Sd Laika reconfigures grime from the inside out on his Tri Angle debut. But is it well executed? Daniel Jones finds out.
Coming from the US, grime was something I discovered rather late in the game. By the time Wiley was in full pop mode, I was just finding out that the Roll Deep collective existed. The elements that drew me to it—dirty beats, guttural bass and hard slap-in-the-face vocals—are essentialy the same elements that drew me to industrial music and early gangsta rap. Unknown Vectors, Peter Runge’s debut as Sd Laika, flays layers off grime’s body like a butcher, stripping it down to the barest fragments and jamming bizarre new metallic elements into it like a sonic version of Tetsuo: The Iron Man. The eleven tracks on That’s Harakiri never quite eclipse that stuttering, dehumanized piece of work, but it does form a fascinating picture at an artist intent on disorientation.
From the reversed opening “Peace” and into the arrhythmic loop of “Great God Pan”, the listener is kept constantly off-balance. Runge’s world is a chaotic soup where bicycle bells chime and tin cans clank over pulses of compressed 8-bit stabs, a voice intoning the word “black” with no context, static washing and scouring everything. Rarely does anything coalesce into an actual tune, though “Don’t Know” and “It’s Ritual” make game attempts with gasping, slo-mo grooves and blown out tribal techno, respectively. As fascinatingly ugly (in the best way possible) as it all is, the lack of a structural coherency in the album overall makes That’s Harakiri drag in places—a shame, because there’s so much to love here. Push aside some of the mud and Azathoth whistling and you’ll find the shine of those beautifully metallic oddities that Sd Laika introduced itself with. ~
Label/Release date: Tri Angle /Out now.
Above: Evian Christ photographed by Andrew Ellis
The British producer went from posting tracks on YouTube, to a mixtape for Tri Angle to making beats for Kanye within a couple of years. But he’s not bothered.
“I like her a lot. Did you watch the documentary?” Believe it or not, Josh Leary is talking about Katy Perry. Perhaps that’s not a question you’d expect from the twenty-four year-old, raised on rap and producing some of the most sensual, corrupted beats in electronic music you’re likely to hear. But then, you’d probably be surprised to find he’s also a trained nursery school teacher. “As soon as I qualified I went on tour to the U.S., the next day,” he says drolly, clean shaven and politely ignoring the burger in front of him in a pub in East London.
This is Evian Christ, the northern English producer discovered via YouTube and signed to then still-fledgling, now influential label Tri Angle when it was still the image of that fleeting phase of witch house three years ago. Back then Leary was twenty-one, finishing off an accelerated PGCE (postgraduate certificate in education) and indulging an occasional hobby that would soon catapult him across the musical spectrum, from his eerie collages of rap music appropriations made malleable in his debut mixtape Kings and Them, all the way up to production and a publishing deal with Kanye West. Now, he’s between states, staying at his mum’s house in a town just outside of Liverpool until relocating to New York, bypassing London in the mean time: “You grow up in proper north and you just have a chip on your shoulder about the south,” he says while jokingly agreeing that he doesn’t like a single person from the UK capital.
That’s not the only reason Leary is moving to the U.S. It makes more sense, given his sound is more in line with the likes of the grime-inspired experimental and electronic music centered around labels like Fade to Mind and UNO, rooted in hip-hop and adopting a far more aggressive, even audacious approach to production you’re more likely to associate with the States. And there’s certainly a frank attitude, as well as a certain savvy—not without its fair share of self-identified obstinacy—that’s served Leary well in his career, however uncannily ‘accelerated’.
This is, after all, a relatively young producer who’s reached a summit in a career he wasn’t even looking for two and a half years ago. Barely releasing a second EP, Waterfall, out on March 17th, and putting together one of the most bizarre “Trance Party” line-ups—including rapper Travis Scott, Sophie and Powell—you’re likely to come across, it all starts to make sense when you learn a bit about him.
There’s the short-lived and lucrative moonlighting in ‘positive-expected-value’ betting online for one, the complete musical backflip into frosty drum beats and profoundly distorted basslines for two, and what’s probably the worst left-handed pen grip I have ever seen: “It’s very strange, when I’m trying to teach kids how to hold a pen. I’m always like, ‘don’t hold it like this’,” Leary says while clutching his with five fingers tightly wound around it like it’s a club. But, given Leary’s unconventional approach to most things, I wouldn’t take his advice.
Does it freak you out how quickly you’ve ascended in your career?
Constantly. I’ve not been ready for any stage in my career so far. I’ve been completely unprepared and just learning on the job. I feel like I’m constantly chasing after myself. I’m starting to reach a point where I’m technically competent. Not great at all but I can pass. But then, “OK, you have to go and do studio sessions with singers and rappers,”and I’m like, “I have no idea how to approach this, I have no idea what I’m doing.” But then you just have to throw yourself into these things and you can pick stuff up.
Teaching prepared me well for it because it was exactly the same. I did a PGCE, which was a one year accelerated course and it’s like, “Here’s a bunch of theory that you have no context for. Now go to a classroom and that’s your context for it, learn through your mistakes, very publicly, with thirty children staring at you.” That’s why I think transitioning into playing shows, not really knowing what I was doing or going to interviews and not really knowing what to say. I was kind of used to it by that point.
You were quite young too, which is a selling point.
In music they love that, interviews with people who’ve been nineteen for about four years.
You’re about to release your second EP, and you’ve already achieved so much. It’s like you’re going to retire in two years.
Yeah but with me, I don’t have a huge history of listening to music. I wasn’t a huge follower of experimental music until I got signed, really. Just before I started I was like, “Oh cool, ambient music.”
I don’t know how I stumbled on it but it was probably listening to some fuckin’ Brian Eno song on YouTube, seeing some related videos and finding Ben Frost, Tim Hecker and Grouper and all that kind of stuff. I think those were some of my introductions into even vaguely experimental music and that was only two and a half years ago.
I suppose that kind of rapid deviation is both a symptom and a cause of life these days. This kind of necessary adaptability where technologies change so quickly that you have to be prepared to have your entire industry disappear tomorrow.
That’s true. I also don’t care that much about this, in a careerist way. Like a lot of people, all they ever wanted to be was a music producer and they’re in a position where they can do it as a full-time thing, which is incredible, and they have no idea what else they would want to do. Whereas if one day I wake up and no one cares about my music anymore then I’ve done some cool stuff. I’ve travelled, I’ve achieved some things I never thought I’d achieve and then I’ll just go and teach. That’s fine.
I think that gives me quite a good licence to do whatever the fuck I want, make some cool music and not feel under pressure to deliver certain things. As much as I’m ambitious and I want to achieve certain things, those goals are more orientated towards fulfilling my own perfect idea of what the next record should be.
So it’s kind of like your early twenties backpacking period.
Totally. Whereas a lot of people, by the time they’ve reached the point where they’ve released records people give a shit about, they’ve been making music for so long that they’ve already figured out exactly what they want to do and their statement to the world is having figured that out. Mine is, “Watch me publicly change my mind about everything, constantly.”
That’s one thing that the acceleration of my career has done. I feel like it could be fairly interesting for people to watch. I think my interviews have probably been very inconsistent and my music will be very inconsistent. Maybe there’s something refreshing about that. Hopefully.
To a degree I suppose if you spend however many years trying to achieve something, you eventually reach a point of no return.
Part committed, yeah, whereas I’m not at all. It just happened and I’m just making it up as I go along. I’m invested in it to the degree that I take it incredibly seriously and put a lot of hours into what I do, get up and do music as if it was a nine to five job and then eat and go to sleep. But I’m not too invested in it emotionally, in, like, I would be so upset if I had to find something else to do.
You say that it’s taken so long for you to do another release since Kings and Them because you keep giving away the stuff you’ve been working on to other projects. That’s an unusually casual way to approach your original material. You’d think you’d be more protective of it.
I don’t know why but I really care about production and pop music. I think it’s incredibly important and I haven’t figured out why. I feel like that’s because that’s the music that’s consumed by the most people, so there’s some sort of inherent argument you can make for it being the most important to get right.
And it’s also the most challenging. It’s very easy to make bizarre music and release it on an indie, go and do some weird collaboration at Unsound and keep doing that cycle, which is great and I love doing it. But it’s way more challenging to find a way to take all these influences and position them as a pop song that is both creatively satisfying and also that people can enjoy as they’re driving to work or whatever.
The line-up for your second trance party seems to reflect that openness to these different approaches.
It’s all over the place, yeah. The first one I was like, “We should do something where everyone fits together, with mutual fans.” People who like me, like Arca; people who like Arca, like Holy Other. The whole thing makes sense.
Whereas with this one I was like, “No one else is in the position to put a guy from Demdike Stare [as part of Millie & Andrea] and a rapper from T.I.’s label on the same line-up. If I don’t do that, no one else will.” The first line-up I did, that was really cool but that will happen, you will see line-ups like that. This one, you won’t get Sophie and Demdike Stare and a rapper on a line-up, unless I’m the person to make that happen. So for this one I kind thought, “Let’s do the exact opposite. Let’s try to do something with people that make no sense next to each other.”
I think you can do people a disservice by creating nights where the artists are too similar. It’s like, “Here’s a package for you; this is the music you like.” I kind of like the idea that people who’ve only heard of Travis Scott will come and hear Powell and people who like Powell and Andy Stott will stick around and see Travis going crazy rapping on stage.
I wonder if someone like Sophie will get nervous, potentially playing to a Travis Scott crowd, given he appropriates so much rap and RnB in what is essentially camp pop music.
It’s true. It’ll be interesting for sure. I’m just stoked about the opportunity to do it. I can’t believe they’re giving me that budget to be like, “Who do you want to play?” And I’m like, “OK, fly this dude from L.A.” Everyone I asked, we got just because they gave me the budget for it. It’s kinda cool. I think it’ll be pretty bizarre, it’s meant to be. ~
Evian Christ’s Waterfall EP is out March 17th via Tri Angle.
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.
Louise Brailey (Deputy Online Editor)
Evian Christ – “Salt Carousel”
With the Kanye stamp of approval not yet dry upon his head, Evian Christ gears up to release his EP Waterfall in early 2014. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this first taste is a hi-def corker. The brittle frostbitten atmospheres that once characterized his releases have largely been jettisoned for a much more aggro, maximalist sound, all squealing tire synths and busy tones buried deep in the mix. Still, the real magic is reserved for the moment the drums, the scree, the cumbersome, chrome-plated swagger recedes to reveal planes of arctic pads. A big’un, then.
Moritz Gayard (Online Duty Editor)
Kommune1 – Kronos EP
UK Techno young gunner Kommune1 delivers some magic techno house with his Kronos EP, which will be out on Leisure System in December.
Daniel Jones (Contributing Editor)
Lauren Bousfield – Avalon Vales
Oh hey, remember when I wrote a review of this album last year? Well, it’s finally been released, so now you can hear what I was talking about. Bousfield has made a few changes in the textures and layers, but the overall sound remains the same—and just as weirdly, deliciously beautiful. I didn’t name it one of my albums of the year for nothing, after all… now I just wonder if I can do it two years running…
A.J. Samuels (Senior Print Editor)
Roky Erickson – “I Think of Demons”
Light in the Attic’s September rerelease of Roky Erickson’s 1981 Evil One (Plus One) is a best-of-2013 no brainer. A brilliant and utterly disturbing record that’s been blowing my mind for years now, I still occasionally feel strange for getting so much pleasure out of songs born of profound madness and suffering.
Read previous editions of Editors’ Choice here.
In our BPM column, we review a clutch of the most intriguing electronic music currently on offer. This month, Louise Brailey on Mr. Beatnick, Fis, Objekt, Nguzunguzu, Pearson Sound, and Renaissance Man.
Artist: Mr. Beatnick
Title: The Synthetes Trilogy
Label: Don’t Be Afraid
Format (release date): CD/digital (out now)
London’s Mr Beatnick may not be the world’s biggest self-promoter, preferring that his musical knowledge speak for itself. And it did, furnishing DJ sets, stints on Rinse and NTS, music writing, and, every now and then, his quietly brilliant hip-hop informed productions. It was a suite of immaculate house EPs on the Don’t Be Afraid label that rattled him free from the “producer’s producer” pigeonhole and found him talked up everywhere from Fact to NME (poor soul). Neither hip pastiche nor bass-primed, his original Synthetes trilogy of EPs ran in tangent with, but apart from, the strands of house revivalism. Eight original tracks from the original trilogy of releases are gathered here, in an expansion pack that includes four exclusives and is an exercise in depth and restraint. Beatnick’s hip-hop background manifests in the subtle use of samples and frequent excursions into space funk territory (see “Sun Goddess” for examples of both) but while the warm, jazzy chords of “Symbiosis” are spiritually aligned with house classicists like Theo Parrish or Virgo, the rawer excursions suggest the kind of Detroit updates installed by the new wave of idiosyncratic producers like John Heckle. Of the newer tracks, both the deep and muted “Waning Moon” and the jungle bpms of “Never Dies” provide stylistic variation, but let’s not mess about—it’s not the exclusive tracks that make this one essential.
12-inch/digital (November 18th)
Even when placed alongside a handful of other assaults on drum ’n’ bass orthodoxy, which is what happened when “Cultural Trauma” was featured on Exit Records’s Mosaic compilation earlier this year, Fis’ music juts out like an unsightly slab of brutalism. Then, his sound was tempered by a collaborator, the experimental d’n’b producer Consequence. Working alone, his dark, strange vision stretches the parameters of the genre until you hear the sockets pop.
Enter Tri Angle, who’ve have spotted a kindred spirit in the New Zealander—and it’s testament to Fis’s own unplaceable sound that it fits on their roster as well as anywhere. Indeed, on “Magister Nunns”, increasingly frantic wails and twitchy percussion bears more than a passing resemblance to The Haxan Cloak. The decrepit-sounding “DMT Usher”, originally released on NZ label Samurai Horo, deploys a crippled breakbeat and heart-stopping rotary blades FX to slash through its desiccated, Shackleton-style ambience. “Mildew Swoosh”, well, you can work this one out: splints of percussion lope and collapse into a breakbeat as waves of toxic white noise gather and disperse. We’re in a flush of artists attempting to recapture mental and spiritual impression of rave music, Fis seems obsessed with its physicality—even if there’s little else left. Decayed, mutated, sick, this is body and it lives, in its own way, in the present.
Fade To Mind
12-inch/digital (out now)
Asma Maroof and Daniel Pineda follow up their contribution to Kelela’s Cut For Me mixtape with eight more examples of why they’re one of 2013’s more interesting propositions. As Fade to Mind’s resident shock troops, they make mutable, mutant grime which glints with shards of R&B, anchored by a slippery center of gravity lent by a powerful low-end. That their meticulously layered records can sometimes feel unlovable is part of their futurist appeal. From the chorale synth, knackered piano and vrooom FX of “Vision of Completion” to the shuddering and dungeon-dank “Tumultuous” (which, displaying the duo’s stylistic pluralism of influences, features both nods to juke and Goa trance), Skycell sees Nguzunguzu are clearly so far ahead of the pack they can barely mask their contempt. Still, sometimes it’s the most insidious weapons which do the most damage and “Foam Feathers” distills Nguzunguzu’s capacity for genuine creepiness into the meanest of elements: parping, clenched baseline, tin-pot percussion, and twinkling, incongruous chimes, all coalescing out of the sound of distant heavy industry. Now, can you even imagine the damage these would do in a club?
12-inch (out now)
Objekt’s TJ Herz makes club music that feels like it’s lurked so long in the cracks between techno and garage it’s started to congeal there. This, the third in his series of self-released white labels, continues to mine that particularly warped seam and just as “CLK Recovery” found its charge in the tension between warehouse techno’s relentless drive and intricate, atmospheric sound design, “Agnes Demise” employs violent dynamics to disorientate. Air piston and sucker punch drum pads stake out a monolithic two-step, as assorted clanks and clatters littering the negative space left in the backdraft. Like any power tool, “Agnes Demise” finds its power in its relentless force on a concentrated area—which only makes those moments when the percussive support implodes, leaving behind aftershocks of aural detritus, including a scrambled space transmission, even more disarming. “Fishbone” is less contorted, an exercise in streamlined electro pitted with cavernous sub-bass and passages of ambience. It’s up to you to take the respite while you can.
12-inch (out now)
Remember when dubstep blossomed into a period of unprecedented experimentalism only to settle into quite trad house? It felt like going from Chagall and Otto Dix one year to pastoral landscapes the next. Thankfully, Hessle Audio’s infrequent transmissions have remained beacons of innovation amidst the conservatism, their light shining all the brighter against the increasingly irrelevance of labels like, say, Hotflush. As one of the founders of Hessle, David Kennedy aka Pearson Sound, keeps things ticking along with this release. A-side “Lola” sees him thrash out a grimier direction, the pointillist Zomby-esque synths and leaden swing an interesting set-up to B-side “Power Drumsss”. The latter, a flinty Hessle-style 808 tool, albeit with the angles slightly off. Lastly “Starburst” employs squealing stabs, distorted drums and, eventually, a cloud of synth vapor which envelops the whole affair like a toxic sunrise over industrial wasteland. While not an quite essential release, it augers well for a label who’s recent flush of releases have included Pev and Kowton’s brilliantly scuzzed out “Raw Code” and the itchy industrialism of Joe’s “Slope”.
12-inch/digital (out now)
Coming up amid the heady days of fidgit house (with the Dubsided and Made to Play credits to prove it) Renaissance Man know better than some that affecting seriousness in the club is a mug’s game. They also know that the line between making club music that’s littered with clever-clever samples which is innovative and humorous and coming off as a bit of a cringe is really fine. Now, with their freshly minted Black Ocean label providing a home for hardcore-referencing, grime-y slow boilers like “UFO Who R U” they’ve gone all out: sampling Brad Pitt’s derided Chanel commercial, calling their mix for Dis “outsider Gabber”… The Internet, presumably, is smiling inwardly to itself at all this but, back in the real world, it’s genuinely difficult to hate. This is partly due to their production chops: Renaissance Man have always been sonic innovators and even as “Kama (Dance with Me Into the New Age of Love)” references the acid synths—and the new age bollocks—of Sven Väth style trance, they temper it with heads-down techno fatalism, foreshadowed on the excellent January release Call2Call. As for “Journey”, with its galloping Plastikman chassis laden with granular texture—all knife clinks and bird tweets—and the foolhardy use of that sample it could, perhaps should, be a disaster. Yet somehow the feeling that the track, and the EP as a whole, is coming from a genuine place cuts through the dense fug of naffness, or worse, irony. ~
For other editions of BPM, click here.
Rather than operate as a music news source, Electronic Beats operates more 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 Editor’s Choice.
Michael Aniser (Contributing Editor)
Primitive Art – “Problems”
I listened to this track a lot last week and still can’t quite figure out where to put it. It’s definitely one of the most exciting things to come out on Hundebiss lately.
Lisa Blanning (Online Editor)
Young Thug feat. Gucci Mane – “Jungle” Produced by C4
The new Young Thug mixtape 1017 is a pretty consistently good listen, not least because he’s using some really great producers. This one by relative Atlanta unknown C4 takes us on a post-Mike WiLL trip of arpeggiated synths and big low end.
Louise Brailey (Deputy Online Editor)
Catching Flies – “Stay Forever”
This track by London producer Catching Flies has shades of the excellent Gayngs in its use of negative space to conjure late night dejection. If you could weed out the overdone pitch-shifted vocals it would be unstoppable. I mean, it has a sax solo, c’mon.
Moritz Gayard (Online Duty Editor)
THE-DRUM – “Switch”
While waiting for their acclaimed debut album to drop later this month, here’s the the second delicious appetizer, entitled “Switch”.
Forest Swords – “Thor’s Stone”
Matthew Barnes’ project Forest Swords is back with a Tri Angle release, which is his first release in two years. So if you missed out on the hypnagogic/chillwave lesson, you can try again above.
Daniel Jones (Contributing Editor)
Rell The Soundbender – “Diablo”
Fast, hard-hitting trappy bounce isn’t the kind of thing I can really sit around listening to in my free time, but as a DJ I find it essential. Rell The Soundbender’s productions are generally amongst the hardest when it comes to this sort of thing, raw edits that are jaggedly danceable without being too poppy.
Tropic of Cancer – “The One Left” (Von Haze Remix)
As much flack as trap tends to get from people for being perceived as overly bro-ish, I find minimal techno far more offensive in its bland straightforwardness and its habit of attracting the most casual and vanilla of music fans. It’s a testament Von Haze’s skills (and to how good the original track is as well) that they’ve managed to drop a similar sort of vibe onto “The One Left” and still make it not only engaging, but beautiful.
Read previous editions of Editor’s Choice here: http://www.electronicbeats.net/category/columns/editors-choice/