Tag Archives: electronic

Can't-miss events at DC's Forward Festival

Today marks the start of the Forward Festival, DC’s own five-day celebration of electronic music, art, and culture. Now in its fifth year, Forward’s lineup is arguably its best yet, with wide-ranging events staged in venues across the city. Not just a music festival, Forward also features educational panels, workshops, and film screenings. If you bought a festival pass and plan to devote the rest of the week to Forward, you’re in for a treat. But what about those dabbling in the festival? Here are my picks for Forward’s standout events.


Even though the existence of monthly Moombahton Massives has lessened their sense of urgency, the party is still an essential part of DC’s homegrown genre. The 14th (!) edition of MM brings, as usual, Nadastrom and Sabo alongside Toronto’s Slowed crew, Torro Torro and Lucie Tic.


While U Hall keeps the party going with techno pioneer Jeff Mills, my money is on something different, as Distal and DFRNT perform at Patty Boom Boom. Nothing says “forward” more than future bass DJs taking over a venue whose soundsystem usually pumps out reggae and dancehall.


Predictably, my pick for Forward’s best showcase isn’t house or techno, but bass. Head over to the Warehouse Loft for the type of lineup rarely seen in DC, including Freq Nasty, Silkie, B. Bravo, and the (underbilled) Jacques Greene. The $30 ticket is more than justified by the five rooms of music, live art, and dancers – both aerial and with fire, and the fun goes until 5am.


Finally, it’s block party season! Join the Forward family at a private lot for a free party that features a host of DC’s up-and-coming DJs.


If you’re still standing on Sunday night, keep an eye on Meltdown. It’s next to the Rock and Roll Hotel, the lineup is a closely guarded secret, and it’s free. As the Facebook event says, “Only the strong survive.”

Fatima Al Qadiri vs. the World

Fatima Al Qadiri is a child of the world. Born in Senegal and raised in Kuwait, the musician and artist globe-trotted for years before ending up in, where else, Brooklyn. Her global background is inseparable from her work, which spans several media. Her music confronts the conservatism she faced during her youth through reconstruction and reinterpretation. As a writer and photographer, she calls attention to issues of gender, sexuality and identity in the Arab world and beyond.

This fall, Al Qadiri has released two highly anticipated EPs. Under the pseudonym Ayshay (Arabic for “whatever”), she released WARN-U on label-of-the-year Tri Angle Records. WARN-U is an homage to the religious chants of Islam, comprised entirely of shifted and stretched samples of Al Qadiri’s voice. It is otherworldly and meditative, a tone poem both sacred and profane. And rather than handing over remix duties to a glut of producers, LA bass music duo Nguzunguzu animate the trio of songs with a breakbeat laden megamix. Similarly, Al Qadiri’s Muslim Trance Mini-Mix for Dis magazine (where she pens a column on obscure global pop) samples Sunni and Shia acappellas into an ecstatic mix.

Her latest effort, Genre-Specific Experience, is exactly that: instead of taking on religious chanting, each song is a recreation of a dance music sub-genres, with the same haunting quality of WARN-U and a distinct future bass sensibility. The first and foremost instrument on the EP is the steel drum, from the looping melody of the syrupy boom-bap of “Hip Hop Spa” to the shimmering tones of “D-Medley.” “How Can I Resis You” and “Corpcore” tackle a genre on the decline (dubstep) and one on the rise (juke), respectively. The biggest surprise is “Vatican Vibes,” which starts in a church and ends in a Pure Moods rave of ‘90s Gregorian trance.

Not just an album, Genre-Specific Experience is also a collection of collaborative music videos. The corresponding videos challenge the notions of genres and tropes in the same way her music does. The clip for “Vatican Vibes” is Catholicism as 3D video game experience; the one for “Hip Hop Spa” is a meditation on the solitary confinement of spa treatment versus that of incarceration, all under a layer of hip hop glamor.

Fatima Al Qadiri is a modern day Renaissance woman. From music and photography to fashion and the written word, her artistic vision is like Visa: it’s everywhere you want to be.

Review: Balam Acab – Wander/Wonder

Balam AcabWander/Wonder (2011) [Tri Angle] // Grade: A+

When Balam Acab released See Birds last year, simple math grouped him with the burgeoning witch house scene. There was the vaguely satanic name (actually, Balam Acab is a Mayan demigod), a dearth of information about the artist, and – most importantly – reverberating, dragged out beats. A deeper listening of See Birds raised questions about this assumption; Wander/Wonder blows it out of the water.

Water, it turns out, dominates any conversation of Wander/Wonder. As on See Birds, it is always gurgling, bubbling, or washing up against the shore. But here, some of it has evaporated: now, there’s an even greater focus on atmospherics. Throughout the record, Balam Acab (20-year old student Alec Koone) crafts songs with layers upon layers of ambience, building a sonic/kinetic energy, only to stop on a dime and cherish the empty space.

That approach to songwriting is evident from the start, on the appropriately titled “Welcome.” Layers of mechanical and organic samples, faint echoes, and Gregorian chant are percussive despite only hints of a drum beat. Out of nowhere, the song opens into a sweeping, orchestral turn, as if a curtain has been pulled back. While it’s the same layers as before, the tone is reversed – and only for a tantalizing moment, before moving on to the next composition.

Wander/Wonder is also a meditation on mainstream music, notably hip-hop and R&B. While others reach for a Cassie lyric or an Brandy chorus, Balam Acab is milling the smallest bits of melody for what they represent sonically, not nostalgically. Whether it’s hip-hop beats transmitted over a fuzzy AM radio or an R&B lyric pitch-shifted into unrecognizable oblivion, Balam Acab is clearly influenced by his forebearers, yet with no reverence paid to “how things are done.” As the album progresses, the ghostly vocals come into focus. Whereas the phonemes and gestures of “Apart” and “Motion” shade – rather than color – the songs, the echoing lyrics of “Expect” are almost decipherable behind the speaker-rupturing bass and a crescendo of violins.

Balam Acab does lovelorn romanticism better than his bedroom producer contemporaries, and unnerving and creepy better than his witch house ones. The most moving song on the record, “Oh Why,” is one of its most gentle. But while it’s melody is simple, it’s construction is not: he samples a skipping record, what sounds like a rain stick, the flutter of a bird’s wings, and some uneasy dissonance for a soundscape that is marked by juxtaposition. The record closes, ironically, with the song with the most in common with witch house. On “Fragile Hope,” water drips like plucked guitar strings, and ominous steps in the sand and uneasy breathing infuse the song with a sense of paranoia. A muffled, rolling drumbeat builds and builds until it’s suddenly gone; there’s a vocal in the distance, but it’s too late. Balam Acab has wandered elsewhere.

Originally posted on the Mishka Bloglin.

Review: Toddla T – Watch Me Dance

Toddla TWatch Me Dance (2011) [Ninja Tune] // Grade: B-

While he and his contemporaries make up the flourishing UK dance scene, Toddla T’s latest album reminds me of another of his countrymen: Mark Ronson. Ronson’s 2003 debut Here Comes the Fuzz was a genre-hopping showcase of his production skills, with a star-studded guest list of rappers and R&B singers, that failed to coalesce despite a few standout tracks. Replace Ronson’s taste in hip-hop with Toddla’s dancehall prowess, and Watch Me Dance feels like the spiritual successor to Here Comes the Fuzz, especially since its liner notes read like a Who’s Who of UK vocal talent.

Watch Me Dance owes less to Jamaica than Toddla’s 2009 album Skanky Skanky, but Caribbean riddims still make up about half of the disc. Wobbly bashment anthems like “Badman Flu” and “Cruise Control” benefit from plenty of hyped-up breaks and divebombing bass. And when Toddla pulls his foot off the gas, you get the political dancehall of “Streets So Warm” and reggae both summery (“Lovely Girl”) and soulful (“Fly”). On these songs, he’s right in his wheelhouse.

However, when he moves outside of his comfort zone, the results aren’t as even. The title track is warmed-over disco-funk, and “Body Good” sounds like a Kingston-kissed Neptunes production. Sometimes, colliding influences distract from the song. “Cherry Picking” is essentially 90s dance-pop (which isn’t a bad thing) but it’s littered with bleeps and sirens that feel out of place. Elsewhere, such genre mash-ups feel more organic: “Do It Your Way,” featuring Terri Walker, saunters like classic soul before a woofer-ratting bass break.

“Take It Back,” Toddla’s tribute to pirate radio and ol’ school ‘ardcore, is the album’s highest point by a kilometer or two. With ravey piano loops, an infectious hook by Shola Ama and a grimey verse from J2K, it’s very nostalgic but also very in vogue. At just over three minutes, it’s a bit short, and listeners will find themselves taking it back to the beginning ad nauseam.

Here Comes the Fuzz was a commercial flop and suffered from mediocre reviews – neither of which prevented Ronson from dominating the aughts with his brand of 60s soul throwbacks. Toddla T is already further along than his predecessor, what with his gigs at BBC Radio 1 and Fabric, so this uneven album shouldn’t hinder his career. As Ronson did before him, Toddla T uses Watch Me Dance to prove himself as a versatile producer who makes the most of a collaboration, no matter the genre.

Originally posted on the Mishka Bloglin.

DC Duos: Starks and Nacey

For a few years, the best place to catch a DJ set in DC wasn’t a warehouse club like Fur, or a posh K Street joint, or one of the dozen Adams Morgan joints promising cheap drinks and cheaper women. It was at the far end of U Street, on the upstairs dance floor of DC9, on a stage graced by underground rock bands during the week, behind a well-worn loveseat of unknown origin.

While the club still hosts its open bar, indie-dance party Liberation, its highpoint as a dance club was when first Saturdays belonged to KIDS and last Saturdays belonged to Nouveau Riche. Whether it was throwback jams at KIDS or the anything-goes atmosphere of Nouveau Riche, there was a constant: Starks and Nacey.

Steve Starks (né Bock) and Nacey (aka Andrew Wallace) grew up in the nearby bedroom community of Columbia, MD. Friends since high school, they returned to DC area after college. At that point, Starks had DJed at the University of Maryland, College Park and Nacey had massaged a handful of hip-hop tracks under the moniker Enaisee, but things didn’t come together until they joined up with party starter Gavin Holland for Nouveau Riche in 2006.

And while Starks and Nacey are some of the most skilled DJs in a city with more selectors than partiers, their true talent – and what portends best for continued success – is behind the boards. Their shared palette draws heavily from classic funk breaks, Baltimore club, and Southern hip-hop, all with plenty of bass. But as a painter uses the same colors to paint both a sunrise and a sunset, Starks and Nacey have each carved out their own signature sounds.

2009 saw the release of their self-released, self-titled EP. A true crate digger, Nacey’s samples ranged from the Emotions on the funky “Lose Your Love” to “International Player’s Anthem” on the gun-cocking “Money on the Dressa.” For his part, Starks ranged from grooving electro (“Don’t Let Me Go”) to pure Bmore (“You Don’t Want None”). The duo’s first official EP, last year’s TRO/Lydia (T&A Records), featured Starks experimenting with new sounds: big room electro on “TRO” and Latin house on “Lydia.”

Since then, Starks’ productions have continued further down the club tech rabbit hole. “Git Em” (also on T&A) has more bass than most dubstep tracks and a Baltimore beat like a blast from Omar’s shotgun; its EP mate “Witness” is the perfect track for when those late Saturday nights turn into Sunday mornings.

The finest moment in Nacey’s young career came with his remix of La Roux’s “Bulletproof.” With the mournful violin of Matt Hemerlein, Nacey’s remix is stark and dramatic, lovelorn in a way the original fails to be. One of DC’s secret weapons was unveiled to the world, as the track led off the Major Lazor / La Roux collaboration Lazerproof.

Nacey’s remixes, whether a subtle refix or a complete makeover, are organic extensions of the original, never du jour stylings. As with “Bulletproof,” he’s given new life to M.I.A.’s “Steppin’ Up,” re-purposing Maya’s vocal for a smooth bass jam that ignores the original’s industrial noise machine. He even did the unthinkable – remixing an Outkast track! – and infused “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” into warm, funky house. Yet the remix that I always return to is his Miami bass take on Paper Route Gangsterz’ “Hood Celebrity.”

[wpaudio url=”https://postcultural.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Paper_Route_Gangsterz-Hood_Celebrity_Nacey_in_Miami_Remix.mp3″ text=”Paper Route Gangsterz – Hood Celebrity (Nacey in Miami Remix)” dl=1]

Despite all their collaboration, Starks and Nacey are rarely credited together. While they’ve remixed tunes by Rampage & Nader and Old Money, their best official team-up combines their deep house leanings with their love of the Dirty South. The rhythm on “The Flip” and its “I’m known for the flip of that cocaína” lyric make this one addictive.

Starks and Nacey would have lost their DC DJ memberships if they didn’t touch the city’s finest export, moombahton. In keeping with their own styles, Nacey flipped A Tribe Called Quest into 108 G-funk on “Doin’ It.” Meanwhile, Starks’ “Get Fr33ky in tha Club” is a drum-heavy moombahton anthem, and headlines his upcoming moombahton EP.

Starks is also busy preparing his next EP for T&A, which promises to pick up where “Git Em” left off, if “Problem” is any indication. Only Steve Starks can take a Cardigans sample and craft something so fierce.

Nacey’s next musical endeavor is a bit of a departure for someone who has built his name spinning hip-hop, club, and electro for eager club kids. He’s currently putting the final touches on an EP with DC vocalist Misun. The singer has the soulful, smokey voice of Adele (without the histrionics), and as he’s done with those remixes of La Roux and M.I.A., Nacey’s instrumentals key in on a song’s essence and never let it go. The recently released “July” is a bouncy summer jam, updating funky disco hallmarks without falling into pastiche.

Drinking at DC9 is still a lot of fun, but dancing there isn’t quite the same. After two years, KIDS ended this summer. Last April, Nouveau Riche took the next logical step and moved down the street, where the crew turns U Street Music Hall into a rave every second Saturday. The location may change, but Starks and Nacey are sure to be there, rocking the party.

Starks and Nacey headline a Moombahton Massive pregame at the Looking Glass on Wednesday. Next up at U Hall: Nacey joins Craze on August 20, Steve Starks plays a very special set on September 8 and the Nouveau Riche gang does it all again on September 10.

BONUS: Nacey’s remix of Kingdom’s latest “Take Me” just dropped, and it’s a killer. With a beat somewhere between club and house, Naomi Allen’s vocals slink over a “Show Me Love”-esque bassline. And watch out for those strings!

EP Roundup: Hudson Mohawke / Dark Sky / Hard Ass Sessions VI

Hudson MohawkeSatin Panthers (Warp)

Hudson Mohawke’s first release since his seminal 2009 album Butter is a bit uneven, teasing for a few songs before delivering on its lofty expectations. “Octan” shimmers but doesn’t really go anywhere, and the synth line on “Cbat” is a little too squeaky, distracting from the future hop beat.

Then, finally, there’s the type of orchestral future bass that HudMo practically invented. “All Your Love” features a big R&B melody, thunderous drums, and tinkling synths that propel the song forward; the off-kilter rave piano that comes into focus about halfway through is perfect. The EP closes with “Thank You,” a super collider of drumline rhythms that is reminiscent of “FUSE.”

Dark SkyRadius EP (50 Weapons)

Dark Sky‘s Radius EP, on Modeselektor’s 50Weapons imprint, cements their place in the post-dubstep / bass music conversation. As their name suggests, Dark Sky makes foreboding, moody bass music. But it still is danceable – albeit in a very specific way: “Speeding Blue” and “The Lick” mix wobbly melodies with the scattershot riddims of UK funky and grime.

While Dark Sky has already established a well-defined style, the standout tracks on Radius couldn’t be more different from each other. “Neon” shifts from warm, house synths to chilly chiptune; both are equally addictive. On the other hand, “Be Myself” is a techy tribute to programmed beats and creepy samples.

Various artistsHard Ass Session VI (Enchufada)

Compiled by Buraka Som Sistema’s J-Wow, the latest volume in the Hard Ass Sessions brings together four top notch producers, each with a different take on tropical bass. Living up to the series’ name (“kuduro” translates to “hard ass”), Kry Wolf’s “Picadinho Di Pedalina” and Schlachthofbronx’s “Backup Run” are kuduro bangers. For cumbia fans, Cardopusher offers the surging “Tu Bizcochito.” The only outlier stylistically is “Waiting On.” The track is pure Brenmar, though, mashing together a hip-hop sample and vibrant, funky drums.

J-Wow’s 2011 Hard Ass Mix draws on these tracks, among others.

Future Grooves: Grown Folk

Is Canada the next future bass hot spot? The Great White North has given us Jacques Greene, Egyptrixx, and half of LOL Boys. On the strength of just a few releases, it may be time to add Grown Folk to that list.

Grown Folk is a Montreal-based collaboration between Drew Kim and Brendan Neal. The duo crafts house tracks that seamlessly blend old school and new school sounds; think Azari and III with the sensibilities of Kingdom.

Their debut City Wind EP, released earlier this year on Templar Sound, runs the bass music gamut. They come out strong with the throwback house of “The Uptown Shuffle;” “VVS (Very, Very Slightly)” is darker, with a clipped diva vocal loop that runs through the track like an electric current. On “Block is Hot,” Grown Folk shows the juke influences that they share with contemporaries Canblaster and Pearson Sound; Damu’s remix of the song is all sub-bass and laser-light synths. And don’t let the double entendre title throw you – there’s nothing halfway about the groove on “Halfway House.”

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/halfway_house.mp3″ text=”Grown Folk – Halfway House” dl=0]

The duo gets deeper on their latest offering, the Droptop EP on Silverback Recordings. The video for the title track is a summery acid trip well-suited for the song’s big bass line and sexy vocals, two things that dominate the rest of the EP. As remixers, Grown Folk has smoothed out tracks by LOL Boys and FaltyDL. They got in on the rhythm-and-bass game with a swirling bootleg of The-Dream’s remix of “Motivation,” the powerhouse single by Kelly Rowland.


Across its online presence, Grown Folk shares a telling epigram: “It’s a new decade / The usual lingo / The usual rhythm.” It’s a take on the intro of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Rhythm,” and if that doesn’t boil it down enough, the song’s subtitle does: “Devoted to the Art of Moving Butts.” Listeners and dancers alike will soon appreciate Grown Folk’s devotion.

Download: Grown Folk – U Know the Time
Download: The-Dream, Kelly Rowland, Lil Wayne – Motivation (Grown Folk Bootleg)

Serious Saturdays: Taking It Back With Toddla T

Toddla T is on top of the world. In the last couple of years, he’s obtained both a slot on BBC Radio 1’s In DJs We Trust and a residency at Fabric. So what’s behind Toddla T’s meteoric rise?

Let’s start at the beginning. Toddla T is Tom Bell, a 26-year old from Sheffield, a city in England that has contributed to everything from industrial (Cabaret Voltaire) to new wave (The Human League) to post-punk revival (Artic Monkeys). The Steel City has also been important to electronic music, as the home of the groundbreaking Warp Records and the birthplace of bassline. With that rich musical background in mind, Toddla T’s globe-trotting sound makes a lot more sense.

His stage name is a tribute to his early start: DJing in Sheffield clubs since 14, Toddla focused on music full-time at 16. Originally into hip-hop, he didn’t even like electronic music until going to parties run by Sheffield DJs Winston Hazel and Pipes. Techno, house, and especially dancehall would become the calling cards of Toddla’s sound.

Since 2008s much-hyped mixtape Ghettoblaster #1, Toddla’s mix of dancehall riddims, jump-up rave accents, and wiggly bass has filled playlists across the world. His unique style is on full display on his 2009 debut record, Skanky Skanky, especially on single “Shake It,” where MC Serocee commands the listener to “shake it, shake it / get naked, naked.”

Toddla T kept things moving in 2010, with the hands-in-the-air “Sky Surfing,” featuring vocalist Wayne Marshall. The video for the song shows Toddla’s fun-loving irreverence – a key to what separates him from his more dour counterparts in the bass world.

Toddla has remixed songs by artists as diverse as Hot Chip, Roots Manuva, and Ladyhawke. His finest moment, however, was giving the high-energy treatment to Gyptian‘s reggae anthem “Hold You,” with a little help from Double D on the mic.

His latest album, Watch Me Dance, is Toddla T at his most eclectic. There are plenty of the riddim-and-bass bangers that he’s known for, along with new experiments like the disco-funk title track and the Timbaland-influenced R&B of “Body Good.” The track that you’ll be playing on repeat, though, is the rave-throwback “Take It Back.” Like all of his songs, “Take It Back” is a feel-good jam designed for the dance floor.

Originally posted on the Mishka Bloglin.

EP Roundup: DJ Ayres / Cedaa / Derek Allen

Rather than following artists for new releases, sometimes it’s best to follow record labels. Here are three new offerings from some of the most reliable, tastemaking labels in existence.

DJ AyresI’d Fuck Me EP (T&A Records)

Based on its title and cover alone (both homages to Silence of the Lambs), listeners might expect something darker here. But fear not: DJ Ayres isn’t Buffalo Bill – he just starts parties. “Flashing Lights” (named after a party that Ayres threw with Nick Catchdubs and Jubilee) is disco house theme music with a funky bassline that’s more Studio 54 than Public Assembly. “Liberation” is the kind of soulful tech house that collaborators Nadastrom are known for. It wouldn’t be a T&A release these days without a tropical jam: the evocatively-titled “Panty Crickets” fills that void with tribal drums, squeaky synths and an pitch-perfect rave whistle. The Tomb Crew, Swick and Grandtheft try to hypercharge these tracks, but sometimes the direct approach is best.

CedaaJasmin EP (B.YRSLF division)

I’ve been following Cedaa’s juke-inflected future bass for a while now. The follow up to the Old Growth EP is definitely more mellow, with the juke beats a pulse rather than an explosion. On title track “Jasmin,” saccharine synths play against guttural chanting. There isn’t much of Japan in “Nippon,” just an elastic melody and industrial undercurrents. Two collaborations round out the originals: “20K,” with Distal, might refer to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, as it’s aquatic effects and waves of bass get pretty deep. “Windbreaker” with Slick Shoota is a juke-meets-rave banger complete with break beats, diva vox and airhorns. Remixes by Myrryrs, Chaos in the CBD, Sine, and DJ Hilti round out the EP and provide four new names to watch out for.

Derek AllenDJA EP (Mad Decent)

Long-time Mad Decent affiliate Derek Allen comes out from behind the boards for his debut record. Allen’s vocals are the perfect complement for these luvstep jams, his hip-hop and bass production skills on full display. Drums thunder on “Trying to Come Alive” and synths wobble on “Shoulda Listened;” the autotune on “Trying to Come Alive” is the EP’s rare misstep. “Susperia” (featuring Top Billin) feels like an 808s & Heartbreak outtake. Allen’s cover of “Spirits in the Material World” by The Police updates the song for the 21st century. The depth of the Mad Decent roster continues to impress.

Serious Saturdays: Put On the Redlight (via Mishka)

Electronic music is constantly in flux, and while some artists can plant a flag and never change their sound, the majority must adapt or be left behind. Case in point: Redlight, who built a decade-long career as drum and bass producer Clipz but now crafts dubstep-bashment hybrids. Certainly not the only – or last – DnB head to slow down their frenetic productions into hulking wobblers, Redlight has found a second life by focusing the over-the-top energy of DnB into something more corporeal.

As Clipz (aka Bristol-based Hugh Pescod), the man now known as Redlight tended towards the melodic side of the rave playground. There is more to songs like “Slippery Slope” and “Sticky” than unrelenting DnB. “Ugly,” featuring vocalist Holly G, is a forebearer of his current sound.

In 2009, Pescod put away childish things and renamed himself Redlight, releasing the Lobster Boy EP. Some of the trademarks of his earlier sound remained, like the breakbeats that fuel “Pick Up the Phone” and “Feel So Good (Wine Up Yr Body),” a tune that relies on singers and MCs to counterbalance eruptions of bass.

The most addictive track on the EP is “Be With You,” which bounces from bashment toasting to a wobbling, house-inflected chorus. Redlight’s handle on West Indian riddims is exceeded only by Toddla T; he puts the dub in dubstep by bringing in Serocee and frequent collaborator Dread MC. This trend has continued: his banger “MDMA” served as the instrumental for Ms. Dynamite’s grimey “What You Talking About?”

Redlight’s evolution continues. Earlier this year, he released “Source 16” and “Progress,” which both feature housey, four-on-the-floor drums and metallic synth basslines. Guaranteed big room slayers, both are far cries from the riddims of the Lobster Boy EP. But with over a decade in the game, whatever Redlight does next – under whichever name he chooses – is sure to be essential bass music.

Originally posted on the Mishka Bloglin.