Despite the rich musical history of Washington, DC, its neighboring suburbs aren’t the first places that spring to mind when it comes to thriving house and techno scenes. But with labels like 3024, Future Times and 1432 R, crews such as TNX and Rush Plus, and parties by ROAM and SEQUENCE, the District at-large continues to embrace its burgeoning electronic music communities. The latest signal of this growth comes from Gabe & Jude of Northern Virginia, whose self-released “Smith Switch”/”Your Softness” 12” illustrates a unique approach to the techno-tinged house that permeates DC. Transportive and visceral, the release feels like a danceable daydream. Lead single “Smith Switch” features thumping kicks that signal the metallic trudge of a train crossing a desert landscape. Amidst flying dust and whirring machinery, the track’s resounding bass makes its presence impossible to ignore. The driving 4/4 beat is inescapably groovy, accented by enticing whistles that fade on the wind. Hi-hats press down like a heatwave as synths spiral out in exhaustion. While simple in structure, the track has a compelling sense of forward motion, wrapping you up in its dizzying, sun-bleached journey. On the flip, B-side “Your Softness” exercises serene subtlety, steadily building for its near-seven minute duration. As the percussion picks up, velvety vocals melt into the groove. The track’s subdued rhythm feels like a summer night’s breeze, soothing you with its undeniable energy. With their first release, Gabe & Jude have crafted a distinct yet varied sound while still adhering to many classic house signifiers, reflecting both the strength of inspiration and power of innovation.
“1989 Summer” is the third track on OOBE‘s Amarcord: a stunning rework of an Olive (of “You’re Not Alone” fame) deep cut that trades pop breaks for twisted electronica. Scorched and muffled, it rolls with a profound sense of emotion directly from a decade that’s as loved as it is maligned. OOBE has demonstrated a flair for neon techno with releases on labels like Indole and Cleaning Tapes but with this release on FaltyDL’s Blueberry Records, he fully dives into a singular approach. Amarcord is riven with heartbroken synth and guitar melodies straight out of an imagined ‘80s; the sort you’d find in GLOW or Black Mirror’s “San Junipero” episode, more dream-like pastiche than verisimilitude. The release opens with a thrilling trance riff, swiftly upended by wailing guitar and juddering percussion. “Unknown Journey” slows things down a notch while crossing the same musical territory. Conversely, “Crush Mind” gingerly pits detuned hi-hats and discordant arpeggios against what seems like a chopped-up R&B sample and “Highway Paradise” defies its name with a dark tread into nightmare territory. The title track closes the release – a devastating outpour of emotion, confession, apologia and desperate plea all in one.
The release schedule of Shanti Celeste’s Peach Discs illustrates her commitment to providing new artists with a platform. Following Fred’s debut Loverman EP, the third label release sees Chekov put out his inaugural record. Chekov is a Leeds-based DJ and producer who keen tracklist trainspotters will recognise from his “Stasis 113” dub, which appeared in two of Pearson Sound’s mixes last year. Chekov’s Rotlicht EP is a departure from the breezy house of Peach Discs’ previous releases. German for “red light”, the title is fitting for these low-tempo excursions likely influenced by the time the artist spent living in Liepzig. A-side “Bierce” slows a four-by-four drum pattern to a crawl, layering spiralling synths and waves of distortion over the marching beat. The title track ups the tempo slightly, using tension built by uniting aggressive electro kick-snares with dub techno chords and collapsing synths to give it a sense of propulsion that should see it become a DJ’s favourite. Closing track “Toothru” decreases the BPM even further than “Bierce” to become a sleazy, paranoid chug, ready to soundtrack any number of hazy nights running through dark corners of the city.
Chief Keef’s Thot Breaker is a fantastic, wondrously colourful listen for numerous reasons, with tracks that blow you away on first listen and tunes that quickly become endlessly, uncontrollably replayable to the point of being downright unhealthy. An example of the former is “Whoa”, produced to unexpected perfection in the same way that Farrah Abraham’s My Teenage Dream Ended was, yet this time it’s actually intentional. With Sosa himself on the beat, it’s a maelstrom of latter day, proto-EDM dubstep robo-whirs and reverb-heavy snares over anthemic, bombastic hip-hop bass. Naturally peppered with “Bang, bang!” ad-libs, the hook is a total heart-eyed emoji of a serenade: “You were in love, and I was on druuuugs / I wasn’t rich yet, I was a thug / Girl, you make me go whoooooaaaaa.” Keef’s chirpsing is an inspiration to struggling Tinder users worldwide, with gems like, “What do you eat? What’s your favourite colour? Do you like D. Rose or do you like Butler? Oh you don’t smoke? Okay, that’s fiiiine!” The most romantic moment has to be when he declares, “I’ll ride with you in my passenger seat,” as it’s truly clear that love is the designated driver at this point.
The track that’s impossible to turn off repeat however is an addictive substance titled “Drank Head”. Known for songs as striking as Shy Glizzy’s “Funeral”, KE on the Track produced the instrumental for this beat which opens with quivering, backmasked angel strings reminiscent of “Ultralight Beam”. Harmonic vocals are pitched so high they seem to float overhead and cast their gaze down from the heavens upon Chief Keef, whose balladry over largely beatless sections explores the social implications of various types of preferences for lean. The effect is a song that swirls and swirls around its own chalice as Keef’s everyday life becomes a source of poignancy alongside revelry. “Drank Head” and “Whoa” are testament to the continually surprising, often exciting experimentations Chief Keef conducts with his sound. Having pioneered drill and released even more intrepid singles in the time since, such as the somber “Nobody”, the gut-punching “Ain’t Missing You” and “Ride on Me” (which was chopped beyond all sensibilities into genius territory), Chief Keef further cements himself as one of the greats from this decade with Thot Breaker.
Words by Taylor Trostle, Aidan Hanratty, John Hardy and Tayyab Amin.