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.
Despite my best efforts as the proprietor of this regularly appearing curatorial selection of electronic curiosities, dance music still reigns supreme. When most people venture out into clubland, the last thing they want to hear is the neo-classical abstractions of Oneohtrix Point Never or the spasmodic Cronenbergian outbursts of Iglooghost, both of which I absolutely adore. Generally, folks go out dancing because they wanna dance, and the sort of reliable rhythms that fulfill such straightforward desires have less to do with the cerebral than the primal. Conversely, Digital/Divide typically favors the armchair listen over the nightclub experience, primarily because I did my time in American clubland and nowadays prefer to sleep the night away.
As someone who formerly raved in semi-legal spaces, like porn theaters and children’s museums, and still brags to new friends of having once drank Richie Hawtin’s booze in the elevated booth at the now-closed nightlife institution The Limelight, it’s easy to convey cynicism at the deeply corporatized state of modern dance. Templated into existence, EDM outgrew roofs and walls and the moon itself to become every music festival-goer’s middlebrow midday reprieve from indie rockers and rappers shouting over recordings of their own voice. Billboard’s electronic charts largely consist of a motley crew of industry plants, pop singer placements and well-groomed dudes that look as though born on third base.
That said, the merits of a propulsive foray into the promise of a peak time set still has its charms. And few record labels capture what’s so damn good about clubbing as Anjunadeep. The London-based imprint steadily pumps out prime house music of the deep/electro/tech/progressive variety, mostly feelgood stuff that lifts the spirits as it works the hindquarters. It’s also one of the only outlets that takes the album format seriously, allowing its artists to present something more than slapdash compilations or cynical playlists of pandering would-be singles.
Its latest full-length offering comes from Yotto, a Finnish DJ/producer with a decent number of releases there since 2015. The 13 tracks that comprise Hyperfall (Anjunadeep) carry an unsubtle sentimentality along with them, thematically infusing the record with emotional heft. Named for his suburban hometown, “Kantu” arouses with youthful danger, with programmed bell sounds expressing urgency amid bassy swells. A similar drama creeps into “Turn It Around,” which starts out vaguely hopeful before a fresh melody provides further clarity. “Odd One Out” sparkles with all the hallmarks of prime performing tech-house, while “Walls” dips into synthpop sensationalism as it grows into an unabashed new wave revival.
While a handful of guests do appear, the album doesn’t abuse the privilege like so many of his pop-purveying peers. Yotto recruits his literal brother CAPS for the lachrymose blue-eyed soul of “Epilogue” and taps Icelandic singer Margrét Rán Magnúsdóttir to carry the exultant “The One You Left Behind” into the winter sun. Sønin and Laudic join in for the Underworld-esque “Hear Me Out,” bubbling despite its apparent melancholy.
Hiro Kone: Pure Expenditure (Dais)
The industrial boom in techno of recent years has yielded a lot of characteristically abrasive and jarring works. One downside, however, is that it too frequently oversimplifies the sonic diversity of its musical tradition. From the days of Throbbing Gristle onward, there were numerous acts who chose not to merely plumb the darkness for more darkness. Rather, they shone light on those places and spaces to produce colorful yet authentic interpretations of their visions that stayed within the broad genre remit. Hiro Kone operates in that particular space, offering a squirmy update with connective tissue to Coil and the Ant-Zen Records catalog. Pure Expenditure crackles from start to finish, a lush and layed masterpiece that unveils its secrets with an artistic guile. “Scotch Yoke” glistens as much as it groans; “Disoccupation Of The Sphere” deceives with minimalism while gradually pulling back the veil. A veteran of industrial’s most venerated nooks and crannies, poet/chanteuse Little Annie emerges from her latest chrysalis to blow minds on “Outside The Axiom.”
Jlin: Autobiography (Planet Mu)
Ever since 2015’s Dark Energy demonstrated footwork’s potential outside of the dancefloor, all eyes have been on this Indiana-based producer. Last year’s stellar Black Origami reinforced her experimental bonafides as it nudged her chosen genre jumping-off point into bold new terrain. With this project, the soundtrack to a modern dance performance choreographed by Wayne McGregor, the clubwise context of her prior work takes a back seat as she shows off both stunning sound design and masterful composition. From the lilt and clatter of “Carbon 12” to the organic soundscapes of “Anamnesis (Pts. 1 & 2)”, her controlled execution of complexity and, at times, even disarray is something to marvel at. Sample-heavy,“The Abyss Of Doubt” disorients as it mechanically whirrs, while “Kundalini” faithfully revisits Jlin’s spiritual interests with sitar echoes. And though listeners may be at a loss without the corresponding visuals and human gyrations, the evocative hour-long Autobiography nonetheless conjures up imagery in the mind. Living up to their titles, “Mutation” and “Unorthodox Elements” stutter and grind as they evoke Cabaret Voltaire and ballet at the same time.
Jumping Back Slash: Fun (self-released)
A U.K. transplant living in South Africa for some time now, Jumping Back Slash has oft been a strong proponent and practitioner of his adopted country’s house music variants respectively known as gqom and kwaito. Even if the regional nuances and subtleties inherent in this music prove more or less indistinguishable to anglophile ears, parts of his latest project deserve to draw fresh listeners into the sounds of Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg. “My Dagga Tragedies” thumps away as its absolutely gorgeous synth leads beg for extension over an ooey gooey bassline, while likeminded banger “I Keep Waiting” perpetuates that euphoric yearning. Tension reigns over “On A Wire, Suspended,” which boasts certain cinematic qualities. Not content to stick to any given subgenre, JBS’ impish nature comes barrelling through on the heavy metal skronk of “Tinfoil,” a scarce minute of digital hardcore punk, and in the drones and warbles of “Eating Dragonfruit With My Wife.” Fun? Indeed.
Niagara: Apologia (Principe Discos)
This ain’t no ordinary Principe record. Sure, the Portuguese label behind kuduro futurists Dj Firmeza and DJ Marfox regularly showcases the scene’s heterogeneity of sound, but Apologia is different. A weird little loop augmented by the voices of disembodied sprites, opener “França” hardly resembles the vibrations emanating from Lisbon’s outskirts. Niagara reveal their (His? Her? Its? Ah, whatever!) true form as the label’s in-house electronic pranksters, drooling all over the furniture and mocking the drapes. Whether or not this debut album intends to prompt laughter or not, the inevitability of smirking provides a rather comforting consistency through its worthwhile duration. The misleadingly titled “6:30” stretches an acidic flatulence over the seven-minute mark, while “Damasco” toys with listeners as it fumbles with its melody in maddening real time. Comparatively more serious sounding tracks like “Cabo Verde” and “2042” allude to the clubbier styles this imprint is known for. Still, beats matter less here than they usually do. Once you accept that, Apologia earns forgiveness in short order.