On her new album, the electronic musician finds her pulse quickened to the dancefloor, says Angus Finlayson. Laurel Halo plays Electronic Beats Festival Vienna on November 23rd.
“Playing rhythmic music, playing dance music, live, is way more cathartic than singing,” Laurel Halo declared in an interview with SPIN’s Philip Sherburne earlier this year. Perhaps last year’s Quarantine LP, then, was a failed attempt at catharsis. Central to the record was Halo’s voice: dry, pungent, placed abrasively high in the mix, a vehicle for intense discomfort and anguish. This was an album about heartbreak, and while it was (justly) much-praised, its creator seems a little sheepish about it these days, unwilling to dwell on the extremes of emotion that spawned it.
Appropriately, then, its followup abandons the voice to seek catharsis in the collectivized confines of the dancefloor. Like much dance music, Chance of Rain gestures not at subjective emotion so much as collective states of intensity: propulsion and stasis, order and Brownian chaos. You could argue that this makes it a less brave album than its predecessor. But rather than a retreat, it feels like the moment that Halo, after numerous stylistic reconfigurations, has found a place where she feels comfortable. “I think maybe that this is the kind of music that I’m meant to make, because it just makes me feel better,” she said in that same SPIN interview. “It’s more of a joyous process.”
As with much of Halo’s music, Chance of Rain takes joy in subverting and refiguring its source material as much as tackling it head on. “Oneirai”’s multiple layers of not-quite-chords seem to tug in several directions at once, while its backbone pulse is implied but rarely explicitly stated, the successive grids of percussion forming and dancing lithely into the foreground before retreating just as swiftly. “Serendip”, meanwhile, is four-four but oddly static for it, its gushing, gaseous chords offering a rather clouded sort of euphoria. Halo has long cited Detroit—a site of pilgrimage during her Ann Arbor upbringing—as an influence, and in places here its presence is more explicit than ever. But while the title track, in particular, trades in a well-worn combination of mechanized propulsion and aqueous repose, before long it’s undercut by claggy Rhodes chords—a different kind of hypnotism more akin to Miles Davis’ smoky fusion masterpiece In A Silent Way than Derrick May.
The basic components of these tracks—the restless, polyvalent arrangements, the uncanny juxtapositions of digital and acoustic—are to some degree familiar from last year’s Spring EP under the King Felix alias and, before it, 2011’s expansive Hour Logic. But what sets this album apart, along with its precursor EP Behind The Green Door, is that it was built for, and on, the dancefloor: these tracks were first road-tested through Halo’s club-friendly live set before being tweaked and recorded in the studio. And while this is hardly DJ-friendly music, Halo really grasps the fundaments of techno in a way that many auteurish types don’t. “Ainomme”, for example, occupies a similar freewheeling psychedelic space to the work of Ital, but it’s executed with far more deftness and attention to groove than the 100% Silk affiliate has yet mustered.
As an album Chance of Rain feels light—light-footed in its rhythms, offhand in its gestures—where Quarantine was often oppressively heavy. Even occasional moments of melancholy, like pensive piano closer “-Out”, have a certain wryness to them. Fortunately, it’s no less rewarding for it. If Laurel Halo decides to make a long-term home for herself on the dancefloor, she will doubtless be more than welcome. ~
Laurel Halo’s Chance of Rain is out today via Hyperdub.
UPDATE 27th May: We’re sorry to announce that SBTRKT will be unable to play at Spring Festival 2013 due to personal reasons. Please see below for a statement from the artist. However, we can now tell you that COMA will perform live instead.
“SBTRKT regrets to inform all his fans that unfortunately he is unable to DJ at the Electric Beats Festival due to a close family bereavement. He wishes to convey his apologies and will endeavour to come back.”
A week today marks the beginning of Austria’s Spring Festival, and Electronic Beats is teaming up with the event to present the opening night as part of the EB 2013 festival series. With a concert from Chilly Gonzales and DJ sets by Mark Ronson & Riton, plus live sets from Kompakt’s pop-infused electronic duo COMA and Copenhagen’s art-pop weirdos Rangleklods, the night promises to be memorable. Therefore we are especially pleased to announce that EB will be hosting an exclusive live stream of Chilly Gonzales’ entire Solo Piano II concert live from Graz’s Helmut List Halle, building on the success of last week’s live stream from EB Festival Cologne.
The stream will kick off at 9 pm (CET) on May 29th exclusively on ElectronicBeats.net, and finish at approximately 10:15 pm, the end of Gonzales set. The rest of the opening night line-up will not be streamed.
Those of you who have tickets and plan to attend in the flesh, please be aware that there is limited seating capacity on a first come, first served basis.
The Twitter, Instagram, and Google+ hashtag is #EBF13.
Last night Electronic Beats Festival took to Cologne for its latest, and arguably biggest, date this season. We sent Daniel Jones to report from the front row. All photos taken by Peyman Azhari.
Cologne. A metropolis on the edge of oblivion, where the sewer grates ooze steam and on whose night-shrouded streets criminals perform their troublesome tasks… Actually wait, that’s Gotham. Cologne is the rich, very clean German city where each year one of the Electronic Beats Festivals takes place, and I’ve just entered her. No time for sightseeing, however, as I find myself rushing to meet up with two friends who run the essential CLUB KID store in nearby Dusseldorf. I find it far more satisfying to roll up to an unfamiliar location with a crew; it takes the edge off, and nothing says “professional music journalist” like a trio of black-clad, platform-shoed weirdos. In a flurry of hugs, kisses and a gifted LONG beanie it’s time to head to E-Werk, the location for tonight’s festivities.
Stepping into the venue, I first take stock of the bar’s location, where legal tender is replaced by the internal glow of alcohol’s kiss. The Telekom photo booth nearby grants me a nice visual souvenir. Headshot, drink. Satisfied in both mind and liver, I’m now ready to be music’d at. It’s a good night for it, too: the vibe is definitely weirder than your usual EB fest, with plenty of prettily depressed young things slouching about in fashion-black. After a warm-up set from locals Popnoname that alternated between rather vanilla indielectro and banging techno with an almost industrial vibe, Copenhagen-based Reptile Youth took the stage. While their bassist did his best Rowland S. Howard impression, grinding his instrument with gusto, vocalist Ian (essential name for any aspiring post-punk band, I reckon) alternated between a coo and a scream, shaking the crowd into tribal panic. Can’t you just see them on the next NME cover? Better yet, can we have a S.C.U.M. reunion tour already?
The last time I saw Dan Deacon he was opening for Devo in Brooklyn, shuffling the crowd through a routine that was like a human version of aerobic musical chairs. It was sweaty, hectic nonsense and I loved every second of it. Tonight Deacon was in even finer form, blasting the room with shattered electronics and leading the crowd through love-themed nonsense calisthenics at 777 BPM. At one point he split the crowd right down the middle, picking two “captains” to lead them in synchronized dance. While it swiftly transformed into chaos, it was of the extremely fun variety. By the time James Blake took the stage, most people seemed to be whipped into frenzy. Blake took them further; with a deft sweep of his fingers he made boys and girls gasp, clasp hands and brace themselves for the delicately booming power of it all—or a sudden crushing bass. The emotion in Blake’s voice balanced the manic chipmunk energy of Deacon nicely, slow dances and slow chants.
Trust was the perfect ending to a night, Robert Alfons bouncing onto the fog-shrouded stage like a beautiful angel. If you’ve never experienced Trust live then you’d never know that almost all the vocals on his debut TRST, be they high and feminine or low and gothic, are performed by him. Seeing Alfons hit that chorus perfectly on “The Last Dregs” is strangely thrilling, but that might also be because I was (to the dismay of the tweens to my left) singing along in a rather falsetto-ish shriek myself. Kids’ World no more, this big-boy journalist wants to bellow and wail with his favorite tunes and you’d better pray there’s no encore (there wasn’t, sadly.) Pretty sure that at one point I caught a wink from Alfons but that might have been the sweat blinding my eyes. ~
For a band such as Hurts to exist in 2013 is, on the surface, an unfathomable anomaly. In an age where cynicism is the dominant currency, they remain straight-faced; in an era of austerity they fly by a private jet called Hurts Force One. They fashion themselves as the last band to sing about wanting someone to die for before—if the interviews are to be believed—ducking into a cab and chasing the promise of eightsomes in a Kiev hotel (its architecture probably baroque). Such anachronisms are explained by the band’s ‘80s throwback posturing—squint and you can picture the moodboards in Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson’s writing studio: spearpoint collars, ’30s haircuts, wool trenches, supermodel girlfriends, Old World glamor, Europe, Germany, Vienna… Oh, Vienna.
Yet the weirdest thing about Hurts is not that they exist in 2013, but that anyone thought that they could conceivably exist at any other time. Where ‘80s pop broke ground, experimenting with equipment whose parameters were still unfixed, Hurts use the best technology label capital can buy to refine. They arrived with debut Happiness in 2010, their GQ ready look and polished sound so practiced it was like they’d stepped straight into their imperial age. It wasn’t just the ‘80s either—the blunt force of singles ”Wonderful Life” or “Stay” traded in boy band key changes, opera singers, Kylie cameos and, yup, choirs. Is that the sound of clinking champagne flutes over the din of the music industry death rattle?
Now, two albums in and they’re kicking off their latest with “Miracle”, a song that sounds like late period Coldplay. They’ve unpicked the seams of ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s pop and rebuilt it bigger, better, stronger. Sometimes the references are so overt to be funny: if the slide guitar and knotty industrial scree of “Cupid” doesn’t make you think of “Personal Jesus” you’re doing it wrong—but, this being Hurts, we’re strapped to a 4/4 chrome chassis. Onwards, onwards, into hi-def.
Indeed, both Happiness and Exile’s sound design has been tweaked into a dizzying cleanliness, where every tom and snare is programmed as if its final fate was to be an in-store demo disc for Bose. Sure, compared to the blissful sonic contours of their debut, Exile sees Hurts’ sound mussed up a little; there’s grit in the pomade, a layer of designer stubble, an expensive roughness. When “The Crow” grinds into a few moments of dissonance the effect is one of exquisite melodrama; the rusted, driving synths in “The Road” are indebted to Nine Inch Nails, inducing low-level hysteria.The lyrics, once vaguely narrative, have been boiled down to pop music’s ur-language: “mercy”, “cry”, “love”, and “bleed”, because sometimes in pop that’s all you need.
But what if Hutchcraft and Anderson were conceptual artists or sonic provocateurs? If Exile came via Mediafire and not a major, would that change how we listened to their music? I’m struck by how consistently Exile is just a grade of intentionality away from ‘vaporwave’—a Tumblr microgenre that reappropriates the HD-ready palette of corporate muzak to examine how these forms are complicit in the machinations of capitalism . Of course it’s a hell of a grade, and—unless Hurts are pulling off an elaborate hoax—we have to take them on face value: a band that, through a combination of major label support and an ambition that, in 2013, is borderline aberrant is making music that peddles fantasy and aspiration. They fill arenas despite, no, because of their lack of meaning, look great while doing it and sound even better. You want your pop humble, blog-worthy, or authentic? Fire up your blogs because Hurts aren’t that kind of band—I hear jet fuel doesn’t come cheap.~
Exile is out now through Sony/Major Label. They are playing Electronic Beats Festival in Bratislava on 19 April, 2013. More info here.
We’re on a roll when it comes to announcing line-ups it seems, and with momentum building for the EB Festival Season with the news that Hurts, James Pants, Agoria and Youth Kills have signed up for the Bratislava event, what of Germany’s installment? Well, we’re hyped to announce that come the 16th May, 2013 British post-dubstep poster boy James Blake will be topping the bill at Cologne’s E-Werk, with exemplary support coming from Baltimore-based electronic mage Dan Deacon, stylishly dour Canadians (and EB Poll 2012 victors) Trust, Kompakt’s very own Popnoname and Danish post-punk revivalists Reptile Youth.
Those with memories at least partially intact will recall that James Blake is EB family, having played EB Festival Vienna and Gdansk in 2012. You can watch recordings of those performances at the bottom of this page.