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.
In the hands of a skilled and inventive creator, a piece of equipment or a software tool can go beyond its intended use and into the sublime. Near the turn of the century, Stefan Betke took a malfunctioning Waldorf 4-pole analog filter and made its flawed emissions into a numerically sequenced trio of Pole releases that to this day lack a suitable parallel despite clearly influencing Burial and others of his ilk.
Like the original Jamaican dub, with Lee “Scratch” Perry secretively and spiritually turning knobs with purpose at Black Ark, the subsequent Houston-helmed chopped and screwed sound too employed electronic manipulation as if to remind of the awesome power of gear. The heritage of pioneer DJ Screw and his impossibly prolific run of tapes has extended beyond his tragically truncated life, with the syrupy narcotic effects of his slowed down codeine beatitudes impossible to overlook in contemporary trap, cloud rap, and hip-hop at large. Still, arguably the best known and most worthy practitioner continuing that work in its purest form is OG Ron C.
A leftfield jazz masterpiece, Thundercat’s Drunk was this critic’s hands down favorite album of 2017, so the arrival of a chopped not slopped version from the Chopstars under the unquestionably apt title Drank [Brainfeeder] comes as a joyous surprise. Those intimately familiar with the original record should immediately recognize how those tunes would benefit from this treatment even before hearing a single note. Less than a minute into its second track, “Drink Dat,” the proof arrives amid Ron C’s scratches and Stephen Bruner’s intoxicated imploring. Just then, Wiz Khalifa drops his verse and it all makes perfect sense.
Drunk relied heavily on vocal cuts, which makes Drank such a delightful and druggy counterpart. Bruner’s upper register singing gains newfound depth, evidenced on tracks like “Lava Lamp” and “Bus In These Streets,” the latter enhanced by a new spoken intro faithful to the screw aesthetic. On standout “Them Changes,” he’s nearly unrecognizable, surrounded by flubber basslines and plodding drums that relax the muscles by force. You’ve never heard soft rock luminaries Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald quite like the way Ron C treats them on “Show You The Way,” while Kendrick Lamar loses his nasal drip on the rejiggered “Walk On By.”
Utterly incapable of disappointing these ears, each new installment of the Portuguese Principe discography amazes time and time again as the most authentic and revolutionary place for bass. Lisbon raised yet Manchester based, the 22 year old P. Adrix does techno-kuduro a solid with this chaotic debut. Free spirited to the point of radicalism, the demented “Bola De Cristal” abuts the haunted crunch of “6.6.6,” which entirely lives up to its demonic promise. Building up from perplexing fragments into a DJ weapon, “Tejo” intrigues more than it baffles, though it certainly does both. While the caustic options are clearly his speciality, Adrix showcases a charming restraint on the all-too-brief “Estação De Queluz,” while infusing a jagged swagger to the twinkling jazz deconstruction “Sonhos.” By the time “Viva La Raça” comes around, it feels downright conventional compared to what came before. That, too, is deceptive--and spectacular.
As the flagship label for Berlin’s exceedingly ballyhooed Berghain nightclub, Ostgut Ton boasts considerable clout as a techno imprint. Yet more often than not, its recorded output shies away from the thumping expectations of wee hours revelers fortunate enough to make it past the bouncer’s infamous judgmental glare. A resident DJ there, Patrick Gräser wears his Aphex Twin affinity on his sleeve for this sophomore full-length as Answer Code Request. Yet as any Richard D. James fanatic knows all too well, that’s actually a fairly broad remit to operate within. Gräser’s approach skews closer to the danceable yet disorienting productions of AFX or Polygon Window moreso than any type of brain-bending drill ‘n’ bass fury. The minimalist yet robust “Sphera” throbs and twitches with subwoofer shattering electro, as does the warbly post-industrial mutations of “Ab Intus.” That cohesion persists even as the album progresses from the dancefloor’s sidelines to its crowded center on “Cicadae” and the airy breaks of “Knbn2.”
Even as Latin trap and reggaeton now regularly appear on the Billboard charts, these twin club-friendly and predominantly Caribbean-centric phenomenons continue to inspire the electronic underground. A Barcelona based vocalist, Bad Gyal benefits tremendously from that movement not unlike how Major Lazer did with Jamaican dancehall. Yet her forward-thinking mixtape of dynamic dembow and tropical aggression skews her closer to futurist R&B breakout Kelela than globetrotting sampler Diplo. Much of that is due to her progressive choice of producers, namely bass barons like Dubbel Dutch and Jam City whose exquisite partnership on “Internationally” demands dancefloor attentiveness. More often than not, Bad Gyal’s voice comes immersed in studio excess, if not Auto-Tune per se than something close enough. That approach distinguishes her from current scene stars like Natti Natasha without disqualifying her in the slightest, nor should it given the accessibility and strength of “Candela” and D33J’s “Tu Moto.”
Now a few years removed from shedding his Lee Bannon pseudonym, Fred Warmsley III continues to broaden his musical horizons as one of the most exciting and unpredictable artists of the moment. On Tahoe, he maintains that exemplary quality control with an ambient set that unspools with the same damaged beauty one derives from the work of William Basinski or Brian Eno. Rest assured that the Dedekind Cut moniker deserves categorization in such esteemed company based on the evocative and potent soundscapes presented here. Opener “Equity” carries a certain angelic quality, its graceful pads lingering with calm and awe. The brilliant, illuminating closer “Virtues” treads on similarly hallowed ground, though its shifts arrive faster and with greater urgency. Drone worshippers will find rekindled faith in the sweep and gentle crackle of “The Crossing Guard,” while Twin Peaks devotees who’ve rightfully adored Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtrack should venture promptly to the lush title track or the considerably graver “Hollow Earth.”
Born, raised and still living in New York City, Gary Suarez writes about music and culture for a variety of publications. Since 1999, his work has appeared in various outlets including Forbes, High Times, Rolling Stone, Vice and Vulture, among others. In 2020, he founded the independent hip-hop newsletter and podcast, Cabbages.