One of the great pleasures of listening to an active electronic musician for an extended period of time is observing how they bring new equipment into their orbit. There is the question of how that equipment, in turn, informs their work. There is also how they achieve their now familiar sounds with unfamiliar tools. The musician Dustmotes’ adoption of a new percussive-oriented sampler is a case in point. The London-based Dustmotes, also known as Paul Croker, has been making elegantly gritty instrumental hip-hop at least since 2011, which is the earliest credit on his discogs.com page, and also the first year I wrote about his music. His music often features a slightly drifting rhythm, a beat missed here, a tempo ebbing there. He regularly explores gentle sounds on well-circumscribed repeat against muffled beats. Playing with a new tool, the Elektron Digitakt, he recently posted a short video, which he dubbed a “Spontaneous live performance” in the brief accompanying note. It has all the modesty of his earlier work, with a newfound level of grit and glitch. The video was shot overhead, so you can watch as he goes. Even if you’re not familiar with the Digitakt’s interface, you can infer correspondences between action and sound — how a knob adds a new effect, or changes the pitch, or welcomes additional elements. It’s a great piece.
Takara Digital is a new, Japan-based record label releasing out of print and otherwise rare hip-hop. Takara was founded in 2016 by Yuzuru Kishi, and has already published albums from late greats including J Dilla and Big L, as well as still-kicking figures like Pete Rock and MF Doom. As of this writing, there are already 10 albums in the Takara catalog. One recent highlight is The Nineteen Ninety Eight Split EP, which is half the Speedknots and half N.Y. Confidential. Of the EP’s 16 tracks, four are instrumentals (my primary focus as a hip-hop listener). According to the brief accompanying liner note, the two halves of the EP were originally released separately. These are collectors’ items. On Discogs.com, the Speedknots vinyl has sold for as much as $300, and the N.Y. Confidential for close to two thirds of that amount. All the productions are seriously old-school, emphasizing instrumental samples, found sounds, and surface noise. A standout is the slow-paced, loose-limbed “Knotz Landin (Instrumental).” The vocal has a wacky delivery, part Beastie Boys, part Basehead. The instrumental is pure atmosphere, a little organ snippet on repeat above a rim-shot beat, some syncopation provided by what sounds like a broken speaker pushed past its comfort level. The whole thing has a slightly ominous, circus-after-midnight vibe.
Album originally posted at takaradigital.bandcamp.com. There doesn’t appear to be a website for Takara Digital, just the Bandcamp page.
Damu the Fudgemunk is a remarkable hip-hop producer, his cuts balancing 4/4 listenability with tasty confections of off-kilter grace beats and textural expressivity. Now the Redefinition Records label has collected 27 Damu cuts from the 2000s to create How It Should Sound Volume 1 & 2, a two-LP (and downloadable) collection. Much of the music predates Damu’s 2007 debut album, Travel at Your Own Pace. The earliest piece, “Gestation,” from 2003, puts a loping beat below melting horns and a low-slung bass guitar. Like DJ Premier, Damu favors jazz samples truncated for head-nodding loops. Listening to him at his best is to appreciate the malleability of the source material, both in its unintended reutilization and the way the transformations bear the imprint of the appropriating creator.
The SoundCloud account of Ghost, the beat master — that’s the account name: “Ghost, the beat master” — is fairly new. There have been four tracks posted in the last few weeks since it opened for business. It follows one account itself, and it has four followers so far. (It would have five, but SoundCloud limits you to 2,000 follows, and I’ve maxed out. Somehow I’ve managed 2,002, but it won’t budge further. I need to delete an account from my feed for every one I add. It’s a hassle. But SoundCloud has bigger problems these days than my streaming appetite.)
The tracks by Ghost are all beats, not beats in the generic sense, but beats in the sense that they’re intended for re-use, perhaps most expectantly by vocalists, but also to serve some alternate commercial purpose, like backing an advertisement, or providing some drama to a short bit of filmmaking. The tracks are solid. They come with tags distinguishing the genres (two “trap,”” one “Electronic EDM,” one “Hip-hop &rap”), but they’re of a piece. The downbeat is hit hard. The tempo is attractively slow. All of them could be considered, to varying degrees, instrumental hip-hop. Vocal utterances, largely non-verbal but occasionally slurred statements, are part of the mix, more texture than text. “Trap, set & match” is dirge-like, with gunfire and suttering digital snares. “Sample secundo” adds an arcade flair. “Process” layers in sludgy horns — think early DJ Premier — and enough voices to suggest a street scene. And, with a touch of Kanye West’s (and others’) favor for sped-up shrill melismas, “Bad BPM” plays with anthemic keyboard horns and drum trills. More genre-dedicated listeners will catch references lost on me, no doubt.
The account is very much a calling card, with an email address for potential transactions. “Trap, set & match” may be the highlight. It has silences the others avoid, and drops in samples as much for atmosphere as for rhythmic accent:
Classical Rmxs is as it sounds. The new Bstep collection, two dozen tracks total, is a beat-heavy selection of snippets of various classical-music pieces set to downtempo, hip-hop-informed metrics. Bstep is Ben Stepner, who previously took a favorite by proto-minimalist composer Morton Feldman, “Triadic Memories,” and rendered it into something loungey and soulful, and just a little bit funky. Often on Classical Rmxs, as in “Black Dragon,” the music’s vinyl context is as much a part of the end composition as is the music itself — the sway of the surface noise is on repeat, right along with the handful of purloined notes that serve as its core. “Strange Days” pulls from a full orchestra, a pixel bit of static serving as a percussive grace note. Not all the source audio is instrumental. On “Qigong” it appears to be choral sample, rendered spectral in its misty repetition. Nor are all the additions simply beats. On “Qigong” there’s a sudden, occasional, truly funky emphasis in the form of an r&b grunt. It’s quite a pleasure to get lost in the small segments that Stepner focuses on, tiny moments from long-form works turned, themselves, into voluminous chasms where beat machines run free.
• December 13, 2018: This day marks the 22nd anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• Ongoing: The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: disquiet.com/junto.
• My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury, is now in its second printing. It can be purchased at amazon.com, among other places.
The Disquiet Junto is an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making space in which restraints are used as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto. There is an FAQ. ... These are the 5 most recent weekly projects: