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Hardcore revivalists, stadium ambient, Amapiano's takeover, and the cult of Eatbrain: April's music columns

In DJ Mag's April music columns, Joe Roberts, Carl Loben, Shiba Melissa Mazaza and Layla Marino spotlight topical sounds from around the world

Hardcore Encore

Joe Roberts asks, will the resurgence of rave provide the soundtrack to a post-COVID summer of love?

“It looks like old skool raves will be the first back as everyone in that age bracket will of been vaccinated by then,” tweeted Liquid Wax boss DJ Phantasy in February alongside a clenched teeth emoji — the adage that hardcore will never die helped by the newest drug on the scene. 

Following a bleak winter, it chimes with a national hope that the end of the UK’s third lockdown might lead to another euphoric Summer of Love. This would be great news for the resurgence of hardcore’s original players. 

Altern 8’s ‘Hard Crew’ vinyl, their first new material since 1993, arrived through post-Brexit customs.The seminal Moving Shadow has been reimagined as Over/Shadow by original co-founders 2 Bad Mice. And in a dream meeting, Reinforced’s Manix has remixed Production House’s The House Crew for a spring release on the mighty Kniteforce — Luna-C’s label that last year reissued classics from Sub Love and New Decade, as well as putting out fresh material from the legendary Acen.

A taste for original hardcore authenticity continues to grow: modern labels like Lavery’s Sub Code and DJ Jedi’s Cantina Cuts walk a path of close homage to the sound’s roots, while reissue labels Vinyl Fanatiks and Vinyl Preservation Society continue to dive into the ocean of sought-after rarities.

Unfortunately ‘old school’ literally means old-fashioned, something reflected by the scene’s past lack of diversity, especially when it comes to gender. But times are changing. New Radio 1 resident Anz has been reworking hardcore in her prolific output, most recently on ‘Loos In Twos (NRG)’ for Hessle Audio; 6 Figure Gang’s Yazzus and Jossy Mitsu regularly drop breakbeats amongst modern club sounds; and Eris Drew and India Jordan have embraced hardcore in both their DJing and production.

Meanwhile, after welcoming in the new year on NTS with a set ranging from Coco Bryce to Nebula II, Angel D’Lite follows her hoover-filled Banoffee Pies debut with a second EP on Ritual Poison this year, and Louise +1, co-founder of long-running party Distant Planet, can be heard airing her deep-rooted knowledge weekly on Kool FM alongside partner Hughsee. 

After a year that has taken most people through an emotional journey of polarised extremes, a desire to rave is in the air. Will the unfiltered energy and emotion of hardcore be our soundtrack to collective release again?

Ambient is an NRG

During Lockdown, Carl Loben thinks he’s discovered what on earth happened to ‘stadium ambient’ act The NRG

Anecdotally, people have been listening to more ambient music during lockdown than they have for a long while. With no dancefloors to revel on, chilled out sounds have been warming home environments during the winter months, often as background music to working from home. 

I’ve particularly welcomed A Man Called Adam’s ‘Love Forgotten Part 2’ collection; Blue Carbon’s ‘Momentary Pause’ EP on Bandcamp; Chris Coco’s Jamu project, based on music from Bali; sets from the Chillout Tent virtual festival on Twitter; ’Music For Soundtracks’ by Richard Norris; tribute mixes on Mixcloud by a rejuvenated Mixmaster Morris; the ace unsigned Sunjunkie album; and sets by the late, great Andrew Weatherall from his Music Is Not For Everyone show on NTS, where he’d whisper nuggets like “dusting the ornaments on the mantelpiece of your mind” in between the out-there sounds.

“What goes on after clubs can be far more interesting, I’ve had some of the best times of my life in people’s houses after clubs,” Weatherall once said, in support of the chill out oeuvre.

This writer remembers going to various Big Chills in the early/mid ‘90s on a Sunday where you’d basically just lie on a mattress all afternoon in the Union Chapel in Islington, whacked out on no sleep from partying the night before, and have ambient weirdness wash over you all afternoon. Chill out acts would drift on and off with little or no fanfare, so I can’t actually remember if I saw The NRG there before they departed for their ill-fated Stadium Ambient tour of America — a genius self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Soon playing amphitheatres — like Pink Floyd in Pompeii — or desert raves or arenas, The NRG undoubtedly would’ve been as big as The Orb if they’d carried on. Busy with other stuff, I never bothered to find out what happened to them. But when their immersive lost album ‘Live ’94’ — full of warm, soothing textures, quirky samples and undulating synth washes — was unearthed recently and placed on Bandcamp, it sent me down an internet rabbit-hole.

According to an NRG associate, on their final US jaunt “they’d party too hard and started to lose their minds. Way too many mind-altering substances, combined with the shows and adulation getting bigger and bigger, meant they literally couldn’t handle it anymore. ThinkHunter S. Thompson and his attorney and their road trip. The surrealism of the music and live show was crossing over into the real world and they were struggling to comprehend what was real and what wasn’t. Basically, the final ‘94 tour kind of morphed into the ambient version of ‘Fear and Loathing’.

Amapiano Takeover

Shiba Melissa Mazaza reports on the South African sound sweeping the globe 

South Africa is championing a new sound, redefining dance culture the world over. From Akasia to Wissingdal, there are scores of townships in Gauteng province, each with their own iterations of Amapiano. Thriving in these townships during the mid-2000s, whilst the rest of the world slept, Amapiano found its way into the hearts of the country’s house music producers, eventually infiltrating the underground scenes of the UK, Japan, Germany and the US, along with every dancefloor on the African continent. 

Within the genre, there’s a sound for everyone — for every gravelly, tech-fuelled transition stands a polar-opposite, sax-laden deep house tribute — with each continuing the legacy of South Africa’s own kwaito; brimming with a deep nostalgia, even among combinations of notes, shakers and log drums made to be inimitable and fresh.

Although some still consider Amapiano a niche sound, platforms such as Awesome Tapes From Africa and Aluku Records have seen the true value of the genre, and begun snatching up artists such as DJ BlackLow and Mdu aka TRP for their own rosters. Major players in Sony Music, Africori and Platoon are already snagging some of the more consistent producers on offer too, such Mas Musiq, Boohle and Semi Tee. 

The latter follows his last two hit projects (‘I’m Only Twenty One’ and ‘PianoWave’) with a brand new partnership to bring our South African summer to a close. His productions are always air-tight, with a penchant for seamless transitions and well-rounded craftsmanship, using the genre’s signature sirens, log drums and shakers in ever-more creative ways. New project ‘A Tale Of Two Peers’ sees Semi Tee and Mdu aka TRP enlist the vocal dexterity of Sir Trill for the first single, ‘Lomshini’ — a track that stays true to the ‘dusty’ texture of Amapiano that so many have come to love.


Elsewhere, Universal’s InGrooves subsidiary has acquired SA distributor Electromode, which represents the largest catalogue of Amapiano acts — home to artists from the DJ Maphorisa-owned Blaqboy and Kabza De Small-founded PianoHub stables. Known collectively as Scorpion Kings, Kabza De Small and DJ Maphorisa themselves remain the wildcards of the scene, constantly introducing new energies and intonations leaning on Amapiano’s deep and Afro-house foundations. They enlist DR-Congolese hitmaker Tresor for their next collaborative album, ‘Rumble In The Jungle’.

Intercontinental collaborations are teeming with potential to unite the diaspora and Africans at home too, with Bloemfontein’s Mellowbone and UK artist SUPA D releasing the well-sculpted ‘SA to UK’ EP last year, while Afrobeats pioneer Juls enlisted both Busiswa and Aymos for his ‘Happy Place’ EP.

Arguably the farthest-reaching act to take up the Amapiano baton is Focalistic. A political science student with Pan-African inclinations, this young man — known as the sure-shot “Pitori Maradona’’ and “voice of the people” — has single-handedly bridged the gap between South African hip-hop, Amapiano and Afrobeats in teaming up with Naija superstar Davido and the stylistically flawless producer Vigro Deep, on a new remix of the overwhelmingly successful ‘Ke Star’. It truly is quite a time for African dance music.

The Cult of Eatbrain

Layla Marino explores how the neurofunk label has become so iconic and why its fans are so rabid

As the UK and EU start talks about reopening club and festival venues this summer, fans are not only looking to the future but remembering great parties of the recent past. For neurofunk and heavy drum & bass fans, that means a big part of the conversation is dedicated to Eatbrain. 

With its Eatbrain Nights spreading as far from their home base in Budapest as Los Angeles, to the Eatbrain League touring sets that normally include label head Jade, L 33, Mindscape and MC Coppa at festivals, the imprint certainly made its mark in terms of live shows prior to 2020. 

Throughout the pandemic, Eatbrain has kept up its release schedule, delivering some of the most punishing hard d&b and neuro releases of 2020. Upcoming offerings include music from Akov, Agressor Bunx, Burr Oak and Teddy Killerz. But even that doesn’t fully explain the cult icon status the label has achieved in drum & bass, and the intensity of its fanbase. 

Eatbrain fans will zombify anything, from their own costumes to road signs and even garden gnomes. Similar to the Wu Tang ‘W’, Eatbrain shows see the entire room throwing up the ‘X’ arms to reflect the eyes of the label’s zombie face logo. And if you go to almost any rave in the western world wearing Eatbrain merch, you will get enthusiastic fans immediately forming a kinship with you. 

Why is the Eatbrain ‘horde,’ as fans are called, so... well, hordish? A lot of it likely comes down to branding. The Eatbrain zombie face insignia is easily spottable and ubiquitous at all of their gigs. Really, what dark d&b fiend wouldn’t want to be associated with a label that wrangles the hardest beats, stays true to tech and relates to the insomniac zombies of the night? 

Label boss Jade is a bit more philosophical about it, insisting, like some sort of rave Socrates, that it’s more about the feeling neurofunk itself creates. “The so-called ‘Neurofunk Moment’ is that elusive feeling we all understand but cannot describe,” he says. 

Despite branding the term ‘Neurofunk Moment’ and putting it on an official Eatbrain t-shirt, Jade’s got a point. Neuro fans are some of the most rabid of all d&b fans, full stop. Whether it’s old school Ed Rush & Optical, classic Blackout or the stalwart, perfectly branded neuro beacon that is Eatbrain, these fans like their d&b technically clean, distorted to filth and preferably fast as hell. As another Eatbrain battle cry goes: “No Neuro, no party!”