The London producer’s weightless grime—which includes a collaboration with Fatima Al Qadiri—adds new depth to the dancefloor, says Daniel Jones.
The numbing tentacles of modern medicine have expanded upon the human nervous system to the degree that any sort of pain, once just a daily part of existence, can be snuffed out at whim. These poisoned gifts have brought more than nerve anesthesia, however; they’ve also produced cultural forgetfulness. Pain isn’t always a bad thing, something to deny and tuck away behind walls of man-made chemistry. We see things from a different perspective when we hurt. It was once thought that pain could bestow visionary and revolutionary powers upon a person, uncover prophecies and, sometimes, bring the sufferer redemption.
Not everyone is capable of having visions. It’s a rare and powerful thing to be able to see what is to come, rarer still to be able to transform these visions by your own hands and mind, to shape them into reality. London-born producer Louis Carnell has been transfiguring his own audio desires under the name Visionist for some years now, soulfully dipping into genres like grime, house, and whateverstep and emerging with beautiful liquid bass. As good as Carnell is, the aim of his work is more or less straightforward: making bodies sweat-slick and shredding leg muscles. This is modern pain: the masochistic pain of the flesh. His latest EP, however, delves deeper into the pain of the soul, exploring the intimacies of loss and what follows. I’m Fine is an oddly beautiful vision of the various mental and physical emotions the mind and soul experience when dealing with loss, and throughout it never stops being an album you can lose your shit to on the floor. Carnell’s ability to enhance his dance with such heavy inner reflection is what imbues the EP with much of its power. It’s also one of the reasons why it’s his finest work to date.
The synth textures of the title track opener drip down the here-shivering, there-stomping centipede legs of snare and bass as an asexual voice repeatedly stutters, “I can feel”. It’s hypnotic, encasing the mind in a haze of melancholic joy even as it forces your body to respond to its fluctuations. It’s cut short with a gasp, and the meaty thud of “Lost” gives way to a lacerating whip-snap beat, a flagellating BDSMotivator that caresses as much as it punishes. The looming drill-stabs of “Pain” pierce downward like the ache of reality, closing in around you in dizzying procession. The black hole in the soul, once rimmed semi-bright with faint hope threatens to implode before searching voices reach in a choral snippet of what may or may not be Goapele’s “Tears On My Pillow” spirals into oblivion.
The penitence completed, “Escape” provides ascension as a beckoning voice repeats, “come”. Further implications of eroticism aside, it’s a swift and sudden release that arrives like salvation. As vocals fall around shimmering synth stabs, the pain is pushed where it belongs: not out of sight but into a new context—one that allows you to see more clearly. The soul is allowed to transcend and to heal, though it may not be to a place of light. The shadowy flow of Fatima Al Qadiri’s contribution to the collaborative track “The Call” entwines itself around Carnell’s, promising seductions and temptations before the sullen skank of “I Don’t Care” shuffles up on rudebwoy bass. It’s here the listener is left alone to acknowledge the reality of loss, though not quite accept it. ~
Footwork gestated in its native Chicago for over 15 years before the rest of the world caught on. Now, it’s stage is global, and Traxman knows it, says Steph Kretowicz.
Cornelius Ferguson, otherwise known as footwork producer Traxman, trades on disparity. That’s not to say that his output is inconsistent but rather that in his extensive, though mostly obscure, catalog, contrasting elements are key. Take “Hold It”, from his latest Tek Life Vol 3.: The Architek LP, as an example: an erratic syncopated beat runs over a refrain of Bernard Hermann’s Psycho theme as a split-second vocal loop instructs its audience to “listen.” Not only does it pull you through a violent undertow of aural stimuli but it also finds a context outside of footwork and juke’s original, highly regional, birthplace of Chicago. Here, it’s not so much a call and response interaction between a producer and his ‘footworkers’ (or dancers)—where complex, barely graspable rhythms work with and against physical movement, samples sliced and shattered as bodies curl and contort over an arrhythmic kick drum, its clipped resonance recalling the style’s origins through ghetto house and juke. Instead, Traxman is making music for the mind that is conscious of its global stage.
30-plus years a DJ, 25 of those a producer and releasing only his second international record under his own moniker, Traxman—a father of four who has personally witnessed and experienced the history of the fiercely independent Chicago house scene into its footwork fracture—shares an omnivorous appetite for sampling with a trend that is at least partly responsible for footwork’s relatively recent surge in international popularity. Except that Traxman has been working in music since his ’90s ghetto house days with other Ghetto Teknitianz DJs Spinn and Rashad (each responsible for the two previous Teklife volumes and featured on The Architek), referring to his methodically ordered vinyl haul—reportedly spanning not only rooms but houses—with the ear of a jazz fanatic, while recognizing this new borderless platform for footwork beyond the school halls and shop fronts of its Chi roots. Keeping, as he says, “one foot international and one foot in your neighbourhood,” tracks like the uncommonly reflective album-opener, the Eastern-influenced “Buddha Muzik”, plus “Japan” and “We Can Go Anywhere” point to Traxman’s footwork-gone-global in their typically nervous fits of tumbledown musical assemblages. Same for the Michael Jackson-sampling eeriness of “Killing Fields”, where the late king of pop’s “Earth Song” is chopped and screwed to sound uncannily like a pitched version of Brandy’s “What About Us?” over the rumbling of a heavy bassline; a pop song’s bleak message recognized and reinterpreted within a new, dark and deep, context. Then it’s the futuristic synth delay and uncommonly regular beat of the hedonistic “2200 Acid”, before the nutty layering of pops, beats and glitches ends The Architek on an ever-optimistic note; a creative temperament of continual progress summed up in the title, “The Best is Yet to Come”. ~
Traxman’s Teklife Vol. 3: The Architek is out now on Lit City Trax.
In her new column for EB, Ruth Saxelby finds a moment of clarity in the vastness of new music. This month: the infiltration of the British dance continuum in American sounds. Illustration by Inka Gerbert.
“I love how open minded the American crowd is to all different styles of EDM!” tweeted Dutch trance producer Tiësto recently. There’s lots to chew on there, not all of it palatable, but above all Tiësto’s jubilance is a timely reminder that the American mainstream’s “discovery” of dance music is still in its honeymoon period. While Europe’s greying superstar DJs enjoy their (second) time in the sun, the US underground—perhaps in reaction to “EDM”’s reign—has increasingly reached out to the grittier grooves of UK dance music. Jungle, drum’n’bass, UK garage and grime never broke America in the way that Chicago house and Detroit techno influenced the UK, so it’s thrilling to hear the cultural exchange swim the other way. As to the whys and wherefores for this aural pilgrimage to rave’s roots, nostalgia would be an easy but misplaced call. Yes, it’s partly the fantasy of a life never lived, but it’s also desire for dialogue with one of the most culturally rich and continually evolving scenes, and almost certainly a celebration of a musical palette that favors roughness over high-end polish.
As a side note, it’s interesting that America’s biggest rap stars have been looking to the UK, too: Drake regularly linking with the Young Turks camp (Jamie xx and now Sampha) and Kanye looking to Warp (recruiting Hudson Mohawke as a producer and sampling Kwes). Where US dance music goes from here is anyone’s guess, but here’s hoping it’s as schooled as this lot:
Jubilee & Star Eyes – “Locked”
Self-confessed Slimzee super-fans, NYC producer/DJs Jubilee and Star Eyes collaborated for a release on London label Unknown to the Unknown late last year. Lead track “Locked” was a tribute to the Pay As U Go Cartel original, spinning shouts from his Rinse FM show into a tough, bass-heavy number. There’s a bunch of “I see ya”s, some perfectly placed “oooh”s, and, brilliantly, “I can’t even remember who made this one, y’know.” There’s something poetic about turning a UK garage DJ’s radio chat into a grime-via-Jersey-club track, as it echoes Slimzee’s journey and influence. In his own words, “mash the dance.”
Physical Therapy – “Whitelabel”
Brooklyn producer Physical Therapy has long had an ear on the UK. Last year he dropped his debut EP Safety Net which featured the Baby D-style vocal drum’n’bass tune “Drone On”, and now he’s gone (sort of) happy hardcore. The knowingly titled “Whitelabel” distills the wobble and upfront energy of that era into something subtler: it’s half the speed, for starters, and that whistle is just a ghost but the direction its gazing in is clear.
Default Genders – “Words With Friends”
Someone else tripping out on UK chart dance circa 1994 is Default Genders, the renamed new project from ex-Elite Gymnastics producer James Brooks (he was called Dead Girlfriends for a minute). “Words With Friends”, the strongest track on his much-debated On Fraternity EP, blends vocoder vocals with a gentle jungle rhythm that works to underline its bruised wistfulness. While Brooks has been blasted over the EP’s political intentions, musically there’s a sincerity that’s hard to miss.
Future Brown – “Wanna Party ft. Tink”
When it comes to WTF club tracks, there’s no-one to touch Brooklyn’s Fatima Al Qadiri and L.A.’s Nguzunguzu. Both tread the line between sinister and sensual to dramatic effect, so it was a hand-rubbing moment to hear they’d joined forces for a new project called Future Brown along with Lit City Trax head J-Cush. Their debut track features Chicago rapper Tink and has more than a whisper of grime’s freaky melody influence running underneath its snare-heavy sway.
Arca – “Harness”
Venezuela-born producer Arca recently relocated from New York to London, perhaps a natural evolution given that his music has steadily moved towards grime. Following last year’s weird’n’wired rap EP Stretch 2 and his production work for Kanye’s Yeezus, he just dropped his &&&&& mixtape on L.A. label Hippos In Tanks and track two “Harness” (it starts around the 2.15 minute mark) has an abstract, grime-y bass kick that’s as playful as it is deadly serious. While he’s been producing for rising pop star FKA Twigs, I can’t help but wonder what Trim would sound like over Arca’s beats. ~
Rather than operate as a music news source, Electronic Beats operates as a music information source. We want to share with you; we want you to know what we’re hearing, what’s reverberating our cochleas and sending broader vibrations throughout our bodies, and by extension our audio-addled souls. Down with that? Welcome to Editors’ Choice.
Lisa Blanning (Online Editor)
Visionist & Fatima Al Qadiri – “The Call”
This collaboration between Visionist and Fatima Al Qadiri isn’t even the best track on the former’s new EP for Lit City, so that’s saying something.
Bok Bok w/ Kelela
Forty minutes of Bok Bok live in the mix with Kelela, best known as the vocalist featured on Kingdom‘s new EP, laying bittersweet over the top. When’s the last time you heard a grime DJ with a R&B vocalist? Exactly.
Louise Brailey (Deputy Online Editor)
Fantastic Mr Fox – “Jackal Youth”
Ok, there’s a touch of the Blawans in its scraping, metallic timbres and liberal use of reverb but there’s also a sense of restraint: like many Fantastic Mr Fox records is a masterclass in tight-sprung tension, precious little release. Far more interesting than its house-ier A-side,”The Trap”.
Moritz Gayard (Online Duty Editor)
Kink Gong – “GU QIN REMIX”
After seeing Omar Souleyman sign to the First World I decided I needed to re-scan for other music to please the abstract side of my life. Again it’s Sublime Frequencies which inspired me to check out the oevre of Monsieur Kink Gong aka Laurent Jeanneau and his terrific field recordings from mainland China.
Daniel Jones (Contributing Editor)
Troller – “Graphic” (Part Time Punks Studio Session)
Since discovering Troller a few days ago, I’ve been gushing my love for the Austin, TX trio across my various social media outlets. I won’t get overly verbose here—a review is forthcoming—but this cut from their session at LA’s Part Time Punks is seriously owning my life right now. Reminds me of discovering 4AD for the first time…
Future Brown – “Wanna Party” (ft. Tink)
Okay, we all knew there was no way a collab between Fatima Al Qadiri, Nguzunguzu and J-Cush was going to suck, so no surprise here. This one is pure future bass groove, with Tink killing it on the flow. Honestly, though…”Wanna Party”? That’s the best name you could come up with for your first single? Terrible.
Jannik Schäfer (Social Media Editor)
Dexter – “Piano Love”
Meet Heilbronn’s very talented producer Dexter. Although he has to compete with a popular US TV show on Google, he’s starting to make a name for himself in the world of beatmakers. His smooth production style and obsessive sampling remind me a lot of a certain Madlib. Also make sure to check out his incredible Jazz Files tape. Pete Rock says hi.
Read previous editions of Editor’s Choice here.