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. This edition covers Eli Escobar, Alpha 606 and more.
A city with proud cultural traditions, Miami boasts an electronic music heritage to match. Well before bass music became synonymous with the UK’s current wave of club crushers, the term was synonymous with the trunk rattling hip-hop experiments of DJ Laz, Maggotron, and more artists from the area. These Roland TR-808 dependent beats reached international audiences by way of the 2 Live Crew, yet the scene included several more producers and DJs who enjoyed regional celebrity status. But talking about Miami in the past tense would be foolish, as two fresh full-lengths from the city’s denizens demonstrate.
Exactly the sort of album expected from someone who identifies both as a South Floridian and a New Yorker, Jubilee operates at a virtual nexus point between dancefloors in both locations. Her After Hours [Mixpak] tours at a mostly feverish pace through disparate yet connected club styles that frequently feels like popping in and out of the various rooms and nooks at some grandiose warehouse rave. Despite the implication of the title, much of her material feels like prime time, from the thumping minimal techno of “So Over It” to the breakbeat trance of “Spa Day.” She adeptly executes calorie burning electro workouts like “Stingray Shuffle” and “Bass Supply,” the 305 area code saluting latter featuring local vocals from electronic misfit Otto Von Schirach. Caribbean influences carry heft here. “Opalocka” could theme music for a Twin Peaks reboot set in Barbados, while HoodCelebrityy adds a dancehall flair to “Wine Up.”
A pair of Latino producers straight out of Miami, GTA clearly have their sights set on the pop charts more so than the hip scenes you’d catch Jubilee commanding. Their above average Good Times Ahead [Warner Bros.] LP comes at a time when The Chainsmokers, DJ Snake, and Major Lazer occupy the upper reaches of the Billboard Hot 100, obviously with the help of pop singers. The most instantly identifiable vocalist on this record, Tinashe brings her contemporary R&B clout to GTA’s swirling “All Caught Up.” Onetime Def Jam artist Karina adds depth to the breezy house of “In My Nature,” while rappers Vince Staples and Tunji Ige lend their bars to “Little Bit Of This” and “Feel It,” respectively.
For those who follow the output of Los Angeles’ esteemed beat scene, the name Daedelus stands out. After a 2015 Brainfeeder foray with the Kneebody ensemble into the jazz from his days at the University of Southern California, Labyrinth returns the pioneering electronic producer to the vocal and musical collaborative mode of 2011’s Bespoke. As has become expected with his work, the album thrives on unpredictability. The squishy shuffling funk of “Special Re: Quest” doesn’t prepare you for the violin drama and Amir Yaghmai’s folktronic trill on “Setting Out.” Yet while his innovative state of mind leaves scarcely little room for concerns about cohesion, the quality of the final product makes that decision easy to overlook. Exceptional emcees Busdriver and Zeroh tether Daedelus to rap, if tentatively and temporarily.
Otherwise he’s tinkering with his own devices, as with the title track’s frenetic bleeps or the springy arpeggios on “A Maze Amazing.”
Having repeatedly demonstrated his dexterity for electronic music both in vogue as well as more unfashionable forms, the Brooklyn-based artist presents his first full-length with this moniker outside of the Ninja Tune and Planet Mu incubators. Immediately more accessible than the chin-stroking ambitiousness of 2014’s In The Wild, the grand Heaven Is For Quitters retains that prior record’s rewarding disregard for the trappings of genre. His palatial synth melodies are as plush as they are lush, unfurling luxuriantly like digital silks on “Fleshy Compromise” and “D & C.” You can practically hear the pixelation in the hard drive crunch of “River Phoenix” even as it teases a more conventional 4/4 rhythm. Standout “Bridge Spot” sheds fresh sunlight on a familiar jazzy cue. While IDM pioneer Mike Paradinas himself had a hand in the miniature synth epic “Frigid Aire,” the only other credited collaborations are vocal numbers with Hannah Cohen and British dynamo Rosie Lowe.
Starting with 2015’s self-released Machine, the Brixtonite known as Gaika has mined multiple traditions to either find a place for himself in this world or, failing that, bomb a fresh one into existence. Socio-politically woke, he amalgamates Travis Scott’s trap gloom with dubwise doom to yield ferocious slabs of urban industrial soundscape humanized by his devastatingly deep vocal tone. The mostly collaborative Security mixtape from earlier this year teamed him with rising Mancunian singer Bipolar Sunshine and Birmingham rapper Serocee, among others. By contrast, Spaghetto finds Gaika ostensibly on his own, left to grapple with the unpleasant present. The gothic grimness of “Neophyte” finds him on the defensive, contending with the inherently false construct of Rambo vs. Sambo thrust upon him by life in modern England. The dystopian dancehall of “3D” jibes with the claustrophobic synthpop of elongated closer “Roadside.” Though his bellows and growls hold weight, Gaika sings in an engaging manner on “Glad We Found It” and “Little Bits.”
The inclusion of this semi-mysterious trio’s uber-catchy single “3 Strikes” in a commercial for Kylie Jenner’s line of cosmetics led more than a few people to believe the AutoTune badass cooing into the mic was the televised teenage Kardashian half-sister herself. Regardless of who’s actually singing here, Terror Jr. definitely bears the sonic branding of seasoned dance-pop types Felix Snow and David Singer-Vine. Their deliberately cutesy takes on ride-or-die role reversal work brilliantly on Bop City, thanks in no small part to an adorably alien voice delivering lines tailormade for an Instagram generation susceptible to the allure of celebrity lip gloss. Previously released singles like “Come First” and “Sugar” pulsate with focus group tested sex positivity, proving that there’s more to this than gimmickry. In lesser hands, the winking studio concepts would assuredly succumb to appropriation charges or otherwise crumble to dust, but these are professionals with nimble fingers on ultramodern pulses, evident in the gliding rightward R&B swipes of “Say So” and “Super Powers.”
Gary Suarez is a music writer born, raised, and based in New York City. He’s on Twitter.