As both an amateurish blog launched as a teenager and a slightly more professional record label, The Astral Plane has been the vessel through which I have had the opportunity to engage with a rich musical culture. While only offering a minuscule contribution to the electronic, dance and experimental musics that I hold dear to my heart, I have been lucky to engage with a rich vein of vernacular sounds that deserve infinitely more care and attention than they often receive. When I established Astral Plane Recordings in 2016, I sensed that there was an absence, in both the sonic and institutional sense, that could be addressed through a record label built on the ingenuity and hard work of a set of artists, many of whom had yet to formally release music. Across 30 odd releases, released at a sometimes glacial pace since 2016, I feel confident that that absence has been addressed.

With that said, I have decided to bring The Astral Plane blog and label to a close. Close followers will have noticed that APR’s output has slowed down in recent years. It has become increasingly difficult to find the time, resources and energy to deliver music with the foundation, context and breadth that I initially set out to do. The blog, on the other hand, briefly became an outlet for critical musings, but has since come to feel like an archive from another period of my life. In the project’s 10 years of existence, I have been blessed with the opportunity to develop deep artistic relationships, and more importantly friendships, with a group of artists who will forever hold a place in my heart. The Astral Plane is nothing outside of the brilliance of Adam, Aya, Bashar, Ceci, Claudio, Emma, Jack, Jordan, Loris, Maral, Matt, Michael, Sabina, Zeynab and countless other who have played Astral Plane shows over the years and contributed remixes and compilation tracks. Behind the scenes, Sam Meier and Will Mitchell have held APR together through their mastering, design, artwork and general advice/input over the years.

Astraltopia represents a culmination of the label project, but The Astral Plane show on NTS will continue under a different name and my various writing and editorial projects will now be housed under Bellona Magazine. The APR catalog will remain in place with 100% of royalties going to artists, but sadly Contagion Discs will also be put on hiatus for the time being (although I aim to restart the label when I have more time and stability). In closing, I am endlessly grateful to the DJs who played out our music, the fans who have supported us over the years and the writers who have earnestly engaged with the sonic themes we’ve put in play. There’s a small chunk of the sonic and social world I feel deeply at home with now and that’s all I could have asked for when initially planning out the early stages of The Astral Plane.

With love,

Fernand Léger, The Builders

We are living in an era of smoothness. Smooth movies, smooth design and smooth digital infrastructure form an unblemished carapace around our day-to-day experience and psyche. The spaces we move through are soundtracked by algorithmically-designed “mood” playlists, full of lo-fi-beats-to-chill-and-study-to and affect-less dance-pop. Work has been “streamlined” into  adjunct, gig and permalance jobs for maximum efficiency and maximum flexibility. Cosmetic surgery and nootropics offer the potential to smooth out the body and mind, leaving the individual with no excuse but to harmonize their entire being with the aesthetic regime of capital.

Since the neoliberal revolution in the late 1970s, the impetus to speed up information, communication and capital flows has become a prime concern of the political elite. That which stands in the way, be it labor law, technological obstacles, the welfare state, or the mental health of individual subjects, has been cast aside in favor of smoothing out the arteries of global capital. Manufacturing, public infrastructure and health and safety standards may be crumbling, but there is nothing stopping the infinite acceleration of information.

In March, the United Nations, with the help of Talent House – “the World’s leading creative collaboration platform for brands & agencies” – put out a call to “creatives” to “help stop the spread of Covid-19.” In the months since, the UN has amassed a library (Creative Content Hub, in their parlance) of artwork intended to push messages of personal hygiene, physical distancing and solidarity. Much of the work is insightful and shows a great deal of skill, yet it has been compensated in exposure (yes, they use the phrase) across UN social media channels.

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March of Intellect, Robert Seymour

“I’m trying to take less pleasure in extremes of capitalist production.” So goes New Yorker columnist and New York Times bestselling author Jia Tolentino in an August 2019 interview with The Creative Independent. Tolentino, who has made a career of writing lucid, if circuitous, critiques of neoliberalism, is emblematic of the sort of interview subject you’ll find on The Creative Independent (TCI), an editorial vertical that seeks to “illuminate the trials and tribulations of living a creative life.”

Guest writers and interview subjects at TCI range from smart, young individuals at the intersection of art, music, literature and technology to legacy artists in the twilight of their careers. The platform has spoken with incisive thinkers and cultural figures like Saidiya Hartman, Maggie Nelson and Adam Curtis, as well as aging rock stars like Julian Casablancas, Billy Corgan and Joan Baez. TCI stands alone in the contemporary media environment in its singular focus on the figure of the creative and publishes everything from interviews with celebrities to how-to guides for working artists.

In a self-assured, and sometimes self-mythologizing manner, the platform presents itself as both a retreat from the clutter of social media and an ideal of what a cultural publication could aspire to. Subject matter fluctuates depending on the particular interview subject, but TCI’s bread-and-butter is the first-person account of what it means and how to function as an artist in an often inhospitable cultural landscape. Essay and interview titles like “On finding your voice,” “On taking your time,” and “On learning through doing the work” set the affective tenor for TCI, which prides itself on presenting the artist outside of the compromised album, book, film, etc. promotion cycle.

Institutional critique has a role at TCI, although some of the platform’s own, non-interview content does have a bootstraps tenor, a quality paralleled by its founder Yancey Strickler’s lauding of the Financial Independence Retire Early movement in This Could Be Our Future, his 2019 memoir/management ideology volume. More than discontentment with existing institutions though, the overwhelming orientation of interviews on TCI is that of the preeminence of inner subjective attitude. The individual artists’ profundity of ideas and ideals, of their strength and ability to counter oppressive systems, is the abiding affective and intellectual impulse of the publication.

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Views of the Baths of Titus, Giovanni Battista Piranesi

In part one of this essay, I laid out the disappointing reality of the walking dead or pop modernism that has taken hold of contemporary cultural forms. This hollowed-out take on radical 20th century aesthetic movements is particularly relevant to dance music. Over the remainder of this essay, I’d like to update Mark Fisher’s conception of pulp modernism and lay out a few illustrative examples of its potential.

In an essay that went through several iterations, first on the k-punk blog and later in The Weird and the Eerie collection, Mark Fisher’s examination of The Fall’s music through the lens of the “weird” has been a provocative touchstone for both my understanding of Mark E. Smith’s post-punk outfit and the greater potential of a counter-hegemonic popular music. Almost right off the bat, Fisher juxtaposes the “gnarled, collage cut-up” of The Fall with the “minimalist, metallic austerity,” of Joy Division, marking out what he sees as the fundamental break between a classical modernism and the pulp modernist mode.

In rejecting both lumpen-punk’s reductive literalism (“circles with A in the middle”) and the bourgeois excesses of prog, The Fall’s music was full of “gobbets of linguistic detritus ejected direct from the mediatised unconsciousness” and came in the form of “tracks,” not “songs.” Contrasted with their more urbane counterparts, The Fall were opposed not only to an older, establishment right, but to a middle-class left who “talk of Chile while driving through Haslingden.” Circumventing social realism entirely, Smith’s lyrics dealt in “hexes”, the  “restricted linguistic, gestural and behavioural codes which produce a sense of inferiority and enforce class destiny” and were unfiltered by any reflexive, or centering, subjectivity.



Where pulp modernism really takes off in relation to The Fall is in the convergence of the weird and the grotesque. Drawing on Philip Thomson’s study of the grotesque, Fisher’s understanding is characterized by the “co-presence of the laughable and that which is not compatible with the laughable.” This is exemplified in the crudely rendered creature (“emigres from old green glades”), left etched into the cover of the 1982 single “City Hobgoblins”. The etching functions as a threshold between worlds, muddling the ontological distinction between inside and outside and making irrelevant “standard modes of legibility.”

The humor here does not come from a recognizable common language, but from a “psychotic outside,” formulated in a “psycho(tropological) spewing of associations and animosities.” Juxtaposing their gnarled sound and fantastical lyrical content with the mundanity of growing up in the post-industrial north of England, The Fall “reacquaint modernism with its disavowed pulp doppelganger.” Arriving on the precipice of Thatcher’s rule and the crushing of the labor movement, The Fall’s Grotesque (After the Gramme) and Hex Enduction Hour can retroactively be seen as a fledgling frankenstein entity emerging from modernism’s corpse.

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Image from Twitter

“The concept of progress must be grounded in the idea of catastrophe. That things are ‘status quo’ is the catastrophe.” – Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project

Look out over any large city’s skyline and a homogeneous certainty is made clear. Mies van der Rohe skyscrapers or knockoffs are omnipresent, fighting for urban space with Norman Foster’s oddly shaped, reflective totems to multinational capital. IKEA’s denuded take on mid-century modern furniture is the de facto interior decor for the young professional set, while the clean line and muted color-driven design of the Swedish furniture conglomerate is ubiquitous in chain restaurants, web design, and everything in between.

The promethean, utopian modernism of the 20th century has largely atrophied under 40+ years of neoliberal order, now resigned to art books and heritage sites. Aptly laid out by architecture and culture critic Owen Hatherley, modernism is now defined by the “distance between itself and the everyday.” Hatherley’s Militant Modernism and Landscapes of Communism, published in 2009 and 2015 respectively, function as earnest and honest investigations into the makeup of the modernisms of the last century. Probing the architecture, literature, film, theater and politics of the early revolutionary Soviet Union, industrial England, Weimar Germany and more, both volumes salvage kernels of wisdom from past forms.

An earlier volume, Marshall Berman’s All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, published in 1982, performs a similar task, delving into modernism’s genesis moments (Goethe, Baudelaire, the construction of St. Petersburg) to draw out the contradictions and failures of uneven development in Russia, mid-twentieth century New York, and a burgeoning austerity state under Reagan. Berman understands modernity as a “maelstrom of perpetual disintegrations and renewal,” and that only through communication, dialogue, and dialectical thinking can the dream where “the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all” become reality.

Following the rise of multinational capital and its ensuant postmodern cultural logic, Hatherley and Berman’s tracts are important reminders of what was once possible: an art that didn’t dispense with the everyday, politics in the street, and a vision for a world after capitalism. Many of the modernisms called on by both — Brechtian theory, early Russian constructivist architecture, Marx’s “free development of physical and spiritual energies” — still feel eminently alive today and are worth excavating for their relevance to contemporary life, as well as  studying in their own right. That said, modernism’s vitality comes from its relationship to the present, to humanity’s “capacity for perpetual self-critique and self-renewal” and through a willingness to “wake up out of this dream, with its proliferation of phantasmagorical commodities, into an entirely new world.”

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Last week, we released “Msll777”, the debut single from Khadije and Lil Asaf. The track is a preview of a longer project from the duo out later this Spring. Khadije is a Beirut-born, Berlin-based multi-disciplinary artist. You probably know her work under a different name, but Khadije is an entity autonomous from previous and future work. Lil Asaf, also known as Bashar Suleiman, is a Palestinian rapper and producer based in Amman. A previous solo effort was released by Hizz in 2018 and his work as INSIN with Welsh producer Elvin Brandhi was released by AMEN in late 2019.

The video for “Msll777” was directed by Yusra Nazek and shot in Beirut. The whole project came together in a matter of weeks and we’re extremely grateful to be working with this talented group of friends. You can grab “Msll777” here and be on high alert for more Khadije and Lil Asaf soon.


Ochre Flood is SHALT’s seventh release on APR and first since 2018’s Seraphim LP. The tight three tracker follows a series of edit packs that saw the London-based artist take on Far East Movement, The Pussycat Dolls and a range of recent French rap hits. Expanding on the ideas introduced in the ʃælt single series, Ochre Flood sees SHALT at his most focused, matching a billowing spatial dimension with a fine comb approach to texture and sub bass construction.

Each percussive hit crackles and burns on opener “Shudder”, which progresses methodically before letting loose with a reckless clarity. “Ochre”, already a radio staple, forms the carnivalesque backbone of the EP, throbbing with low end energy and a top line melody that insinuates itself deep in memory. Any perceived restraint in SHALT’s work is thrown to the wind on “Unlast”, the EP’s stormy closer that retains a sense of calm in its center even as the elements violently swirl. Ochre Flood is out on February 14 and can pre-ordered here.


After playing all label/label artist music on our December NTS show, I decided to dive into the HD for a taste of dynamic new music from the past two months. Dancefloor material was more inspiring than usual this time around and I was able to fit in a collection of FDM, litefeet and other 100 BPM-ish tracks into the first 30 minutes. Check out NYOP’s 0 collection and one-offs from Epic B, Davincii and MVSTERMIND. Fridge’s 666 Speed, quest?onmarc’s PHOENIX and DJ Nigga Fox’s Cartas Na Manga were also major focal points for the opening bit of the show.

Vocal edits from v1984, Pininga, nunu and Kelman Duran, as well as a few choice songs from the forthcoming DJ Lostboi and Torus split, form the next section. Sadly, it looks like Kelman took everything on his Bandcamp down, but you can hear “she said she from da westside, yeah she said the best side” below and “die here” in TTB’s most recent show. Having the opportunity to link up tracks that denaturalize the traditionally beautiful and revivify familiar material is one of my favorite parts of composing the show each month. Eartheater & LEYA’s Angel Lust is also a must have and exhibits a few of the qualities that make Eartheater’s live performances so special.

The mixing in the remainder of the show is a bit ropey, but managed to touch on must have new Ase Manual, Bamao Yendé, Color Plus, Ecko Bazz, Gant-Man, Sonia Calico and more. There are a few special Aya edits in there as well. Speaking of which, her latest NTS show is an R.I.P. LOFT special that brings in tracks from various aliases dating back to 2009. You can grab a bunch of those over at her Bandcamp. For a more complete track list, hit the jump and/or check out the Buy Music Club rundown of a good portion of what we played. Our show will be back on February 14 and we’ll have announced APR123 and APR124 by then so keep an eye out.

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In my year end essay for FACT published in December, I focused on 2019 releases that deal extensively with the quotidian. I’d like to expand on that piece and reframe the releases mentioned in the context of Fredric Jameson’s understanding of “cognitive mapping” and Rafael Lubner’s rejection of post-internet discourses. These are not definitive examples of this aesthetic mode, but a nod to the potential of a music for fighting alienation.

Music for walking the city — for building into and bracketing every facet of our urban existence — has been of increasing importance to me over the past several years. More often than not, that music tends to be about the everyday: not in a literal, descriptive sense, but in that it deals largely with the issues of ordinary people. I’ve wondered quite a bit about what separates the music that elicits a feeling of place-ness versus that which increases isolation, paranoia and a loss of agency. Neither can be reduced to a set of aesthetic principles, but I think there are distinctive qualities, outlined below, which begin to unravel the question. When referring to alienation, I won’t be using it in the strictly Marxist sense, although alienation from one’s labor is a key component.

In assessing matters of alienation and disalienation, Jameson lays out a loose structure with which to assess large scale cultural developments in the second half of the 20th century and follows with a potential strategy for moving through and transcending postmodern hegemony. Lubner’s analysis functions as a rejection of a segment of contemporary music and culture criticism, as well as a constructive framing of much of the music that we both adore. Later, I refer to both approaches in my further interpretation of releases from Amazondotcom, Loraine James and Oli XL. These releases have been particularly relevant to my attempts to fight personal alienation this year and provide a potential jumping off point for working towards what Jameson would refer to as a moment of truth.

In Jameson’s “The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism”, initially published in New Left Review in 1984 and later adapted for the seminal Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, the American Marxist theorist and cultural critic lays out an aesthetic strategy for fighting alienation in the capitalist city. Building on the work of urban planner Kevin Lynch, Jameson places spatial concerns as his central organizing principle, writing that “the alienated city is above all a space in which people are unable to map (in their minds) either their own positions or the urban totality in which they find themselves.” In this, the postmodern city is a reflection and a representation of the intentionally unfathomable dimensions of multinational capital, an “emptiness…here absolutely packed” with mirrored totems.

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The line between club and noise music has been thoroughly breached over the past decade. Artists flow seamlessly between the two worlds, participating in bands and DJ projects, recklessly merging sounds, and ignoring the bounds established by “experimental” scene gatekeepers. More importantly, sounds that had decayed in the hands of those gatekeepers have been revitalized and torn up by a range of black and queer artists who have essentially re-written the rulebook, matching militant energy and high intensity sonics with a deep historical awareness, comedic instinct and collective spirit. Stylistically divergent artists like Dreamcrusher, Fuck U Pay Us and Moor Mother have led the charge in the live arena, while DJs like Juliana Huxtable, LSDXOXO and Nkisi have taken distinctly black, hardcore sounds to global dancefloors.

Richmond’s ARCHANGEL is one of the most refreshing voices to emerge out of this environment of late, combining a passion for Baltimore, Jersey and Philly Club with a distinctly confrontational and emancipatory ethos. Taking on a collage approach, ARCHANGEL mixes and tracks are saturated with information, full of overlapping Club tracks, bits of speeches and spoken word, and recontextualized video game and anime soundtracks. Initially introduced to Club music while driving to a cousins house (her mother is from Philadelphia and the track was DJ TIZZ’s “I’M THE NIKE MAN”), she continued to hear snippets of other regional sounds and was hooked from that point.

Moving away from the dancefloor, ARCHANGEL is also a member of BLVCKPUNX, a  noise-rap group in the process of re-recording their debut YOUAREHERE(I) EP. Filtering the sound of institutional racism and violence, BLVCKPUNX are explosive, pushing back on the idea of blackness as a monolith while embracing a mischievous, joyful energy and a coy hedonism.

With her Club music roots in mind ARCHANGEL’s Astral Plane Mix (initially titled “Hot Girl Summer”) is aimed at letting go and allowing people to let go. At an hour and a half long, the mix is a comprehensive run through the past few years in Club music, drawing on a litany of different micro-movements while touching on specific standout tracks from the likes of Ase Manual, DJ Tameil, LSDXOXO, R3LL and more. A few sly originals from ARCHANGEL herself fit into the end of the session as does an instrumental BLVCKPUNX track. You can grab a download of the mix here and hit the jump for a full track list.

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