The BBC Essential Mix is a two-hour weekly radio program, and for all the hype claiming that Rustie’s show defined the sound of 2012, electronic music was more splintered last year than ever before. How can you define the sound of a year whose best records spanned the range of Grimes’ humanist pop, Death Grips’ cyberpunk and Future’s inimitable moanings? I won’t try—so instead, here are three of the most (subjectively) interesting sounds of 2012 and two predictions for the sound of 2013.
For my money, no producer was more exciting in 2012 than Evian Christ. The eight tracks of his debut EP Kings and Them all draw heavily from the same source material, making the EP feel like a single composition in eight movements: a sonata for Tyga samples, warped 808s, and mutated trance pads. His minimalist production alludes to hip-hop and juke, but Kings and Them defies categorization. On “Fuck It None of Y’all Don’t Rap,” the EP’s darkest cut, Leary manipulates Tyga’s voice overtop codeine-drenched sub-bass and ethereal pads into a dark hypnotic stupor, while “MYD,” a masterpiece of rhythm, layers the exact same elements to build an ecstatic tension. The highlight is penultimate track “Thrown Like Jacks,” which weaves an ambient Grouper sample in and out of a skittering, bass-heavy backdrop. Aside from a couple B-sides, the only other music Leary released in 2012 was a four-part, 20-minute experimental classical piece inspired by a mysterious Soviet radar system. His sophomore effort promises to be one of this year’s most exciting releases.
Footwork is a hyper-regional genre that’s received almost no media coverage outside its birthplace of Chicago since its beginnings almost two decades ago. 2012 saw the release of two crossover footwork albums that presented staggeringly different views of the genre’s future. One, Traxman’s Da Mind of Traxman, interpreted footwork’s signature double-time beats with a globe-trotting bevy of samples. His crate-digging, Avalanches-esque spin on footwork was an exciting attempt to bring a genre that’s been alienated from pop music since its inception into the popular sphere.
The year’s other highlight, DJ Rashad’s Teklife Vol. 1: Welcome to the Chi, went in the exact opposite direction. In Rashad’s footwork, beats never settle into a groove or a pocket: instead, they skitter around it, with a convulsive, psychotic energy which mirrors that of footwork dancers. Rashad’s vision of footwork is an intensely psychedelic one. Strangely, though, almost every track on the album dissolves into a dark, ethereal space by around 90 seconds in.
What’s most striking about Teklife Vol. 1 is how unclassifiable and untraceable the music is. While Traxman’s jazz and soul samples locate his footwork within a lineage of funk and jazz fusion, Rashad’s cold, stripped-bare beats are a disorientating anti-humanist product of the digital age. Between its cold, schizophrenic rhythms and its dark-ambient turmoil, Rashad’s footwork is fundamentally warped, twisted, broken—and it sounded like nothing else made in 2012.
MIKE WiLL MADE IT
Evian Christ might have been the year’s most interesting producer, but Mike WiLL Made It was the most successful: at one point, three of his beats were on the Billboard Top 10 at the same time. What made him stand out in 2012 was his versatility—what other beatsmith could have worked with both Gucci Mane, Jeremih, Schoolboy Q and Brandy? But the highlight of his output was his beat for Future’s breathtaking trap ballad “Turn on the Lights,” which set Future’s auto-tuned wheezing overtop new-age synths and a new kind of 808 bass hit—and, in the process, created one of the year’s truly heart-stopping songs.
SOUNDS OF 2013
2012 saw the emergence of dopewave, a genre that owes as much to trap as it does to chillwave, fusing woozy synths with mutable, unconventional percussion and a willingness to experiment with hip-hop rhythms appropriated that’s equal parts juke and J Dilla. One of its practitioners, Windslo, is a Denver-based producer whose hazy future-R&B ballad “It’s Too Late,” featured on the DOPEWAVE IS REAL compilation, was one of the year’s standout tracks. Likewise his remix of Lloyd Banks/Juelz Santana collaboration “Beamer, Benz, or Bentley,” which forsakes the original’s trunk-rattling bass in favor of an off-kilter 8-bit funk. His Instagram hints tantalizingly at a full-length release.
Sounding a different note is Blanck Mass (Benjamin John Power, one half of Fuck Buttons). His eponymous debut, released in 2011, presented a naturalistic update on Fuck Buttons’ atmospheric drone-pop and was featured prominently in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. But while that LP rarely strayed from its nucleus of ambient washes of noise, this year’s 12” recreated the drone of his Fuck Buttons’ oeuvre with the textures of ‘90s techno. The most exciting thing he released this year was “HELLION EARTH,” a 10-minute epic that’s equal parts Orbital and Brian Eno. It’s an apocalyptic space-disco soundscape that features auto-tuned snares and is arguably the most exciting Fuck Buttons project since their 2008 debut.
By: Michael Skinnider