If you’ve taken an interest in electronic music over the past year, you probably don’t need telling that a lot of people liked Paul Woolford’s ‘Untitled’, or that Oneohtrix Point Never’s R Plus Seven was in fact incontestably and objectively the fourth best record released over the past twelve months. Rather than try and offer a comprehensive list of releases, artists, liveshows, labels, or whatever else; below you can find instead simply an anything goes collection of things that defined the year for each of us individually (and often collectively). There’s plenty of the same stuff you’ll find in other end-of-year features, but without the pretension of being able to produce an abstract ordered and classfied edition of the past year in electronic music (and yes, we do compile a monthly top-ten - let the hypocrisy flow).
The urge to create a definitive list of the year’s ‘best’ music, even if explicitly not laying claim to objectivity, still exemplifies the hubristic urge to tame and classify the social phenomena around us, and to give it coherence by imposing a narrative on it. So instead we’re embracing the chaos and confusion that was our musical experiences last year.
The following collection is not something we’ve spent too much time thinking about - just the things that immediately come to mind as what made 2013 so special and memorable. If we thought about it for much longer we’d doubtless include more of the things we ‘ought’ to include, but as it stands it’s incomplete, incoherent, open-ended; and hopefully by dint of all those things, quite interesting, just like 2013 was.
Hosted in the cavernous Kraftwerk Power Plant, July saw the rekindling of Atonal - a festival having run previously between 1982-1990, before its founder Dimitri Hegemann discontinued the event to found the now legendary Tresor nightclub. The re-instigation of the festival provides a welcome alternative to the usual, ‘shit-soundsystem-in-a-field’ style festival affair, providing a truly immersive experience through its carefully thought out setting.
The aura of Mitte’s ‘Kraftwerk’ venue is potent enough regardless of its use as a music venue, so it isn’t hard to imagine the powerful atmosphere created with the addition of Vladislav Delay’s rhythm-imbued ambience, or Samuel Kerridge’s grinding, post-apocalyptic drones. An effort was also made to present Atonal as an arts festival at large, early afternoons hosting film screenings in the Power Plant’s now redundant control room, with various visual art installations displayed in Kraftwerk’s lower chambers.
The rejuvenation of a bygone festival might suggest some attempt to relive or recreate the old days, yet Atonal 2013 felt perfectly adjusted to the current electronic, industrial and noise scenes, hosting a range of established artists alongside a healthy selection of up and comers.
2013 was a good year to discover the music of Yu Miyashita / Yaporigami. Having been sufficiently blown away by his Soundcloud submissions and his soundtrack to Lucio Arese’s short “Mimic” (which was screened at the Cannes Lions Festival earlier this year), we arranged to chat with him about his music and where he draws his inspiration. Along with the interview, we got an astonishing 10-track mix, masterfully constructed and enormous in its creative scope. Since then I’ve found myself returning to his music again and again.
This year I spent a night in a basement pub with a DIY DJ booth, Function One and a pint in a real pint glass. This was the second Standard Place night I had been to and after being treated to Ben UFO and Bok Bok last time, I trusted the crew when they said very special guests… they did not disappoint.
As a warm up we were treated to Jon Rust and Reecha casually going back to back until the room was full enough to bring on the first guest. Ossie was first on and being aware of him yet not that familiar I was excited to see what he would bring. A strong house set followed with bouncy piano rifts, a storm of hi-hats and 4x4 kicks impossible not to move to.
If this was to set the tone for the night we were mistaken, as Jam City stepped up and without pre-tense began an unremitting mix of garage, grime and dubstep mixed with such ferocity the crowd screamed for the drops and crowded the booth giving the whole room an atmosphere far removed from the segregation of crowd and talent most clubs endorse.
To finish up my night I watched Brackles start the sing-alongs with disco classics turning the room into a strange imitation of a wedding reception (but in the best way possible). For me a one of the best nights out all year, the Standard Place guys know how to throw a party, I couldn’t stop smiling all night and it was one of those dance floors that truly unites people in sound… not to sound too cheesy.
Many of us were sad to hear that Well Rounded would be drawing a line under the label side of their project earlier this year, however, every cloud has a silver lining. Strictly speaking, Well Rounded Vinyl Vendors opened their doors at the tail-end of 2012, but it was 2013 that’s cemented their reputation in and around Brighton.
The impact internet trading has had on record stores around the UK is common knowledge, yet with a stock tightly curated enough that frontman Ash Marlowe can assure a passion and insight into every single record in the place, it seems hard to fathom how anyone could think a digital medium could deliver anything like the same experience.
I’ve often found myself lamenting the fact that Brighton doesn’t seem to have a such an identifiable, cohesive scene as a city like Bristol, Manchester or Sheffield, yet it is creative institutions like this one that help to move things in this right direction.
I feel almost embarrassed that I never got round to reviewing this when it came out. Bandshell’s second EP not only solidified his sound – one that is truly distinctive, (quite a feat after only two releases!), but also cemented his place among my favourite newcomers of the last few years. The opening track, ‘Winton’, is ridiculously infectious, inventively swerving around compressed noise and sub-pulses with unapologetic power. ‘Perc’ takes a more considered approach, delicately interweaving moody analogue lines on top of one another, akin to (dare I say it?) some of the best AFX releases. George McVicar.
St John’s have recently been hosting an incredible range of experimental music from Fushitsusha to Actress to Tim Hecker, and the bizarre acoustics of the church coupled with the sheer beauty of the place makes it a perfect environment for any kind of live music. For this reason, I knew before I even entered the building that it was going to be a special one. Performing ‘Nocturnes’, Basinski played nostalgic, sepia-toned loops of creaky pianos and haunting murmurs, creating an intoxicating headspace and otherworldly atmosphere within the building. The contorted and decaying loops creeped around the fragile pews of the church, giving the piece an air of authenticity that felt unique to that particular performance in that particular space. As the piece slowly concluded, the loops gradually became fainter and fainter, until they were excruciatingly quiet. With the room almost entirely silent, Basinski slumped back into his chair, letting out a deafening sigh of relief and allowing his arms to fall by his side. At that point, I felt like I hadn’t moved a muscle since it began, so entranced was I by the whole thing. “That’s it”, he announced, before skulking back off stage and out of view. George McVicar.
I always find I finish a year feeling it has been somewhat defined by a particular label, this year I’m sure that it comes as no surprise that this year it is Bristol Based Livity Sound. Comprised of Peverelist, Asusu and Kowton, they have put out more records this year than any previous. Their releases build upon a strong and recognisable sound which is still pushing the boundaries of what we expect, and surprising us with things we wouldn’t. The three show runners are prolific in their own right yet it is the way they work together which makes each match up so interesting to listen to. Each member contributes a clear and unique presence within their creations and leads the listener to detect the hallmarks for the individuality of each producer. The year culminated in a series of live shows with Livity Sound performing as a group rather than a collection of producers which I feel shows the ideology around the label. They function as a mix and match set of guys who always deliver the goods. Their four hour Rinse FM podcast, for me was one of the best of the year. The continuity of the mixes and the direction that all three share make it clear why they function so well, they all have the same aim and this year they came closest to achieving it. Owen Lewis.
The inclusion of Nile Rodgers in this list might seem a bit incongruous, given that 2013 was a year in which he won no shortage of plaudits, and also produced an Avicii record. But production credits such as that are testament to quite how difficult it is for him to shit upon his legacy. We (Owen & Rob) both agreed that he’d been an indomitable presence throughout the year for us, so decided to share some sentiments about him. Owen writes: From his godlike status as member of Chic in the heydays of New York disco, to producing for the likes of Madonna and Britney Spears, there is probably no man who has got more people dancing than Nile Rodgers. This year culminated in him being in the public eye more than ever, due to his collaboration with Daft Punk, and a rising interest in disco over the past few years; and for me it was a pleasure to be able to watch a man I admire so much for his work in the studio, actually performing in front of those he is able to give so much pleasure to. Although I wasn’t able to be there, I watched the TV broadcast of his Glastonbury performance with Chic. The camera was mostly trained on him for the performance and more importantly his pearly, heartwarming smile which was infectious even through the television set. After an emotional finale to the performance not only did I feel like I wanted to cover myself in glitter and ‘get down’, but I also felt a strange sense of pride at seeing an icon of mine be adored on a scale I feel he deserves. Rob writes: I was actually fortunate enough to see Chic at Bestival in September. There’s not much I can say about it – it was an unfathomable pleasure to end up lost in music at the behest of the man himself, and a thoroughly moving experience. That personal experience aside, Rodgers announced in July that he had beaten cancer, and as aforementioned, he co-wrote and starred on the year’s second biggest –selling (and most omnipresent) single; two things certainly worthy of a mention. While it certainly says a lot about the state of popular music that a man in his sixties has been the saving grace for megastars such as Daft Punk and Disclosure by collaborating with them, if it helps keep disco alive and brings the sound he helped pioneer to a younger generation, then there is some hope left. Remember kids: it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Owen Lewis & Rob Heath.
Having discovered Derek Piotr through his Raj album from earlier this year, I was instantly intrigued by the combination of his extreme use of vocals, combined with erratic, processed industrial rhythms. A mix we hosted from Piotr a couple of months ago proved just how varied his taste is, providing a turbulent collage of eastern chant, glitch, pop and noise music. Following this we were graced with a free collaborative EP from Piotr & co-producer Paul Heslin, the impact of which was a far cry from the ‘low-key collaboration’ penned in the duo’s press release. Electronic music rarely manages to be this diverse whilst maintaining a coherent, instantly recognisable signature. There are no doubt countless others out there, but Derek Piotr is one such artist who has helped to remind us why we began writing in the first place. Theo Darton-Moore.
When I went to Fabric in January for my inaugural club visit of 2013 I was expecting big things seeing as I had spent the last few hours deciding on who I was going to see and who was going to regrettably be sidelined. It’s fair to say that the line up was absolutely huge, yet the artist I would come home thinking of wasn’t even playing. Fellow SL contributors and I put our faith in Pearson Sound to start off our night and somewhere in the middle of the unrelenting percussion and big bass breaks there was one song that left us all begging reloads and asking anyone if they knew who, what, why and how? After realizing that we were being treated to an exclusive it fell to the most fearless of us to go up and shout at Chunky. When he came back he shouted at us over the opening snares “Kowton” and I could hear the name being passed around. As a song it secured it’s self as being one of my favorites of the year despite being slightly over played. As a first listening experience it was one of the few songs that I remember in every detail, and causes fevered whispers on the dance floor, making it truly an unforgettable experience. Owen Lewis.
This is something I’d definitely rather not have happened this year, yet it is an event that will undoubtably be remembered by many with reference to 2013. Cable was one of the few venues left in London to make excellent use of an unconventional space, whilst simultaneously becoming revered in multiple scenes for its diverse, expertly curated parties. Having been ousted by National Rail for ‘development’ despite being previously assured their plans would not infringe of the nightclub’s running, the closing of Cable has left a notable vacuum is London’s clubbing scene. This said, I have little doubt that 2014 won’t pass without the iconic brand setting up in another location – let’s hope it happens sooner rather than later. Theo Darton-Moore.
A relatively late event in the year but no less noteworthy for it, December 10th saw the second of Half Baked’s interview/Q&A sessions, hosted in Hackney Wick’s most recently established trendy place, Number 90. With Mike Huckaby invited to conduct the first, the second saw the man behind the Perc moniker and affiliated label Perc Trax, Ali Wells discuss techno, and his musical history. Wells is someone who I would consider one of the most stable and sought after Techno DJs and producers of the past decade, so the opportunity to hear him talk about early rave culture, the influence of his brother, and his years working at a distribution company was naturally incredibly insightful. Michael Feghali.
For an artist to shed a moniker, particularly one that has been going for over eleven years, is always a brave thing to do. You run the risk of alienating your audience, or receiving less coverage as a result of your new, unfamiliar name. This year, Ben Lukas Boysen took the bold move, releasing a new album, Gravity under his real name rather than his renowned ‘Hecq’ alias. The decision was, I think, an appropriate one; this album was not like stuff Boysen had released before. Instead of focusing on technical intricacy and dynamic power, Gravity showcased a more feminine side to Boysen’s music, creating an album that sounded altogether more personal and heartfelt. However, one track, ‘Eos’, stands out for me above the others in this regard. The unbearably delicate and mournful pianos demand such attention that I find it difficult to concentrate on or think about anything else whilst it’s playing. For two minutes and thirty-nine seconds, that piece is the only thing that’s going on - it’s pretty much the Bernard’s Watch of music. George McVicar. ##Emptyset at Ambika P3## Over the past few years there have been plenty of instances of producers establishing their musical practice away from clubs and in the contemporary gallery setting. From Lee Gamble, Alexander Nut, and Craig Richards mixing in front of Turner, Constable, and Blake; to Oneohtrix Point Never turning whole rooms within Tate Britain into light and sound installations, there are as many spaces for producers to explore with their music as they could imagine. When techno duo Emptyset teamed up with the Architecture Foundation to hold free events at spaces across the UK, I saw that they would be performing at the Ambika P3 gallery just across from Baker Street station, and wandered down there with a group of friends - some of who were going because they liked Emptyset, and some because the gallery was one they visited often and were intrigued. I somewhat expected that it would be an atmospheric and challenging experience and it didn’t disappoint: on walking in I was hit with bone-shaking bass within the pitch black. Before my eyes were able to adjust, the sound ebbed away and a single light, hanging from the high, steel raftered ceiling, began to grow brighter until it seemed it was unable to hold its brightness anymore and slowly died as the droning note returned. For about an hour we wandered around the building experiencing the light and sound, which they reflected each other, both working on a series of ever-undulating peaks and troughs. Sometimes one lead on from the other and occasionally they performed in complete unison (which doesn’t sound amazing but was actually very exciting). It was a powerful installation and part of the enjoyment I got out of it was the conversations it prompted with others; it became an open discussion between people primarily interested in different mediums. Occasionally installations of this nature can seem indulgent, yet it was able to be more than just weird sounds and trippy lights (although it was totally that aswell). It was able to legitimize itself in the new context, and although it’s links with the music of Emptyset were apparent, it also succeeded in being a separate venture for the two. Owen Lewis.
As happens with any semi-popular music that happens to not fit neatly into the well-established boxes of the album format, The Knife’s masterpiece Shaking the Habitual was widely labelled a concept album, whatever the fuck that means. As if music is by default lacking in content, and as if the Swedish duo’s feminist critiques of hyper-capitalism only make sense when understood within the context of a superimposed story the album is trying to tell.
Moreover, in the case of a record as diverse and nuanced as Shaking the Habitual, such an approach does violence to it. Some of the music press’s worst offenders made claims such as “Shaking seems to have “inaccessible” etched into every fiber of its DNA”, apparently evidenced by how the record is “is 98 minutes long” (Lindsay Zoladz of Pitchfork taking a dim view of her readers’ attention spans). Similarly, The Guardian’s cretin-in-chief and professional dilettante Alex Petridis bemoaned how “the impact of a track such as Full of Fire – distorted drums, horrifying shrieks – is dissipated by the fact that it rambles on for nine minutes”, in a staggering example of missing the point. Let’s keep all abrasive elements to a minimum, lest, god forbid, they actually become abrasive. From the Bubbling House influences of the aforementioned ‘Full of Fire’, the album takes in techno, ambient, industrial, drone, synth-pop, and a whole lot else in between; drawing heavily from a panoply of global grooves and urban dance musics. Succinctly and appropriately enough, the genre’s record shows up on my media player as simply ‘Styles’, which makes a lot more sense than trying pigeonhole it as anything more specific. I didn’t manage to properly catch the Shaking the Habitual live show, although I did have chances to. I saw about five minutes of it on a rainy late night at a festival, and I remember it being fairly extraordinary, all synchronised dancers and bright lights. Unfortunately I had other commitments and left to go elsewhere. Maybe it was better that way - for those few minutes it was utterly magical and perhaps staying there any longer would have shattered the illusion. The tour passed through the UK, but I balked at the £35 ticket price. Resolution for 2014: stop being so cheap. Rob Heath.
Not necessarily my favourite track of the year, but it’s always in my head, and is a perfect example of the simple and delectable house and techno hybrids that have made DJ TLR’s Crème Organization such a revered imprint. Rob Heath.
As tends to happen at Dylan Nyoukis and Karen Constance’s supremely curated Colour Out of Space festival in Brighton, I saw Italian sound-poet Enzo Minarelli perform knowing absolutely nothing about him. Some research since reveals him to be quite the polymath – a video-poet, visual-poet, and plain old manipulation-of-words-poet. He’s on YouTube, look him up. The performance was brief, bizarre, hilarious, confusing; but engaging because of and not in spite of its frivolity. I don’t know whether everyone would call it music, but I don’t think that even matters. It was more interesting than anything I heard in a nightclub this year. Rob Heath.
Having witnessed various debauched audience members making a nuisance of themselves despite the early running time, I might be tempted to argue British crowds don’t do their reputations any favours when it comes to attending performances like these. This, alongside several needless interruptions however, was not enough to detract from the breathtaking experience of Ryoji Ikeda’s audiovisual realisation of software coding, through his ‘Datamatics’ show. The hour long show seemed to be the epitome of the Raster-Noton aesthetic, clearly defined segments of crisp, greyscale graphics interacting with static-laced glitch and penetrating blasts of low-end. Ikeda has long been considered one of Japan’s finest exports when it comes to experimental electronic music, and it isn’t hard to see why given how unconventional, and highly inventive his methods of music making are. Theo Darton-Moore.
Stroboscopic Artefacts really outdid themselves this year. With exceptional albums from both Zeitgeber and Dadub, as well as a wealth of remixes put out, it was genuinely hard to keep track of all the staggering music that was coming from the label. However, this year their renowned Monad Series reached a new high and it’s these that I think made Stroboscopic really stand out this year. Lakker, Monad XIV – The first Monad instalment of 2013 was perhaps the most surprising, signalling the subtle shift in direction the label has taken over the last few months. Rather than providing jams for 24-hour warehouse parties, this EP felt more considered and contemplative than previous releases on the series. In particular, ‘Asvatta’ played around with enchanting (and chilling) sound design, creating some truly unique textures. Plaster, Monad XV – I think this EP must have the strongest staying power for me of any other this year. Despite being released in mid-August, its thick, synthetic textures and punchy kicks have seen me revisiting the EP time and time again. Take a listen to ‘Uret’ and you’ll see what I mean – completely unrelenting and ‘no nonsense’, Plaster did not fuck about on this EP one bit. Rrose, Monad XVI – With each new release, Rrose seems to set the bar at an ever-dizzying height. Needless to say this EP was no exception, with some masterfully constructed drones and dreamlike soundscapes. My personal highlight, ‘Kneeling’ felt like the direction I’ve been waiting for Rrose to move into for a while – applying faultless technical expertise to map out a truly inventive and abstract piece of electronic music. With such high quality music on this series, it’s a shame that none of it has yet been pressed to vinyl, but let’s not get greedy now; there’s still lots more to come. George McVicar.
Irish label Trensmat, run by noisy duo Whirling Hall Of Knives, has been going since 2006, but given that I only became aware of the label in mid-2012, I can’t even say if 2013 was a vintage year by their standards (although a glance at their Discogs page suggests the standard is pretty high – plenty more to get my teeth into). Regardless, they put out two of my favourite LPs in 2013, from two of my favourite musicians.
Gnod, my major musical revelation of the year, presented an eponymous release from two of their members, Dwellings and Druss, a collection of analogue electronic pieces with the miasma of a dungeon (or at least sweaty basement). The other LP was by an old favourite, Neil Campbell, under his Astral Social Club moniker, entitled Electric Yep. I also picked up T15DM’s Scheming Things 12”, four tracks of berserk electro; and Stave’s recent 12” Trust. The labels self-described sound is drone, noise, oscillations & grooves, which is a pretty accurate description of the above four releases, and from what I’ve heard, the output of the label is a meeting point of most of the stuff I’m into, covering drone, noise, techno, shoegaze – all sorts of scuzzy electronics basically. Go and buy some of their records.