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Jack Mckeever

TRACK RELEASE: Heavy Lungs – ‘Jealous’

WORDS BY JACK MCKEEVER

‘If you book them, they will come.’ So reads the sardonic ‘about’ section on Bristol noise-punks Heavy Lungs’ Bandcamp page. In a way, it’s an accurate summation of the whirlwind 12 months the quartet have had. Since the release of their debut EP, ‘Abstract Thoughts’ in February last year, they’ve risen quickly enough to sell out a headline slot at prime Bristol club: The Louisiana and enjoyed radio air time with none other than Nadine Shah.

They’re also about to take their incendiary live presence to the world stage, performing as part of KEXP’s ‘International Clash Day’ live broadcast from London next month. All of this is a testament not only to Bristol’s community-driven punk scene but also to their endless work ethic.

Their new single, ‘Jealous’ picks up where the sludgier, slightly more mid-paced but still scratchy-and-violent-as-hell side of the debut EP left off. The stinky, needling basslines and tension-ridden excursions into ear-splitting resonance populate the verses before they stamp on the filth pedals for the chorus.

 

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Heavy Lungs, Exeter

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All of it is underpinned by the band’s trademark tight-knit rhythmic primitiveness. Frontman Danny Nedelko (yes the namesake of the IDLES track), an unexpectant pin-up boy for rapturous punk rock poeticism, sounds arguably more caveman-esque than ever in his delivery.

‘’’Jealous’ started from the bassline,’ says guitarist Oliver Southgate when talking about the writing process. “Then I tried to make the guitar sound as energetic and frantic as possible without playing anything (apart from in the choruses). Metz was a big influence, and Nirvana’s ‘In Utero’; so basically Steve Albini, really.”

What’s special about ‘Jealous’ is that it takes that same melting point of influences the band has always acclaimed – Nirvana, Black Flag, Pavement, Big Black, The Stooges – and carries them a far-cry away from any calls of revivalism. Any fan of those bands will find ‘Jealous’ a wonderful cross bearer for a 2019 version of that sound.  

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BRING THE DANCE: 2018’s Top 10 DJ Mixes

WORDS BY JACK MCKEEVER      PHOTO BY JACK KIRWIN

2018 has seen club culture experience both fantastic highs and some distressing lows. One thing that remains unchanged, however, is the passion, euphoria and boundary pushing that exists in modern electronic music. The art of the DJ mix is as powerful and necessary as ever, and this year saw many new faces, as well as some legends of the dance landscape, twist it into new dimensions.

Below are ten mixes that have made me grin, cry, clench my fists and punch the air and lose myself in deep thought consistently throughout 2018. Whether you’re into vast, eclectic house and techno experiments, silky and heavenly ambient or delirious drum’n’bass, there’ll be something for you to wrap your ears around here. As always, here’s to hoping you find something you love!

TRUANTS – Truancy Mix 228: Or:la

Hailing from Derry, Northern Ireland, Or:La has enjoyed a rightful boon over the last 18 months. She won hearts with her Boiler Room-documented set from Belfast’s AVA Festival last summer, and in September of this year she stepped into the hallowed Truancy booth and delivered what is, for this writer, the most sublime hour of music of the year. There’s an otherworldly flow to the mix, which reflects her narrative of ‘order into disorder’ as though it were broadcast from an alternate reality where life is blissfully blurry. No matter what stride or tone she settles upon (and there are a few here), her touch is mercurial, gracefully welding righteous humour into hypnotic techno contortions at the mid-way point and gliding through a finale of face-melting breaks, wonky EBM and star-gazing hardcore. Truly unique, truly un-fuckwithable.

Midland – As The City Sleeps

Midland’s ‘As the City Sleeps’ mix is one of 2018’s finest contributions to the ongoing ambient resurgence. He pulls at the tear ducts early via Bruised Skies’ ‘Low’ and Benoit Pioulard’s ‘An Image apart from Ourselves’. If there are any bleary-eyed cobwebs remaining halfway through then an excerpt from Jennie Livingston’s 1990 movie ‘Paris Is Burning’ meshed with Arthur Russell’s ‘Answers Me’ clears them completely. Conceived as a sort of companion piece to his 2017 ‘Fabric:Live’ mix, rounding off on Mark Hollis’ beautifully fragile ‘The Colour of Spring’ will fit perfectly against the backdrop of sunrise and the lo-fi thunder of the first train home.

Courtesy – Dekmantel Podcast 166

For what is, in my mind, the best Dekmantel podcast of the year, Danish techno heroine Courtesy turns in an hour of pounding hypnotism. Though she keeps the BPM rate bubbling at relatively similar levels throughout, it’s her versatility within that framework which makes the mix so captivating. Beautiful, dark, sometimes dystopian and always atmospheric, it pulls together a groove that seamlessly draws from different sectors and rejects tribalism. In essence, it does everything that is necessary for a properly communal listening experience.

SHYBOI – Resident Advisor Podcast 615

Discwoman member SHYBOI decimated Resident Advisor’s podcast series this year with an hour of visceral, warehouse-ready techno that oozes confidence and, crucially, wears a sense of fun on its sleeve throughout its intensity. It’s vital listening for both preparation for big nights out or just kicking away any start-of-week/day blues, especially it’s final fifteen minutes.

Hojo Clan – Clan Wars Podcast 004

March saw the enigmatic Hojo Clan collective deliver 40 minutes of searing, fist-clenching drum’n’bass experimentalism that feels like a pensive analogy for our nail-biting times. The narrative woven throughout of the mysterious warrior Kenshiro via the SoundCloud link is also to die for.

Call Super Essential Mix – 9/6/2018

One of the things that makes Joe Seaton, aka Call Super, such a special DJ is the fact that he almost always does the last thing one expects him too. One thing some of his mixes do have in common is a deeply personal element, and his Essential Mix from June of this year is founded on that same premise. It finds him in a deliriously joyous, party-starting mode as he rolls through an individualistic wealth of glorious house and techno, cheeky garage, and in the second half off-kilter selections, each of which’s atmospheres is allowed to be held strikingly on their own merits. And there’s THAT astonishing fusion of Donato Dozzy’s ‘Cleo’ and Shackleton’s ‘Blood On My Hands’ (both vital tunes in shaping and continuing my interest in dance music respectively) at the hour mark. All of it is overseen by his inimitable, unpredictable virtuosity that although deliberately choppy, never loses its sense of grace.

Breakwave NTS Jungle Set – 5/5/2018

Rising Liverpool DJ Breakwave turned to glorious, feel good jungle for the second episode of her NTS residency in May. Like all classic jungle sets, there’s a healthy, warm soulfulness emanating from the pours of the mix, and as the heatwave struck the UK this summer, listening to this felt like sheer transcendence. There’s the rumbling push-and-pull between light and dark at play too, before Orca’s ‘Alive & Kickin’ hits at the half-hour mark and the mood stays locked at Jubilation.

Mumdance – Shared Meanings

The now legendary Mumdance’s ‘Shared Meanings’ (available as a free download in mix form, a cassette, a 12” AND a DJ-friendly compilation) makes concrete his reputation as one of those rare DJs who basically never put a foot wrong. It’s an hour and a half of previously unreleased music from some of modern electronic music’s most forward-thinking names (Chevel, Bambounou, JK Flesh, Homemade Weapons, Isabella, Nkisi) that clings closest to Mumdance’s rawest, darkest roots whilst being constantly buoyant. It’s essentially the best of 2018’s outliers, presented in poetic form by someone who understands modern dance expressionism better than most others.

Facta – Crack Mix 236

For Crack Magazine’s 236th mix, Oscar Henson aka Facta draws on a wealth of unreleased and forthcoming material from the likes of Lurka, Duckett, and Hodge, and his opting to fuse the futuristic with the club-focussed works an absolute treat over these 50 minutes. It’s one of the year’s most trance-inducing and alluring examples of deep-set, wiggling diversity, stretching to include a cavernous slow-burner from Iglew, a tension-ridden dub of Tirzah’s ‘Reach Hi’, twinkling half-step vibes, Gqom! And some of the year’s smoothest low-end techno.

Electronic Explorations 501 – Imogen

2018 saw Rob Booth’s legendary Electronic Explorations series reach its milestone 500 episode mark. Rising London DJ/Producer Imogen carried listeners into the new century in no-holds-barred, grinding fashion, taking the zeitgeist of techno-fused-with-electro to unique and idiosyncratic places. The mark of a great mix is often heralded by standout tunes that sound remarkable in their given context and create entire new contexts in doing so. The muscular assault of RXDX’s ‘Accredition Disk’ in the mix’s final throes is one such moment, but when she wields Ron Morelli’s ‘Laugh Taker’ it genuinely feels as though she’s transcended and left humanity to its fate, giggling with glee in the process. She’ll be a dominant force in 2019.

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ALBUM: Bruce – ‘Sonder Somatic’

WORDS BY JACK MCKEEVER

In electronic music, the most resonant albums and tracks are those that strike at the heart of the community, conveying memories while aiming to create new ones. Bristol-based techno producer Larry McCarthy, AKA Bruce, is devoted to the most personal aspects of the diagram. His music has always torn away any veils of conventionalism to underpin a playfully outlandish hand, taking core elements and twisting them out of time and place. Making the obscure accessible is hard to perfect, but in the case of Bruce’s back catalogue he’s often managed it with a thrilling smoothness.

In many ways, the release of his debut full-length album ‘Sonder Somatic’ on Hessle Audio feels like a homecoming. His previous releases on the label (2016’s ‘Steals’ and 2014’s ‘Not Stochastic’ – EPs respectively) have occupied the same innovative world-scape, playing sumptuous floor-filling kicks and alien atmospherics off against each other, with a mischievous sonic smile overhanging it all. But it’s the exploratory nature of Hessle Audio’s output that suits Bruce‘s placement here so brilliantly. He’s talked openly about the label’s influence on him over the years, so the synergy that winds up here seems only right and proper.

The LP was written ‘partly as an attempt to capture that rare transformative feeling that can cause you to fully lose yourself in a club space’, and on ‘Sonder Somatic’ Bruce wastes no time in going for the jugular. The whole thing sounds absolutely huge, for starters. Whereas before the late-night rawness of his music could occasionally feel opaque, on the LP a crystal-clear sheen sets its primal nuances and physicality against a gorgeous big room backdrop.

Crucially though, he focuses on inviting and then reducing ambiences, atmospheres and myriad percussive senses. It allows for a constant sense of idiosyncratic motion that rises and falls and creates new imperatives whenever they are most necessary. This is executed most effervescently at the mid-way point and the trajectory between the shuddering tension of ‘Meek’ and ambient of ‘Torn’, which is spotted with ghosts of breakbeat-y decadence, into previously released single ‘What’. The latter re-engages his most banging sensibilities with an intense sense of joy – caterwauling vocals, a deliriously catchy lead loop and the same unpredictable drum sequencing brought to a mighty zenith.

The notion that ‘Sonder Somatic’ reflects both Bruce’s professional and recreational relationship with club culture is purveyed inimitably too. Whether it’s through swaggering heaters built upon historic UK bass mechanisms (as on the opening salvo of ‘Elo’ and ‘Cacao’) or the freezing, small-hours surging lope of ‘Baychimo’ and lullaby-esque grind of ‘Patience St Pim’, a see-saw of hedonism and an absorbing approach is delivered near-perfectly.

 

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Back in manc next month! Chuffed as it’s quickly becoming my home in the north 🐝 Grab ya tickets whilst they’re only £8 (ikr)

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While the LP will do plenty for chin-stroking types and those always seeking to be challenged on dancefloors, at the core of ‘Sonder Somatic’ is the most communal aspect of club culture; personality. Bruce is one of the most singular techno artists operating right now, and the music here continues to define him as one of the most innovative and sensitive.

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The Poetics of Hip-Hop: On Uncommon Nasa’s Debut Book ‘Withering’

The US underground rapper releases a selection of his lyrics as poetry, as well as new pieces
WORDS BY JACK MCKEEVER

The parallels between song-craft and poetry don’t need exploring. Rhyme and verse, in various forms, have been at the epicentre of discourse for as long as humans have been communicating. Just like language itself, poetry, prose and music have all evolved via numerous man-made indents, constantly adding new flavours and dimensions.

Nowhere is this truer than within the genre of hip-hop. Certainly, if you were to look at the rap music that permeates the charts these days – all searing drill-style noise and braggadocious assertions about wealth and sex – then it would seem poetry and storytelling have been demoted to the absolute basest of natures, hoodwinking the public into believing that consumerism is all that matters. But in rap’s gritty, surrealist underbelly the art of storytelling is in rude health, and New York MC Uncommon Nasa’s debut book ‘Withering’ is a multi-textured example.

Nasa’s writing and music stems from two deeply set wellsprings. The first is a desire to outline the truth. He’s a man who has been deeply embroiled in the media sphere via Twitter (though he recently announced that he would ‘no longer be utilising that space’) and the ‘Dope Sh!t‘ podcast which he co-hosts, but he’s also fully aware of the perils of mob mentality and the buffer that it can be. In its capacity as the most malleable and personal form of prose, the poetry in ‘Withering’ is almost an excuse for Nasa to convince himself – and the seemingly small number of people open to it – of the truth.

The second foundation for Nasa’s perspective is his rich history within the New York hip-hop scene. His rhyming and writing style comes from a long lineage of East Coast tendencies, from Mobb Deep’s grim-as-hell depictions of life in New York’s projects to El-P’s 21st century paranoia. His deliveries are resolutely off-kilter and his imagery treads the line between being opaque and direct, entwining the reality of any given subject matter with evocative, late-night analysis. Nasa doesn’t so much create characters as use them as terminals through which his worldview can pass. In ‘Withering’, those deeply personal traits are laid bare in refreshing ways.

Though most of the poems presented here are from Nasa’s musical back catalogue, when delivered outside of that context they take on a whole new precedence. It’s not the notion that hip-hop isn’t powerful or widely enjoyed enough to make an impact; that’s been a misconception since the genre began. It’s that, in ‘Withering’, the words are allowed new freedom, new space to breathe and roam, and to take on new meanings by design. As before, the ethos behind the collection is to deliver the truth from the perspective of a man who has reached and embraced the ‘halfway’ point in his life, but there are ideas here that could be like looking in a mirror for any deep thinker – ideas that don’t always seem obvious when listening to their three minute, experimental recorded incarnations.

Take a piece like ‘Black Hole’, for example: in terms of sonic effects, it’s one of the strangest, most dystopian pieces in Nasa’s recent recordings (from his 2017 LP ‘Written At Night’), and its bleak analysis of the darkest aspects of the media are hard to misread. But in the book it becomes part of a bigger whole. Disgust at the despondency of the human condition continuously rears its head, along with the stagnancy of life and the proposed notion that nothing ever really changes. This frustration both strikes a more personal chord with him as well as holding universal relevance. At some point everybody’s life becomes stagnant and empty.

The moment where the collection undoubtedly makes the crossover into the sphere of poetry is in ‘Destiny’. Originally a track from Nasa’s 2014 acclaimed New York Telephone record, here, it’s the only example of Nasa veering from the structurally conventional template, presenting words and lines as short sharp shocks to the system and utilising grammatically destructive see-sawing. It’s one of the collection’s few examples of real spirituality, seeing Nasa write of how life is dictated to us via noise and outside influence beyond our control; the idea that things are predetermined and that paths are mapped out for us. The form of the poem reflects that ambiguity, but he quite literally brings the piece back down to Earth by capitalising the ‘NY’ at the end of ‘destiny’; an assertion that New York is where he belongs, no matter where life takes him.

The two short stories presented flesh out Nasa’s creative mindset, giving insight into it and his processes. It’s here that Nasa’s world view is portrayed through unlikely mediums; a female parking ticket officer in ‘Withering’, and a world weary, undefined office clerk in ‘Burt’s Dead’. Both of them are consumed by awareness of life’s perils, the former so dark as to assert that death is the only release from the mundane that leads to the moribund. But, the same inclination to keep people at arm’s length that permeates much of his poetry comes from a deep understanding of how people work. ‘Burt’s Dead’ is a damning rumination on the idealistic desperation of ‘do-gooders’; but, when you delve below the surface the true depth is revealed, meaning it makes perfect sense.

‘Withering’ is a prime example of how poetry, whether dictated in musical or prosaic form, can be a personal tool and a primer for one’s own identity. As a collection, the book clearly shows Nasa’s evolution through life, with regards to wisdom, perception and what he’s learnt. As a rapper he’s an antagonist, both sonically and lyrically, always looking for where to land the next punch; however, as a writer, he’s a realist, collected in his cynicism and always shows a studious awareness of the true power of words. Whilst that’s not the sole reason hip-hop has always been culturally important, it’s a new dimension to the sphere and has helped to establish this innovative artist as a creative force within his field.

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techno future

Future Five: Techno

From Mexico City to Copenhagen via London – These are the Producers Pushing Techno Outside of it’s Comfort Zone.                  WORDS – JACK MCKEEVER

To the casual listener, Techno might occasionally seem like an insurmountable, soulless kind of music. But while cold, grey and metallic sounds still lay the foundation for much of the genre’s fervour, to write the most linear examples off as being representative is as dangerous as doing the same in any other genre. Artists like Marcel Detmann and the sadly passed Trevino (Marcus Intalex) have always revolved around this notion, and more recently the likes of Helena Hauff and Bruce have twisted the form to fit their uncanny, inimitable wills.

This edition of Future Five contains five rising and lesser-known artists who are incorporating a multitude of feeling, musical dexterity and evolutionary vision into their Techno orientated head space, pushing it to regions beyond its usual comfort zone.

Object Blue

Born in China and now based in London,  object blue has a hugely rich tapestry of musical and literary culture to draw upon, and her earnest approach to incorporating both in her own productions makes for brain warping results. Her two 12” records to date have been released on Tobago Tracks and Let’s Go Swimming, proving that she’s already grabbed the ears of some of UK techno’s most forward-thinking minds. Tunes like ‘Act Like It Then’ from Do You Plan To End a Siege? Is the pinnacle of club-inflected home listening, opting for cavernous antics but using unnerving initiatives and – like most of her tunes – behaving far more confrontationally than anything that could be described as ‘club friendly’.

Her REX EP fuses Shakespeare’s King Lear and tumultuous personal experiences and takes tension to ecstatic new places; from the footwork glean of ‘(time to) Work’, to the rolling, multi-faceted sequencing of ‘Chipping Away at the Kingdom’ which sounds like a full-force charge at the palace walls. Akin to New York’s DISCWOMAN crew, her vehemently pro-equality transparency on social media seeps into the pours of her extraordinarily wonky production chops.

SHYBOI

Those with a more-than-passing interest in dance music and political activism will probably be peripherally aware of New York’s DISCWOMAN collective. While Jamaica native SHYBOI is slightly less prolific than her comrades Ciel and Umfang in terms of her own productions, it’s with her DJ’ing that she’s starting to make a thunderous stir. Her Resident Advisor podcast has been one of the most replayable examples of searing, intense and fun hours of techno music so far this year. Its visceral, warehouse, feel is laced with a virtuosity that smashes gritty unknown edits & mind crushing classics together with immense confidence before a glorious denouement that rolls through tracks from Krome & Time, Sax, Future Sound of London and Tessela.

Like the rest of DISCWOMAN, SHYBOI’s unrelenting fight for equality and her musical nuance to match make her an essential figure to watch.

Sugar

Copenhagen’s techno scene is becoming one of the most encapsulating in Northern Europe, and it’s all thanks to artists like Nikolaj Jacobsen. A producer, DJ and mastermind behind the city’s Fast Forward Productions outfit, his latest four-tracker for Euromantic – No Sex Only Feelings – not only has one of the best titles of any release this year, but also some of the most mammoth tunes. His music is a kaleidoscopic rush of bubblegum energy via the 140bpm format, embracing big room emotion that stops well short of cheesiness and offering enough percussive virtuosity to make for immersive home listening. He’ll appear on Kulor 001, the debut primer from Copenhagen legend Courtesy’s new label later this year, which will be sure to stamp both his and his rising futurists’ music on the map.

Mor Elian

Originally from Tel Aviv, Mor Elian now spends her time between LA and Berlin, fruitfully contributing to two of the world’s most exciting party scenes. She’s a booker for LA’s Into The Woods crew, who have secured names as resonant as Kassem Mosse, DJ QU and hosted Bunker NY’s 15th anniversary session back in March. Later this year she’ll be knuckling down at two of Europe’s most legendary clubs, Phonox (London) alongside object blue and then a week later at Amsterdam’s De School with Randomer and Galaxian, proving the swiftness of her rise.

That ascent is as equally spurred (if not more so) by her productions. Across EPs such as Cymatic Ring and 2017’s Fairplex Drive, Elian has melded EBM, electro and expansive techno into one core. While the techno scene may be awash with examples of that same artistic expression at the moment, Elian’s work is amongst the most vital, frequently veering between rib-cage deconstruction (‘Feral chime’) and meditative, long-form dreaminess (‘Paralysed Focus’). She’s unafraid to wield a now slightly-worn formula into gripping new shapes and lead it down steely, gloomy alleyways and – at the same time – courage permeates highlights from behind the decks, like her excellent FACT mix broadcast in June.

Tomas Urquieta

Tomas Urquieta is a Chilean producer now based in Mexico City who I first heard through Mumdance’s NTS residency earlier this year. Just like a wealth of Mexico City’s techno outliers, his music is supremely primal, owing as much to industrial scree and eerie sample-based innovation as it does earthly Latin rhythmic sensibilities. His latest single is the title track from his forthcoming debut LP for Infinite Machine, Duenos de Nada, and in a way it fuses all the most experimental, spacious and precision-guided tendencies of the EPs that preceded it; smoky synths and dizzying bleepery feed off of each other, using their elemental cores to spur themselves along in deeply mesmerising fashion, particularly reminiscent of the no-nonsense rampage of his earlier track ‘Koob’. The darkest corners of Mexico City’s hulking city scape are laid bare across La Muerte De Todo Lo Nuevo and Manuscript too, making Urquieta’s work a beautiful introduction to the region’s techno mire.

Need some new music recommendations? Read back on all of our Future Five posts here!

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helena hauff qualm

Review: Helena Hauff – Qualm

A bleak future sparkles gloriously on the German heroine’s second LP, Qualm

So much has been written about the dystopian futurism of electronic music that, these days, portraying any deep-slung industrial techno record as ‘the sound of the future’ is a hackneyed cliché. In the early days (and arguably rightly), genres like acid, electro and EBM were straight-faced and categorically freezing – oozing the dinginess of the Berlin Wall era and Reaganomics. More recently, artists like DJ Stingray, E. Myers – and this review’s own protagonist Helena Hauff – have taken the starker implements of these purveyances and turned them into spectacularly warm, if still deeply twisted workings. Hauff’s second LP Qualm is at the pinnacle of that notion not just for her back catalogue, but for flavour-spanning techno in general.

In her astonishing Essential Mix for BBC Radio last year (awarded THE Essential Mix of the year by the show’s panel), Hauff took the essence of the decidedly imposing, seamless charisma of her Golden Pudel residency and exposed further just how much genre traits could be manipulated – pulling and diverting sounds to create refreshing glances at age-old themes. Her meticulous record digging further seeps into Qualm too; everything is positioned for full effect, whether that be aimed squarely at club orientated vibes (‘Lifestyle Guru’, ‘Hyper-Intelligent Genetically Enriched Cyborg’) or subterranean no-man’s-land apartment buildings (‘Primordial Sludge’). But crucially, no matter how harsh the sounds get, everything glistens deliriously. Instead of wanting to watch the world burn, Qualm makes the most of the aftermath.

There is, of sorts, a narrative arc to the record. An arc that doesn’t wholesomely accentuate a dystopian setting, but does hint at a cycle – an evolutionary foot forward into the abyss. ‘Barrow Boot Boys’ and ‘Lifestyle Guru’ are both deeply hypnotic death dances, the former like wasps lured into a citrus soaked metal tin and the latter a searing strobe light angling its way around a Bladerunner- style bar fight in the year 2182. Next comes the heady descent into truly head-spinning realms, as ‘bdtr-revisited’ marries influences like Drexciya and Autechre in an effortlessly paranoid way before the beatless sci-fi wooze of ‘Entropy Created You & Me’ stamps its claim as the most melodic moment thus far.

The phenomenally titled ‘Fag Butts in the Fire Bucket’ continues the discombobulation by offering seismic but steady jabs to the rib cage with side lashings of screeching synths and deep-set kicks, before the aforementioned ‘Hyper-intelligent Genetically Enriched Cyborg’ rolls through as one of the squelchiest and most grin-inducing records Hauff has recorded to date. Throughout the record, Hauff guides one through neon EBM-indebted keys and an irresistible, intoxicating 4/4 groove. ‘Primordial Sludge’ is nail-bitingly tense, but its increasingly wet sojourn through mucky matter and Stranger Things-esque cinematic overtures oozes out like a genial – almost comical – beast from a tide of filth.

It’s towards the record’s end, with the scintillating double tap of the title track and ‘No Qualms’ that Qualm sounds most mournful, but even that sense of uncertainty is delivered with a spring in its step. The LP does depict the future as bleak, but never offers this up as a totally negative thing either. Maybe Qualm is the comfort blanket we all so desperately need.

Listen to the full album, below.

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gaika basic volume

Review: GAIKA – Basic Volume

Gaika Tavares’ full-length debut for Warp records

In a scandal-consumed post-Brexit, post-Windrush world, the highlighting of the immigrant experience in London seems more necessary than ever before. Gaika Tavares has been encapsulating feelings of otherness in his music for the last three years, hopping across and blending a whirlpool of genre tropes that directly reference the diasporic value of sound system culture and the rich, historic, tapestry it weaves. But as knife crime figures soar in Britain’s capital, Basic Volume (Tavares’ debut full-length for Warp Records) feels more timely than any of his previous releases, and appropriately walks the line between navigating an alien, insurmountable cityscape and a guided tour through a lack of belonging.

In an interview with the Evening Standard, Tavares outlined an encounter in the immigration line at Stanstead airport upon returning home from Barcelona. Despite brandishing a British passport he was singled out and questioned persistently about his purpose in the UK. Aligned with the fact that the title of the record is an ode to his father, who passed away last year, Basic Volume immediately stakes its claim as Gaika’s most personal and emotionally charged LP to date. His music has always been bitter, angry and desperately searching for a sense of self, but here he uses London’s bleakest side not as a tool by which to sue himself into submission, but as an emboldening foundation upon which life for black people, and particularly the kids at the mercy of gang crime, can be improved.

A record as thematically sprawling as Basic Volume is theoretically difficult to find a solid sonic palette for, but Gaika’s vision is steeped in pulling elements together in ways which require three or four listens. Here his fusion of dancehall, hip-hop and industrialism feels more gruelling than the more accessible R’n’B flavoured climbs of 2016’s Spaghetto. The opening title track sets a cinematic precedent, built on a hyper-coloured synth overture that glazes along a crawling boom-bap groove that oozes the rusting mechanisms of London’s more fragmented areas, and immediately unpacks the fears that come with “being naked and black in a white man’s world”.

The nightmarish low-end dissonance and ear-piercing squeals of ‘Hackers and Jackers’ sits perfectly as the backdrop to tales of inner-city corruption and physical brutality simultaneously, whilst the metallic, brick-to-skull intensity of ‘Black Empire (Killmonger Riddim)’ is as fitting as can be a foundation for a gloriously unashamed and righteous call to arms for London’s black community. There are softer moments, like ‘Ruby’, and an eerie (but gorgeous) 4th dimensional melody is a powerful weapon at the heart of tunes like ‘Born Thieves’ and the celestial highlight ‘Immigrant Sons (Pesos & Gas)’, both a fist-clenching feminist mover, and a declaration of the individualism and distinction of all of the UK’s minority communities.

The push-and-pull equation between personal and cultural lows that runs through the whole record unerringly magnifies the need for a real change of status quo (something which Tavares himself has said he hopes to achieve with the album). Nowadays, with the crushing cuts to arts facilities and venues across the city, it’s easy to feel like art is losing its ability to mobilise real social change. But Basic Volume wonderfully underpins the notion that by not giving up, by consistently challenging in consistently leftfield and creative ways, an escape is provided not just for those faced with grim reality but provides a sense of belief for those who are really living it.

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middle east

COMMENT: Identity Of Many

An exploration of boundary-pushing Music, Literature and Film from The Middle East.

In the age of the 24-hour news cycle and constant societal upheaval, the mainstream public eye seems forcibly fixed on the world’s most negative happenings. The Middle East is the most commonly pinpointed target – as many of its member states are war-torn and repressive – and as with anything in these circumstances, there are so many cases of beauty & expressionism within the arts that are overlooked simply due to location. Thus, at MCR Live we have decided to combat this behaviour: highlighting two musical artists, two writers and two filmmakers from the Middle Eastern diaspora who are pushing boundaries and deconstructing prejudices and perceptions with their work.

The Musicians

Deena Abdelwahed

A native of Tunisia and now based in Toulouse, Deena Abdelwahed’s confrontational brand of dance music is a socially engaged melting pot of Eastern culture and Western perception. Klabb (her 2017 EP released through Infine records), is deeply entrancing and shape-shifting – reflecting the violence and less savoury aspects of the Middle East, whilst celebrating the power that art and music can have. The songs fuse both grinding and dissonant industrialism with colourful ambiguity, all coming from the same dark core and desire to – in her words – “critique injustices in Arab society” but allowing minds to wander through decomposing cityscapes, unsure of the future but actively clawing on to hope. Klabb is a rich example of how real cultural issues can be tackled and affronted by art; something which Tunisia’s 2015 lifted media blackout, in turn, helps.

Saint Abdullah

Saint Abdullah are a sibling duo based somewhere between Iran’s capital Tehran and Brooklyn respectively. Stalwarts of New York’s Boomarm Nation roster, their music is described on the labels bandcamp as “political music, sacred music, and for most of us in the west, new music”. Their music is steeped in the traditions and tragedy of the duo’s homeland, but it faces sternly westwards as well. Both 2017’s The Sounds of Evil Vol. I and this February’s Stars Have Eyes challenged Western perceptions of Iranian and Muslim culture. Saint Abdullah have created a way of taking their post-Islamic revolution starting point and transmitting it through suffocating atmospherics, sonically poetic cut n paste sampling & rhythmic hypnotism – the result? A world-weary, but profound, exploration and explanation of their own ethos.

The Writers

Hoda Barakat

When it comes to literature, so vast is the landscape and societal diaspora of the Middle East that the range of perspectives is in rude health. In an age where femininity and repression are steadfastly under the microscope, its the female voices which offer the most direct viewpoint. Hoda Barakat’s The Tiller of Waters, though revolving around a male protagonist, is a beautifully poetic and poignant analysis of the psyche that embodies travel, migration, art, industry, love and desire set against a chillingly hallucinogenic backdrop of war-torn Beirut during the Lebanese civil war. Her work oftentimes showcases a passionate and deep-set understanding of culturally definitive cloth and weaving practices as a metaphor for the entire human condition, and in such finds beauty in the little things when the larger picture seems so bleak.

Rajaa Alsanea

Middle East

By contrast, Rajaa Alsanea’s The Girls of Riyad adopts a far more colloquial, accessible prose and a form of narrative that would probably be written off as Sex And The City– esque vacuity to some. However, it would be churlish to do so. Constructed through a series of diary-style emails written by an unnamed protagonist, and depicting the life of four women from the higher echelons of Saudi Arabian society, the novel follows the travails of its characters through themes of love, religion and meaning in life in a deeply misogynistic place. At its best, Alsanea is pacey and properly electrifying – chilling and funny, and chapter eleven in particular works wonders to crush a number of misconceptions and prejudices attributed to the mentality of women in the Middle East region. Though serious and sensitive at its core, Alsanea’s book approaches life in Saudi Arabia with a twinkle in its eye, something that seems crucial to fully understand the mechanisms of Riyad’s community.

The Filmmakers

Babak Anvari

I’ve not seen a huge amount of Middle Eastern horror movies, but it’s probably fair to say that few of them cover as much profound societal, genre-orientated or psychedelic ground as Babak Anvari’s 2016 movie Under The Shadow. After an Iraqi missile hits the Iranian block of flats where a mother lives with her young daughter, the anxiety, paranoia and stress of the ensuing war outside begins to have catastrophic effects on central character Shideh and her family – as her mind unravels, she becomes convinced that they’re being haunted by evil spirits. It’s an incredibly claustrophobic, stripped back, vision that melds classic horror movie tropes with location-true themes of war and the repression of women. However, at its heart, it’s about the relationship between a mother and her daughter and how the misfortune of their environment turns them against each other. It’s genuinely fucking scary, too.

Emad Burnat

Whereas Anvari’s movie marries real-life horror and surrealism in a fictional setting, even more horrifying is the first-hand account – all presented through the lens of Emad Burnat’s primary recorded footage – of Burnat’s 2011 film 5 Broken Cameras. A stark and deeply harrowing documentary about the struggle of a Palestinian farming community during the Israeli occupation of Gaza’s West Bank, the 90-minute film is an uncompromising purveyance of death and oppression and a direct summary of what living in desperate situations drives people to do. There are glimmers of a hopeful future; Burnat’s community show a breath-taking amount of spirit and the instances of joy feel all the more prominent in the face of such adversity. Emad is ultimately fighting for his community, and by doing so, celebrating what he believes to be just. His determination to carry on filming, despite the pain it lands him and those closest to him in, is an example of artistic expressionism in its most powerful form.

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Frasqueri A Girl Cried Red

ALBUM REVIEW: Princess Nokia – ‘A Girl Cried Red’

Photos – Alberto Vargas

For decades now, artists have been taking feminism and femininity into their own hands. Although that might be true, Destiny Nicole Frasqueri (aka Princess Nokia) is fusing firebrand confidence and intrigue in a way arguably not seen since Missy Elliot’s flare-up. Her breakout mixtape, 2016’s ‘1992’, built an identity on both firm-modernity and an assertion of heritage. But not only did she do this, in her debut Frasqueri utilised her passion for the hip-hop artform with the constant aim to reclaim & redefine femininity through a righteous scope whilst playing on and adapting degradations of womanhood, being confrontational and personal all in the process. In short, she has stamped a distinct mark allowing the musician to cover all bases and confound expectations.

A Girl Called Red

‘A Girl Cried Red’ is the first release since that project. Described by Frasqueri as her ‘emo’ album, the 8-tracker revolves primarily around heartbreak, bitterness and loneliness. However, it’s not limited to these themes – just like her 2016 debut, the latest offering doesn’t shy away from opening up a wider, socio-political discussion without largely pursuing any ideology. On the whole, ‘A Girl Cried Red’ rejects the notions of healthy living and ‘urban feminism’ that Frasqueri ‘s Smart Girls Club podcast centres on in order to orbit around the breakdown of a relationship and the ensuing depression & eventual hope that stems from that scenario. In effect, it’s her most conservative effort yet, but that’s not to say that the album is anywhere close to what anyone was expecting.

Couple the album artwork – a smiling Frasqueri adorned in a Slipknot hoodie with middle finger aloft – and the almost teenagery romanticism of opener ‘Flowers And Rope’ and one would be forgiven for thinking the release is a bad caricature of the social subset. There are several moments on ‘A Girl Cried Red’ that seem to go beyond sonic experimentation and fall into silliness for a number of reasons. ‘Look Up Kid’ is an attempt at universal reassurance but syrupy lyricism and 2004-5 era lo-fi Jimmy Eat World baiting musicality make it unbearably cheesy. ‘Interlude’ is one minute of layered, palm-muted finger picking which again aims for the nostalgia of early Coheed And Cambria records and just comes off as out-of-date. Unfortunately, these moments seem far less adventurous than they do hackneyed.

There are a handful of moments of real profundity, though. On lead-off single ‘Your Eyes Are Bleeding’ Frasqueri sounds genuinely bitter, angry and alone, balancing the heartbreak over rolling southern hi-hats and reflective arpeggios with the dryness we’ve come to expect as she coos ‘I want to face my demons but denial makes me high’. ‘For The Night’ would fit seamlessly into the runtime of ‘1992’ – a smoky, deep-set R&B stepper, lyrically towing the line between braggadocious excess and emptiness as a replacement for love. Though, it’s closer ‘Little Angel’ that makes the biggest impact. A gorgeous ode and reference to equality, gender dysmorphia, male suicide and the shifting, more inclusive attitudes which seem to be gaining a stronger hold all the time within the Princess Nokia generation.

Despite setting its stall out early, ‘A Girl Cried Red’ is a confounding listen. When it lands those moments of power though, it’s another testament to just how diverse and engaged Nokia can be.

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