Prologue. This website has changed, so this column also has to. If you have been visiting Playground with a certain frequency over the last two months, you’ll have seen that things have been happening here: the number of reviews has increased, there is new contents -opinion spaces have debuted, a corner for comments on the noble 12”format- and, although this publication tries to cover a wide spectrum of current music, spreading its time and effort over various genres, the volume of information has increased so much that the need for a column like this one is no longer so peremptory. What’s the point of giving information twice? There is a reason why this space is still here: the boss -an entity that we’ll call the Higher Being, like Florentino Pérez, president of the Real Madrid football club- wants it that way. But, there’s also another reason: because although a very large amount of specialised information is put out every day, the feeling of disorder will still probe us. Entropy, I tell you. And sometimes it’s necessary to get all of the information together in order to get on with the endless process of separating the grain from the chaff. So Silicone Implants will be like it has been until now, but going back over what’s already been started: we will recommend what has already been recommended, as if this were a monthly chart of the lines of force in electronic music. Having said this, let’s get down to it.
1. From Croydon to Detroit
Originally, dubstep was dark. And it seemed natural that, in its opaque nature (it didn’t let light through - that would come later), it connected quickly with sounds that would have the cold feel of steel or the viscosity of mercury, if we could touch them. The first interweaving of dubstep and techno took place in the European manner: Scuba and his passion for the techno-dub of Basic Channel, the juicy Shackleton-Villalobos alliance. But it never looked to the other side of the Atlantic in the techno key, because when dubstep crossed the pond, it was to catch the euphoric passion and house warmth of Todd Edwards and garage, Burial, Joy Orbison, etc. But if we listen to Kowton’s recent EP ( “ Basic Music Knowledge,” on Idle Hands), or some sections of the 12” by Illum Sphere on 3024 ( “ Titan EP”), or the first serious candidate for making off with the award for “best electronic album of the year,” Actress and “ Splazsh” (Honest Jon’s), we’ll see that all of these men aim their sniffers at the same spot: that deep, artisan school, with the texture of ungreased machine and with outer-space escapades, which Theo Parrish, Moodymann and Omar-S have been raising for years in Detroit (and occasionally in Chicago). The results couldn’t be more hopeful, or more stimulating, especially in the case of the blurry, almost wonky, line of Actress. The roll better continue, or I’m going to fall into a major depression.
2. From Detroit to London
Keeping in mind that he’s only 19, it seems clear that the future belongs to Kyle Hall. But it’s not only a question of age: the raw talent that he has is flooding out more all the time, and he is purifying it with the hands of a master: people should be afraid of him. The list of jobs that bear his signature from the first half of 2010 is reason enough to buy a plane ticket, go to his house, kiss his feet, and come back. He has had no problem in tumbling down techno-soul with dubstep features in “Kaychuck / You Know What I Feel” (Hyperdub), he has shown himself to be a wizard with almost jazz notes in a house context in a “Must See Ep” full of bleeps and vibraphones (Third Ear), and, most importantly, he fights continuously to get out of the impermeable circle of Detroit, which upholds a revival essence as strictly as a jealous husband. Proof of this is the soulful, space-funk, wonderful, but at the same time SO retro “Ol’ Dirty Vinyl” by Moody, looking towards Europe. Our Hall remains technoid and pure, but with continual detours towards intelligent techno: going the baroque way, abusing low-frequency oscillations in “Tomorrow Is The Day”– the second cut off of “The Water Is Fine Ep” (Moods & Grooves). We were used to looking from Europe towards Detroit with tears of admiration in our eyes. Maybe now we’ll have to get used to them looking over here.
3. Acid Cramps
From time to time acid comes back, and then it goes away again. Lately we’ve heard some very crunchy bass lines, and there has been a return to 303 and smiley, but what is more interesting than a nostalgic reproduction of the old acid house, like the recent Kebacid maxi on the Turbo label, “ Party Hat Ep,” what gets us on our feet, cheering, here is the use of acid undulations on scenes where they had never shown up before. Two very clear examples. One: Carlos Giffoni, freeform noisemaker who always amazes with his ability to damage your ears, incorporating aggressive bass lines almost bordering on old hard-trance, in his project No Fun Acid, which has a CD that spreads through the room like a bloodstain from your nose to your t-shirt, and a vinyl with a remix by Gavin Russom. Two: the maxi “ She’s Acid / Must Move” by FunkinEven on Eglo, where three very clear parameters line up: neo-funk sexy, minimalist sound, a rambling treatment of beats like the wonky scene, and, as the icing on the cake, a 303 that cuts sharper than a sword made by Hattori Hanzo.
4. Dubstep emo
What connects two such different albums as Guido’s full-length debut, “ Anidea” (Punch Drunk), and the second album of Clubroot , “ MMX : II” (Lo Dubs), is their need to affect you emotionally. Since Burial, dubstep will never be the same, as if an invisible barrier had been set up, separating special producers who want to duel from the generics, who only repeat exhausted formulas. Guido restrains himself to the greener days of UK Garage to inject transparent orchestration –and a clean, very 80’s production, with segments of sax and all– into a dubstep that feels comfortable with its adult phase, somewhere between AOR and psychedelics. Clubroot, for its part, seeks outrageous epic, boundless passion, and its solution is as simple as beginning with the sound of Burial –like it did already with the first album– to blow it up, inject it with steroids and the cyberdelia virus, with unexpected results: instead of failing for imitation, it gets bigger, for its emotion. And keep an eye out for what Kavsrave might offer in the future, already mentioned everywhere as “the new Joy Orbison”: in his 12” for Numbers, “Quotes”, he puts an earthquake of sub-basses on the same level as a cascade of high frequencies that seem like a shower of gold. Another rival has appeared to challenge James Blake –again bordering on perfection with “ CMYK Ep” (R&S)– for the sceptre of king of “emo dubstep.”
5. Beat LA!
In the NBA, “Beat LA!” is the war cry of the Lakers rivals and haters when they really need Kobe, Gasol & co. to mess up a key game. But the expression should be changed to “LA beat!” to show respect for the instrumental hip hop that is being distilled like in a chemistry lab in sunny Baja California. We are looking at one of those moments when legends take shape, and May of 2010 should be remembered as the moment when psychedelic downtempo with a knock-kneed, wonky rhythm spread throughout the world like a virus. Understand the exaggeration: this sound has been rolling around for a while, and it’s known on the electronic circuit, but there wasn’t “Cosmogramma” (Warp, 2010) before, an album that isn’t as great as many people say it is, but which makes Flying Lotus the main figure, and the one with the most personality (a director of the game, like Magic Johnson ) on a scene where rhythms get twisted as easily as Nacho Vidal twists nipples in a porno movie. And glitches are injected into it to create that delicious feeling of post-vertigo dizziness, in which the DNA of hip hop seems to be reconfigured from the molecules of LSD instead of the THC of cannabis. And the flow of important albums continues: The Glitch Mob and its “ Drink the Sea” (something sort of like The Bomb Squad of hip hop passed through IDM), Mono/Poly and “Paramatma”, the imminent “Nothing Else” from Lorn…
6. Minimal: New Life
Minimal: a word that is at times ambiguous, and other times very useful for identifying that type of techno and house that pursues the subatomic qualities of rhythm and the pale detail of textures that make up the surface of a track. Minimal: a word that we had started to exile from our vocabulary until “ Chicago” (Dial, 2010) by Efdemin arrived. Replace the emo bells of the first album with jazz chords and modify the progressive ambitions from before, compositions with a wide structural arch, with a lovely melody to top it off, all with a contention inside, a pale sound, toned-down rhythms, and almost dodecaphonic notation. And it’s still an album that gives you the shivers in spite of it all; it’s just that you have to make an effort to listen to the spaces between melodies and drums. What was really supposed to be minimal -the textural and aural exploration of techno-house, the economy of means to obtain the maximum effect- is achieved in this homage to the depth of classic house, with a trick lurking inside it. It is interesting, also, that “Chicago” coincides in time with the new albums from Ark (the freaky way: create melodies as if you were missing two fingers on each hand), Elektro Guzzi (deconstructive: they don’t use machines, only guitar, bass, and drum), and Reboot (very profound, like house submerged in the ocean). Yikes, minimal is lying in wait.
There is a motorik rhythm that never goes out. Trotting like an old nag, armoured, there is nobody who can alter its cadence, it beats with the same metronomic regularity that Fernando Alonso uses to make perfect turns on the Montecarlo track. Every so often, 70s krautrock comes back to reclaim its influence on present-day music, a subtle way of warning that those German visionaries like Neu!, Kraftwerk, and Can were decades ahead of their time. And it’s not a fossilised, documentary reappearance, like the latest compilation of Soul Jazz, “Deutsche Elektronische Musik”, but rather lively and unexpected. It could be expected that the cosmic revival that has filled the best minutes of recent disco music would return in the form of krautrock, but not that the motorik rhythm and undulating modular synthesisers would become lodged in the delicate IDM. The big surprise in “ DJ Kicks” from James Holden is how the cosmic takes on a new character in experimental music, breathing life into pop melodies and delicate electronic miniatures. And not only that: you can make out a sweet psychedelics, a new attempt at a musical flight towards the cosmos, in the productions of John Talabot ( “ Mathilda’s Dream”) and Gold Panda ( “You”), with an interesting nuance. This is the hypnagogic nuance, which is to say that more than the direct, frontal influence of cosmic music, there is a series of new songs, somewhere between trance, disco, and indietronic, that sound as if they were imagining (in a musing, almost lethargic way) a type of psychedelics that they have never known directly, but only through confused explanations. If this moves ahead in this direction, the future could not be more promising.