Music

Squarepusher: Damogen Furies

Even when Damogen Furies starts to become overfamiliar in its spastic rhythmic explorations, Squarepusher finds a way to upset the listener's expectations.


Squarepusher

Damogen Furies

Label: Warp
US Release Date: 2015-04-21
UK Release Date: 2015-04-20
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When approaching the arsenals of synthesizers, knobs, and buttons wielded by the pre-eminent electronic musicians of the day, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by a phenomenon that fighter pilots call "target confusion". For them, this feeling kicks in when so many targets appear on their horizon that they become locked up, unable to ascertain which of the plurality of targets is the right one. Now, the jury is out on whether or not the so-called "paradox of choice" is actually a thing, but there is undoubtedly an intuitive appeal to the concept. Given the number of music software programs, plug-ins, pedals, and presets that are available to artists, just how can one ever content him or herself with settling for only a few cool sounds? What if the next button does something even cooler?

Squarepusher, the name of the solo electronic project helmed by Tom Jenkinson, is a good example of someone seemingly immune to target confusion, an artist who finds no paradox in choice. On his 16th studio LP, Damogen Furies, he comes at the listener with a veritable barrage of glitchy electronics, pummeling bass, and spastic rhythmic shifts. Hearing this music makes it sound as if Jenkinson can walk up to his instruments and know exactly which knobs to turn and what keys to press, as if by some preternatural intuition. The intensity of Damogen Furies is overwhelming, yet in its composition it's easy to sense that Jenkinson is calm and collected throughout. After all, this is the same gentleman who titled his debut Feed Me Weird Things; upsetting apple carts is kind of his game.

Jenkinson has had any number of electronic subgenre names lobbed in his direction over the course of his lengthy career, which began in the early-to-mid '90s. This is indicative not just of the ever-persistent desire of the critic to come up with lofty portmanteus, but also of his ability to thrive in a range of styles. As such, it's a bit surprising to hear the pop catchiness of Damogen Furies opener "Stor Eiglass"; although far from basic in its melodic and particularly its rhythmic structure, it does have an accessibility that is not far off from the realm of EDM festival types like Skrillex and Avicii. This pop quality is also somewhat unexpected given Jenkinson's initial claims about Damogen Furies. In its press release, he said that with this music he intended "to explore as forcefully as possible the hallucinatory, the nightmarish and the brutally visceral capacities of electronic music”. By the time the record comes to its close at a brisk 43 minutes, his statement of intent is proven quite true. For that reason, "Stor Eiglass" is both representative of the complex songwriting throughout the LP and a clever misdirection. Things get brutal after that point, meaning that any ideas of dropping molly and putting this over the speakers is probably ill-advised.

From the strobe light synths of "Rayc Fire 2" to the furious, seemingly untethered coda of "Baltang Arg", Damogen Furies is a study in controlled chaos. Individual motifs and melodies come to the fore in each track, but in most cases they end up being submerged in tangential layers that push these tunes in increasingly, and for the most part pleasingly, erratic directions. On the whole, there is a feeling of homogeneity that starts to arise; even composition as spastic as this can grow to become familiar. Certain rhythmic ideas stand out amongst what is a dizzying collection of tempos and beats -- the stop-start pull of "Exjag Nives" being a highlight -- but by the end, these ideas lose their luster. Fortunately, things never get to Cinnamon Challenge levels of "too much of a good thing".

Given the extensive high-energy pace of Damogen Furies, the few comparatively quieter moments become all the more distinct. Both the airy notes that hang a backdrop over "Baltang Ort" and the calm-before-the-storm pad synths on "Exjag Nives" prove to be especially tense elements to include on Jenkinson's part. These more tranquil features interspersed throughout album never feel like full respites from the sonic assaults that make up the bulk of these songs. Instead, they're akin to the sensation of letting your foot off the gas when beginning to hydroplane; the car isn't picking up any speed, but you can tell at any moment the wheels will find their way back to the asphalt at any moment, and speedily onward it will go. And what a thrill ride this is; even when the feeling of wheels rolling against the road becomes mundane, there's always a series of twists and turns waiting ahead.

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

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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