Music Reviews

DJ Lag & Okzharp: Steam Rooms

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
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Jul 22 2019
Artist: DJ Lag & Okzharp
Title: Steam Rooms
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Hyperdub
A collaborative EP between Durban’s DJ Lag and London’s Okzharp paces the mutual territory between gqom and Hyperdub’s more familiar bass adventures.

“Now What” has a slightly grime-like sense of threat to it. “Steam One” is the brightest-sounding track, with a simple yet catchy steel drum riff that wants to have fun with the almost-cheesy synth stabs while the broken kick drum pattern underneath oozes a darker attitude. “Nyusa” adopts a similar approach with a more chanted rhythm and the melody shifted onto a sawtoothy keyboard synth. “Sambe” is an exception in that there’s a clear 4/4 kick rhythm underpinning it, that give things a deep house flavour which melds nicely with the African-sounding percussion elements.

It’s a richly flavoured 4-track pack and a collaboration which yields very strong results, and leaves you wanting more.

DJ Haram: Grace

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
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Jul 15 2019
Artist: DJ Haram
Title: Grace
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Hyperdub
DJ Haram is a DIY musical producer based in the US, but it’s her Middle Eastern roots that come to the fore extensively on this unusual EP. Using organic flute and exotic percussion sounds, she has crafted 27 minutes of mostly instrumental music that has the structure of modern digital dancehall, and sometimes grime, but from a sound palette that jams brand new with traditional effortlessly. The track “Interlude”, which isn’t really an interlude at all, exemplifies it succinctly.

“Gemini Rising”’s heavy percussion and tense synth bass notes give it a higher tension level than some of the more playful tracks around it. “Body Count”, despite starting with samples of guns being cocked, ends up being one of the mellowest sections, with soft harp-like chords lolling nicely over the complex and gently danceable rhythm.

Mixing things up at the mid point, “Candle Light” has a vocal version, with Moor Mother (who DJ Haram also collaborates with as a duo 700 Bliss) offering up a sympathetic and nicely offbeat rap that rolls over the more grime-like track very smartly. In the unlikely event that the vocal doesn’t tick your boxes, an instrumental is provided.

To wrap up the release there’s a short remix of opening track “No Idol” which builds on a rhythm that’s mostly handdrums and playfully triggered samples of bedsprings that borders on tongue-in-cheek, but which really works, and which would likely get received well by DJ’s skilled enough to work it into sets.

The DIY aesthetic makes some of the synth work sound a little weedy and lo-fi at times, like a demo or a field recording, but that ends up being part of the unique character and charm of a release that’s broadly in a genre where subbass normally runs rampant.

There’s a rich encompassing theme that forms a story behind this release- every track is represented by a character in the artwork, all part of a small mythological world invented by DJ Haram and in which she draws parallels with her real life experience but also draws from religious tales of angels and creatures. It’s an interesting context, for sure, but given the mostly instrumental nature of the release, it’s not an essential or immersive part of it. Musically though it certainly stands up in its own right, a fascinating hybrid of sounds and cultures with an energy and originality that’s nicely infectious.

Magna Pia: Daiauna

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jul 12 2019
Artist: Magna Pia
Title: Daiauna
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Feral Note
Hüseyin Evirgen is still one half of techno duo Cassegrain, but for the last few years has also been putting out solo works as Magna Pia. This release, on German label Feral Note rather than the artist’s own Arcing Seas imprint, is far more art music than techno. Evirgen’s first instrument the piano is brought centre stage, gently and respectfully treated, sometimes drenched in reverb and echo, and surrounded by rumbling percussive noises, long synthetic pads and drones and a handful of electronica’s other trappings.

The result is a 41-minute work with a rich, emotive, cinematic feel. The title track is a scene-setter, tense and nervous, and hints of that mood never really go away. “Dionysys” has a sparing melody underpinned by a steady delayed drum sound that is the closest point to techno on this album’s distant orbit around it. “Sacred Ibis” is more romantic somehow, with a capriccio playing that feels fresh and honest, while “Tocharian Love” comes across as more of a lost love ballad, sad minor piano chords setting in odd, pulled-string-and-earth-tremor environmental oddness. “Inanna” takes a similar approach, with the drone atmosphere becoming some form of distant alien choir under quite a songlike melody.

Final point “And So We Crumble” is a quirky little finale, pitting pure piano notes against processed, detuned and cheap-sounding piano for a bizarre downtempo duelling-banjos affair, while the rumbling underneath grows gradually more displeased.

It’s an unusual combination, pitching ‘proper’ piano against both tonal and atonal sonic curiosities. However over the course of 41 minutes it does end up feeling a little languid and tired, without enough energy or enough diversity in approach that would really elevate it into something special. It’s perhaps unkind to say it’s one of those “if you’ve heard one track, you’ve heard them all” releases but there’s a degree to which that’s true. It’s certainly still worth checking out nevertheless- “Dionysus” is the place to start to get a flavour of it.

Eva 00: It's All About The Attitude

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
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Jul 09 2019
Artist: Eva 00
Title: It's All About The Attitude
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Tropical Animals
Given the title, track names like “Panthers” and “I Don’t Care, I Don’t Care, I Don’t Care”, and the skeleton on the artwork, you might understandably assume that French producer Eva 00’s first EP for Tropical Animals is a bleak and gritty affair, infused with anger and rumbling tones- but in fact it’s nothing of the sort. Instead, it’s a 5-pack of bright and bouncy instrumental house tracks, full of light beats, cosy-sounding slow chords, and with a warm fuzzy and sometimes Balearic vibe.

Opening track “Panthers”, with its gentle The Beloved-esque patterns, running water effects and French conversation-sampling breakdown, is perhaps the simplest track on offer here, and the most open throwback to that pre-sellout Ibiza beach house sound.

Other tracks work out from a similar underlying tone but wander off in different directions. The slightly breakbeat kick of “VR Instrumental”, which brings the subbass very much to the fore, sounds more ‘now’, while “I Don’t Care, I Don’t Care, I Don’t Care” brings to mind the jazzier side of 90’s US house, with some treatments of the standalone vocal sample reminiscent of MK remixes.

“It’s All About The Attitude” is a deeper, and at times slightly muddy-sounding, house affair with a smooth approach, and final track “OK I’m A Thug, But A Thug Needs Love” is along pretty much the same lines but with a more positive EQ and more emphasis on a nicely moderated vocal sample that feels like it’s been borrowed heavily from hip-hop, but washed heavily before use.

It’s not strong on unique character or distinct memorable elements (again, despite the perhaps misleading title and artwork), but if you like your house chilled but not over-simplified, this is worth a listen.

Hüma Utku: Gnosis

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jul 05 2019
Artist: Hüma Utku
Title: Gnosis
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Karlrecords
After putting out releases under the alias R.A.N., Hüma Utku has now come forward with a full album in her own name. Sonically the approach is still the same, in principle- taking the sonic palette of techno and stretching it into darker environments, with thicker rumbling atmospherics and low drones. And that’s absolutely fine, because it works very well indeed.

For most of opener “Vulnerary” and the first part of “Black Water Red”, we get only low gutpunching bass noises and scratchy atmospherics. It’s only part-way through the second track that more elements begin to emerge and a broader techno-scope is revealed, with muted chanting samples and tribal percussion sounds.

There’s a ‘passing the baton’ feel where each track seems to take elements from the previous track and bring something new- the third track temporarily keeps the chanting elements and adds a more upbeat delay-driven rhythmic pulse, as though the first 20 minutes of this release are all an epic build-up to something- though no punch-through or big reveal ever arrives.

“All The Universe Conspires” brings with it vocal pads that up the emotive level. “A Gift From The Dark Ages” brings with it extremely slow bell-like sustained notes that are so slow in developing and transitioning that you find yourself skipping back through the track to check whether the melody really is changing or whether you’re going slightly mad- some slightly screechy EDM tweaks to bring things back in line at the end. Final track “All-one” almost entirely ditches the rhythm in favour of crisp impulsive muted bursts of white noise that feel like a natural deconstruction of the elements, as a conclusion of sorts.

It’s 41 minutes of thickly textured techno and deep dark electronica, frequently arhythmic and broody but not overtly sinister. It makes excellent use of a fairly minimal approach at times, resulting in something that’s captivating in its detail, and not built for casual or incidental listening. If you’re willing to don the headphones, dip the lights and close your eyes for 40 minutes though, it’s a deep sonic journey worth your full attention.

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