How to sum up a year so rich, fast and complex as this 2010? There is only one option: with patience, method and discipline. At PlayGround we are now beginning a trip to the heart of this year, just when it’s about to end and everything (or almost everything) is wrapped up. A marathon of lists and overviews that starts with the fifteen phenomena that have defined the unfolding of this year, the trend topics –following Twitter’s terminology– that have been at the top of the sidebar of the musical actuality that interests us. These are our keys to the understanding of the past twelve months
15. Whispers at dawn
Records like the balmy “Teen Dream” by Beach House, on which slowness and dreaminess rule, reinforce the theory that since the eighties –to set the starting point for dream-pop at the moment Cocteau Twins surfaced, closely followed by the shoegaze explosion– an underground continuum has been growing of songs wrapped in steam and angelical beauty. Certainly, we could go further back in time, but “Teen Dream”, as the paradigm of a dream-pop scene that has had more outstanding moments –from “Vs. Mankind” by High Places to the second album of School Of Seven Bells or (why not?) the Baths debut– that sound like whispers at dawn.
It was June and July and the world was looking at South-Africa. The World Championship Football was being played on African soil for the first time ever and the experience was a success –most of all for the Spanish team, who took the trophy playing against a team of Dutch karate kids–, but it wasn’t only because of football that South-Africa was the centre of attention. Neither was that annoying “Waka Waka”. It was because the growing popularity of the local electronic rhythms –beyond kwaito–, a tendency started by DJ Mujava which this year has gone further with the compilation “Shangaan Electro” (Honest Jon’s). And what about Die Antwoord and their zef rap, the best joke of 2010.
Hiding is hip again. Not only in techno, where anonymity has been common for ages – reactivated in the last couple of seasons–, but also in neighbouring scenes. In dubstep and it’s varieties only the mysterious Burial ran from the spotlight, who promised a new album we’re still waiting for. But this year new masked (or almost) projects have surfaced, such as SBTRTK, Becoming Real, Deadboy, Jacques Greene and the always exaggerating Zomby. About some of these we already know certain facts –the true identity of Greene hasn’t been revealed yet; we’ll have to wait–, as rumours and information spread rapidly. In house there have been revelations, too: we have know for quite some time that Oni Ayhun is The Knife’s Olaf Dreijer, and to a greater or lesser degree, via New Musical Express or indiscretions, we now know that the man hiding behind the name John Talabot is none other than Oriol Riverola, alias D.a.r.y.l.
Oppenheimer Analysis - Radiance
11. Hip hop goes indie Kanye West collaborates with Bon Iver. The Roots do the same with Joanna Newsom. The Chiddy Bang sample Sufjan Stevens. Jay-Z likes Grizzly Bear and is shouting it from the rooftops. Sage Francis starts up a posse of indie luminaries in order to record an album, “Li(f)e”, that turns out to be a disappointment but has is born out of fascination for the college scene and white bourgeois culture of some part of the hip-hop scene. It’s not that this is a new phenomenon, as labels like Anticon already played around with influences as diverse as Pavement and Anti-Pop Consortium, but this year it has been taken to the black music mainstream for real. It’s a connection that has still got much to give. At least the first metres of the path have been beaten.The Roots feat. Joanna Newsom –Right On
10. Mike Oldfield
Every year a mummy of prog-rock is resurrected, whether by influence or secret admiration. Two years ago it was Jarre, last year Parsons. Oldfield, the real one, hasn’t returned yet, as far as we know: he remains in his house on Ibiza, doing what he likes most –nothing and riding horses–, but you can already smell his breath on the distant breeze. This year he has been one of the most cited artists without premeditation –we heard him in the company of Jon Anderson in the intro of “Dark Fantasy”, when Kanye West samples a vocal pinch of “In High Places”, and he’s also referred to in guitar solos on records by Emeralds, Sufjan Stevens, Solar Bears and VHS Head–, but even in the reissue section there should be a special mention for the great reissues of“Hergest Ridge” and “Ommadawn”, both in deluxe editions.
With all the sources of disco music dried up –both the synthetic European style and the soulful version with celestial strings–, the retro dance scene has taken a break from the boogie revival, before finally undertaking the recovery of acid house and early rave music–although Shit Robot has gone ahead and done his homework with “From The Cradle To The Rave”. And so the vocoders have returned, the mirrored glasses, the ghetto-funk, the fun synthesisers and the warm groove between the ones in wonky, Detroit techno and Balearic: check the vinyls by Onra, Maxmillion Dunbar and Space Dimension Controller and you’ll see that the influence of boogie goes even beyond the in-breeding circuits of revival (read: DâM-FunK). By the way, with boogie comes the imminent resurrection of the Prince legacy. The man from Minneapolis doesn’t make quite the same impact as he used to, no matter how many albums he releases, but his heirs are becoming stronger every day. Can anybody deny the fact that The-Dream has released an aural delight this year with “Love King”?
8. VHS CultureThey stopped making the Walkman and the Technics SL-1200 model. In the middle of the digital age, the analogue techniques that ruled over twenty years ago are on the road to extinction. And yet, on the experimental scene a marginal circuit has started that has sworn their loyalty to the magnetic tape in its cassette form –from the tape releases on the Type label to the issues on Mordant Music, Arbor and Digitalis– and also its domestic video form, most ostentatious. Not only is it fashionable to sample sounds from old tapes –like on the VHS Head album released on Skam, “Trademark Ribbons Of Gold”–, recreating the blurry and discoloured texture in home-made video clips is, as well, like the videos of Oneohtrix Point Never or Com Truise.
VHS Head – Sunset Everett
7. Girl groups
Bethany Cosentino, the tattooed soul of Best Coast who loves her cat and is looking for a boyfriend, has turned into one of the improbable heroines of 2010. Not only did she place the American west coast back at the front, after many years of New York domination in the indie arena –a tendency followed by Wavves and other beach-punk and surf-punk bands, her grungy songs have made indie rock prevail over soft and psychedelic music. Right behind her, other women have set the bar high, some with scandalous guitars –the New York hipster Marnie Stern–, others with sighs and subtleties from the 4AD catalogue – Warpaint– and others with lace veils and black candles, namely Zola Jesus. And then there is that girl that plays the harp. What’s her name again?
6. Pop lost in thought
It’s not dream-pop, it’s hypnagogia. Different things. Hypnagogia doesn’t necessarily pursue the heavenly states of art but searches for the worlds lying under the eyelids. It sleepwalks through the present, lost in thought, with the slip of someone thrown of their guard. What we knew as chillwave last year, an idealised return to happy and summery childhood –now with Teen Daze, Toro Y Moi and Washed Out as the spearheads–, has turned into a profound Proustian regression of great technic and conceptual complexity. From the eighties puzzles of Gary War and James Ferraro to the fragility of Julian Lynch, from the disco shamanity of D’Eon to the prog mysticism of Gonjasufi, from the ghostly R&B of How To Dress Well, the most advanced pop of the season has always come with a toxic aura of unreality.
5. The cosmic batallion
Parallel to the state of grace of pop hypnagogia, the cosmic scene that started a while back as a disco revival, has now established itself in its most retro, seventies and prog sense. With the synthesiser heroes as the new poster boys –the Klaus Schulze adoration is mandatory–, has spread the modular synthesis, the buying of vintage synths on eBay, the analogue and tactile way of working and the constant citing of and tributes to Kraut rock like a plague. Kraut rock is always a trend topic –from the “Deutsche Elektronische Musik” compilation on Soul Jazz to Prins Thomas’ album–, but the popularisation of the esoteric and new age way of gliding music is even more so. Granted, with an experimental aplomb that partly moves away from yoga and hippie-ism: “Returnal” ( Oneohtrix Point Never) is almost a generational record, and the Emeralds trio has invaded the market with a good album (“Does It Look Like I’m Here?”, also on Editions Mego) and dozens of side projects. Without forgetting Dylan Ettinger, René Hell, Brother Raven and so many other outlaws of the new age and Moog alchemists.
Oneohtrix Point Never – Where Does Time Go
4. JukeIn Chicago, the ghetto has taken over the controls once again. While the house scene has been stuck for years without renewing itself, a generation of youngsters has created a bubble that we know as juke, which really is the renovation of booty-house or ghetto-tech: electro pastiche, gangsta rap and accelerated house, only now the features are slightly different. The electro is still there, only it’s altered with electric shocks by the productions of southern rap, while the house has been modified in a sped-up version of garage, with crushed voices and constant variations in tempo. Juke is there purely for the footwork parties –dance competitions that are won by those who manage to interlace their legs the fastest without falling over–, and has made involuntary heroes of producers like DJ Nate, DJ Rashad and DJ Roc. Next year it might not exist anymore, but oh, how we have laughed.
Dj Nate – Poetry
3. Dead producers, years later DJ Screw died in 2000. He was an unknown producer. Today he is considered one of the most influential artists of the past decade: his screw & chop technique –consisting of slowing down the cadence of hip-hop in order to achieve an effect of dragging and comatose sound– hasn’t only become popular over the years in southern hip-hop, it has this year reached white music as another element of witch house and in a wave of neo-screw (Lone Wolf, Expressing Yo-Yo Dieting) which is some of the most hallucinating and bizarre music around. J.Dilla died in 2006 as a cult producer who was denied his singularity as a beatmaker from different fronts. Since then, his unreleased and post-mortem body of work hasn’t only expanded, his influence couldn’t be more decisive in the development of the post-wonky scene, that abstract kind of hip-hop that, from Los Angeles to Glasgow and Paris –from Flying Lotus, TOKiMONSTA and Teebs to The Blessings or Fulgeance– has resurrected the most extra-terrestrial cadence of the groove.
DJ Screw – It Don’t Stop
Dubstep has entered it’s year of truth. The Magnetic Man album has climbed the charts like Spiderman up a skyscraper and the stars of the genre have conquered the mainstream with trancey anthems and rave nostalgia as their weapons of choice. But dubstep has brought radioactivity, and the mutations it has suffered go way beyond: there is the emotional variety –from James Blake, who will be a star, to Mount Kimbie–, there is the consolidation of UK Funky as the way of development towards house –magnificent album by Roska, glorious singles and remixes by DVA–, and there is the porous solution of Untold and Ramadanman. But dubstep deforms, disintegrates, dislocates, and as a 2010 UFO we have “North” (Darkstar), which sounds like the wanted and illogical link between Radiohead and Burial. Will there be anything left for 2011? Bearing in mind the creativity of the scene, I’m sure there will be.
1. Witch House
In times of darkness, the dark side, the esoteric and magic bloom. In this galloping crisis, seen by some as the end of western civilisation as we know it –created by a zoological imbalance, the total loss of values and exhaustion of natural resources–, one style has made the invisible visible again. It’s music of witches and mystics, of sorcery and words in weird languages, of shadows and spiritual presences. Witch house is a strange twist of the dreamy universe of pop –some people see shoegaze as a decisive aesthetic factor–, but if there is fog, it’s never pleasant. The atmosphered created by bands like Salem are asphyxiating –with elements of southern hip-hop and industrial music–, and in the case of artists like Balam Acab there are ties with dubstep and hypnagogia. It’s not hypnosis, it’s possession. In witch house’s unexpected neo-gothic revival, there is always mist and night, a new moon and lit candles, human remains and typography with triangular forms and pagan symbols. This year, nothing has been more eccentric.
Salem – Frost