This Page

has moved to a new address:


Sorry for the inconvenience…

Redirection provided by Blogger to WordPress Migration Service
White Noise: January 2015

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Deep House Introspective

When is dance music not dance music? Is the dance genre defined by its key sonic characteristics or by its actual use in the club context? Journalism and discourse has tended to favour the former definition, denoting music as ‘dance’ based on its sonic DNA, propulsive machine rhythms and repetitive melodic hooks, rather than its use on the dancefloor. This makes sense: if any music that was danced to in clubs was considered a part of the ‘dance’ genre then the sonic range would be so vast as to render the term useless. Yet since the dawn of machine-made club music in the late 80s, there have been fringe artists taking dance music and making it undanceable, fracturing it into broken drum-trips or inverting its tropes to glacial slices of ambience which harbour only the ghosts of house, techno or electro.

So how do we account for dance music which isn’t meant to be danced to, but instead attracts bedroom listeners and commuters? Perhaps some of these listeners are educating themselves in the vast archives of dance music history, or are in fact DJs vetting the latest tunes for potential play. Yet there are far more who will find that dance music livens up their daily activities: listening to propulsive music while working, travelling or walking lends an energy to quotidian life, constituting an escape for many of its listeners.

This musical escape is not unlike the club experience. Dancers go to release the tension built up over a week of drudgery, entering a world where pleasure is priority. They will shuck off their responsibilities, worries and (often aided by stimulants) the construct of their selves. The identity imposed upon them in everyday life is dissolved in the club-crowd consciousness, as each dancer abandons themselves to the single task of losing and finding themselves within the groove.

This, at least, is what the club prophets might say. But this article isn’t about the experience of clubbing, or even the sense of escape that dance music can offer the daily listener. Something else must account for the ubiquity of dance music on the headphones of those resolutely not dancing, as well as the success of myriad sub-genres of dance-not-dance music (to resurrect an apposite yet awkward term). This article hopes to show that less club-orientated strains of dance music, taking deep house as a case in point, offer the listener not an escape but the opposite: a more nuanced understanding of the world around him. When the musical layers are stripped away and the BPM slows, the attentive listener becomes more sensitive to subtle musical changes and slowly evolving melodies. When listened to on the urban commute this increased concentration pervades our perceptive faculties beyond the auditory: the deep house listener becomes more attuned to minute shifts in the fabric of his environment. When heard outside of the club, dance music doesn’t necessarily shut out the listener’s surroundings. It can let the world in.

While the soul-infused deep house of US descent continues to offer brilliant music from artists young and old, it’s the genre’s European sibling which best elucidates this article’s focus. Germanic deep house, championed by labels such as Dial, Kompakt and Smallville (but now adopted by musicians the world over) is one of the most steadfastly melancholy strains of dance music out there. A hollow 4/4 anchors slow rhythms that are more head-nodding than fist-pumping, while sonic detail is concentrated in the high-end, whether through intricate synth melodies or dusty instrumental samples (often strings and piano). The sounds are unhurried, allowing the listener to appreciate the nuances of texture; tapping patient emotional resonances rather than beckoning the instant rush of euphoria. The aforementioned sonic formula is by no means a hold-all description, however. Often the deep house sound is more stripped, honing in on the subtle interplay of drumkit, bassline and swooning ambient wash. The feature this music has in common, in opposition to big-room dance music, is that it doesn’t tell the listener how to feel. Rather than using the dynamics of tension to create a communion of shared feeling on the dancefloor, deep house trades in subtlety, allowing the listener to explore and indulge his own particular mood, whatever that might be. 

There’s something to be said for the road less travelled, not instructing the listener’s emotional response but instead allowing it to be considered and intensified. It also raises an interesting question: does melody move the listener emotionally while percussion moves him physically? Like some other genres, notably ambient, the deep house album creates a contemplative space within the listener’s mind encouraging him to introspect, to tune in and switch on.

In order to showcase the effect, this article will chart the last five years of deep house music, picking one album from each year. There is no singular feature which unites these releases, but each album shows in a different way how the house album can bear attentive, repeated listens, offering dance music which can have a transformative effect outside of the simple, joyous fact of dancing.

2009: DJ Sprinkles – Midtown 120 Blues [Mule]
For an article primarily focused on the German house sound, it may seem odd to start with a release by an American. Yet rather than a typical American house record which might wear its funk and soul heritage on its sleeve, Sprinkles’ muted palette has much in common with European house practitioners; a journey to the centre of the mind, not just the soul.

To anyone interested in house music beyond its dancefloor thrall, Therre Thaemlitz should need little introduction. Gender theorist, dance historian and music academic, Thaemlitz also happens to make some of the finest house music pressed to wax. 2013 was a banner year for Sprinkles, with a remix compilation accompanied by a mix CD, yet we must travel back to 2009 for Sprinkles’ most striking release to date, Midtown 120 Blues on Mule.

This is so much more than a club album: Thaemlitz uses a suite of lush, melancholic tunes as a springboard for an interrogation of a music which has lost sight of its context. A veteran house DJ who survived the genre’s inception in largely marginalised communities (black, latino and gay in Chicago, Detroit and New York), Thaemlitz offers a spoken-word introduction to remind us of the conflict and hypocrisy which birthed our beloved genre and continues to plague it:

“the house nation likes to pretend clubs are an oasis from suffering, but suffering is in here, with us (if you can get in, that is)…house is not universal, house is hyper-specific…what was the New York house sound? House wasn’t so much a sound as a situation…The context from which the deep house sound emerged is forgotten: sexual and gender crises, transgendered sex workers, queer bashing, loneliness, racism, HIV, censorship. All at 120 beats per minute.”
Thaemlitz’ commentary on this and other tracks is ruthlessly incisive, refusing to allow the listener to divorce the music from its troubled and troubling context. Yet Midtown 120 Blues is no dry academic exercise. Instead, the album is a deep house masterclass, a suite of sonic tapestries which combine chunky drum patterns with rich melodic accompaniments, ranging from churning basslines to twinkling synths and melancholic keys.

Ball’r (Madonna-Free Zone) hypnotises the listener with its steady pulse and subtle keys, before delivering a sharp criticism of the popstar’s crimes of cultural appropriation. Thaemlitz clips the words ‘brothers and’ from the vocal of Sisters, I Don’t Know What The World Is Coming To to offer a feminist skew on the conventional house gospel sample bathed in lush, jazzy orchestration. Later the dazzling Grand Central Pt. II summons a gaseous ambience, consuming the listener in languid tones and an alarmingly emotionless vocal describing an instance of queer-bashing.

This kind of critique had not been levelled at the genre before, and while it may not have gone platinum, the continued critical coverage of Sprinkles and her ideas in dance media shows that her message did not fall on deaf ears. Thaemlitz’ true stroke of genius in Midtown 120 Blues was to couch her criticism of the house scene not in an essay or article but within an exceptional example of the genre itself. The best way to communicate to house listeners is in the form of house music, and realising this Thaemlitz crafted something challenging, rewarding and beautiful. Each track is a rich miniature, expertly composed with emotional heft: it’s the near-impossible achievement of a house album which makes you think hard and feel hard.

Want more? Check out Thaemlitz’ album ‘Routes Not Roots’ under her K-S.H.E alias.

2010: John Roberts – Glass Eights [Dial]
One year later, Hamburg’s Dial imprint welcomed its first non-German to the stable in the form of US import John Roberts. While Sprinkles’ album stood out by offering a timely reminder of house music’s context, its music appealed because of its richness and subtlety rather than through genuine sonic innovation. This suited the album’s goal perfectly: Sprinkles sought to interrogate the genre by subverting it. Roberts’ album works differently: appealing to the listener because of its unique sonic blueprint rather than a pointed intellectual message. On Glass Eights Roberts approached the deep house template with a dusty, orchestral sensibility which sounded remarkably refreshing, fully exploring the symphonic possibilities of the sound.

Glass Eights is unquestionably house: an unflinching four-to-the-floor dominates the album, yet Roberts’ use of instrumental samples sets these pieces apart. A classical background aids Roberts to craft subtle violin, piano and cello lines, never using the instruments in the emotionally domineering ways we’ve come to expect from ‘generic house track with uplifting piano / melancholic string sample’. These orchestral melodies also lend the music an earthiness, the tactile quality of worn materials (which feature on Roberts’ album art), standing in sharp contrast to the genre’s scores of over-polished digital productions.

Roberts’ grooves are immaculate, and his inventiveness is a constant delight. Lesser kicks off the album with a weathered lope rather than a full-on rush, while Navy Blue is underpinned by what sounds like a backmasked violin. Although the core loops are undeniably mesmeric, Roberts’ attention to detail is what keeps Glass Eights a joy from the first listen to the hundredth, whether the listener’s attention is drawn to Ever Or Not’s crisp handclap/ fingerclick rhythm or Pruned’s funereal bass procession. It’s on the album’s closing suite where Roberts truly lifts off. August’s sharp hi-hats and urgent synth sweeps send a swift wind across its soft autumnal tones, while Went replaces the typical beatless synth-noodle with a keening orchestral piece that aims for the emotional jugular.

After nine tracks that toy with the house formula to mesmeric effect, Roberts finally brings the dance on the closing track, and it couldn’t be more welcome. Glass Eights looses the long-dormant stomp alongside a stylish piano line which shows how brilliantly keys can work outside of the conventional major-chord breakdown. US artists may have introduced the guitars and brass of jazz and soul into house, but rarely had acoustic instruments been used in the genre outside this context. The album sounds as fresh and singular as it did four years ago: opening house music’s largely synthetic orchestras up to a world of new, acoustic possibilities with a flair which hasn’t yet been paralleled.

Want more? Roberts’ sophomore album, ‘Fences’, is a busier, trickier, but ultimately worthwhile foray into found-sound collage and Eastern sonics.

2011: Moomin – The Story About You [Smallville]
Moomin is a regular of Smallville, another Hamburg imprint, yet his minimal compositions are a far cry from Roberts’ lush orchestral style. The Story About You is an exercise in subtlety and poise, eking warmth from relatively spare compositions, offering a compelling example of deep house at its most hypnotic. The album is a pensive listen; stripped drumwork underpinning simple melodies that shift and evolve subtly over time. No breakdowns, drops or drama: Moomin’s music is about the unhurried evocation of feeling, which tastes all the richer for its slow gestation.

There’s a softness to the tracks on Moomin’s debut which is wonderfully inviting, as suitable on a snowy walk as on a sun-drenched beach. These tracks cocoon and comfort the listener – indeed, opener Doobiest beckons the listener to relaxation with the sounds of waves and gulls. Yet the mesmerising, repetitive quality of this music isn’t the result of a shortage of ideas or a desire to craft a ‘chill-out’ album. The short melodies which Moomin loops are expertly chosen, backed by a surprisingly detailed percussive field which rewards careful listening. The emotions here are carefully evoked and hard-won, in the mournful humming that rises above the title track’s languid keys, or with the perfect horn that calls out melancholically into Valentine’s heartache slow jam. There's a central contrast to all of his music: ultra-tight song structure, almost scientific in its arrangement of loops, and the sounds themselves - worn, organic, achingly sweet.

Moomin’s sound isn’t all eyes-down gloom either; some of the LP’s strongest moments are its more vigorous tracks. I Wanna’s wandering bassline adds punch to the composition’s subtle chimes, while the bone-dry percussion of highlight Watermelon threatens to punch through the speakers. What stays with the listener after The Story About You is Moomin’s unerring ability to eke so much emotional effect from largely unchanging melodics; his razor-sharp knack for picking the perfect loop. As you sink back into these tunes, your brain becomes attuned to the most minute shifts and tears in the sonic fabric, rendering each fractional alteration a near-eureka moment.

Want more? Moomin’s steady steam of ace singles on the Smallville and his own Closer imprint offer more of his distinct style of inviting, melancholic house.

2011: Recondite – On Acid [Absurd]
Outside of the genre’s rhythmic skeleton, few sounds have pervaded house music’s history as persistently as the acid bassline, created with the Roland 303 bass synthesiser. Since the very first acid traxx, the acid line has sounded an alien siren call, disorientating and dazzling clubbers with its frantic oscillations and inhuman textures. Simon Reynolds puts his finger on acid’s synthetic allure in Energy Flash: “the 303 bassline is a paradox…an amnesiac hook, totally compelling as you listen, but hard to memorize or reproduce after the event, either as pattern or timbre. Its effect is mental dislocation.” The sound’s continued use is a testament to its power, yet until recently the 303 had only been used in one way: to induce mania and urgency on the dancefloor. It was tooled as a stimulant for the over-stimulated, an enzyme for clubbers who needed to rush even faster, even further from their physical shells.

Over the years, many have tried their hand at rethinking the acid sound, some with a great degree of success – see Tin Man and the rest of the Acid Test label – yet few have done so as convincingly and elegantly as Recondite. His 2011 debut LP jettisoned the frenzied aggression of acid traxx and cast the 303 in vast, stark soundscapes, slackening the frantic pace to a lazy amble. The result is an acid which speaks a foreign language to Phuture, DJ Pierre and co’s paranoiac 303 blitz, eloquently evoking yearning, patience and searching contemplation.

While the otherworldly, sinuous sound of the 303 is undoubtedly this show’s star, Recondite commands two keen sensibilities which render On Acid such a consuming work: pace and space. By slowing acid’s wild modulations to a crawl, he allows the listener to unlock rich textural subtleties previously unheard in the sound, stretching the 303 into supple melodies which emote effortlessly. Tie In takes its time, allowing its minimal layers to interact glacially and balletically, while even the record’s more propulsive moments such as Jaded and Felicity allow the 303 to bloom, fade and mutate gradually.

Recondite’s achievement with space on the record is evident in his steadfastly minimal approach to composition, the acid lines prominent in a cavernous space where even the percussive stretches are subdued and metronomic. This allows all the listener’s attention to become focused on the intricate modulations of the melodic and bass lines, a process particularly rewarding on a track like Harbinger. Here Recondite allows himself a rare build to a peak, coaxing the 303 to swell dramatically, overwhelming all other sound before dropping back to its steady bounce as if nothing had happened.

These moments of modulation – fresh melodies, echo, gauzy distortion – are so powerful because their environment is so spare, so focused. Recondite’s masterstroke with On Acid is twofold: he subverts our expectations of the acid sound, rendering a balm from conventionally aggressive, disorientating raw materials, and places these new sounds in a beautifully restrained series of arrangements. It’s a bold idea, executed brilliantly, and ultimately there’s not much more a listener can ask for.

Want more? The Acid Test imprint has offered a series of excellent 303 meditations from Pepe Bradock, Achterbahn d’Amour and Tin Man, whose great Neo Neo Acid album is a more club-focused approach to the deeper acid sound.

2013: Kim Brown – Somewhere Else It’s Going To Be Good [Just Another Beat]
The albums mentioned so far have each borne a striking characteristic that helped them stand out from the pack, whether that be a fresh intellectual slant or a unique compositional characteristic. The draw of Kim Brown’s debut album isn’t so immediately identifiable: their sounds are familiar, and they work closely within the tradition of house music past. Yet Somewhere Else It’s Going To Be Good excels as an act of purity, a house album which exudes a rare trait in dance music: tenderness.

The material itself hovers on the border between considered deep house and lush electronica, eschewing the genre’s often minimal tendencies for an unashamedly emotional journey, full of soaring strings and weightless atmospheres. It may not sound spectacular on the page, but when one listens to a lot of dance albums, one realises how rare it is that an LP never puts a foot wrong. Often leftfield experimentations fall short or ambient interludes feel half-baked, ruining the coherence of a quality album. It’s to the duo’s immense credit that not a dud can be found on this record.

Their sound is soft, suffused by an analogue warmth, and profoundly evocative of the album’s titular longing. The influences are clear, Chicago and Detroit house burnished to a gauzy glow, yet the sound remains curiously placeless, communicating subtle, universal emotions rather than localised trends. In compositional terms, the duo’s patience makes for particularly rewarding listening: it takes three minutes for Camera Moves to get to its blissful serpentine bassline, yet the gently sweeping strings and varied percussion will have the listener intoxicated from the off. Likewise Nabi mesmerises with its funk-fuelled guitar loop and twilit synths, upping the intensity with the entry of one of the album’s only vocal lines towards the close.
Each track is immaculately detailed, while a rich array of sounds vary the listening experience without erring from the album’s subdued, contemplative mood. Christabel, the inspiration for this article, is a simple construction of twinkling synthwork and taut claps, yet its gorgeous melody could go on indefinitely. It’s beauty is enigmatic, sure to evoke varied emotions depending on the mood of the listener. Does it focus the listener or inspire him to disappear in daydreams? It could soundtrack the experience of regarding the pain of a loved one, unable to help, or the heartache of letting someone go, knowing that you’re doing the right thing. In this we see something malleable about this album’s emotional and narrative effects: it won’t tell you how to think or feel, but it provides a framework to intensify and interrogate the listener’s thoughts and feelings. In a sense, this is a far more impressive feat than imposing an emotion on the listener in the style of most club tracks.

Every track has something to find, something to feel, something to love. Ternejev fades out of existence with a lovely chiming melody, Pacific Pink struts with a sultry funk bassline, while Aldebaran adds a pinch of grit, its aqueous synths anchored by a stuttering kick and a broad, swaggering bassline. Closer We Have Been Here Too Long looks wistfully to the past with a yearning piano line and a tongue-in-cheek London underground sample which evokes movement, the bittersweet moving on from a period of intense emotion.

The brilliantly titled I House You But I’ve Chosen Love is a microcosm of everything this album gets so right: swooning strings and a sturdy beat build to a climax of emotion rather than physical energy. A striking bassline takes the lead, wrapping seductively around the reinforced drum pattern, before being joined by a frustrated, single-chord piano line, both propulsive and curiously paralysed, leading to a highly-charged, unresolved coda. It’s a radiant moment in an album which is literally bursting with them. Somewhere Else It’s Going To Be Good is a collection of very beautiful songs, nothing more, nothing less. If you’re feeling raw, open or vulnerable, it’s revelatory.

Of course, there’s an enormous amount of great music that couldn’t have been featured in this article. As a medium dominated by singles, a huge number of rewarding, thoughtful house tracks have never seen release on LP format, while many more saw the light of day outside of this article’s five year remit. As a result, I’ve put together a playlist of slow, largely melancholic house tracks more suitable for meditation than the dancefloor. Granted, some of these are club-ready, but the crucial feeling of longing remains. To put it simply, in the world of DJing, these would all be closers. It should also be noted that this list, as with the above, is in no way exhaustive, but rather a selection of the songs that helped formulate the thoughts explored in the article.

A few labels here make an appearance who certainly deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the featured artists. Berlin’s Workshop imprint is a constant source of quality, here represented on two untitled tracks, Even Tuell & Midnightopera’s mournful, unhurried collaboration and Lowtec’s snappy burner which takes a turn for the melancholic with some soft pads halfway through its runtime. As with the albums, one of the watchwords here is patience, as Pepe Bradock turns a rousing string sample into a veritable anthem on Deep Burnt, while DJ Sprinkles manages to conjure an astonishing range of emotions, from threat to fear to bliss, in her epic reworking of June’s Lost Area.

Negative space is also a key feature, used like a weapon on Trevor Deep Jr’s soulful, dubby Keep On! Meanwhile Huerco S. and Terreke conjure deep feeling from near-beatless expanses of space, while MGUN and Kevin McPhee show how the yearning can take hold even in a gritty, lofi soundfield. The odd ones out are here represented by Soul Capsule’s classic Lady Science (NYC Sunrise Mix), which emotes powerfully despite its angular rhythmic skeleton, and Chicago, where bass-experimentalists Old Apparatus subject a mournful piano line to rattles, rain sounds and an ominous whirring.

Huerco S - Battery Tunnel
Traumprinz - Messed Up Jam
Terekke - Amaze
Even Tuell & Midnightopera - Untitled
Even Tuell - Precious Cloud
Arnaldo - A Song Name Of One Word
##### - #####.1
Funkycan - CGN - GZT
Kevin McPhee - Who Loves You
MGUN - Mask
Lowtec - Untitled
Pépé Bradock - Deep Burnt
Kadebostan & Laolu - Salome (Kadebostan Version)
Trevor Deep Jr - Keep On!
Soul Capsule - Lady Science (NYC Sunrise Mix)
Efdemin - Parallaxis (Traumprinz's Over 2 The End Version)
System 360 - Untitled
June - Lost Area (Sprinkles' Lost Dancefloor)
Tuff Sherm - Followfarming
Orson Wells - Searching
Austin Cesear - Slink
Old Apparatus - Chicago


It’s clear that the dance sound this article has been chasing – haunted by words like reserve, patience, melancholy, yearning – may be largely found in the domain of German deep house, but is in no way unique to it. Any song that doesn’t invigorate your daily routine, but makes you stop, think, question and feel is welcome to the fold. These songs show a side of dance music where the listener contributes his own narrative rather than being funnelled into a particular feeling by overt emotional cues. They focus us and fine-tune our sensitivity to the world around us. Taking a walk on a grey day listening to deep house can help you connect with, rather than escape, your drab surroundings, and perhaps even see beauty which would otherwise go unnoticed. Club music is justly adored for its ability to turn the dancer into a conduit, taking in a musical stimulus and releasing it as physical, synchronised energy. Yet deep house allows us to commune with ourselves in a softer, more thoughtful way. It’s why so many of us have, in deep house, found a home.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Best Tracks of 2014: Part 2

Here's our final rundown of the year's very best tracks.

25. DVS1 – Black Russian [Klockworks]
This tight slice of techno is as essentialist as you can get: propulsive forward momentum, a single showstopping synth that builds but never peaks, and the leanest of percussive tweaks to keep you on your toes. Engrossing and devastating.

24. Leon Vynehall – Inside The Deku Tree [3024]

There was so much to love about Vynehall’s Music For The Uninvited release on 3024, but it was this unusual opener really stood out from the bunch, from its Zelda-referencing title to its grand orchestral sweep. Another winner from one of the UK’s brightest stars.

23. Traumprinz – Messed Up Jam [Giegling]

The first cut from Traumprinz’ stellar All The Things EP was melancholy deep house par excellence (you may have noticed that we’re fans of the style here at White Noise). Meditative and moving, Messed Up Jam moves with pitch-perfect reluctance and grace.

22. Daywalker + CF – Supersonic Transport [LIES]

LIES’ best cut of the year came in the form of this galactic stormer, a propulsive journey comprised of an army of synths: twinkling, churning, swooning, stabbing, and an adamantine percussive skeleton.

21. Lnrdcoy – I Met You On BC Ferry [1080p]

The most emotional cut from Lnrdcroy’s sublime Much Less Normal LP was this 8-minute voyage into nostalgia, a skittering 2step beat tied to a hopeful synth line, its tune later echoed by a resonant bassline, the ghost of a melody.

20. Moodymann – Lyk U Use 2 (feat. Andres) [KDJ]

This dream collaboration worked as well as could be expected, albeit at an unusually high tempo. The heartache of Dixon Jr’s lyrics (narrated with his tongue firmly in his cheek – “eight and a half is not enough for you anymore?”) adds a certain melancholy to the buoyant production, with a deep soulful melody and some expertly chopped disco samples towards the close certainly courtesy of Andres.

19. Andy Stott – Faith In Strangers [Modern Love]

The most surprising cut on Andy Stott’s superb new album was its title track. Having chopped, distorted and generally abused the vocals of his ex piano teacher Alison Skidmore, here Stott lets her voice take centre stage, accompanying her pop-referencing melodies with twilit synths, a diving bassline and jittering percussion that never feels anxious. If this is Stott doing pop, we’re eager to hear more.

18. John Roberts – Ausio [Dial]

With his productions becoming increasingly knotty, it was great to hear a proper dancefloor track from Roberts. Ausio is superb for setting the scene: that harrowing bass threatens to break out for the 3 minutes, and when it finally does the track bristles, rather than bursts, into life: a field of searing synths, nervous atmospherics and insectoid chittering. Superbly moody and full without ever feeling crowded, this track showed Roberts back on fine form.

17. Call Super – Acephale II [Houndstooth]

This is one of Call Super's straighter tunes, but it’s a long way from simple. A hammering kick anchors an increasingly frenetic field of crystalline synths that jostle for attention alongside an impressive range of details and effects. Listen closely for the canny use of panning and the genuinely alive feel of the track’s melodic details, each sound individually minute but powerful when put together. There's a trick to Super's best productions: they move with an unhurried pace, a central motif slowly accruing more detail, adorned with more sounds, until the force is just about overwhelming. There’s some kind of alchemy going on in Call Super’s music, and this ‘floor-ready track shows it better than any other.

16. Pender Street Steppers – Bubble World [Mood Hut]
Another genius oddity from the Vancouver duo takes the titular bubble sounds as its inspiration, cooking up a delightful plate of loose-limbed percussion, warm synth glows and a bassline that’s essentially out for a stroll. Killer mood music.

15. #####.1 - ##### [No ‘Label’]
This ungooglable cut on Rush Hour’s No ‘Label’ didn’t need a name to sell: its perfectly tuned percussion, synthetic choir and crushed melody was utter bliss, taking us into a dreamworld with every listen. The track has since been sourced to Dutch producer Aroy Dee.

14. Vril – Torus XXXII [Forum]

The centrepiece of mysterious Vril’s debut album was this slow-burn techno number, where a subtle play of percussion provides the backdrop to a building, keening synthline, leading to an emotional climax which is more about the build than any sort of payoff.

13. Kassem Mosse – Untitled A3 [Workshop]

Our favourite cut from Mosse’s superb debut LP was an expert construction of articulated percussion, searing synths and that tumbling, showstopping melody like pebbles falling through crystalline water.

12. DJ Richard – Freydis [White Material]
After a busy, hype-fuelled 2013, White Material provided only one EP this year, but it might have been the labels best. On its closer, DJ Richard combined a low-slung rhythm with alarm-like synths, a swooning wash and dramatic cuts to an eerie, inviting string section.

11. Jamie xx – Sleep Sound [Young Turks]
Jamie xx’s tracks may not be the best for getting your groove on, but he certainly has a way with making beautiful music. Sleep Sound’s lush harp melody gives way to a light, shuffling beat for the early hours, with smart, emotive vocal snips. After a gorgeous breakdown the track picks up pace, lush and melodically complex, a joy time and again.

10. Kowton – Glock And Roll [Whities]

This one was a real curveball from Kowton, best known for melting bass and grime tropes into tough techno forms. Here he goes for something prettier, as a delicate chiming melody takes pride of place over a fortified rhythm section and a vocal looped to infinity. It’s a simple construction, but the contrast between fragility and strength helped this one destroy many a ‘floor.

9. Objekt – Ganzfeld [Leisure System]

The release of Objekt’s excellent debut LP Flatland clearly wasn’t enough for TJ Hertz, and he came along to offer us one of the year’s best singles on a split 12” for Leisure System with Dopplereffekt. Ganzfeld is a mind-bender full of sudden shifts and electro flourishes, stuffed with detail but destructive on the dancefloor. You couldn’t ask for more.

8. Barnt – Under His Own Name But Also Sir [Hinge Finger]

The only release this year on Will Bankhead and Joy O’s Hinge Finger imprint was a stunning one-two punch from man of the moment Barnt, both sides of which really deserve a place in this list. While the stark Chappell detonated many a dancefloor, it was on the brilliantly-titled B-side that he struck true gold, militant percussion cutting like knives through the mournful, swooning synthwork: a sound somewhere between danger and religion. One of the year’s most singular, inspired cuts.

7. Caribou – Can’t Do Without You [City Slang]

The first cut from Caribou’s Our Love LP may have been played to death by the time you read this, but there’s a reason for that. It’s a veritable anthem, that tune that brings everyone together on a dancefloor, singing and smiling. It’s no simple production, either: Caribou plays with volume to make the track’s drop all the more effective, it all builds to a veritable fireworks display of melody, while the simple, sincere vocal line is sure to strike a chord with even the most hard-hearted listeners.

6. Dan White – Death Flutes [Forbidden Planet]

This techno space odyssey from Montreal’s Forbidden Planet has been on extremely heavy rotation in White Noise HQ, its slow build of ambience, gurgling acid and steady thud conjuring adventures in a bleak, desolated terrain. That the titular woodwind adds perfectly to the distressed, wistful aesthetic rather than proving a cheesy misstep only reinforces this song’s strength.

5. Efdemin – Parallaxis (Traumprinz’s Over 2 The End Version) [Dial]
Traumprinz has a way of going for big, genuine emotion without ever overdoing it, and reviving sounds that you might belong in the past with flair. He’s unafraid, and that’s part of what makes his music so enchanting. This stunning remix of Efdemin starts off as a subdued house track, its desolate vocal and cinematic synths conjuring a powerful mood. It’s the unexpected addition, just after the three-minute mark and some rave sirens turned melancholy, of a snappy breakbeat that elevates this tune to near-perfection. By the time you get to the burbling chimes that bring the track to a close, your fingers will already be edging towards the repeat button, and you’ll probably be feeling a lot of things you don’t normally feel. Viva Traumprinz.

4. Leon Vynehall – Butterflies [Royal Oak]

Vynehall’s mini-LP was a wonderful collection of tunes, but for us his best single track of the year was this follow up on Clone’s Royal Oak imprint a few months later. It’s an unashamedly upbeat slice of filtered house, with a lush piano line and an introspective vocal just on the right side of cheesy, with a rhythmic backbone tough enough to keep bring even the most reticent to the dance. The word ‘organic’ is thrown around a lot when it comes to Vynehall, and with good reason: his instrumentation has a warm, live feel that sets him apart from contemporaries, and a sincerity that allows euphoric tracks like this one to really take off.

3. Daniël Jacques – End Of My World [Mistress]
This one casts a spell: synths flicker like candlelight, open hi-hats slice through the dust, and that enigmatic vocal line is cooed over and over, seemingly acquiring different meanings with every repetition. When we appear to be heading for a breakdown halfway through, the kick disappears, the vocal echoes off, and, abruptly, the kick returns - gratification is sudden and immediate rather than delayed. That’s what makes this track more than the disco loop it appears to be: a sense of mystery that lingers long after the tune ends.

2. Jack J – Something (On My Mind) [Mood Hut]

Mood Hut’s releases have a way of prioritising vibe over innovation or dancefloor power, and that’s just why we’ve come to love them. The gorgeous B-side of Jack J’s solo EP (he’s one half of Pender Street Steppers) was an absolute masterpiece, rolling on at an unhurried pace, funky bass bumps and a lazy sax line bringing a contemplative mood to the chill. There aren’t really the words for this one: you’ve just got to relax, close your eyes, and listen.

1. Floating Points – King Bromeliad [Eglo]

King Bromeliad opens with a recording of Floating Points playing it out at his (sadly closed) home, London venue Plastic People. The sound is tinny, filtered, we can hear the crowd chattering and the speakers rumbling. Then, a switch, and the groove continues in unadulterated form, Floating Points’ immaculate sound design all the more impressive for the contrast (a similar trick was memorably pulled in Slum Village's Dilla-produced anthem The Look Of Love). It’s an example of exactly the kind of ingenious (not to mention meta) touch and real care that Sam Shepherd brings to all of his productions, and the track that follows is, unsurprisingly an utter delight. It's a rich, jazzy house tune that shuffles along at its own pace, sounding a little like the dancier cousin of Myrtle Avenue, the opener to Shepherd's superb Shadows EP. Its elasticated chords are arranged spaciously, building and receding, while thousands of melodic and percussive details bristle beneath the track's surface: it takes a great deal of complexity to come up with something that sounds so effortless.

In any list like these, the top few entries will be ordered almost arbitrarily: what makes the second best track worse than the first? We gave Mr Points the top spot not just for this excellent jam but also for his peerless musical catalogue: each release, however infrequent they may be, refreshing and joyous, while even his older cuts sound as relevant and moving as they did on first release. He might just be the best producer we've got right now.


Join us for more White Noise reviews and features in 2015, and while you wait you can listen to our resident DJ Moth's mix of some of our favourite techno tracks of the year, embedded below or here on Mixcloud.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, 12 January 2015

Best Tracks of 2014: Part 1

Trends come and go, but good music is forever. While there are a great deal of unique producers who will always plough their own furrows, it’s interesting to note when a scene as a whole takes an interest in a certain sound: less the result of imitation than a group of like-minded people walking in sync (well, sometimes imitation). We saw it with the rise of lofi house, industrial techno, instrumental grime and jungle revivalism over the past couple of years, and 2014 has brought its own sounds to the fore. The icy future-funk of electro found a place in a lot of the year’s techno output, a range of producers started exploring ambient textures off the dancefloor, and a number of producers known for their darkness put out tunes that were surprisingly bright and – dare we say it – pretty.

Whether you’re into dark or light, revival or futurism, dance fans have been spoiled in 2014. Here are White Noise’s 50 top tracks.

50. Person Of Interest – Call This Number [LIES]
It’s got all the trappings of a classic LIES release: clattering percussion, waves of tape hiss, melodies buried in the mix, but this tune’s simple synthline proved devastating, while its intrepid structure more than justified the ten minute runtime.

49. Deadboy – Return [Numbers]
Deadboy is an interesting case: his tracks always tap into current trends and forward-thinking sounds, but their quality and shelf-life far outlasts most contemporaries. On his wonderfully varied Return EP for Numbers it was this dramatic ambient intro that proved most transportative, a rousing space hymn for the digital age.

48. Gesloten Cirkel – Submit X [Murder Capital]

Gesloten Cirkel’s superb debut LP  brought techno and electro with a healthy dose of humour, showcased on the title cut which loops a pitchbending vocal over a taut electro snap that brings the dance despite its brevity.

47. Even Tuell – Precious Cloud [Latency]

We’ve been keeping an eye out for Even Tuell since hearing the superb B2 of his collaboration with Midnightopera on Workshop. The producer’s ear for subtle melancholy is unparalleled, typified on Precious Cloud from this year’s Longing Way EP. It’s a deceptively simple affair where the melody twinkles with yearning, a muted bassline appearing halfway through to carry us off to the stars.

46. An-i – Kino-i (Mix) (Cititrax)

This is about the most destructive track we grew to love this year. A study in chaos dressed up as peak-time techno, Kino-i  runs a corrosive acid line over a field of dense kicks, scrapes and bangs, all leading to what can only be described as a mindfuck of a breakdown: the track’s parts falling away, grinding to a halt, churning and whirring like the inner workings of some infernal machine, before the kick slams back into place and some semblance of order is restored (for now).

45. Austin Cesear – 1 Year [Proibito]

Cesear turned to woozy house with aplomb for his outing on Anthony Naples’ Proibito imprint, including this epic on the B-side, a hazily addictive cut drenched in nostalgia and warmth.

44. Marquis Hawkes – Can’t Find A Reason [Houndstooth]

We thought we knew what to expect from both Marquis Hawkes - lofi house on Dixon Avenue Basement Jams – and Houndstooth, who seem concerned with the darker fringes of the dancefloor. So what a surprise for Houndstooth to sign his latest, a flat-out banger where an RnB vocal is looped ad infinitum over a crunchy beat and classic bass stabs. The level of polish is unexpected, and it may all bring back bass music circa 2012, but there’s no debating how this one can tear a dancefloor apart.

43. Mike Dehnert – En Outre [Delsin]

This bouncy closer to Dehnert’s Lichtbedingt LP shows the German at his straightest and funnest, an elastic bassline reigning supreme with a gently swung rhythm and laser-gun synth fire. The only problem is the length. Extended mix, anyone?

42. Pender Street Steppers – Openin’ Up [People’s Potential Unlimited]
PPU has been upping their game year on year, but the signing of Mood Hut-affiliated Pender Street Steppers was inspired even by their standards – and also a perfect fit. Openin’ Up is a lazy Sunday jam, twisting the sounds of worn-out house and syrupy instrumental funk into a deliciously odd soup. We couldn’t get enough.

41. R-Zone – Down You Go [R-Zone]

Crème’s semi-anonymous R-Zone series continued to impress in 2014, and this nocturnal cut brought the drama. There’s a distinctly religious vibe to this one, the bell tolls and serene vocals contrasting with serrated drum patterns and corrosive static which become increasingly frenetic as the track goes on. Wicca rave.

40. Ondo Fudd – Harbour [Trilogy Tapes]

Call Super (aka JR Seaton) shot to techno stardom this year with a singular LP and a dangerous club-tooled 12” for Houndstooth, but we never forgot this EP from earlier in the year which showcased his playful side. Harbour is a blistering slice of electro, its scifi sinews flexing restlessly, with a healthy dose of muscle in that elastic bassline.

39. NGLY – Speechless Tape [LIES]

Newcomer NGLY knocks it out of the park on this threatening cut. The first thing you’ll hear is that menacing bassline, but the uneasy synth wash and disaffected vocal add to the B-movie horror vibe, while rattling percussion and punishing hi-hats make this one as danceable as it is moody.

38. DJ Metatron – Rave Child [Traumprinz]
Traumprinz takes to a new alias and a new style as DJ Metatron, producing 90s throwback with the emotions turned up to 11, but it’s the modern details that make this one: the intricate percussion never content to just loop, the subtle bass blips that lend substance to the drama of its vocal and melody.

37. Floorplan – Never Grow Old (Re-Plant) [M-Plant]
Robert Hood’s update to last year’s techno-gospel anthem Never Grow Old was one of the year’s most universally played and adored tunes, and with good reason. This new version strips the original of some of its warmth, with an urgent church organ taking centre stage, blurring the lines between religious and drug-induced frenzy, taking hold of you and not letting go.

36. Delroy Edwards – Always (Edit) [Gene’s Liquor]

Delroy breaks into filtered house with this rugged roller, a crushed synthline abruptly giving way to an unreservedly joyous piano line and an unexpectedly euphoric disco climax. Shame it’s over so soon.

35. Head High – Hex Factor [Power House]

Shed’s generous double-pack of techno weapons continued to show a producer at the pinnacle of his career, our favourite being this raw confection of breaks and kicks with its galactic synthwork playing like a dazed version of his anthemic Rave (Dirt Mix).

34. Terekke – Untitled A1 [LIES]

LIES’ most singular producer amazed us yet again with this slice of dubby house, letting a new brightness and energy into his sound as a longing vocal and shimmering synthwork brushed up against his signature percussive work.

33. Kangding Ray – Amber Decay [Raster-Norton]

This is techno at its blackest, a jackhammer kick and skittering percussion threatened by blasts of static noise. Yet there’s more there: the buried choir-like melody gives the track a hint of the profane, while those brighter synth blips deep in the mix shine out bravely, weakly against the darkness. The devil’s in the details.

32. Eduardo De La Calle – Somewhere In Your Arms [Cadenza]
The percussion on this one is effective but simple enough, but it’s in De La Calle’s melody that genius shines: the way those synths flutter and distend, gently, sometimes alone, sometimes accompanied by melancholic pads and elastic stretches reaching to the sky. It’s subtle, it’s quiet, but little evokes heartache and longing like Somewhere In Your Arms.

31. Shackleton – Freezing Opening Thawing [Woe To The Septic Heart]
Shackleton continued to follow no one’s lead but his own with Freezing Opening Thawing, his synthwork colourful and polished yet oddly physical, borrowing from African rhythms with a restless inventiveness that impresses more with every melodic shift the track undergoes.

30. Art Crime – Release [W.T. Records]
Art Crime’s excellent self-titled debut certainly had its eye on the past with its euphoric piano house style, but there was a liquid quality to the keys and an unusual sense of pace to the drum patterns that made this one stand out from the pack.

29. Fatima – Biggest Joke Of All [Eglo]
It’s hard to pick just one tune from Fatima’s gorgeous Yellow Memories LP, but this Floating Points production stood out because of its simplicity. A simple boom bap rhythm and a jazzy organ melody allows Fatima’s warm, nuanced voice to stay centre-stage, exactly where it deserves to be.

28. Millie & Andrea – Stay Ugly [Modern Love]

Andy Stott and Miles Whittaker reached new heights on their debut collaborative album Drop The Vowels, and Stay Ugly was our favourite cut. Everything here is broken, from the serrated beats to the uneven, glassy synthwork that, despite its brightness sounds worn, trampled and lost.

27. Minor Science – Hapless [Trilogy Tapes]

One of the year’s best mind-benders came courtesy of music journalist Angus Finlayson, whose Hapless offers a sluggish kick-clap combo held in the thrall of a rippling, unpredictable synthline which warps the fabric of the track. When the melody burst into brightness around the three-minute mark we were hooked. You’d have to brave to play this in the club, but for us it hits all the right buttons.

26. Anthony Naples – More Problem [Trilogy Tapes]

Naples’ 2014 was not as prolific as last year, but if he keeps getting better than you’ll hear no complaints from us. More Problem takes the piano house banger and flips it on its head, with technoid percussion and dubbed-out keys that are more eyes-down propulsion than hands-in-the-air euphoria.

Join us next time for our 25 top tracks of the year!

Best of 2014:

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,