While Pitchfork founder Ryan Schreiber is handing out a Best New Music badge to dance-pop superstar Avicii — prompting speculation that May 24 is the new April 1, and triggering, in the process, a minor meltdown on the site’s Facebook page — I’m dedicating today’s column to the underground, with left-field selections from Detroit’s Andrés, Border Community hypno-techno wizard Nathan Fake, the Swedish outfit WRD, and the mysterious Dublin producer known as B.D.I. Plus, for good measure, the soundtrack to Mark Leckey’s mind-bending 1999 film Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, which says more about the spirit of rave in a single looped frame than Avicii could manage with an entire battery of crystal-faceted rave stabs.
That’s not just for the sake of being “underground,” mind you. Some of this stuff might be a little too esoteric to ever cross over, but Andrés’ “New For U” is as universal as house music gets. Consider it a No. 1 hit from an alternate dimension, where instead of having gone all Pete Tong, things have gone all Electrifying Mojo. We can dream.
Andrés, “New For U” (La Vida)
Say it with me, now: “Track of the summer.” It’s not exactly new: The record came out in February, and when Resident Advisor‘s Andrew Ryce reviewed it last month, he noted that it was already “slightly inescapable.” I haven’t been going out enough lately to confirm or deny that, but the fact that it’s still No. 3 on Juno’s top sellers list says something about its popularity — not to mention those 48,000 YouTube views.
In any case, as far as I’m concerned, bring it on. “New For U” is the first release on the Detroit producer Andrés’ new label La Vida, after 15 years of records for Moodymann’s Mahogani Music and KDJ imprints; for classic, emotive, sample-heavy house, it doesn’t get better than this. I’m reminded of tracks like Pépé Bradock’s “Deep Burnt” and Black Science Orchestra’s “New Jersey Deep”; “New For U” has a similar way of yoking together disco breaks, luminous keys, and T.S.O.P.-style strings. Like a lot of my favorite music, it’s full of contradictions: The structure is tracky as anything, but it still feels like a song; it’s unusually fast for such doe-eyed deep house, and even rougher around the edges. The high end bristles with static, and the looped break rushes the beat just enough to thumb its nose at lazy DJs. The whole thing is lush and hardscrabble, all at once. The rest of the record’s no slouch, either. “Drama Around the Corner” translates doo-wop samples into half-stepping house in a way that reminds me of the Studio Barnhus label; “Jazz Dance,” with its walking bass, Rhodes soloing, and splashes of Hammond, is an anthem disguised as a DJ tool.
The vinyl-only release was hard to find for awhile, but it’s apparently been re-pressed, as copies are available from all the usual outlets. Get it while you can.
B.D.I. Presents Compassion Crew, “Paper Tears” (Running Back)
For years now, I’ve been looking for this record. It’s from the early 1980s, I would guess, with a grainy black-and-white cover suggestive of the Factory label; the music is a combination of coldwave synths, broken-down drum machines, and tribal percussion and chants, halfway between Antwerp and Africa, like Raf Simons decked out in kente cloth or Bauhaus (the movement or the band) gone tropical. Here’s the thing: The record doesn’t actually exist, or at least I don’t think it does. It’s just something I dreamed up, the hypothetical Holy Grail whenever I’m digging through used vinyl. Which makes it all the more impressive that an artist named B.D.I. (or, alternately, B.D.I. Presents Compassion Crew) seems to have reached into the imaginary flea market of my mind and produced exactly the platter I was looking for. A couple of times now, in fact. Last year’s “Decoded Message of Life & Love” (Rush Hour) was a masterpiece of humid, industrial funk, steamy as an equatorial factory floor and twice as sooty. Now, for Gerd Janson’s Running Back label, he turns back towards the light with “Paper Tears.” Imagine, if you will, a more pastel-colored version of the Blackest Ever Black label’s Raime. Like them, B.D.I. also seems to be sampling most of his spindly rhythms from scratchy old post-punk records, but he balances out the goth undertones with bright keyboards in a way that suggests he’s as much a fan of the Glove’s Blue Sunshine as he is Crispy Ambulance. Two alternate versions, the “Tribal Tears Dub” and “Same Victories, Same Mistakes” remix, proceed like old-school B-side dubs, stripping away the chants and keyboards to reveal rickety drum-machine patterns swimming in tape hiss. I’m vaguely reminded of Die Zwei’s “Grapsch!” — a record I discovered in a flea market, ironically enough.
The Dublin-based musician was kind enough to send me a mix CD of his — an actual, physical CD, complete with a hand-stamped cover — that reinforces my image of him as a crate-digging savant. Opening with dreamy synths and flutes, the session wends its way through herky-jerky no wave, bluesy horns over dubbed-out drum machines, 1960s folk rock, and a stumbling electro-punk jam somewhere between Suicide, LCD Soundsystem, and Flipper. (The refrain goes, “I’m having a conniption,” and I feel like I should know it, but Google isn’t helping out much.) There’s even a three-minute fugue for chattering typewriters — a sly reference to William Burroughs and his automatic writing? Probably not, but B.D.I.’s cut-up approach is equally surreal.
WRD, Cracked Eyes Shut (Force Majeure)
If it took me a while to get around to listening to this EP from Stockholm’s WRD, blame the record cover — a doll’s face is never acceptable sleeve imagery, not even when it’s been PhotoShopped to make it look like the Brooklyn Bridge is extending from its mouth like some creepy electric lizard tongue. But checking out the artists’s Tumblr, I get the sense that questionable design is part of their shtick, so I will reluctantly stand down. In any case, these five tracks of dusky analog house and disco redeem them. The references are familiar — disco edits, Metro Area, Larry Heard — and their viral-Balearic approach isn’t dissimilar from that of plenty of contemporaries on labels like Future Classic, DFA, Permanent Vacation, Internasjonal, etc. Still, I’m won over by the juicy sound design and the judicious sense of balance, musically and sonically; much of the material here has that little extra something that stops you in your tracks. “Cracked Eyes Shut,” with its Miami Vice toms and X-Files lead, is the one I keep coming back to; the ruminative vibes and glassy synths both remind me of John Talabot. Skulking like a panther, it’s sleek, sensual and a little bit aloof.
Nathan Fake, Iceni Strings (Border Community)
It’s been three years since Nathan Fake last graced us with new music, not counting occasional remixes and a 2010 split single with DJ Koze. Well, happy day: A new single, “Iceni Strings,” is out June 11, to be followed by the album Steam Days in late August. All three of the single’s tracks are Fake to the core, brimming with analog burble, colorful (and volatile) as a kaleidoscope. But he’s not just repeating himself: “Iceni Strings” revisits the three-against-four rhythms that have always been a staple of the entire Border Community family, but “Sense Head” unleashes unusually booming, full-bore techno, and “Bauxite Dream” channels 2-stepping rhythms into overdriven synths and machines, somewhere between Four Tet and Aphex Twin.
Mark Leckey, “Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore” (The Death of Rave)
My copy of this 12-inch is still in the mail, so I can’t say much about the quality of the packaging or even the audio. But the release, limited to 500 copies, will sell out, so I decided I’d better tell you about it sooner rather than later. Mark Leckey’s “Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore” (1999) is a mind-blowing piece of video art that investigates British subcultural tribes — primarily, acrobatic Northern Soul dancers, Sergio Tacchini-clad football casuals and bug-eyed ravers. Using found footage, he cuts and loops his dancers and scallies over a hallucinogenic soundtrack patched together from drones, ballroom pop, carnival percussion, and acid house. It’s defiantly lo-fi, full of stuttering video and weird fades, but that cheapness is part of the nostalgic charm. I first saw it almost a decade ago as part of Matthew Higgs’ Mixtapes exhibition at San Francisco’s CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, and it’s stuck with me ever since. Now, the soundtrack to the 15-minute video is given its first official standalone release, alongside the soundtrack to Leckey’s 2010 video installation, “GreenScreenRefrigeratorAction.” Check out the full video below, and get the 12-inch from Boomkat.