Co-founder of the trans-Atlantic NON Records, South African artist Angel-Ho‘s music and anti-imperial rhetoric has been making waves as of late, both for its shocking immediacy and the depth of its critique. Released on Rabit’s new Halcyon Veil label, the Cape Town-residing producer’s Ascension EP comes in the collage style favored by TCF, Elysia Crampton, Total Freedom, Why Be and the Janus collective, a shattering blend of urban noise, technological squelches and vocal remnants. It’s noisy, barb-heavy and comes across less as a club deconstruction and more as a high grade shell exploding in the middle of the dance floor. Mastered by scene heavyweight Arca, Ascension, despite the rawness of its makeup, builds a high resolution landscape across its short 19 minute run time, a landscape in material and spiritual flux built out of the failed construct of contemporary democracy. It’s a world where robotic commands boom out of the rainforest and ballroom tropes infiltrate the virtual boardroom, all tied together by Angel-Ho’s conjoining of the corporeal with the technological. This isn’t an EP full of randomly placed breaking glass and club tropes, it’s a revelatory takedown of all that we take for granted about our cities and the capitalist superstructure that guides them. Ascension can be streamed below and downloaded here.
Decibel Festival, like many other contemporary festivals that straddle the dwindling line between underground and overground forms of dance music, was heavy (to say the least) on four-on-the-floor house and techno. In fact, the festival’s adherence to technical linearity was so strong that one could posit that the steady pulse of a kick drum defined Decibel 2014. From the late night Ostgut Ton showcase at Q Nightclub to Phuture’s TB-303 jams, house and techno from the world over could be found at Decibel, but the respective genres’ British and German constructions took center stage. This created something of a dilemma for a team looking for more rhythmic variance and, shall we say, a global purview than your standard techno bro fest. Fortunately, the Decibel lineup provided pockets of brilliance in the form of jungle, footwork, grime and kuduro, allowing us to indulge in gaudy, kick drum-heavy performances from T. Williams, Wolf+Lamb, Nadastrom and more.
On Wednesday night, Arca and Total Freedom, with music video art auteur Jesse Kanda providing visual accompaniment on a huge LED screen, took to EMP’s Sky Church with a vengeance, weaving syncopated kuduro and dembow rhythmic patterns into a number of contemporary pop hits. The Sky Church, a massive room in a corporate music mausoleum, is an odd venue to hold a genre and gender bending performance from three prodigiously talented artists, but a small, dedicated crowd, equal measures repulsed by and smitten with Kanda’s Vine compilation-meets-high concept body art, was up for the challenge proffered by the CDJ wielding deejays. A percentage of the crowd was even made up of holdovers from Max Cooper’s technically proficient, but disappointingly linear performance (the following night’s dancer-assisted showcase featuring Cooper was supposedly far superior) that preceded Arca’s takeover, a less surprising development than one might expect considering the breadth of interests and knowledge among the Decibel crowd.
Hit the jump for the totality of our Decibel coverage…
For the next two weeks, we will be featuring different facets of Seattle’s crown jewel of an electronic music event, the consistently excellent Decibel Festival. Considering that Seattle is our hometown and Decibel is one of the most tactful curators of electronic music in the United States, the annual gathering is one of the highlights of our year and more than deserves the praise heaped on it in recent years. The festival runs on a showcase structure, featuring different labels, promotion groups and other tastemakers flexing their creative muscle at Seattle’s best venues. Over the past 11 years, Decibel has grown from a small neighborhood gathering to one of the premiere dance music festivals in the world and over the next few weeks, we’ll parse through the dozens of events to highlight the best and brightest talent the festival has to offer.
The past several years at Decibel have involved what events organizers have dubbed “Optical” showcases, usually involving artists who trend towards the more experimental end of the spectrum, or who involve a strong visual element in their performances. Last year’s events took place in the comfortable confines of a concert hall (Nordstrom Recital Hall) and jazz club (The Triple Door) respectively, venues that were optimal for the piano stylings of Nils Frahm, but lacked the performative oomph that one might expect from an A/V showcase. This year, four Optical events will take place at the Nordstrom Recital Hall and The Triple Door, but the remaining two will be held at the EMP Sky Church, a visually breathtaking space in an otherwise corporate kitsch “museum”. The first of those showcases, titled Kinesthesia (proprioception, hand-eye coordination, etc.), takes places on the festival’s first day (9/24) and features the world debut of Max Cooper’s Emergence project, a joint Arca + Jesse Kanda set, Ghostly International’s Seattle representative The Sight Below, and an always special DJ set from Fade 2 Mind provocateur Total Freedom.
For the better part of five years, Belfast-born multi-instrumentalist, producer, and collaborationist Max Cooper has been at the forefront of experimental electronic music, balancing a dance music career with a desire to transcend the genre’s traditional limitations. Cooper’s list of plaudits are too long to list, but his work with filmmakers Nick Cobby, Dmitry Zakharov and Cedric de Smedt is representative of his invigorating, trans-genre and cross-cultural approach to art. Cooper will bring the world debut of his Emergence A/V spectacle to Decibel, a show that is advertised as melding the “scientific, experimental, musical and visual sides” of the artist’s arsenal into a singular entity.
While the debut of Cooper’s Emergence certainly has us peaked for Kinesthesia, the tandem of Arca’s (born Alejandro Ghersi) beat smashing prowess and Kanda’s visual acrobatics might end up as the standout moment of the entire festival. 2012’s Stretch 1 and Stretch 2 brought Arca to the fore as a solo artist, bringing attention to his collage-like style, innovative vocal manipulations and positively odd influence on the pop music he took influence from for the aforementioned tapes. 2013 saw an alliance with British crooner/dancer/inspiration FKA Twigs and placement on Kanye West’s divisive Yeezus LP, a dramatic rise to prominence for a still-relatively-unknown producer, but one that felt entirely natural. In fact, Arca’s vocal manipulations can be found throughout the seams Yeezus, especially on “Hold My Liquor”, “Blood On The Leaves” and “Im In It”. Arca’s best work has undoubtedly come with Twigs and Kanda, the former the ascendant R&B star; the latter the visual impresario who has melded both Arca and Twigs’ (respective) iconic public images. Ghersi and Kanda are best friends after all and the two live together, work together constantly and, with Twigs in the fold, have come as close as anyone to holding up a funhouse mirror to pop culture. The duo’s performance at the Sky Church will certainly feature music from Arca’s recent “&&&&&” tape and Twigs’ LP1, and fact that Kanda was intimately involved in both processes will prove to be fascinating in the live arena.
Total Freedom rounds out the Kinesthesia bill, representing Fade 2 Mind and bringing the label’s signature flame to the night. It’s virtually impossible to predict what’s to come with a Total Freedom DJ set, but based on his recent spat of dates with Kelela and a number of off-the-cuff edits, Mr. Ashland Mines will certainly adumbrate Arca and Kanda’s set with some magic of his own.
Buy single tickets for Kinesthesia here and be sure to show up at the Sky Church come 9/24 if you have a festival pass.