From Jayda G’s environmentally conscious house music to Lafawndah’s leftfield art pop
We’re already three months into 2019, and the first quarter of the year has seen James Blake loosen up and open up, and Solange show us what happens when you turn a Houston vibe into high art. Elsewhere, ex-Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus went full techno, Dave spoke truth to power on Psychodrama, and Karen O teamed up with Dangermouse.
As always, though, in the world of underground music, new and under-discussed talents are finding a way. Following our quarterly roundups last year, in 2019, we’re continuing to acknowledge the lower-profile musicians, artists, and producers with real visions and important statements to make. Here are ten essential Q1 releases available on Bandcamp.
DJ MANNY, LET THE MUSIC TALK V1
WHO: A Chicago footwork lifer who turns dancefloors up with originality and innovation.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Manuel Gaines, aka DJ Manny, is a Chicago footwork producer who intuitively understands all aspects of the Windy City’s regional dance culture: production, DJing, dance, he does it all. At the same time, as part of DJ-producer collective Teklife, he’s helped translate the footwork story to audiences around the world. Let The Music Talk V1 speaks to both the stylish formalism of his background and the sophisticated influences he’s picked up through the global club music underground. It’s sonic futurism with a sense of history and perspective, and its minimalistic rhythms, rave flourishes, and ornate synthscapes are undeniable.
FOR FANS OF: RP Boo, DJ Taye, DJ Rashad
HELADO NEGRO, THIS IS HOW YOU SMILE
WHO: A bilingual avant-pop songwriter who blends the personal with the political with subtle flair.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Six albums in, This Is How You Smile finds Roberto Carlos Lange, better known as Helado Negro, at the height of his powers, crafting English and Spanish language folk songs with cosmic synths rippling alongside ascendent indie-pop melodies. Lange was born to, and raised by, Ecuadorian immigrants in South Florida, before relocating to Brooklyn, New York. He’s long drawn on the sunbaked memories of his childhood, while also speaking to the political and social landscape of America through a Latinx framework. This time, however, it’s delivered in his most soothing croon yet, a balm for all the weary, wandering souls.
FOR FANS OF: Sufjan Stevens, Tim Maia, Arthur Russell
JAYDA G, SIGNIFICANT CHANGES
WHO: The environmental toxicologist, DJ, and producer who wants to save the dancefloor and the planet.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: If you’ve caught Jayda Guy (aka Berlin-based, Canadian DJ Jayda G)’s joyfully exuberant DJ sets, the floor-filling disco-funk, Chicago house, and 90s R&B-informed grooves of Significant Changes won’t come as any surprise. Similarly, if you’ve read any interviews with her, the increasingly overt references to preserving our natural environment won’t come out of leftfield either. What’s really impressive on Significant Changes is how deftly Guy and her collaborator Alexa Dash thread them together, crafting a bubbly machine funk journey which celebrates the beauty of nature, while reminding us we all have a part to play in looking after it.
FOR FANS OF: 70s disco-funk, Masters At Work, Channel Tres
LAFAWNDAH, ANCESTOR BOY
WHO: A leftfield art-pop artist who makes music as complex and varied as the world we live in.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Egyptian-Iranian musician and multimedia artist Lafawndah’s self-released debut album is a kaleidoscopic mirror maze. Extraordinarily rich in the cultural diversity it draws from, with Ancestor Boy, Lafawndah and her collaborators have painstakingly crafted a new rhythmic mode of psychedelic soul music. Articulated with a maximalism befitting the expanses it draws from, Ancestor Boy has been positioned as a coming-of-age story for a people yet to come, and a reflection on the sensation that one body, one lifetime, isn’t big enough for what you’re feeling. Fittingly, it’s imbued with a mixture of sadness and optimism well worth returning to.
FOR FANS OF: Björk, Kelela, Gang Gang Dance
OCTA OCTA, FOR LOVERS
WHO: A 90s breakbeat and rave revivalist reminding us she’s more than just a DJ.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Maya Bouldry-Morrison, the Brooklyn-based house DJ and producer better known as Octa Octa, created the For Lovers EP after completing her remarkable second album Where Are You Going? in 2017. Featuring her first vocal performance since transitioning, its opening song, “I Needed You”, is a fragile breakbeat-powered ode to her friends, family, and lovers, and clears the way for the dubby, high-gloss house cuts that follow. Bouldry-Morrison’s music as Octa Octa is sensual and spiritually-minded, sound rendered as a visceral response to her lived experiences. There is an undeniable depth of feeling here for the hips and the heart.
FOR FANS OF: Honey Soundsystem, Ciel, Falty DL
PARK HYE JIN, IF U WANT IT
WHO: Seoul’s latest K-House sensation, the triple-threat you need in your playlist.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: In recent months, 24-year-old South Korean singer, songwriter, rapper, producer, and DJ Park Hye Jin has been building substantial momentum with her art-house, greyscale house and techno songs. Like Cleveland, Ohio’s Galcher Lustwerk, she blends grainy, lo-fi dance beats with languid, half-spoken, half-lazily sung vocals, creating a calming sound world equally suited to late nights spent scrolling the timeline, or wandering through empty city streets. Because she delivers her vocals in a mixture of Korean and English and often leans against synth dreamscapes, comparisons to Yaeji and Peggy Gou are going to come up, but something else is at work here.
FOR FANS OF: Yaeji, lo-fi dream house, Galcher Lustwerk
SPELLLING, MAZY FLY
WHO: The synth-loving diva writing spooky R&B songs for horror movies with happy endings.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Ever since American director Jordan Peel recast Luniz’s proto-ratchet track “I Got 5 On It” as an orchestral horror theme for Us, I’ve been thinking about R&B in a different light. Fittingly, with her second album Mazy Fly, Oakland’s SPELLLING (real name Chrystia Cabral) brings R&B and dream-pop together, while adding organs, vintage sci-fi synth sounds, and crunchy tape hiss into the mix. Thematically anchored by the darker aspects of human history, and her interest in spirits, aliens, and spaceships, it’s buoyed by her rich voice and optimism, regardless of the realities of our increasingly dystopian era.
FOR FANS OF: Julee Cruise, Solange, FKA twigs
TAMI T, HIGH PITCHED AND MOIST
WHO: The internet’s most transformative and transfixing electro-pop princess.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: In recent years, Stockholm-by-way-of-Berlin artist Tami T has built herself a cult following through her sweet-yet-sombre electro-pop songs, collaborating with the likes of Fever Ray and GNUČČI, having her music featured in Swedish teen dramas, and performing with a percussive musical strap-on. Her first album, High Pitched and Moist, is a state of the art sugar rush, jam-packed with sexy future pop anthems and 21st century EDM bangers. Look deeper, however, and you’ll find emotionally devastation and high-tech reflection, all written with unvarnished honesty from her trans perspective. It’s a remarkably original and truly unforgettable album.
FOR FANS OF: Alice Glass, SOPHIE, Fever Ray
TRIAD GOD, TRIAD
WHO: A reclusive, Chinese-Vietnamese rapper and producer who makes music for late nights on South London streets.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Seven or so years after the release of his first album NXB, Triad God (real name Vinh Ngan) reunites with fellow London producer Palmistry for his follow-up, Triad. Again rapping in Cantonese over exquisitely textured atmospherics and a globally minded melange of cybernetic dancehall and reggaeton rhythms, his sleepwalking vocal delivery is about as nocturnal as you can get. And although by language, his lyrics are encrypted to most western ears, heard as a total package, Ngan’s lonely, late-night songs suggest alternative realities; blurred moments we briefly glimpse out of the corners of our eyes before they fade into the neon-lit night.
FOR FANS OF: Dean Blunt, Tirzah, Equinoxx
TWO PEOPLE, FIRST BODY
WHO: A sleepy-eyed downbeat duo from Melbourne who didn’t let a relationship breakup get in the of good songs.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Two People’s Phoebe Lou and Joey Clough cite James Blake, Seekae, Caribou, and Jamie xx as influences and reference points. While the shadows of modern electronic singer-songwriter music and post-dubstep hang over their First Body of work (sorry), Phoebe Lou’s longing singing voice and their smudgy soundscapes also recall the cinematic genius of 90s Bristol trip-hop. Friends for a decade, theirs is a teenage romance that burned out fast, before flowering into a close musical understanding. Now signed to Chris Taylor (Grizzly Bear) and Ethan Silverman’s Brooklyn-based Terrible Records, the Melbourne duo’s insular sound world is poised to open up globally.
FOR FANS OF: The xx, Sevdaliza, Portishead