Digital/Divide is a monthly column devoted to any and all genres and subgenres in the great big beautiful world of electronic and dance music.
From the dance punk revival of the early 2000s onwards, the definitions of where rock ends and electronic music begins have stayed blurry. At first, the presence of a band of players made it somewhat easier to distinguish between the two, though sonically it proved more and more challenging to measure the disco distance between Chk Chk Chk (!!!) and Chromeo.
The shift from lo-fi home recordings by guitar strumming recluses to the advent of bedroom pop and its greater emphasis on keys and software complicated matters even further, with young introverted auteurs increasingly making their art with the aid of laptops. In this brave new world where the term “indie” means nothing, everything, and, on occasion, something, albums come out almost every week that defy definition without intending to do so. It has gotten so lawless that even looking at the label that put out a given record bears little indication of the contents.
Streaming eliminated the risk-taking component that record store shopping presented consumers searching for more than just what the radio or MTV implored them to listen to, yet the sheer number of accessible options now makes the once finite practice of showrooming into an endless browse. You can spend a minute or so sampling the wares in your underpants, sizing it up as for you or not for you and then move on.
None of the above helps an act like Weval, a Dutch duo signed to one of Germany’s biggest techno imprints that just so happens not to make techno. The music that Harm Coolen and Merijn Scholte Albers do produce might qualify as downtempo, were that term not completely outmoded and meaningless in 2019 terms. Throughout The Weight [Kompakt], they explore their interests and sound design at a comparatively more leisurely pace than most of their labelmates.
What to make of the jazzy shuffle of “Someday,” its groovy beat interrupted by squelches, moans, and prolonged bass drops! Or take “Heaven Listen,” a glammy schaffel with carnival carousel stabs and effects-saturated hooks. Fans of Air or Radiohead might find something to hold onto here and there, but Weval aren’t doing what others have done before. They can be sweet, letting the watery droplets and Boards Of Canada type warble of “Silence On The Wall” lull one into false security. But then, Weval can also unexpectedly provoke. A distorted and vocoded voice invites listeners to “Same Little Thing,” hinting at the promise of a conventional song structure. It soon descends into muted breakbeat splices and error feedback, reverting back eventually only to pull the trick again just a little differently.
The liberation behind their project shows through on just about every track, somehow congealing into a cohesive full-length despite Weval’s best efforts. Ultimately, The Weight goes down like psychotropic drugs in ways techno albums only dream of accomplishing, the sort of gratifyingly disorienting listen worth tuning in and dropping out to again and again.
Eric Copeland: Trogg Modal, Vol. 2 (DFA)
Though he made his name flicking boogers from the fringes of millennial indie rock with Black Dice, Eric Copeland’s relatively more recent embrace of club music has proven a vital part of his overall experimental artistry. This second installment in what I pray will be a long-lasting series of lo-fi electronic dance collections provides those weary of conventions and templates something inherently and unabashedly odd. Call it outsider techno or dilapidated house or whatever dumb label helps you make sense of the delightfully dubby video game muckabout “High Score Zed” or the thudding discount robot rock of “Pay Off.” Acidic and aerated, “BS Dropout” and “United Banana” hew closer to the early futurist Detroit spirit that made all this possible. While purists or humorless types may shrug off Trogg Modal, Vol 2. as mischief for mischief’s sake, they’re missing out on tons of fun and quite a few great grooves
DMX Krew: Glad To Be Sad (Hypercolour)
A seasoned electronic music practitioner for the past 25 years, Edward Upton has largely been hailed for his interest in the broader genre’s past more so than the fleeting trendiness of its present. Still, with a discography as deep and continuing as his, he deserves consideration outside of this oversimplified and narrow narrative. Sure, there’s something distinctly retro about the squiggly 303 basslines and drifting synth accents of “Dark Moon,” one of several highlights off his latest full-length for the London-based Hypercolour. Yet Glad To Be Sad is a mature record, a melodious reflection of Upton’s growth as an artist and his dedication to the sounds most dear to his ears. “Mr10stery” layers gleefully bouncy harmonies to make a precarious yet blissful end result while the surprise entry of lush pads help close out the crunchy breaks of “Home Made Drum Machine Part 2.” A funky albeit nerdy bit of late ’70s style jazz fusion, the finale “Winter Dance” bobs along merrily, its solo keyboard riffs an absolute joy.
Foodman: ODOODO (Mad Decent)
James Van Der Beek cosplay notwithstanding, Diplo remains one of the few figures with power in electronic dance music to actively provide a forum to sounds coming out of places other than Berlin, London or New York. Case in point, his Mad Decent imprint stays worth watching with records like this one from Japanese laptop artist Takahide Higuchi. Apparently inspired by the otherwise ordinary places and things he encounters daily in Nagoya, tracks like “Fue” and the off-kilter “Moyashi Kids” anthropomorphize the mundane — respectively flutes and mung bean sprouts. Video game-style quirky bleeps and glitchy DJ splices make “Otokogi” a delightful footwork-reminiscent romp, while “246” with Tokyo producer Ryuw thoroughly revises and upends existing trap EDM templates. “Colosseum” boings like Kraftwerk and rushes like old Hollywood. Demonstrating little regard for club conformity, Foodman instead gets away with so much bedroom braindance mischief in such a short time here.
Various Artists: Berghain 09 (Ostgut Ton)
From the start of this, the latest set bearing the shadowy Berlin hotspot’s imprimatur, something feels off. For this companion volume to a freely streaming SoundCloud mix, avant garde pioneer Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s disembodied voice repeats an opening mantra, less preparing listeners for the dark and noisy electronic sounds to follow than warning them. From there, resident Dominick Fernow puts forth a techno vision that seeks to disorient, with the aid of compelling cuts by Alberich, Ron Morelli and more. No surprises here, as one should expect nothing less than total war from the guy behind Prurient and Vatican Shadow, but he delivers these DJ tools gladly. The former of these two monikers makes a showing late in this concise compilation, arriving in tandem with the Downwards supergroup Ugandan Methods for the gristly “Venom Timetables.” From the fractures and fissures of Godflesh frontman JK Flesh’s “Decontrol” to a quartet of diabolical Merzbow loops, Fernow shows his reverence for and knowledge of industrial and techno’s shared DNA.