I can’t be sure if I’m entitled to speak here for anyone else but myself, yet what is it that we’re really looking for when we listen to a record for the first time? We want to be surprised, I’d argue. We hope that what we’re gonna spend the next minutes of our precious lifetime with is something we’ve never heard before. The human, after all, is a curious being. But honestly, how often does that really happen? And sure, in contemporary popular music there will always be a place for faithful and masterfully crafted repetition, so don’t get me wrong. That’s just fine. But when I have to make a choice, I always expect the artist to fuck with my expectations, and those who really manage to do so are the ones I truly admire. Take Actress, for example. Or even James Ferraro.
But no one does it like Laurel Halo. After the critically acclaimed EPs that she dropped over the last two years, from the synth-poppy ‘King Felix’ to the more intricate and experimental, mostly instrumental ‘Antenna’ and above all the marvellous ‘Hour Logic’, it would have been easy to just keep going, or at least to repeat some of the patterns critics and listeners have come to love her for. No one would have blamed her for that. Or rather, as especially the latter effort was one of my favorite records of last year, I certainly wouldn’t have. But it takes only the first few seconds of ‘Airsick’, the opening track of Laurel’s first proper album Quarantine, to realize that she indeed has fucked with our expectations once again. The beats are subdued to a degree that leaves them almost insignificant. The synths are prominent yet carry no lead melody. Instead, Laurel’s voice is where it has never been before, right in the front on top of the mix, and what is most striking compared to the equally vocal-centred ‘King Felix’, it’s almost unprocessed, raw, bare, and vulnerable.
This is not only surprising considering her own oeuvre and the fact that after her debut EP, Laurel had expressly desired to get rid off her voice as a principal feature of her music. It’s also something I haven’t heard somewhere else, not in this blunt starkness, and I admit that it took me a few spins to get comfortable with it. Quarantine is surely nothing you’d consider an “easy” album. But if you let yourself in for it, very soon the record will unfold its unrivalled gracefulness, with tracks that are among the most breathtaking I’ve come across in years, the likewise stunning and unsettling ‘MK Ultra’, for instance, a song that sends shivers down my spine each time Laurel intonates the bleak chorus; or ‘Carcass’ with its menacing synth disruptions at the start. When the last notes of the majestic closing track ‘Light + Space’ – already one of my songs of 2012 – have decayed, one realizes that Quarantine ultimately is the work of a restless explorer and a true musical modernist, never settling for the given and comfortable. And that, after all, is what I’m always hoping for when I listen to new music.
photo by Tim Saccenti
Mike Huckaby is the living fulfillment of a DJ’s deepest desire: to bring people together by making them dance. His broad insight into the culture of electronic dance music as well as his approach to it is crucial. Huckaby is a prolific producer; besides working as a sound designer for various software companies such as Native Instruments, he also runs his own imprints Deep Transportation and SYNTH.
His deep house and techno productions are highly acclaimed, as are his remixes for artists such as Deepchord, Juan Atkins, and Vladislav Delay. The cocktail of a hard and dry beat mixed with jazzy chords and melodic shivers is one of general appeal to a broad audience.
Johnny Jewel has been a busy boy. Just released via iTunes and on general release (including on Vinyl) at some point early this year, Symmetry – Themes for an Imaginary Film contains a mammoth 32 tracks of sparkling, shimmering electro jams. Collated from recordings going back to 2008 the record was finally finished last May and features guests such as Nat Walker, Adam Millerand Ruth Radelet. It arrives, of course, via Italians Do It Better.
Stream the entire release below and head over to Johnny Jewel’s Soundcloud page get the expansive low down on the project
The Maryland-based solo electronic artist Skai Nine is a lover and creator of all kinds of electro-based music, drawing inspiration from hip-hop to the synth pop of the 80s and yet somehow he manages to sound current. We caught up with Skai to learn some more.
Electronic Beats: What’s your current state of mind?
I’m almost always “chill” and today is no different. I have my health, a lovely family, and music…no worries!
Things to do in Maryland?
I actually live right outside of Washington, DC, so I’m always in the city. Like any other major metropolitan area, there are tons of things to get into: top-notch restaurants, world-class (and free!) museums, various music outlets, etc. The great thing about this part of Maryland is that you don’t have to travel far to be in a totally different environment. Baltimore’s only 40 minutes away, but culturally the two cities are like night and day. And I really like to drive, so it’s cool that I could head west to the more mountainous area or go east to the towns on the Chesapeake Bay. Geographically speaking, there’s a nice mix of everything in this state.
How to spend a day without computer?
Actually, I think that’s a good idea! I would almost certainly be driving around listening to music!
Where did you come up with the name Skai Nine?
I make music not only because I love it, but also because it’s therapeutic for me. So I wanted a name that had an escapist vibe to it. Also, “9” is my favorite number.
Describe your music?
Sample-based, hiphop-tinged, electro chill music.
A process when you’re making music?
I usually like to look for the main sample first and begin to chop up the sounds. The melody would determine what kinds of drum sounds I use. I’ll then mess around with some synths, effects, and other percussive elements until I get a nice groove going. Sometimes I could finish a track in 30 minutes; other times it may take a couple of hours. After that it’s all about mixing and tweaking—that’s the laborious part!
Love them…and wish I could play one!
Artists you’d most like to collaborate with?
Way too many to name! I’m just going to throw some names out: Bjork, Sade, Beth Gibbons, Marie Daulne, Drake, Damien Marley…I could go on and on.
Three influential songs?
Extremely difficult question! There are so many…in no particular order:
“High Noon” by DJ Shadow – I wanted to throw away my MPC after I heard this!
“Brothers’ Gonna Work It Out” by Public Enemy – So many noisy sounds layered to perfection. The Bomb Squad was like Phil Spector with samples!
“Unravel” by Bjork – So beautiful a song that I felt compelled to do my own version (“Reravel”). That entire Homogenic album changed the way I approached music.
EB: The future?
SN: I’ll probably release a digital single later in the summer. The best music comes out of me during the fall and winter months, so you can definitely expect another album then! Other than that I’m just trying to build my brand. One thing I would love to happen is to have my music in film. I have some prospects on the horizon, so we’ll see if that pans out.