disinterested in genre trappings as some of this storied record label’s own classics, his new album obfuscates, misdirects, and misbehaves over the course of a dozen tracks. A less restrained producer in the Mad Decent vein would have dropped a ruddy breakbeat under the arpeggiated glee of "Prototype HA" from the jump. But patient practitioner Antwood can barely let his stuttering half-stepping beat last more than a couple of bars without rudely tinkering. Mischievously out of step with Yamaneko, Rabit, and other modern misfits of bass weight, his "Lung" resides in the spiky crystalline nexus of Skinny Puppy and grime. Though often it may sound as though he's rushing towards nowhere, in actuality he's taking his time, teasing out the wrinkles and crinkles ignored in our ambitiously futurist haste.
Celestial Trax, From The Womb [Purple Tape Pedigree]
Following a handful of forward-thinking records for Rinse last year, the presently NYC-based producer makes a considerable case for the city's expanding role in the bass community. With a Londoner's touch, Celestial Trax splices what appears to be voices into the trap-adjacent piston slam of "Together." The martial rhythms and Burial-esque atmospheres continue for "Secrets," evoking some dystopian war zone, or indeed maybe one in our modern drone afflicted age. "Bleed Wiv Me" shimmers with promise and concern, tempting with its truncated vocal so much that one wishes he'd set it loose. Trembling with perspicacious fear, "Bodily" lurches across continents and spiritual realms to escape or find something--its own beat, perhaps.
Nearly a decade since his From Here We Go Sublime LP elevated the Cologne imprint’s already lofty aesthetic, Axel Willner continues his Kompakt streak of innovative techno deviations and permutations. The critical acclaim for his work as The Field has never seemed unfounded, a product of his nuanced ability to make the experimental feel accessible, something he does consistently throughout his latest album. From the warm digital bath of repetition on "Pink Sun" to the bewildering acid schaffel of "Soft Streams," The Follower eases listeners in and invites the discovery of subtlety. Sprawling closer "Reflecting Lights" insists with its chopped, simplistic chord. One might experience quivering awe at the astrally projected coos of "Monte Veritá," sampled sonics pitching upwards and downwards, unspooling with urgency towards the infinite as truly great techno has the potential to do. He waits a full five minutes into the title track before adding an otherwise anticlimactic snare to the mix, while haunting the anticipatory "Raise The Dead" with an ambient phantom rhythm.
Having recorded under this moniker for the label, Olf Van Elden comes back once again with some electro-tinged house and techno styles for those who can appreciate a well executed Amsterdam-Detroit connection. "Ama Diver" encapsulates this cultural exchange expertly, with taut acid bass and the sort of loose synth accents one might find on old Drexciya records. Befitting its name, "Short Sequence" swings along with bright sequences and a few DSP-induced groans. The intermittent twinkle of the chilled "Cable 54" gives way to a bubbly interlude "Poly Evolver 1." Its similarly trim titular sequel, "Poly Evolver 2" steps things up ever so slightly and would serve as a handy DJ tool for transitions.
Sine Sleeper, Honest Intentional Noises [Traum Schallplatten]
A Dusseldorf duo, Sine Sleeper accomplish more than most would for their debut release via this enduring German imprint. Students of the same Institut Fuer Musik Und Medien that gave us two of Kraftwerk’s core members, they take an approach to techno pop that hints at Karl Bartos as much as it does the most robotic offerings from Daft Punk. “Carousel Malfunction” initiates with apparent distortion but progresses into beauteous engineering, the overall effect somehow both subdued and sublime. Its swirling aerated pads counter the rigid 4/4 rhythms and accent some unconventional melodic filtered synths in subtly supple ways. There’s a certain breathtaking quality to the muted euphoria of “Surge”, one evocative of cinematic grandiosity. Yet it remains deceptively small, leaving one wanting more. The same can be said for the glassine textures and trap static of "Soaring Debris". With a polished European male voice at the fore, "Current" opens to sparely played piano against the clutter of broken mirror shards yet soon thereafter rights the ship towards pop.
Gary Suarez is a music writer born, raised, and based in New York City. He’s on Twitter.
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