SPIN Electronic Report: Special Request Evokes Pirate Radio, Hunee Imagines Vibrant House
Plus: Great under-the-radar releases from Gonno, Tale of Us, Grant, Harvey Sutherland, and more
As the deepest genres of dance music continue to spread across the mainstream (and main stages), the producers to watch are the ones burying their heads even further into dusty crates of decades-old records. They’re also gleefully mashing together bpms and textures rarely combined since the earliest days of U.K. rave, building warmly organic mechanics off of analog instrumental templates, and diving with barely a ripple into house music’s smoothest signatures. As a polarizing year in electronic music comes to a close, catch up with ten worthy additions to your year-end list. — HARLEY BROWN
Gesloten Cirkel, M-011 / M-012 (Murder Capital)
After existing in the techno periphery for a few years, 2014 saw the mysterious Gesloten Cirkel at last unleash his masterful debut LP, Submit X. A dark and heavy collection of acid-fueled expeditions, the album maintained an unrelenting pulse while finding clever ways to take a few left turns along the path. Giving the full-length more than a year to sink in, Gesloten Cirkel resurfaced this September with M-011 and M-012, a pair of three-track EPs (released on the same day) which effectively picked up right where Submit X left off. Just as menacing and rife with acid-scorched textures as its predecessors, M-011 and M-012 (and in particular, the relentless 14-minute standout “Never”) represent only the latest pieces of essential material from the Dutch producer. — GLENN T. JACKSON
Rival Consoles, Howl (Erased Tapes)
London avant-ambient bastion Erased Tapes is best-known for Nils Frahm and Olafur Arnalds, heavyweights of the orchestra hall more closely associated with the scraping of horsehair on wire than knob-twiddling. The label’s first and most underrated signing, however, is U.K. producer Ryan Lee West, a.k.a. Rival Consoles, who sketches his corporeal electronic symphonies on piano and guitar before circuit-bending his synthesizers through the pedals. Howl, his debut LP, expands upon those techniques in the footsteps of last year’s mesmerizing Sonne 12-inch and 2013’s sleek space-age Odyssey EP. With compressed mechanical wheedles circling each other like birds on “Ghosting” and the self-explanatory “Morning Vox,” the machines pumping through Howl are the most organic you’ll hear all year. — HARLEY BROWN
Santiago Salazar, Chicanismo (In the Machine Age)
Santiago Salazar has spent most of his life in the Los Angeles area, but at his core, he is a student of America’s techno mecca: Detroit. Having relocated there in the late ’90s, Salazar’s time in the Motor City allowed him to learn the craft of techno production from the legendary members of the city’s revered Underground Resistance crew, before eventually returning West. After years of releasing records, Salazar’s first true full-length, Chicanismo, finally came to fruition in 2015. Containing ten tracks he produced that span the last decade, you can hear Salazar’s evolution as an artist in the deep, skittering grooves of “Future Flashback” and the funky, shredded human voices comprising “Brownout.” Steeped in the Detroit techno tradition and infused with touches of traditional Latin percussion and an aura of political resistance, Chicanismo is one of 2015’s most accomplished electronic debuts. — G.T.J.
Special Request, Modern Warfare EPs (1-3) (XL)
U.K. house-to-techno spectrum producer Paul Woolford introduced his Special Request alter ego in 2012 with the headspace-rattling EP 1 and EP 2. As the abrupt titles of those pirate radio-inspired 12-inches suggest, he didn’t waste any time crunching together hardcore techno, jungle breakbeats, dicing up disembodied house vocals and MC samples when his percussive throwbacks got too frenetic. On Modern Warfare (EPs 1-3), he takes a similar approach to f**king up the fun with pumped-up, post-apocalyptic noises: Cinder blocks crumble into dust on “Damage” and clanging pipes compete with KRS-One-esque siren whoops before being silenced by a closing gunshot on “Peak Dub.” It’s new wave rave, a floor-friendly amalgam of the early ‘80s sounds that shaped Woolford’s darker, more devilish side. — H.B.
Grant, The Acrobat (Lauren Bacall)
While The Acrobat is certainly not a bad name for Grant’s debut album, The Diver may have been a more appropriate title given the lush, immersive productions contained within. In other words, Grant goes deep on these eight subterranean dance tracks. Said to have been inspired by the luscious deep house sounds of the late ’90s and early 2000s, The Acrobat buries relaxed layers of shuffling percussion beneath moody chords, muffled piano stabs, reverb-soaked strings, and generous helpings of aquatic drones. The result is an unexpectedly promising first full-length from the somewhat secretive newcomer. — G.T.J.
Gonno, The Life Is Beautiful (Kompakt)
The florid landscapes of Japanese producer Sunao Gonno’s sophomore LP, Remember the Life Is Beautiful, are a long way from the minimal techno and punishingly acid house he started spinning exactly ten years ago at clubs in his native Tokyo. Indeed, the album’s ten tracks — each sample-free cut proudly stitched together on Gonno’s assortment of analog and digital synthesizers — flow into each other as if conjured by the most sublime after-hours DJ. Atmospheric beatless expanses cascade unpredictably into crashing hi-hats just a track later, and it’s the most laid-back direct challenge to the banal 4/4 thump dominating dance floors since Japanese transplant DJ Sprinkles’ 2009 landmark intellectual deep house revival, Midtown 120 Blues. — H.B.
Harvey Sutherland, Bermuda EP (MCDE)
Having landed with some excellent timing at the beginning of summer, Harvey Sutherland’s Bermuda EP was born to make dance floors feel euphoric. Dripping with genuine soul and an impressive level of instrumental complexity, Bermuda’s title track is coyly slow to build, but even before the Australian producer is in the thick of his six-minute disco-house odyssey, the track’s punchy chords, snapping drums, and limber melodies should already have you tapping your feet at bare minimum. The flipside, “New Paradise” is a bit more laid-back, but no less infectious, bringing its thick strings out from beneath bouncy electric piano lines and waiting until the track’s final movement to unravel a lovely lead synth melody. The funk is strong with this one. — G.T.J.
Tale of Us, North Star/Silent Space (R&S Records)
By way of Berlin and Milan, where American-born sound engineering students Matteo Milleri and Carmine Conte first met, Tale of Us learned how to decorate their four-on-the-floor thumps with enough cinematic flourishes to sweep a club to its collective knees. After some of their epic remixes caught fire on the European festival circuit, legendary dance tastemakers R&S Records unleashed the duo’s latest driving single, North Star/Silent Space, this fall. The A-side’s ominous synthesizer whorls and a neck-snapping techno pulse lead Tale of Us’ label debut, while “Silent Space” cleans up with countdown clock-evoking pinging and ominous horn blasts that ramp up its sense of urgency to orange-alert levels. — H.B.
Hunee, Hunch Music (Rush Hour)
After 2012, Hun Choi took a break from producing new material of his own to focus on DJing, and as a result, further cemented his reputation as an immensely inventive selector able to voyage across many genres, moods, and tempos. Hunch Music, his welcome return to solo production under the Hunee guise, is an album as imaginative as one of his DJ sets. Spanning ten eclectic tracks, the hedonistic LP neatly presents Choi’s unique brand of vibrant and adventurous dance music without popping a seam. Rife with percussion and kaleidoscopic melodies, the record never takes its sights too far off the floor, though it would likely take a DJ as effortlessly dexterous as Choi himself to do a tune like the sidewinding “Cross Road” or the sweet-toothed “Rare Happiness” justice in the course of a club night. — G.T.J.
Throwing Snow, Xema / Lumen / Glower (Houndstooth)
Throwing Snow, a.k.a. Londoner Ross Tones, capped off a trio of EPs released over the course of this year, building — with increasingly complex instrumental layers — the energy of a well-paced set over the course of months rather than one night. October’s stunning Xema is the crown jewel of the series, the title track’s xylophone jingles undulating beneath a series of om-like chant rounds as a mechanical hiss gathers steam underneath. It’s worth listening to them all to get an idea of the mental mechanics behind the musique concrete-schooled producer’s tastes, which he’s harnessed to cultivate on his own imprints — Left Blank, A Future Without, and Snowfall — equally nuanced producers such as Vessel and Visionist. — H.B.
Henry Wu, Good Morning Peckham (Rhythm Section International)
For the past 18 months, London party-turned-label Rhythm Section International has discretely built a quality catalog of soul-burnt EPs from a number of homegrown U.K. producers as well as Australian beatmaker Prequel and Canada’s Local Artist. Hailing from the Peckham district of London, the ascendant Henry Wu landed on Rhythm Section back in June with the intoxicating Good Morning Peckham EP. A six-track tour of loose-swung rhythms, stony chords, and jazzy house grooves among streaks of live instrumentation, Good Morning Peckham’s woozy house’n’B marks another highlight of the Rhythm Section label’s excellent early run. — G.T.J.