Tag Archives: electronic

Review: Blaqstarr – The Mixtape

After The Divine comes The Mixtape, Blaqstarr’s follow-up to the transcendent EP released earlier this year. At 25 tracks and just over an hour, the singularly titled mixtape is a definitive look at Blaq’s past, present and future.

Classic collaborations, like “Get Off” with Diplo and “Tween Me and You” with Nadastrom, are reminders of how far Blaqstarr’s sound has come. Compare those with ones with Steve Aoki (the nu-disco “Control Freak”), Will.i.am (the wavering, La Bouche-referencing “Meet Me Halfway”), and Akon (the auto-tuned ballad “Teardrop Shorty”). Gone are the Baltimore club beats; these new tracks are four-on-the-floor crowd pleasers, not the slick and sexy songs he built his name on.

But for fans of Blaqstarr’s old school material, not all is lost. His team-up with DJ Excel, “Rain Came Into My House,” is pure Bmore swagger. “Handstand,” with production by Switch and VIIXIIV (aka Sugu Arulpragasam, M.I.A.’s younger brother), is raw and sludgy. And one of the tape’s finest moments is a remix of the gunshot banger “Tote It,” featuring Lil Wayne (which has been floating around as “Told Y’all” for a while).

In an ironic turn, Blaqstarr teams up with the members of Black Star. “War of Roses” features Talib Kweli, and sounds like Steppenwolf with a club beat, and the moody, hip-hop infused “Kiss Me On My Lips” with Mos Def would fit in on The Divine.

Blaqstarr is a man stuck multiple worlds: the club sounds of his Baltimore home, the shimmering dance music of his LA residence, and the future funk of his boundless imagination all loom large in his work. The Mixtape, while straining under these pressures, does an admirable job of finding the common thread between varied genres and lets Blaqstarr shine.

Download: Blaqstarr – The Mixtape

Night Slugs: the label that owns the night – and the future

2010 belonged to Night Slugs. In just one year, the London-based record label and club night, run by L-Vis 1990 and Bok Bok, released nine EPs, a handful of singles, and a compilation album (the ironically premature greatest hits collection Night Slugs All Stars Volume 1). While the quantity is impressive, the quality is even more so.

The (still developing) Night Slugs sound is zeitgeist-defining, forward-thinking dance music. Tracks from the labelheads, along with those from similar heavyweights, put Night Slugs at the forefront of London’s dance scene with a vibrant hybrid of house, funky, and bass. 2011 finds the label moving to bigger and better things, but let’s take a look at where it’s been.

Things started, appropriately enough, at Mosca’s Square One EP. The title track is the prototypical Night Slugs offering: a juxtaposition of dance music sounds and styles, assembled in new and exciting ways. For “Square One,” it’s the descending tones of dubstep, the surging power of UK funky, and forays into dancehall toasting and soulful R&B vocals. Remixed by A-listers Bok Bok, L-Vis, Julio Bashmore and Roska, the remix by Greena builds slowly but packs a punch, like a prizefighter shaking off a haymaker.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/mosca__square_one__GREENA_remix.mp3″ text=”Mosca – Square One (Greena remix)” dl=1]

Egyptrixx’s The Only Way Up picks up where Square One left off, and was followed by the first offering from the steadily-rising Girl Unit, IRL. On Night Skanker, Lil Silva gets even more grimey and aggro than Girl Unit, blending soca rhythms with metallic synth lines, these synthetic horns that push into the red.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/lil_silva-golds_to_get.mp3″ text=”Lil Silva – Golds to Get” dl=0]

Leave it to one of the original Night Slugs to capture the label’s essence. On his Forever You EP, L-vis 1990 re-visits the spoken word house music tribute of Jason Jinx’s “Your First Time” with pure 303 acid. Fast forward a decade, as L-vis does on the title track, to diva-driven house with hints of wobbly bass.

Night Slugs is quickly becoming the home to a dance music revolution. The juke bass of Kingdom, the synth funk of Velour, and the future grime of Jam City have all been released by the label, and none feels out of place. Same for the Baltimore club remixes by Pearson Sound (the new alias of dubstep wunderkind Ramadanman), released earlier this month. And on Night Slug’s first LP, Bible Eyes, the aforementioned Egyptrixx pushes the label’s sound into new territory – namely, darkwave. With releases like these last two, 2011 just might belong to Night Slugs, too.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/let_me_see.mp3″ text=”Rod Lee – Let Me See What U Workin’ With (Pearson Sound edit)” dl=0]

Download: Egyptrixx – Chrysalis Records (feat. Trust) via XLR8R

The Verge: Katy B & Jamie Woon

Since its founding in 1991, the BRIT School has quickly become London’s answer to Juilliard (it’s also the kind of public-private partnership I wish we had more of in the United States, but I’ll leave that to other blogs). The BRIT School has schooled a Who’s Who of UK pop stars, including Adele, Amy Winehouse, Imogen Heap, and Leona Lewis. Two more alumni are poised for big things, thanks to symbiotic relationships with electronic music producers.

Fans of UK funky and dubstep are already familiar with Katy B. The 21-year-old chanteuse has appeared on tracks by Geeneus (“As I”) and Magnetic Man (“Perfect Stranger,” “Crossover”). Her hook singing has given a soulful edge to genres known more for their beats than their songwriting. Case in point: she flipped Benga‘s surging “Man on a Mission” into “Katy on a Mission,” a grooving dubstep sing-along. (The Roska remix gets funky, as he is wont to do).

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/katy_on_a_mission_roska_remix.mp3″ text=”Katy B – Katy on a Mission (Roska remix)” dl=0]

On a Mission, her debut album, will be released on April 4 on Rinse and Columbia Records. Avoiding the mistakes of artists before her, the album is loaded with her early hits: just because the blogosphere and the club have heard these songs for a year doesn’t mean the public at large has. Lead single “Lights On” features Ms. Dynamite and is pure UK funky. “Broken Record” is the most mainstream dance track Katy B has released (although her British pronunciation of “record” could prevent this one from breaking through).

While the UK has no shortage of female singer-songwriters (Katy B included), the last decade has also produced a handful of male soul singers, like Jamie Lidell and Jay Sean. To confuse matters, the next in that lineage is another Jamie.

Musical success runs deep in Jamie Woon‘s pedigree. He comes from a long line of professional musicians which includes his mother, Celtic folk singer Mae McKenna. But even with his family and his school, his greatest marker for success might be his connection to dubstep pioneer Burial.

Woon’s 2007 single “Wayfaring Stranger” was practically a cappella, with a minimalism that would make James Blake blush. On the remix, Burial added his signature clacking percussion and submersed bass. The pairing of Woon’s soulful vocals and Burial’s downtempo grooves was a natural fit and led to their next team-up, last year’s break-out single “Night Air.”

The next single off Woon’s debut album Mirrorwriting (out a week after Katy B’s offering, on April 11) is pure rhythm and bass, recalling Babyface productions as much as Timbaland ones. “Blue Truth” takes that formula and inflects it with dubstep. The song isn’t on the album, but Woon offered it as a free download.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Jamie Woon – Blue Truth.mp3″ text=”Jamie Woon – Blue Truth” dl=1]

Not all graduates of the BRIT School strike gold, regardless of talent. Usually it takes an equally talented producer to put them over the edge: every Winehouse needs her Ronson. Luckily, Katy B and Jamie Woon both have superb patrons behind the boards.

The new R&B: Rhythm and bass

Each successive generation of musicians brings its own group of influences to the table. For a rising group of electronic music producers, this means mining the catalog of turn-of-the-century R&B in the service of soulful, hook-laden dubstep, funky and bass tracks. Producers like Timbaland and Magoo loom as large as Burial and Joker for these twentysomething DJs, and for good reason: their groundbreaking R&B dominated the charts for the better part of these producers’ formative years.

Last year, I profiled Deadboy, whose limited catalog is already filled with reworkings of familiar R&B tracks. Along with takes on songs by Cassie and Ashanti, his latest is a “slo-mo house edit” of the downtempo Drake / Alicia Keys jam “Fireworks.” Deadboy’s is an improvement on the original, as he pitches up Keys’ chorus and drops Drake’s pedestrian verses. His remix of the Burial-produced “Night Air,” by UK crooner Jamie Woon, adds a funky beat and soaring synths; he also can’t resist chopping up Woon’s vocals in the chorus.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/fireworks.mp3″ text=”Drake – Fireworks (Deadboy Slo-mo House Edit)” dl=0]
[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/night_air.mp3″ text=”Jamie Woon – Night Air (Deadboy Remix)”]

Meanwhile, Future Grooves featuree Kavsrave has been dabbling with the soulful side luvstep. His Numbers EP Quotes features the surging bass of the dubstep derivative, with samples similar to those utilized by Deadboy. His as-of-yet unreleased “Deluded” flips the chorus of “Replacement Girl,” pitchshifting the vocals and seemingly changing the gender of singer Trey Songz.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/deluded.mp3″ text=”Kavsrave – Deluded” dl=0]

For fans of the critically-acclaimed James Blake, the R&B underpinnings of his self-titled debut are more obscured than on his earlier work. The dizzying “CMYK” relied on processed samples of Kelis and Aaliyah: hints of nostalgia in an otherwise forward-thinking song. It should be no surprise that Harmonimix, who crafted a jazzy, chiptune remix of “Bills Bills Bills,” was eventually revealed to be Blake: the 1999 hit would have been ubiquitous for the 22-year-old.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/CMYK.mp3″ text=”James Blake – CMYK” dl=0]

The latest Luvstep mix by Flufftronix and Dirty South Joe shined a spotlight on many of these producers, including Submerse and Psychonaught. Psychonaught’s “super tweaked RnB resteps” of tunes like “Nasty Girl” and “Birthday Sex” are available for free.

The greatest discovery off Luvstep 2, however, is Two Inch Punch. TIP is a self-described “frustrated Soul / RnB singer” who produces grooves with influences that go even deeper than his contemporaries. The shimmering “Love You Up” and “Luv Luv” will be self-released on April 4 in the UK.

The largely UK-driven explosion of bass music has been a Godsend for an electronic music scene at the tail of the electro movement. For EDM fans who came of age when R&B dominated the airwaves, this new form of R&B – rhythm and bass – is a welcome mix of nostalgia and modernism.

Bonus: When they’re not putting out tropical bass, Nguzunguzu has gotten into the R&B fun, as well. They turned Ciara’s “Deuces” into Baltimore club, and their recent “Perfect Lullaby” mix for DIS Magazine launches with a remix of the classic “The Boy is Mine.” The entire mix is worth a listen:

MP3: NGUZUNGUZU – The Perfect Lullaby Mixtape (via DIS Magazine)

Future Grooves: Cedaa

The emergence of footwork and juke is giving a new generation of producers a different sonic palette to play with, much like Baltimore club has for the past decade. Chicago can no longer contain the hypnotic, staccato sounds of juke, and it’s infiltrating dance music worldwide.

Cedaa, a twenty-year-old producer from Washington state, fuses juke to the seductive hybrid of funky-house-bass made by the Night Slugs crew (think Girl Unit). His tunes mix the frenetic, unpredictable energy of juke with the syrupy melody of the London scene.

Cedaa’s Old Growth EP is straight-forward juke, with it’s paranoia-inducing loops and samples; “Escalade” is a standout. His first single, “Tiffany,” features Miami bass shout-outs, while the B-side “Simba” cascades melody over a two-step beat.

Like other emerging producers his age (ahem, James Blake), Cedaa’s fondness for turn-of-the-century R&B shows. He flipped Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River” into a white label called “Justine,” which makes an appearance in Girl Unit’s XL8R mix. Similarly, his remix of “Are You That Somebody” updates the Aaliyah-Timbaland classic into a pulsing, grooving dance track.

Cedaa is prepping an EP for French label B.YRSLF division, along with working on a collaboration with Brenmar called Amber. Grab a free track from his collaboration with Barrius, and keep an eye on this young producer.

Future Grooves: Untold

It’s been a few years since the reclusive Burial altered the course of dubstep with his ambient, sinister tunes. While many producers cite Burial among their influences, Untold just may be the one that carries the torch.

Untold is Jack Dunning, yet another Londoner experimenting at the outer edges of dubstep, garage, and house music. He has released music on venerable electronic labels Hessle Audio, R&S, and Soul Jazz, along with his own label, Hemlock. 2008’s Kingdom EP set the marker for his sound, with gurgling bass, off-kilter rhythms and tones that suggest mystery and an enticing uneasiness.

The title of his follow-up to Kingdom, Gonna Work Out Fine, doesn’t lie. Building on his dubstep bona fides, Untold introduced elements from UK funky and Chicago house, crafting songs for the dancefloor (as long as that dancefloor was in some dark, secluded warehouse). “No One Likes a Smart-Arse” and “Don’t Know. Don’t Care” have the synth stabs and crystal-clear piano melodies of a 90s rave, but the unforgiving bass of the aughts.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/untold-dont-know.mp3″ text=”Untold – Don’t Know. Don’t Care” dl=0]

Untold’s sound is a constant work in progress, and he’s unafraid to stray from the dubstep orthodoxies of his early work. He released the exotic “Myth” with funky-king Roska, and he even ventured into tribal guarachero with last year’s “Anaconda.” And in a surprising turn, he remixed Ke$ha’s unavoidable hit “Tik Tok” into something surging and dark.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/untold-anaconda.mp3″ text=”Untold – Anaconda” dl=0]
[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/untold-tik-tok-remix.mp3″ text=”Ke$ha – Tik Tok (Untold Remix)” dl=0]

While Girl Unit’s “Wut” may be the biggest tune of 2010, Untold’s “Stereo Freeze” is a strong runner-up. The colliding bits of juke, club and dubstep are an unrelenting, otherworldly experience – exactly what we can expect from Untold now and in the future.

Future Grooves: Girl Unit

Once in a blue moon, a track will come along and capture the zeitgeist perfectly. For electronic music, the most recent example is “Wut” by London’s Girl Unit, which dropped last October on Night Slugs. The futuristic laser beam synths, tweaked out siren song sample, and massive 808 club rhythm of “Wut” are fast becoming the high watermark for dubstep-garage-funky hybrids.

The man behind “Wut,” Girl Unit, is 25-year old Phil Gamble. Like many of his peers, he started making beats as a teenager armed with Fruity Loops. He went by the name Girl U No It’s True, a tongue-in-cheek Milli Vanilli reference that he eventually shortened to his current moniker.

Starting with last April’s IRL EP, Girl Unit’s star has been steadily rising. “IRL” is a nasty little banger, combining the no-frills dubstep of Benga with the UK funky sound of his Night Slugs contemporaries. “Shade On” and “Temple Keys” were further dalliances with this hybrid sound; the jazzy keys on the latter a unique touch.

Following up IRL with the Wut EP, Girl Unit amped up the hip-hop and R&B influences considerably. “Every Time,” like “Wut,” relies on an unrecognizable diva loop, while “Showstoppa” has the big bass sweeps of a Rick Ross tune. The mid-tempo songs rock with a sexy swagger that is unrelenting and unforgiving. Throughout the EP, rat-a-tat drums evoke gangsterish drive-bys more than dancing in clubs.

In addition to his EPs, Girl Unit has remixed a few tunes with the same twisted approach he uses on his own material. His vinyl-only remix of Katy B’s “Lights On” is the best take on the track yet. His remix of C.R.S.T.’s “The Bells” strips away the funky house beat and feeds it syrup until it no longer resembles the original.

The usual suspects are onto Girl Unit, and you can’t blame them. His mixes for XLR8R, Fader, and Numbers show just how tight his control over his sound is.

EP Review: Blaqstarr – The Divine

Blaqstarr’s Divine EP is a dedication to feminine perfection and an offering to Gaia. But this is still a Blaqstarr record; like previous offerings, it’s hyperactive and sex-charged, albeit built more for the bedroom than the club. Over just six songs, Blaqstarr moves further down the rabbit hole, continuing to push and pull at the confines of Baltimore club music, crafting something more soulful and dramatic than ever before.

Serving as an introduction to the bizarre trip that follows, “All the World” kicks off the EP. Chopped vocal loops and frenetic live drums build to a crescendo under Blaqstarr’s off-time (and ocassionally off-key) crooning. The title track picks up where “All the World” left off, focusing those Neptunesque live drums and bouncy melody. It builds predictably until the mid-song breakdown. Over droning guitars and an underlying Bmore beat, Blaq freaks out with a call-and-response refrain of “Can I lick your ice cream?” Bringing both strands back together is the kind of chaos for which he’s known.

One of the strongest songs on the EP is actually a reworking of a track that has been around since at least 2007. “Rider Girl” is a poignant tribute to deceased Baltimore legend K Swift. Falling somewhere between “Supastarr” and “Automatic Lover” in Blaqstarr’s body of work, the song serves as a bridge between the club music that Swift championed and the new school that Blaqstarr owns and operates.

The strength of the EP is Blaqstarr’s skill in digging deeper into the roots and relatives of Baltimore club, refreshing a sound that is starting to stagnate. “Wonder Woman” is a bluesy jam steeped in P-funk, conjuring images of Blaq armed with just an acoustic guitar. His off-kilter line “she licked the gun / when she done / and said revenge is sweet” and the ghost of a club beat just below the surface are both unnerving and enticing. “Oh My Darlin” is Blaqstarr at his most minimal, featuring only haunting synth lines, wistful vocals, and a Prince meets Kanye rhythm. The EP closes with the even-more melancholy “Turning Out,” a true 808 heartbreaker.

While The Divine might not feature a breakthrough single like “Shake It to the Ground,” it does more to cement Blaqstarr as an essential voice in music – someone unafraid to confront expectations and worship in his own way.

Album Review: James Blake – James Blake

For an artist who is only 22 years old, James Blake has already had a lot of digital ink spilled about him. Over the past year, he released three highly acclaimed EPs and a few singles, all of which pales in comparison to his self-titled debut record (released today but building hype since it’s December leak).

From his earliest release, the single “Air & Lack Thereof / Sparing the Horse,” Blake laid down a marker for his sound: R&B-infused post-dubstep with pitchshifted vocals, soothing piano chords and pulsing swells of bass. His multi-layered, surging compositions put him in the company of artists like Mount Kimbie and Untold, on the less dance-oriented end of the spectrum. “The Bells Sketch” is typical of these releases; bits and pieces of the familiar and nostalgic, mechanical chirps and whirls next to processed vocals.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/James-Blake-The-Bells-Sketch.mp3″ text=”James Blake – The Bells Sketch” dl=”0″]

Many of the compositions on his records begin with minimal elements, like a simple piano melody and a two-step beat, before sneakily building into something ominous and claustrophobic. While they start as whispers and suggestions, the songs soon turn into several competing conversations. There’s an uneasiness that is not entirely unpleasant.

That trend continues on James Blake. While pushing against the boundaries of an increasingly characteristic sound, Blake has found a guiding principle in “less is more.” Throughout the record, Blake’s voice is processed and layered into a digital/analog cyborg, often repeating the same lyric. The overall effect is hypnotic and moving, as on “I Never Learnt to Share:” “My brother and my sister don’t speak to me / but I don’t blame them” stays consistent, but the song builds and pulses, morphing their tone and meaning.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/James-Blake-I-Never-Learnt-To-Share.mp3″ text=”James Blake – I Never Learnt to Share” dl=”0″]

Covering Feist’s “Limit to Your Love,” Blake keeps the melody but makes the song his own, adding a thick layer of sub-bass to the piano-driven ballad. It’s a trick he masters on the album; despite how sparse and minimal the songs tend to be, there is a rich low-end that adds a warmth to the predominantly cold compositions. Don’t be fooled – this is a record built for subwoofers, not earbuds.

The second single, “Wilhelms Scream,” is blessed with one of the album’s sweetest vocal melodies. The video for the song perfectly captures the interplay between high and low, foreground and background that Blake tools with here and elsewhere.

James Blake is quickly becoming a singular force in music. The closest match for both his sound and rapid rise would be the XX, another act that makes pure soul music, stripped of excess and focused on bass. And he seems poised to exceed even that lofty standard.

Future Grooves: Dubbel Dutch

Austin is known for being a hipster hideaway deep in the heart of Texas, due in large part to the growing dominance of SXSW. And while it’s not known as a hotbed of electronic music, producer Dubbel Dutch is creating buzz from the capital of the Lone Star State.

Dubbel Dutch is Marc Glasser, a 24-year old New York native. Over two criminally underrated EPs for Palms Out Records and a handful of remixes, he is establishing himself as a vibrant voice in the underground dance scene. His tracks blend elements from current trends (dubstep, UK funky and tropical) with nods to old favorites (house and hardcore).

Like the Camo UFOs, Dubbel Dutch definitely has a jungle fascination, as evidenced by the title track on his Throwback EP. The title hits the nail on the head: an addictive breakbeat, Casio synths and echoing female vocal loops give the track a 90s feel, even if the soca beat and bouncy bassline are pure 2010.

The rest of the EP does not disappoint, going even further down the rabbit hole into deep house and cutting-edge funky sounds. Once again, the title of “Deep Underground” is plenty descriptive.

Earlier single “On the One” plays in similar sonic territory, while “Infinite Decimal” is more inline with the low-end acrobatics of the Trouble & Bass crew. The vocal sample is chipped up and percussive, while the buildups beg for hands-in-the-air grooving.

Thankfully, we’re not the only ones paying attention to Dubbel Dutch. He’s put together mixes for XLR8R and URB (the latter is below), mixing tracks from other like-minded producers and giving a sense of what’s to come in the future. It’s clear that when March rolls around, SXSWers should be on the lookout for a local with his finger on the EDM pulse.