Featuring Time Cow’s ear worm melodies, Onelight’s future beats twists, and KG’s red-hot explorations of RnB and soul
We’re halfway through 2021, and despite a feeling of brief respite in recent months, it remains clear that we’ve still got some way to go with the pandemic. Depending on where you are in the world, vaccine programs may be rolling out, and your city or country may be reopening, or maybe not. Systematic inequality, discrimination, and police brutality continue to darken day-to-day reality for many, and the horizons look increasingly uncertain. And yet, amidst the challenges, music continues to function as a source of community and collective solace.
Despite the difficulty setting right now – the pandemic’s economic impact has hugely affected the arts, with those already struggling financially being hit the hardest – new and under-discussed talents in the world of underground music are still finding a way. For the second edition of our quarterly roundup for 2021, we’re continuing to acknowledge musicians, artists, producers, and DJs from across the globe, all with strong communities, real visions, and important statements to make. Here are ten essential Q2 releases, all available on Bandcamp.
WHO: The Chengdu producer finding the sweet spot between experimental rock, techno, and garage.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Kaishandao, aka Kristen Ng, is one of those artists who find a way to honour their past while seeking out new pathways for their future. Born in New Zealand but based in the Sichuan province, her music draws from years spent working in record stores, blogging, and booking venues. Along the way, Ng has explored indie rock, noise, psychedelia, and now the many shades of electronic club music. Workshopped on drum machines, samplers, guitar, a cassette player, and Ableton, Homeland is a six-song summary of experiences that have shaped her journey. With appearances on NTS and Boiler Room to her name and regular tours across China, she’s the definition of an artist on the rise.
FOR FANS OF: Delia Derbyshire, Tomu DJ, Nicolás Jaar.
TIME COW & GIARK, GLORY
WHO: Two Jamaican dancehall dignitaries who see well beyond the borders of genre.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Jordan Chung, aka Time Cow, has spent over a decade keeping dancehall music weird as part of the Equiknoxx Music production collective, but Glory sees him stepping through a new set of doors of perception. Created in collaboration with the singer Giark, son of Bobby “Digital B” Dixon, and their musician and engineer friends and family, Chung and Giark have styled Glory as J Punk. By this, they’re talking about an open-eared blend of reggae, punk, dancehall, steppers, funk, rock, jazz, and blues. Giark is a striking vocalist, the kind who can seemingly summon up earworm melodies on a whim. Set against Chung’s exploratory production, Glory’s seven songs make for an invigorating, exciting and most of all, refreshing experience.
FOR FANS OF: Mr Mitch, Compass Point All Stars, Ricky Ranking.
WHO: A South Korean musician who uses traditional Korean folk to reimagine club music.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Although I’ve heard music that hints at the possibilities explored on bela’s Guidelines EP, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a record quite like this before. Rooted in a painstakingly in-depth exploration of the discrete rhythmic patterns of Nongak, a folkloric genre described as “farmer’s music”, bela recasts tradition through a future-forward synthesised lens. Untethered from strict tempo and BPM, Guidelines seven instrumental songs apply these principles to shapes that resemble grime, deconstructed club, gabber, and footwork. Fittingly, bela’s rhythmic abstractions come wedded to melodies that feel transmitted straight out of a waking dream. If you’re looking for something new, Guidelines is it. It’s also worth noting the accompanying cover artwork, equally painstakingly designed by Jesse Osborne-Lanthier of Éditions Appærent.
FOR FANS OF: Fatima Al Qadiri, Renick Bell, FRKTL.
WHO: The French producer and DJ bringing the energy of blog house and Myspace rap into the 2020s.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: After honing his craft as a DJ in Paris in the late 2000s and early 2010s by playing alongside artists like Jimmy Edgar, SOPHIE, Machinedrum, and Rustie, Onelight leapt into production with his 2016 EP TUGGSPEEDMAN, released on Musique Large. Five years on, 2021 finds him releasing his second album, EMPORIUM. An elastic blend of synthesised soul/RnB, uptempo electro-rap and wonky boogie instrumentals, the album sees Onelight collaborating with a range of rappers and vocalists, including Daz Rinko, Lord Felix, and bensbeendead. EMPORIUM recalls the mp3 blog music gold rush of the mid-2000s, but with several well-polished future beats twists, and a bunch of genuinely singalong songs.
FOR FANS OF: Kaytranada, SOPHIE, Hudson Mohawke.
AROOJ AFTAB, VULTURE PRINCE
WHO: The Brooklyn-based Pakistani composer and vocalist soothing souls with unforgettable songs.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Like a transmission from a Caol Ait or ‘thin place’ between realms, Arooj Aftab’s Vulture Prince lives in a tranquil interzone bordered by Sufi devotional poetry, neoclassical composition, minimal electronica, and freeform jazz. Her third album is seven years; Aftab has styled Vulture Prince as a portal back to places, people, relationships, and friendships which have vanished into dust. It’s also a companion chapter to her second album, 2015’s Bird Under Water. Between her yearning, otherworldly vocals and the vivid violin, harp, double bass, and synthesiser based soundscapes that compliment them, Vulture Prince’s seven songs expand into planets within solar systems; and solar systems within galaxies. It’s one of the most arresting albums of the year, and it will leave you in a calmer place than it found you.
FOR FANS OF: Jaubi, Sade, Roomful of Teeth.
LEONCE, RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT
WHO: The Atlanta-based New Orleans producer and DJ putting the snap of Louisiana rap into modern dance music.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: With Research & Development, the latest release on his Morph Tracks label, Leonce continues to bring his southern sensibilities to the sounds of classic US and UK dance music. However, this time around, his focus is techno and electro and the sonic structures that sit slightly adjacent to their dancefloor-focused futurist structures. Over three polished and powerful tracks, Leonce runs fizzed-up Roland TB-303 acid basslines against cloudy, sky-high synth pads, and frantic drum programming, dials up the handclaps, tones down the chords, and retrofits the heft of UK drill to a hulking electro beat. Over the course of his production career, Leonce has maintained meticulous form and in this regard, his Research & Development EP is no exception to the rule.
FOR FANS OF: AceMoMa, A.G, Edge Slayer.
MANUKA HONEY, INDUSTRIAL PRINCESS
WHO: A London astrologer, DJ, and producer bringing an apocalyptic bounce to reggaeton, baile funk, and rave.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Industrial Princess, the debut EP from Marissa Malik, aka Manuka Honey, is a masterclass in body music. Drawing rhythms from her Mexican and Pakistani heritage, her DJ sets combine cumbia, kudoro, reggaeton, techno, grime, and beyond. The four songs on this release only serve to build on that bedrock. Reframing their syncopated rhythms as skeletal instrumentals wrapped up inside industrial noise and haunted memory-melodies drawn from the sounds of 90s warehouse rave music, an undeniable pulse, skip, and shuffle powers her songs. Outside of music, Malik runs a popular horoscope column for gal-dem.com and regularly graces the pages of fashion publications.
FOR FANS OF: DJ Plead, Debit, Florentino.
WHO: The London-based broadcaster, DJ, and producer bringing afrobeats, UK Funky, gqom, and RnB into splendid harmony.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: With Sensei II, the proper debut EP release from Karen Nyame aka KG, oft-times dubbed “the goddess of rhythm”, you should be listening because you’ll be moving your body in no time flat. Although Nyame got her start in the UK Funky scene in the late 2000s, things really took off for her in the very late 2010s by way of releases with Goon Club Allstars and Hyperdub (a collab with Scratchclart). Over Sensei II’s five songs, Nyame calls in guests Aymos, Toya Delazy, Taliwhoah, and Mista Silva for a series of red-hot explorations of RnB and soul on a wickedly syncopated club tempo tip. All killer, no filler, Sensei II is an embarrassment of riches for the dancefloor.
FOR FANS OF: Uniiqu3, Scratch DVA, Lil Silva.
W00DY, HEADBANGING IN THE CLUB
WHO: The Pennsylvania producer, classically-trained vocalist, and DJ with some of the hardest drums in the Pittsburgh underground.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Over the last eight odd years, the Baltimore-raised artist known as W00dy has mapped out a musical pathway from noise-pop to moshpit IDM and jungle, with pit stops in existentially deconstructed club music along the way. Following on from their cult 2019 EP My Diary, Headbanging In The Club dials the intensity to riotous levels. W00dy has described Headbanging In The Club as an ode to Pittsburgh’s underground music scene. It’s a space where, as with many small cities worldwide, noise, and punk music live hand in hand with hard electronica in the same venues. Across six breakneck (and sometimes breakcore) songs, W00dy brings headbanging to the club dancefloor, underscoring the power of feeling safe to express yourself on your own terms.
FOR FANS OF: Loraine James, Squarepusher, Fire-Toolz
BACKXWASH, I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES
WHO: The modern heavy metal scene’s favourite rapper and producer.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: After winning the 2020 Polaris Award for her last album, God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It, I Lie Here Buried With My Rings And My Dresses, sees Montreal’s Ashanti Mutinta, aka Backxwash, diving deeper into the depths of industrial noise hip-hop. Rapping nimbly over abrasive half-time beats (mainly self-produced or crafted by clipping or Nowhere2run), Mutinta riffs on pain and despair, finding catharsis in a world that feels bent on self-destruction. Meanwhile, Ada Rook (Black Dresses), Sad13 (Speedy Ortiz), Michael Go, Lauren Bousfield, and Censored Dialogue provide guest vocals, additional guitars and noise, and samples of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and speech dialogue from activists like Angela Davis round out the proceedings. Every song is explosive, but the heft of I Lie Here Buried With My Rings And My Dresses feels right on time.