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.
When Kanye West unveiled Yeezus back in 2013, the prominence of his album’s credits introduced people to names that would become some of the most prominent producers in contemporary music. Several of these artists, like Arca, Lunice, and Evian Christ, already had records and followings prior to working with the forward-thinking rapper, but their respective and collective profiles grew exponentially as a direct result of their participation. Relatively unknown in the U.S. before the album, Gesaffelstein became a live performer playing to an audience of thousands in New York by 2014. Warp Records’ Hudson Mohawke subsequently worked with talents as disparate as Anohni and Drake, not to mention dropping his own album that debuted in the Top 10 on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Albums.
Similar, the recent arrival of Frank Ocean’s album duo Endless and Blonde sent listeners searching the credits for the next big thing. Those who have done even a small amount of research now know the name Wolfgang Tillmans, and they will assuredly recognize the verbose title track from his own Device Control [Fragile] from its inclusion on the R&B singer’s self-described visual album. With an award-winning history that includes work with Colourbox and the Pet Shop Boys, the German multimedia artist’s foray into commercially releasing music under his own name comes at an opportune time, with Ocean currently at the center of a publicity vortex.
Taken out of the context of Endless’ closing credits jam, “Device Control” recalls Kraftwerkian avant pop, a techno jam heady with consumer electronics themes and Tillmans’ robotic deadpan delivery. Two versions of “Angered Son” follow, both comprised entirely of layered voice and incidental room noise. The danceability returns for three remixes of Tillmans’ “Make It Up As You Go Along.” Witch house types Salem deliver a radical edit that sounds more like the soundtrack to an interactive haunted house than Daniel Wang and J.E.E.P.‘s bubbly synthpop takes, which adhere closer to the style of “Device Control.” Whether or not this release marks the beginning of further musical output from Tillmans, he need only look to the Yeezus alumni to see the options it presents for spreading his art to a wider audience.
Easily one of the most vital artists in footwork today, the Chicagoan teams up with a handful of talents from inside and outside that scene for this consistently electrifying and often magical sounding set. The results open up this already experimental format to even more opportunities while expanding its sonic palate. On the blunted "Fukk It Up," DJ Manny and DJ Taye seem determined to keep Earl's footwork weird. Even that trio's single-minded dirty joke like "Lotta A$$" comes served up with a gorgeous beat underneath the sampled yuks. One of the most radical artists in electronic music today, Oneohtrix Point Never's own engrossing productions have scarcely been comfortable in a genre context, so his handful of collaborations with Earl and MoonDoctoR here come as truly pleasant surprises. Borrowing from Larry Thompson and Rick Lenoir’s ‘80s house classic, “Let’s Work” finds fresh uptempo avenues to build on the source material, while “Rachett” revels in stutter-starts and filtered melodies.
Following his work with the likes of Lady Gaga and Lil Jon, and riding high off the tremendous success of last year’s Major Lazer collaboration “Lean On,” the French DJ/producer carries that synergistic spirit over to his major label debut full length. From the aggro-euphoric “Ocho Cinco” with Yellow Claw to the chart climbing Justin Bieber dance pop ditty “Let Me Love You,” Encore showcases a chameleonic artist at his best. His knack for tropical house vibes shines through on “Sober,” while he flexes his trap sensibilities all over the Migos x Travis Scott cut “Oh Me Oh My.” Throughout this genre-bending affair, Snake adapts to the strengths of his partners, laying down moody atmospheres on “Middle” for British singer Bipolar Sunshine and unleashing turnt tumult on “The Half” for Jeremih and Young Thug. Encore presents an efficient and enjoyable version of the post-EDM album, one that balances speaker rattling slam dunks with comparatively more human moments.
A techno producer whose music benefits from his clear affinity for classic European EBM like that of Front 242, Terence Fixmer has long resided on the darker side of electronic dance music. His albums and singles with Nitzer Ebb frontman Douglas McCarthy brought him to the attention of an industrial audience that might not otherwise have caught on to his approach. Returning with his first solo set of new tracks since last year’s Depth Charged, this 12” largely continues in that vein. Flashing with sequenced hi-hats and air-raid synth drones, the title track grows to envelop listeners with its clubby claustrophobia. “Trace To Nowhere” relies on demented acid and heavily effected Alan Vega style vocals to support its suffocating agenda, while “Devil May Care” softens the blow with far less abrasive pads and a subtler percussive throb to accompany its choppy bass. Brighter than anything else in the bunch, “Immersion” provides a pensive closer to a record otherwise dominated by the coldness of machines.
Following a spinal surgery in 2015 with a difficult aftermath and long recovery, it’s astounding that Veronica Lauren can still devote any energy to making music. On social media, the Harlemite continues to express her vulnerabilities and raw emotions, which too are elegantly conveyed on her latest project for Leaving Records. With cautiously playful moments mixed into affecting ones, Evn pushes beyond VHVL’s already fine discography and proves her best material yet. “0002” infuses either whimsy or mania into its sterile base, a condition that bleeds into the hiss and bass of “0004.” A slippery beat squirms its way into “0006,” adding a touch of boom bap to the static and synths. VHVL’s pieces snap together and make wondrous tunes, but her frequently dessicated intros betray their melodious middles, resulting in a persistent gravity. An intimate opus with bouts of orchestral magnitude, seven minute closer “0010” exemplifies the serious and solemn ethos of these extraordinary recordings.
Gary Suarez is a music writer born, raised, and based in New York City. He’s on Twitter.
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