Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.
A few weeks ago, heralded Japanese noise artist Merzbow played at a black metal bar located in northernmost Brooklyn. For the uninitiated, the massive, daunting oeuvre of Merzbow (the work of Masami Akita) remains the Ulysses of the subgenre, the standard by which all other extreme strains of such music are judged and through which all must pass. Opening for Merzbow was daunting Saskatchewan black metal-noise duo Wold, and at one point during their punishing set, a programmed beat throbbed through the audience packed room, as abrasive as the brain-scouring frequencies the duo had just unleashed throughout the set. At a time when disparate genres can commingle -- with indie and hip-hop acts admiring one another (see Jay-Z recently inviting Dirty Projectors to play his Made in America Festival) or R&B and Eurodisco birthing oily chart-toppers -- underground noise and electronic dance music can still make for strange bedfellows.
In 2012 though, that long-sustained line has begun to decay and fade away. If Skrillex’s bass drops can push the thresholds of his audience’s eardrums and intestines, how far afield is that from what Merzbow has been doing to his listeners’ bodies since the ‘80s? Former Wolf Eyes member Aaron Dilloway dropped Modern Jester earlier this year which blendered pulsing frequencies into its ear-punishing clamor, resulting in something that just might mix into an audacious DJ set. In fact, it received a strong review on the esteemed electronic music website, Resident Advisor. (See also writer Justin Farrar’s feature about even more underground noise musicians exploring beat-driven music.) And at the very end of last year, former Yellow Swans member Pete Swanson released Man With Potential, which also dabbled in the form, opening up the seams of his beatless, high-pitched noise just enough to have surges and pulses suggesting techno (think Surgeon or Andy Stott) come to the fore. And just last week, Swanson released a teaser video for his forthcoming Pro Styles EP, which features even more brain-scrambling beats at play. As he told Impose Magazine in May: “I've been working on bringing even more damage to the ‘techno’ framework that I was working with. I’m using a more overtly ‘electronic dance music’ oriented framework, but trying to execute that music in such a way that it’s subject to a thorough beating.” Beats and beatings indeed.
From the other direction, a few underground dance labels have edged closer to noise’s dancefloor potential as well. The revered Norwegian imprint Sex Tags Mania -- responsible for obtuse electronic releases from acts like Skatebård and Bjørn Torske -- recently released a 10” credited to the act Engval, the grooves of which reveal analog synths (usually deployed for that vintage ‘80s sound) veering into the realm of black metal drone instead. And Brooklyn’s L.I.E.S. imprint releases cavernous, grit-caked house 12”s from producers Marcos Cabral and Svengali’s Ghost and frost-tipped synthscapes from Steve Moore that seem discontent with the distinctions between abstraction and rhythm. In fact, the label keeps turning up raw new talent from the warehouses of Bushwick and Greenpoint that suggests a renaissance of sorts happening in the borough.
For his live DJ set on radio program Beats in Space from earlier this spring, L.I.E.S. labelhead Ron Morelli concocted a set that maneuvered over this no man’s land between skin-peeling abstract electronics and body-pummeling rhythms with ease. During his hour set, Morelli debuted a slew of new releases on his imprint (like Bad News, Hassan, Vapauteen, U202) while also mixing in other likeminded artists. One of the most revelatory tracks in the set came from an album credited to a heretofore-unknown act called Cut Hands. A quick look at the sleeve revealed the name of William Bennett. Bennett was a totemic figure of the ‘80s tape-trading underground, releasing ear-bleeding work as Whitehouse, one of the era’s premiere power-electronic noise acts. With his Cut Hands project, Bennett couples that same punishing range of frequencies to trance-inducing hand percussion patterns, the results of which are skull-rattling.
This summer has turned into a busy time for the L.I.E.S. label with a half-dozen new singles landing in record shops as well as Morelli’s DJ set during MoMA/P.S.1’s perennial Summer Warm-Up series this weekend alongside Detroit’s Underground Resistance label. Both the L.I.E.S. label’s most ambitious and abstract release to date comes from a totally unknown producer named Jahiliyya Fields. Clad in a pitch black sleeve with an eerie symbols seemingly scratched into it befitting a Norwegian black metal release, Unicursal Hexagram spreads six throbbing, maleficent tracks across two 12”s. White noise blasts and analog drones build and build without offering release, but for fans of Black Dice, Terry Riley or Wolf Eyes, who would want to escape such a sound?
My favorite release on L.I.E.S. though might also be its rarest. Naturally, it’s credited to “Unknown Artist” and it’s a white label featuring a wolf’s snarling face hand-stamped onto an otherwise blank white label, in an edition just over 100. While its exact participants are unknown, I’m told it’s the handiwork of a few up-and-coming Bushwick-based producers jamming together. It’s one thing for a track to sound like something to blast during an illegal warehouse rave, but the unpolished-yet-mesmerizing “Journey 1” sounds like an abandoned warehouse itself: dark, cavernous, every surface feeling like cold concrete, to where the air itself feels toxic.
L.I.E.S., D3 (Underground Resistance), and Terrence Parker take over MoMA PS1’s Warm Up tomorrow, July14. Get tickets at the MoMA PS1 website.