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Digital/Divide: July’s Electronic Music Reviewed

On June 28, 2019

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.

From the nightclub and the hookah bar to your Uber ride home, reggaeton is the sound of now. Música urbana’s boom in recent years has expanded beyond Latin America’s borders literally and figuratively, with artists like J Balvin, Bad Bunny, and Tomasa Del Real gracing American festival stages and top-lining global streaming platform playlists. The pervasiveness of dembow in Billboard-charting pop songs and via booming summertime soundsystems indicates a growing agnosticism over language in music, the old barriers and barricades buckling under the weight of the diversity in our demographics.

A natural early adopter of these sounds, Spain has developed its own scenes for reggaeton artists. While by geographic and historical definition not part of Latin America, the European nation nonetheless liaises with the region to the point where a number of its artists have integrated into the international conversation about this music. It is from this ongoing cultural collaboration and exchange that we got Rosalía, the flamenco upstart garnering serious media attention, and now perreo practitioner Ms Nina.

Well before being tapped by Diplo for the mixtape Perreando Por Fuera, Llorando Por Dentro (Mad Decent), this Argentina-born reggaetonera thrived in an inclusive dembow-driven underground that ran counter to the genre’s traditional male dominance. 2016 tracks like “Acelera” with La Favi and “Despacio” with Bad Gyal aligned her with fellow female rising stars, while high-quality productions from Cadiz duo Beauty Brain helped expose her to EDM scenesters as well.

As such, her Mad Decent debut represents a range not necessarily held by her male peers coming out of Spain. Beats come courtesy of a number of acts further representing reggaeton’s border fluidity, from French DJ King Doudou to Ulises “El Licenciado” Lozano out of Los Angeles. The latter’s “Te Doy” makes for the mixtape’s signature single, a consent anthem that creeps to half-speed for maximum perreando satisfaction. Chaboi’s techno-dancehall take “Gata Fina” gives Ms Nina even more room to further assert her sex positive position as she slyly reclaims Glory’s hook from Daddy Yankee’s classic “Gasolina.” She glides over a radical regional Mexican rework on “La Diabla” and lounges over the luxurious closer “Piscina.”

Clark: Kiri Variations (Throttle)

Thanks to lingering regional restrictions that limit content distribution in our otherwise interconnected world, chances are good that you haven’t seen Kiri. The four-part drama aired on Channel 4 in the U.K. with a score produced by this Warp Records veteran. But, Clark being Clark, the music meant for this very specific purpose mutated into something uniquely its own. Thus, there’s little need to have seen the mini-series to appreciate what he now presents as Kiri Variations. Those familiar with the artist’s revolutionary warehouse techno takes or his quirky AFX-esque early work won’t find much of either in this selection of incidental music that feels disquietingly organic and electronically sequenced in equal measure. The hypnotic plucks and bowed groans of “Kiri’s Glee” grow into the sparse vocal awe of “Coffin Knocker.” Later on, ambient swells subsume the calm of “Tobi Thwarted” and “Cannibal Homecoming” roughly shuffles the beat against a choir of haunting voices. Scarcely few of these reach the four-minute mark, somewhat incomplete yet still immersive and wondrous.

Sam KDC: Omen Rising (Horo)

Industrial music’s impact on contemporary techno continues to yield exciting projects. For the British producer’s first album-length solo effort for the Berlin-based Horo imprint, Sam KDC demonstrates an exceptional ear for rhythmic noise and harsh textures. Fans of the lengthy Downwards or Hymen / Ant-Zen discographies will feel immediately at home in the spacious gloaming of the unambiguously dubbed Omen Rising, especially with its technoid workouts like “Eye For An Eye” and “Into The Ground.” From the ponderous whirr and blurr of “Breaching The Void” to the suppressive fire of the title-track closer, he simultaneously lays waste to the sonic worlds he creates. While his prior history as an ambient artist informs this beat-driven outing, a vestigial connection to the drum & bass scene becomes apparent as well amid the throwback breaks echoing on “Coup De Grace.” Over the course of its 66 minutes, never once does Omen Rising yield in its bleak and aggressive mission.

Robotalco: Callisto (100% Silk)

A relatively seasoned producer, Sebastiano Urciuoli may be known to some in italo-disco circles for his work in Club Silencio. Yet for quite a few years now, the Milanese artist has indulged a broader range of retro tastes under the Robotalco moniker, as evidenced by his 2015 Ulawun EP. With Callisto, he presents a brain-melting mix of kitchen sink influences that somehow congeal into a consistently fun style. The laidback acid house grooves and intermittent chatter of “Cuissardes Fatality” sounds oddly comfortable next to the feverish tempos and hasty bass warble of “Day Dreamer.” A ruggedly funky break opens “Bubble Rhodes” before reconstituting as deep and dubby tech-house recalling some of the lesser known looped gems off Daft Punk’s debut Homework. At times, it seems like Urciuoli is playing whimsical tricks on his listeners, particularly when “Fake A” teases something more than the birdsong and synth pulse it ends up being. Nonetheless, that’s still part of the joys Callisto brings.

SØS Gunver Ryberg: Entangled (Avian)

With co-signs by the creatively mercurial likes of Aphex Twin and Cristian Vogel, this Danish producer and sound designer has never been bound to genre conventions. At home in the art gallery as much as the nightclub, SØS Gunver Ryberg’s unwillingness to go with any flow other than her own has made her an artist worth admiration and even adulation in an electronic music world often so numbingly content with itself. Even after opening her gripping Avian debut Entangled with the thrilling experimental techno of “Palacelike Timescale Of Black,” she pivots away from that left field dancefloor style soon thereafter with the oppressive atmospheres and hissing machines of “Trispider.” Conversely, “The Presence Eurydike” honors the titular mythos with its enchanting tones and swooping drones that convey such profound beauty and depth despite inherent minimalism. Sumptuous segues and toothsome interludes separate the meatier compositions, but it’s the polyrhythmic majesty of entree “Levitation” that satisfies most.

Profile Picture of Gary Suarez
Gary Suarez

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.

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