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Basscadet: Nozinja and May’s Electronic Albums Reviewed

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Basscadet is a monthly column from Gary Suarez, combining thoughts about current trends in electronic music with short-form reviews of recent releases. 

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South African producers are responsible for some of the most compelling contemporary music right now, electronic or otherwise. While the West has long dominated the dance music discussion, cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg now conversationally counter the didacticism and dogma of Deutschland and Detroit. Though you’ll no doubt find any number of locals happy to ape the sensible sounds of America and Europe, some South African producers have a higher calling to both and think locally.

A fierce proponent of the syncopated Gqom style, Jumping Back Slash waves the flag for this particular youth music movement with originals and mixes like this Future Sound of Mzansi 10 set. War God, DJ Spoko’s invigorating 2014 set for Lit City Trax, introduced self-described Bacardi House mixology to the worldwide bass music community. Flirting with EDM, Card On Spokes’ most recent Sunwalker EP takes listeners on a brisk trip through Cape Town dance pop and J-Burg (t)rap. Western labels from Austria’s Affine to London’s Warp have rightfully taken notice, with the latter poised to drop the most crucial project yet from the scene, Nozinja Lodge.

Pleasant and plump, Richard “Nozinja” Mthetwa is a colorful character prone to wearing elaborate, many-colored ensembles that, to an outsider’s eye, appear simultaneously both traditional and radical. The same could be said for his music, a futurist’s reimagining of the Shangaan people’s musical tradition. While some foolhardy chump might remark that this is merely Warp hopping on the latest exoticism fad, Nozinja Lodge’s melodic purity and progressive execution harkens back to the label’s deceptively simple beginnings. His Soweto synthplay on “Xihukwani” syncs up with the classic British bleep of Sweet Exorcist and Tricky Disco. “Mitshetshoi” comes as close to “Testone” as it does some of Richard H. Kirk’s most ambitious Sandoz outings.

Bass is, at best, an afterthought. As demonstrated on “Nwa Baloyi” and “Baby Do U Feel Me”, Nozinja’s melodies bubble and fry, steadily vibrant and always poppin’ off. Still, even though footwork has conditioned a generation to rise above 140BPM, the deliberately high tempos here sometimes challenge. But this is Soweto, not Sheffield — and it’s about time for a more global dance music definition.

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Reviews:

Braille – Mute Swan [Friends Of Friends]

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Best known as Sepalcure’s less known half, Praveen Sharma hasn’t had the same scrutiny applied to his discography as has Machinedrum. Yet Sharma too historically shapeshifts his way through genres, from the ambient pop of 2005’s Backed by Spirits to the full-throated house of his Braille pseudonym. Mute Swan aims to encapsulate his own sound and bridge the perceived gaps in his catalog, though how effectively he does this depends on the track. His reluctance to commit to the straight-head four-on-the-floor dance of 2011’s A Meaning 12” presents meaningful opportunities to soak in the atmospheres of wistful and blissful cuts like “Insider Out” and “Stop Drop & Roll”. Still, some of it sounds dated (“Ended Up in NYC”) or too hesitant (“An Oceanic Escape”), as if boxed in by his own rhythmic restrictions. Though Angelica Bess — who trainspotters may recall from Vapor City — appears on three tracks, Sharma fails to get much of a performance out of her.

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Daktyl – Cyclical [Mad Decent]

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Judging by the bright colors, flashing lights, and almost cartoonish devotion to partying, it’s easy for detractors to treat Mad Decent with brusque dismissal. But this subtle, affecting record from London producer Daktyl quietly challenges nearly every possible prejudice one might hold against Diplo’s tastes. About as close to calm as the world’s leading EDM label could get, Cyclical explores the porous boundaries between the club and the after-hours spot. Ambitious yet reserved, “Haze” and “Mind” take some of EDM’s most extravagant tendencies and rinses them with muted tones. “Forgettable” melds this with more traditional R&B vibes, almost taunting with its bump n’ grind groove. There’s also the makings of a modern pop album lurking here, judging by the chirpy “Salters” as well as the SPZRKT-assisted title track. But it’s the beauteous and grand, penultimate song (“Stay”) that reveals Daktyl to be a young master on the verge of busting out something truly monolithic.

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 Ekoplekz – Reflekzionz [Planet Mu]

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Though ostensibly paying homage to his ’90s braindance influences, akin to his labelmate Drew Lustman’s recent The Crystal Cowboy, Nick Edwards seems scarcely interested in messing about in the nostalgic haze of Rephlex’s yesteryear. Rather, this latest Ekoplekz record cribs lightly from that musty era while working towards something exquisitely strange, visceral, and fresh. From the invertebrate acid of squishy epic “Downtone” to the fluttering digi-dub of “Tremulant”, he kicks old ideas into new shapes. Not entirely unlike what Rhythm & Sound once did, Ekoplekz finds inspiration in island sounds while subsequently landlocking them (“Dubnium 268”). This translates to deep basses and trebly synthesized squiggles, a liberating model perhaps best laid out on “Quakers Road Skank”. Always appearing intentional, the industrial imperfections and flattening lo-fi filters only occasionally detract from the melodic beauty inherent in the material. Nonetheless, were Grant Wilson-Claridge still putting out records, Reflekzionz would likely be his cup of English Breakfast.

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Various Artists – Opening Ceremony and Jubilee present Magic City [N/A]

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Too often reduced to South Beach weekenders comprised of pool parties and mojitos, Miami’s role in dance music is more than just historical and geographical. Those who think the city’s contributions ended with mid-’90s DJ Laz or 2 Live Crew ought to cop an education with this freebie compilation curated by DJ Jubilee. From the dembow undercurrents of Moombahton Massive’s “Jonesin” through Ashrock’s dark electro tremors on “Miami”, Magic City showcases roughly a dozen local artists doing the damn thing. Though mainstays like Otto Von Schirach (represented here with the aptly-named Miami Bass Warriors) and DJ Icey approach breaks in distinctly different ways, their respective paths honor the bass tradition. While only a few of these tracks feel like headline material — particularly Helix’s chipper mix of COA Babii’s “Wign” — all would no doubt serve well as DJ tools to propel a certain type of set along.

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BLIPS:

A-Trak feat Cory Enemy & Nico Stadi – Ibanez [Spinnin]

Just in time for the warmer weather, the Fool’s Gold guru pulls off an impressive double A-side of stomping, quasi-trancey arena EDM replete with robot rock noodles and chugs.

Craze – Baby Gurl [Slow Roast]

Though undeniably one of the world’s finest turntablists, the Miami basshead’s own bog standard regurgitative trap EDM productions here will hardly leave anyone breathless  who wasn’t already rolling on the dancefloor.

Cuushe – Night Lines [Cascine]

From coddled clapstep to techno trembles, these electropop tracks (once again produced by aus) are as precious and pointless as attempting to preserve dandelion wisps.

Dorian Concept – Joined Ends Remix [Ninja Tune]

Expanding on the artist’s eclectic album from last autumn, this well-done companion EP brings together a diverse set of thoughtful remixers, including dancefloor maximalist Redinho and avant-ambient adventurer Tim Hecker.

Flossatradamus – Soundclash [Ultra]

An unfortunately uneven collection of tunes, the acclaimed duo’s latest EP bounces around festival EDM’s rubberized boundaries with variety of collaborators, including Lil Jon, Run The Jewels, and TroyBoi.

Legowelt – Anaconda Flow [Technicolour]

A seasoned scenester, the Dutch electro housemeister reminds yet again why he’s been governing dancefloors for nearly two decades with these four loopy floorfillers.

Lockah – And Blue Brindle Too [Donky Pitch]

Following last year’s potent full-length and preceding his imminent next one, these five cuts pair the glossy nu-new wave of the Drive soundtrack with the unique feeling of getting a hard-on in the middle of a rave.

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Gary Suarez is a writer born and raised in New York City. He tweets.

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