It was only fitting that synth deity Gary Numan was headlining Irving Plaza in NYC on the first crisp autumn night where it was appropriate to don a black leather jacket. Numan, who first put his indelible mark on music in late ’70s/early ’80s with ubiquitous synth-driven masterpieces “Cars” and “Are Friend Electric?”, has been touring to support his flawless 2017 album Savage (Songs from a Broken World), which he realized with longtime collaborator Ade Fenton.
From the moment Numan took the stage with his backing quartet, he pulled no punches. They wielded the raw fury of his industrial-electronic din with aplomb.
One of Monika Kruse’s travels led the revered DJ/producer to Belgrade, a city whose underground club scene is quietly thriving. The promotor of the techno party had booked talented local up-and-comer Ilija Djokovic in a support slot. Kruse enjoyed Djokovic’s set and they exchanged contact details.
Not too long later she included his track “Spectrum” on her Essential Mix and later released his blindingly good Blue Eyes EP in September on Terminal M.
Djokovic continues to define his deep, soulful brand of techno on the Enigma EP for Reinier Zonneveld’s Filth on Acid.
The smoldering title track is a joyous dance of minimal techno and house. It’s juxtaposed against the ominous slo-mo growl of “Lucid Dreams” and the eerie soundscape of “Requiem.” Italy’s Roberto Capuano closes out the EP with a ballsy remix of “Requiem.”
Minimalist and expansive, the Enigma EP is visceral, intimate and epic. It’ll be exciting to find out what he does next in 2018.
At the beginning of the year two-time Grammy nominated Chicago house music pioneer Felix Da Housecat launched Founders of Filth, a label whose musical manifesto thumbs its nose in the face of rules. Felix has always marched to his own beat, pioneering the electroclash movement to collaborating with dub legend Lee “Scratch” Perry on 2015’s Narrative of Thee Blast Illusion.
Founders of Filth Vol. 3, which is Felix’s third EP of the year, finds the iconoclast collaborating once again with fellow Chi-town luminary Jamie Principle and Montreal DJ/producer Clarian (both artists appeared on his debut Vol. 1). Felix channels his electroclash roots in partnership with Clarian on the bawdy “Energy” featuring Agata. The recipe isn’t necessarily new — girl provocatively talking/singing over a grinding electro groove — but it works like a charm. “They Just Want 2 B U” with Clarian and Principle is a synth-based dance-pop delight. It’s built on soft pads, echoed vocals and blippy melodies.
For the EP’s closing track Felix dons his Aphrohead moniker for a funky finale, “Color of Rayy.” The techiest track on the release is hard and driving, featuring Felix’s Prince-like spoken-word vocals over a rollicking musical bed.
Founders of Filth Vol. 3 dovetails Felix’s past with the present and allows him to successfully close out a year of reinvention on a high note.
As Pop Ambient 2018 hits the shops, a small, nagging question can’t help but arise: Do we really need another installment of the Kompakt label’s annual collection of soothing mood pieces? After nearly 20 editions, hasn’t the series said everything there is to say about its meditative brand of tunes? It would be hard to argue that this latest edition, once again compiled by Kompakt co-leader Wolfgang Voigt, brings anything truly new to the series, or that it provides any major twist — which is another way to say that the compilation, as always, is brimming with atmospheric, hugely evocative music.
There’s a hushed intimacy to much of Pop Ambient 2018 — each shudder and swoon can induce a wealth of feelings — but that intimacy is often molded into something approaching grandeur. On both “Prism” and “Nine Chains to The Moon,” both from Yui Onodera, slowly unfolding orchestral melodies elicit imagery of a grand vista, just coming into view as the mist lifts. Chuck Johnson’s “Brahmi” delivers a similar effect via its spectral shimmers and gliding steel-pedal accents, while on Würden & Pfeiffer’s aptly named “Panorama,” fluttering washes of sound and a wistful horn conjure up a sunrise over a spring meadow.
Occasionally, an ever-so-slight hint of rhythmic propulsion comes along to sharpen the soft-focus feel of these songs, as on Kaito’s “Travelled Between Souls,” where sweeping pads are punctuated by gentle percussive flourishes. “Disinclined to Vacate,” from electronic-music polymath Kenneth James Gibson, plays like a dreamland lullaby, its gently spiraling synth line rising through the clouds before reaching its bittersweet, all-too-brief coda. The Orb provides the album’s most propulsive track (granted, that’s not saying much in this company) via “Sky Falling,” with desert-moon drumming underpinning a stream of scraping textures, gracefully chiming keys, and what sounds like a particularly languid sax.
The term glacial is often employed to describe the kind of music that Pop Ambient focuses on, but that’s only half right. It’s an apt description of the pacing of these tracks — it’s the kind of music that derives its allure through placid ebb and flow, rather than angular shifts. But temperature-wise, it’s anything but icy — there’s a resonating warmth to these tunes that’s almost reflexively appealing. We may not need another installment of Pop Ambient — but as always, it comes as a welcome respite, as a soothing sanctuary from life’s turmoil.