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The Genre With No Name

November 6, 2012

Like it or not, it’s getting to that time of year when people cast an eye over proceedings and make arbitrary lists of their ‘best bits’. I say this dismissively, but I’m one of the people who takes perverse pleasure in spending hours of my leisure time compiling said lists. Due to the ludicrously anticipatory timetable that magazines run on, my polling begins at the end of October when Mixmag put out a call to contributors for the January year-in-review issue.

So I’ve just sent off my dance music-skewed list, and while you’ll have to wait a month until I roll it into my other favourites to collate my own end of year blog post, it did get me thinking about a certain musical trend I’ve enjoyed in 2012. As much as I’d like to give it a name and claim it’s discovery as my own, I’m having difficulty pinning down this disparate genre that cropped up time and time again in my top 20.

I think its genesis occurred in my head whilst listening to Ivan Smagghe’s mix made for French magazine Tsugi back at the beginning of the year. Building on the foundation he laid down in Tim Sweeney’s irritatingly well programmed Beats in Space radio show, updating his always rough and indie-sounding style with some simply stunning records.

On both mixes there are some fine cuts from him and his Kill the DJ label – stuff from newly signed band Eyes in the Heat and Smagghe’s collaborative remixes with Tim Paris under the It’s a Fine Line guise – plus a couple of the tracks I would give as defining examples of what I’m banging on about. Firstly, the magnificent Todd Terje remix of The Units’ ‘High Pressure Days’, which is up there with his 2012 anthem ‘Inspector Norse’ as one of my very favourite things to get pumped up with. It’s a perfect combination of the sunny synths from the tail end of the nu-disco movement, with the brawn of classic rock guitars and drum patterns. Just a fantastic top-o-the night tune.

The other song is by that sweet combination of Superpitcher and Rebolledo as the Pachanga Boys. I fell in love with their one-last-tune epic ‘Time‘ from last year’s Girlcatcher EP, but it was the altogether more muscular ‘Legs’ off the Christine EP in July that really set things on fire (pardon the track-related pun). It’s one of those mid-set game changers, upping the tempo in a maddeningly gradual fashion with vibes straight out of a sweaty NYC loft party circa 1977.

The other side of this trend comes from my 2012 best newcomer Daniel Avery and his mentor Andrew Weatherall. Avery really followed through on his early promise, finishing the year with a fine FabricLive mix, featuring probably his strongest production to date; ‘Water Jump’. As Dan told me in my Indy interview, he’s been lucky enough to share engineers and gain plaudits from the undisputed innovator of indie dance music, Mr Weatherall, and my favourite fruit of this mutual musical appreciation was Avery’s stunning recreation of Joker of the Scene’s ‘Black Mountie’, a hallmark-laden homage complete with repetitive riff, power drone, disembodied female refrain and sweeping breakdown. Weatherall meanwhile, confirmed legendary status with a Masterpiece mix for credibility-seeking Ministry of Sound in April. As Resident Advisor notes, the mix actually eschews the grungier side of his sound for the “dubby, sophisticated yet experimental, and highly melodic side of house, with a good slice of cosmic disco”. His remixes of Cut Copy’s ‘Sun Gold’ and Timothy J. Fairplay’s ‘The Final Reel’ fit the template I’m imagining, while the diskJokke mix of Martin Brodin’s ‘Badabing’ is an absolute scorcher in the mould of Todd Terje’s edit of The Units.

So this scene seems to be characterised by established DJ/producers breaking or remixing talented newer artists, and to continue the theme I’d like to nominate Justin Robertson and Erol Alkan. The latter’s 6Music  residency has been the breeding ground for an awful lot of fantastically off-kilter electronic music over the last 11 months; much of which was distilled into his recent return to compilation mixing for Bugged Out! While I’m less enamoured with the acid house/screechy techno side of Alkan and Robertson’s oeuvre, the pair of them have either made, or made me aware of some fine songs that fit my mould. I’m thinking Erol’s funk workout edit of ‘Gee Up’ by Kindness, the throw-everything-at-it Todd Rundgren remix of Tame Impala’s excellent ‘Elephant’, and Robertson’s Deadstock 33 dub of ‘Killing Jokes’ by The Glimmers.

There have of course been many other fantastic singles and albums that don’t lend themselves to my pigeon-holing, but compared to the diversity in my dance music picks at the end of last year, it seems like there really has been a concerted movement towards making house music with analogue machines and live instruments, avoiding the digital production sheen for a more of a dirty, dubby sound.

One last strand to this trend treatise is the brilliant vinyl-only label Tusk Wax. Not being a record collector, I chanced upon their work via Leftside Wobble’s magnificent mix of their best releases to date, and was immediately taken with the diversity and warmth of sound throughout. Unsurprisingly, given the label’s ethos, there’s quite a retro skew to things, but I see nothing wrong with utilising some of the forgotten production techniques and tools to create modern house music. There’s many a gem to be unearthed, from the folksy guitars of The Project Club’s ‘A Gypsy Trance’ to the driving rhythm’s of ‘Avventura In Guinea’ by Fab Mayday and my personal favourite, young Northern Irish producer Ejeca’s Repercolation of ‘Tetra’.

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