It’s been a couple of weeks since Resident Advisor published their Top DJs of 2015 poll, concluding that Dixon and Maceo Plex are still two of the best DJs in the world for the third year in a row, and not in fact, some bloke spinning Euro-trance from a bedsit in Scunthorpe. But if you didn’t need telling that Jackmaster, Seth Troxler and Ben UFO are actually quite good at spinning records, we’ve put together our own list of things that we felt were overlooked this year.
Usually at this point we add in a disclaimer stating how our list is not supposed to be an exhaustive summation of the year and just some thoughts we had which may or may not mean anything (like when Jimmy Carr shrugs his shoulders in a ‘what do we think of that’ kind of way after telling a distasteful joke). However, this year I’d like to set aside those worries and state that these are conclusively and definitely, the moments that mattered in electronic music across 2015.
Autechre live at Bloc
Few performances have had such an impact on us as this one. After an evening of childish antics, stealing tequila shots from the bar (sorry Butlins) and drunkenly arguing about Louis Theroux in the mini-arcade, the effect of Autechre’s set was like that of a parent’s reprimanding. With a room entirely pitch black, and almost no semblance of rhythm, melody or structure for the entire set, there was very little to do but stand dumbfounded and allow the chaotic sonic assault to run its course. The physicality of their sound feels almost unparalleled, and not in the slight bit dated; a rather amazing feat considering its been over 20 years since the inception of the project.
Words by George McVicar & Theo Darton-Moore
Helm // Olympic Mess
Formed during a period of chaotic touring, Helm’s second album on PAN lulls you into a state of distorted warmth. Constructing rhythms out of dub-techno and Balearic-inspired loops, this album absorbs you into grinding industrial soundscapes of humming machinery and steaming traffic. My experience of melting into this album is failed by any description of it being ambient or background music. From the trickling texture of ‘Outerzone 2015’ to the eery jolt of intimacy from ‘Strawberry Chapstick’, Olympic Mess seems to sway you between the limits of reality and fantasy.
Words by Jo Kali
Grouper live at St John-at-Hackney Church
Following 2014’s astonishing Ruins, Grouper’s performance at St John-at-Hackney Church this year was hard to forget. The venue itself is staggering. Fringe artists perform beneath a halo of golden lights and religious statues. Everyone from William Basinski to Fushitsusha have played there, and each time the venue repurposes itself to fit the new occasion. For Grouper, the space became something closer to its original purpose: a place of contemplation. You could see audience members practically craning their necks to hear her whispered hymns. But if you held your breath, you could listen to her mournful murmurs and delay-drenched chords swimming around the pews. She sat cross-legged on the floor with almost no lighting whatsoever. So unless you were sat at the front-upper deck, seeing her wasn’t an option either. She finished without a word to the audience, and as she reappeared on stage, there were rapturous cheers for an encore. But Grouper is not that kind of performer. Noticing the expectant faces of the audience, she hurriedly took her shoes from the stage and skipped away into the distance, to the sound of sighs and laughter.
Words by George McVicar
Rye Wax survives Development
For more than a year now, the basement record store/venue has consistently challenged everything I hate about club culture. It sells a range of interesting records, all cherished by lovely staff, and promotes local labels. Rye Wax is also possibly the only record store where I have never been made to feel uncomfortable as a woman. Like many other venues in Peckham, it was recently under threat from a luxury flat development plan. But Rye Wax would have been missed more fiercely than its neighbours, if only for it being a cheap (free or a fiver) and never over-sold space with a good system and great vibes. But more importantly, the basement showcases such a diverse range of events, from your local rock band to ambient dedicated Sundays. The format adopted by Rye Wax gives a much needed space for new residency to make an impact and allows parties to escape — at least momentarily — the endless international big DJ booking market.
Words by Hortense Maignien
The Fear Ratio // Refuge of a Twisted Soul
The Fear Ratio. A collaboration between Mark Broom and James Ruskin, but not the kind you were expecting. Both artists are firmly cemented as stalwarts of the British techno scene, yet for this project the duo set aside their love of chugging 4/4 rhythms for twitching glitches, rumbling dubstep headnodders and skittish breakbeat cutaways. Even better perhaps is the fact their debut LP together, Refuge of a Twisted Soul, was released on Skam Records. Skam began in the early 1990s releasing work by acts like trip-hop trailblazers Boards of Canada, or illusive, Autechre featuring producer collective Gescom. Broom and Ruskin’s previous EPs sounded a little like they were still trying to find their footing with The Fear Ratio, and as they firmly mark the step with Refuge of a Twisted Soul, they also pay homage to a label which was instrumental in the development of many of the sounds contained within it in the first place.
Words by Theo Darton-Moore
Despite only having been launched two years ago, United Arab Emirates-based Bedouin Records have been behind what I consider to be some of the strongest releases of 2015. The likes of Ekman, Hieroglyphic Being and Bintus had some of their best output of the year on the label. Furthermore, an album from Ryo Murakami and the recent announcement of a mixtape from footwork producer Traxman shows that the label aren’t satisfied just putting out great techno. This sets a precedent for exciting developments in 2016, and has proved Bedouin to be one of the finest labels currently operating in experimental music.
Words by Harry Murdoch
Teklife & Hyperdub at Corsica Studios
2014 was a sombre year for footwork; 2015 demonstrated its resilience and vibrancy. We saw Rashad’s name continue to feature in a string of posthumous EPs and collaborations, new releases from old timers like Spinn and RP Boo, an R&B crossover, and a debut LP from DJ Paypal that pushed the genre further from its ghetto house roots, with elements of samba-esque percussion, electro synths, and moments that seems to wander (albeit at a frantic 160bpm) into jazzy experimentalism. Seeing the Teklife crew at Corsica in November felt like the culmination of many of these things. Ostensibly a launch night for Kode9’s latest album, there was no doubt—and judging by the number of Teklife t-shirts among the pilled up 20-somethings, presumably many others would agree—that Spinn and Paypal were the stars of the show. Tunes spanning the meta-genre of “UK bass” spun alongside fresh cuts of footwork, spliced with classics from both sides of the Atlantic (I can’t have been the only one to pick up on Spinn’s nod to jungle with Dance Conspiracy’s ‘Dub War’), kept us dancing till dawn. With discussions of “appropriation”—a term that strikes to the core of dance music, for obvious reasons—occupying a significant place in today’s political landscape, the night also offered an insight into what cultural exchange can look like at its best: a coming together of disparate scenes and styles, unashamed to acknowledge their respective origins.
Words by Amatia Lily
Jasmine Guffond // Yellow Bell
Yellow Bell epitomised for me an entire temper of music that occupied my interest in the early months of 2015. Whether it was Marsen Jules’ The Empire of Silence, the debut Shirley M EP, or Helm’s Olympic Mess, they all seemed to share the same spirit; a kind of solitary stillness that was close, quiet and warm. But Yellow Bell tapped into a frame of mind that I didn’t know existed. An odd mixture of detachment and intimacy. The album deserves a place in our list if not only for the haunting croons that underlay the majestic, ’Elephant’…
Words by George McVicar
Dieter Moebius 1944 - 2015
“What can I say? It was free and experimental, sometimes chaotic, sometimes not relevant, sometimes great.” These were Dieter Moebius’ words on the Zodiak Free Arts Lab when I was lucky enough to pose a few poorly thought-out questions to him for my dissertation back in 2012. The ‘lab’, famous for being frequented by the likes of Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream would become the setting for the development of a new band, Kluster, after two of it’s founders, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Conrad Schnitzler met Moebius at a steak restaurant he was working at in Berlin at the time. The group, later renamed as Cluster after Schnitzler’s departure, played an unmistakably important role in the development of the electronic avante-garde. One of my favourite stories of Kluster is the release of their first records, struggling to find a label, they responded to a newspaper advert from a church organist interested in new music. They were offered a release on the grounds they included a short religious speech at the start of each side of the record; and so Klopfzeichen and Zwei-Osterei were born. Later, Moebius and Roedelius worked with legendary producers such as Conny Plank and Brian Eno, exerting considerable influence on Eno’s experiences in Berlin. On our first trip to the German capital in 2010 we were lucky enough to see them both perform - needless to say they sounded as current and boundary pushing as ever. A significantly under-celebrated artist who will be sorely missed.
Words by Theo Darton-Moore
Marsen Jules // The Empire of Silence
The Empire of Silence, like much of Jules’ work, is a complete submersion into arctic ambient. Stretching over 94-minutes, you can’t help but feel totally immersed in his cold, eery world. The music itself is largely featureless, with expansive sheets of tone that stretch out like an infinite horizon. Every modal tension or harmonic contrast is fashioned to get under one’s skin. To plant itself in one’s memory and colour the mood for the rest of the day. And indeed, for an entire year, this LP never seemed to leave me alone.
Words by George McVicar
If there’s a name that has stood out more than most for me this year, it is probably that of London-based Shelley Parker. The jagged, hollowed-out breaks of ‘Beachy Head’ and agonizingly stretched out synthwork of ‘Catch’ have left a recurring imprint my consciousness. Parker has also graced plenty of venues around the capital this year, using various machines to conjour live-sets as dynamic and free-spirited as the subjects of her releases, without an Apple logo in sight. Of particular memory will be her performance at Towards Collapse’s most recent event at Power Lunches, crafting a mesmerising set that encapsulated noise, drone, jungle and techno as if there were no distance between them.
Words by Theo Darton-Moore
Holly Herndon live at Oval Space
I have no doubt Holly Herndon will continue to make important, resounding work for the years to come; having said that, a Herndon performance in 2015 is as time-sensitive as can be. With op-eds on technology and media more commonplace than ever, Platform was charged with zeitgeist, not only in its sonic vision but for its explicit political engagement with the the current state of digital art. It’s no surprise she didn’t tone anything down for the Barbican’s Illuminations series; joined onstage by Mat Dryhurst on visuals—highlights including the Queen swirling in a technicolour cityscape filled with pastel electric guitars and chicken wings—and Colin Self providing vocals, Herndon punched out extended versions of Platform tracks. “FUCK THERESA MAY” in white Helvetica may just be the best backdrop to unapologetically new beats; the crowd definitely agreed with me, as we all screamed agreement.
Words by Rena Minegishi
It doesn’t escape me that writing about a producer with but two releases to his name this year might seem a touch curious—but then given that the latest is only his eighth 12” since emerging in ’01, 2015 has arguably been a prolific year by Matsumoto’s standards. My first introduction came via 2014 EPs for Meda Fury and Royal Oak, which showcased a penchant for melancholic strings and delicate piano chords over gently skipping drums. This year, straightforward cuts like ‘Be’, ‘Trash Track’, and ‘Coco’ continued this arc, though elsewhere Matsumoto draws on a wider sonic palette—the chirping of birds in “On The March”, or steel drum flourishes of ‘Rain Flower’ — and forays into more experimental, jazzier arrangements can be heard. Throughout, his warm sound and intricate melodies prove thoroughly charming. Along with releases from SAI and Iero label boss/collaborator Kouji Nagahashi, Matsumoto’s success hints at the solidification of a new deep house sound in Japan—one very much of the legacy of Knuckles, Saunderson, et al., or indeed Parrish’s free jazz spirit, though equally reminiscent of fellow citizen Soichi Terada (whose early 90’s productions on Far East Recording were recently reissued), furthering the impression of a strong—if comparatively small—scene on the island.
Words by Amatia Lily
Beijing Miji Concert Series
Having spent all of my artless adolescence in a sheltered Beijing suburb, finding music was strictly an online ordeal for me. It was a strange—vindicating, even—pleasure to receive an invitation to Sub Jam’s concert series MIJI. The series takes place in a tiny brick-walled cube dubbed Meridian Space, tucked away behind rows of museums and galleries in west Beijing. Besides being a pun on MIDI, mì means ‘secret’ or ‘close’; jí “concentrated” or ‘perch’. MIJI No. 24’s line-up consisted of a Beijing duo, Liu Xinyu and Yan Yulong, and the Singaporean artist Yuen Chee Wai, who was returning solo from his band The Observatory’s European tour. I was excited to see Yan Yulong’s electric violin. Lines from Yan Jun’s essay came to mind:
“I’m against amplifying pre-Machine Age traditional instruments… if they will die without speakers, then just let it die. Having said that … there must be some way to transform the old bodies of such instruments into machines.”
I like seeing chamber instruments mechanised away from its canonized European context; it’s mischievous and romantic. Across from Yan, Liu Xinyu sat with a mixer and a guitar laid flat on his lap. Their set was slow-moving, subtle. Yan probably plucked his violin ten times over 20 minutes, and bowed less than that. Yuen Chee Wai broke the quiet continuum by dropping a huge metal screw on a contact mic. He moved firmly through an array of frequencies; amplified by the acoustics of the venue, the higher pitches sounded impossibly close to my eardrums; several times I plugged my ears to make sure it wasn’t just my ears ringing. He also managed to create an incredible special effect, as if the frequencies were swirling around me. As overwhelming as it all was, there was an organic beauty tethering the audience as Yuen breathed steadily into one of the microphones. And that’s how my sole musical memory of Beijing circa late 2000s—top 40 blasting from counterfeit JBLs under violet lights—were soon drowned away.
Words by Rena Minegishi
Dean Blunt is certainly a performer. Constant streams of blinding strobe lights, impenetrable smoke and deafening drones that pierce painfully through the skull all make regular appearances. His live show is more involving than any theatre I’ve ever been to. I remember braving an opportunity to open my eyes just to see my friend with his hands covering his head which was being buried in his lap. The shows have also become notorious for charging men more for entry, on-stage security guards, nos balloons, and sending up ‘dummy’ Deans to perform the first half of the set. All of this contributes to a powerful commentary of the breakdown of relations with the environment he lives in, the clubbing world we all participate in, and the day to day rituals we’ve come to see as commonplace. I don’t know if we would give notice to anyone else putting on the same show, but his standout voice and music seem to lean us all close to listen to what he has to say.
Words by Jo Kali