Bob Holroyd Re:Turns

“Writing music is often like assembling a collage, and I think this is why a lot of my tracks have a sort of cinematic quality to them,” says Holroyd.

Bob Holroyd entered the American consciousness with two gorgeous, mostly downtempo (though the man had some beats to boot) albums on Six Degrees Records earlier in the decade. The UK producer makes beautiful work of pianos, strings, and guitars, fitting somewhat obtusely into the “ambient” scene, though his works merits a stronger citation than most of the mediocrity lumped into that category. The digital has always been an accompaniment, and not the driving force, in his work, no matter what the tempo or culture he’s exploring.

Recently Bob reached out to me regarding the new three-disc “Re” series he’s released—he has been a consistent “email friend”, that kind we acquire in this technological age. Such friendships are among the best aspects of instant access. He shipped out the three albums, a total of 32 songs, many I was familiar with, although most in a new form, whether that meant remixes of his work by Nitin Sawhney, TJ Rehmi, dimmsummer, Frederic Galliano, or dZihan & Kamien, or his own retakes on his music. It’s a great way to access his impressive catalog and see what a prolific time he’s had over the short span of a decade. True to form, we traded questions online, to get to the heart of his latest musical undertaking.

What was the inspiration behind the RE: project?

Initially it came about as a result of getting the rights back to the two albums I recorded for the Six Degrees Record label. There were a few mixes by myself and others that had either only been released on vinyl, or not released at all, so my first thought was to put them out as a sort of “completionist” album.

Having listened to the tracks on A Different Space and Without Within again after such a long break, I thought it would be interesting to reapproach some of my old tracks and see what I would do differently this time around. Extending this idea further, I also wanted to get more artists/DJs involved, to see how they would interpret the music. As a result, the project has grown and developed into a much bigger entity than I had initially envisaged.

The global music component has long been a part of your work. When did international music become a force in your life, and subsequently your work?

When my family went on holiday to Kenya in the late ‘70s. This was when I first heard African music and it seemed so different from anything I was listening to, or even heard of.

From then on, everywhere I traveled, I noticed such a variety of new sounds and musical styles, and I wanted to incorporate some of these into my own work.

One of my favorite tracks has always been “Drumming Up A Storm”. For the most part, your work has been down- to mid-tempo. This, along with a few other songs, such as “African Drug”, work specifically for the dance floor. Did you study African drumming or African music?

No, other than just listening to it.

Along with that theme, Indian music seems to influence you a bit.

The same, really. Having traveled to India, I absolutely loved the place: the noise, the colours, the smells. On a scale of one to ten, everything seems to be turned up to at least 12!

Getting inspiration from traveling, or experiencing new or different cultures, has been a constant theme in my music, and where I derive a lot of inspiration from. I have no real musical boundaries, I just love new sounds and new ways of doing things musically. Discovering a whole range of different instruments, sounds, and ways of playing them is the equivalent of a painter suddenly being given a completely new palette of colors that seemingly didn't exist before, and these are often the starting point or triggers for new ideas.

Being that you have a broad range of styles, you have remixed quite a diverse list of artists. My favorite of the remixes is the beautiful track from Sanscapes. What do you look for when approaching a remix? Are there any specific guidelines you go by, either culturally or aesthetically?

It depends on the source material as to whether I feel there are any cultural guidelines. If it is a track that is already a modern piece of music, I think my role is to reinterpret the track in my own particular style. However, if the source material is traditional, or sacred, then I try to approach the track in a culturally sympathetic way.

The example you refer to, “Looking Back”, is a good illustration of this. Sanscapes was a remix album using traditional chants and songs of the Kalahari Bushmen, and the aim of the project was to raise awareness of their plight. I obviously totally agree with those who want to document and try and preserve the way of life of the various indigenous peoples around the world, and this was definitely the main reason for getting involved.

However, I felt that my role in this project was not just to duplicate a traditional Kalahari song, as these have already been recorded and documented, but to try and represent musically the journey the Bushmen are on, and also write something that would be accessible to western ears in the hope that this in itself might bring more attention to their situation.

This is why the track starts with the Bushmen singing on their own, but gradually builds and develops into a more modern sounding piece, to hopefully represent the direction their lives are unfortunately going in as they try to adapt to the pressures of the modern world. I think the fact that the Bushmen themselves were so involved with the whole project demonstrates that they realize that they face this challenge, and are prepared to change in order to keep the basis of their culture intact.

Furthermore, this is an example of how musical and cultural boundaries are so fluid. As a result of some of the Bushmen coming to London to help promote the Sanscapes event, they have since written a new song called “Big Metal Bird”, a reference documenting their first ever flight in an airplane !

On the flip side, the RE: series features a number of seasoned remixers taking stabs at your material: Frederic Galliano, dZihan & Kamien, Nitin Sawhney, tj Rehmi. How did you connect with these musicians? How did you respond to their mixes?

I started by writing to musicians who work in a similar genre of music to ask if they would be interested in working on the project. As well as being artists that I knew and liked, I felt that they would remix the tracks in a sympathetic, as well as interesting way. This they have done admirably, and I’m really pleased with the results.

However, I have subsequently moved the project on by also asking artists whose work is not necessarily in the same style as my own, and in some ways this has been more interesting—or interesting in a different way, as I have less preconception of what they might come up with.

While we’ve been talking about the upbeat, the bulk of your work is very relaxed, orchestral, cinematic at times. Do you have training in classical music?

Up to a point, yes. I was sent to piano lessons from an early age and the bulk of the teaching was classically orientated, but since then I haven't really ever worked or seen myself as a classical composer.

What is it about the visual component of the downtempo music that inspires you? I say visual because your slower material is filled with imagery.

I tend to think as music in a visual way, and as a result write music similarly. Writing music is often like assembling a musical collage with all the various textures and colors making up the whole, and I think this is why a lot of my tracks have a sort of cinematic quality to them.

I’m especially pleased with the re: cycle component: all packaging is recycled, including the plastic tray. Has this ecological consideration influenced other areas of your life?

Yes definitely. It’s something I have always been aware of, even though at times it seems very difficult to follow it through in all aspects of one’s life. I try to do all the things that hopefully will make a difference, like buying organic food, fair-trade products, products not tested on animals, etc. But I find it hard not to get depressed or overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the environmental problems the world is facing.

Ironically, it cost me quite a lot more to use recycled materials, which I find appalling in this day and age, and just shows the stupidity of the situation. However, I want to try and make a difference, however small, and therefore I'm really pleased you have mentioned this point, as it may inspire a few more people to think about these issues, and hopefully incorporate them into their own lives.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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