MF DOOM, North American bass, Japanese doujin, and nu-school neurofunk | Music Columns February 2021
In DJ Mag's February music columns, Neil Kulkarni, Layla Marino, Aidan Taylor and Ben Hunter present commentries on topical sounds from around the world
Neil Kulkarni pays tribute to the masked rap supervillain, whose passed away on New Year’s Eve
Even after a year in which music fans of all genres have been bludgeoned by bereavement, the news that emerged as 2020 ended that Daniel Dumile, aka MFDOOM, had died on 31st October, aged 49, hit hip-hop fans hard. Tributes immediately flooded in from across music — Thom Yorke, Questlove, Q-Tip, JPEGMafia, Flying Lotus, EL-P, Danny Brown and Tyler, The Creator just some of the names to pay tribute to Dumile’s unique talent.
Dumile was born in London in 1971 and moved to Long Island, New York at a young age. The first time many hip-hop fans heard his unique lyrical tangents was in a barnstorming cameo on 3rd Bass’ classic ‘The Gas Face’ — he appeared (and coined the title) as a member of KMD, an NYC rap trio wherein he performed under the name Zev Love X alongside his brother Dingilizwe, aka DJ Subroc. KMD were one of the great unsung crews in golden age hip-hop — their debut LP ‘Mr Hood’ stood alongside DeLa Soul’s ‘3 Feet High’ and Tribe Called Quest’s ‘People’s Instinctive Travels’ as a dazzling, hilarious, sampladelic highlight of the Daisy Age of rap.
Even in those early days though, Dumile’s flow didn’t quite fit into pre-existing rap narratives. His wordplay was dazzling, delirious, hysterical yet also focused, committed, bristling with political bite. KMD’s followup, ‘Black Bastards’ (one of the great lost albums of rap) scared its label Elektra not just with its title but its uncompromising sleeve featuring a lynched racist caricature: the crew were paid off, dropped, and shortly before the album’s completion Subroc was killed in a car accident. Zev Love X disappeared.
By the end of the ‘90s he’d resurfaced though, assuming a new identity, MF DOOM; fashioning his unique mask after Fantastic Four’s nemesis Doctor Doom, and dropping his debut ‘1999 Operation Doomsday’. ‘Doomsday’ was a stunning, whacked-out, psyche-rap masterpiece seething with off-kilter rhymes and a uniquely wide sample-palette, a record that gave Dumile the confidence to develop further alt-personas Viktor Vaughn and King Geedorah.
Perhaps the summit of his post-KMD work was in 2004’s ‘Madvillainy’ set, created alongside equally-unhinged producer Madlib and still a high-point in avant-garde, stoner-rap. Further collaborative albums with Danger Mouse, Bishop Nehru and Czarface, as well as guest appearances on tracks by Gorillaz, The Avalanches and BadBadNotGood further cemented DOOM’s status as a God of underground hip-hop.
For anyone cocking their ear away from the mainstream of US rap in the last two decades, Dumile’s loss hits hard. We will genuinely never see his like again. Rest In Power, you mad genius.
If bass music is the official genre of dystopia, North American bass music has one hell of an advantage if the troubling scenes at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. at the start of January are anything to go by, says Layla Marino
Well, 2020 was certainly a wild one, and if events in early January in the US are anything to go by, 2021 might be even wilder. The good news is that craziness in life tends to beget craziness in art, and as the hard, crunchy, Road Warrior-like sounds of bass music seem to be the perfect theme tune to the apocalypse, the madness we’ve seen out of the old US of A is likely to produce some killer beats.
North American labels and artists are gearing up for 2021 with lots of annuals, new twisted beats and a whole lot of pent-up creativity to manage, so there’s a lot to look forward to this year, at least where bass is concerned.
Deadbeats, the label from everyone’s favourite Pulp Fiction-based duo Zeds Dead, have released the most fun annual so far in 2021 with the ‘We Are Deadbeats Vol. 4 (Deluxe Edition)’. Deadbeats always put out really interesting compilations and this being a follow-up, it means that each track is a collab or a remix, with three new original collabs with Yookie, Yultron and Floret Loret.
Going to the opposite end of the spectrum with more minimal synth-led bass, NYC’s Fork and Knife have a new EP out, their second on In:Flux Audio, called ‘Swarm’. Deep, heavy and binaural, the soundsystem style contained in ‘Swarm’ is like a really steppy brain massage.
In North American drum & bass, René LaVice is continuing to push his new Device label onward and upward with his latest collab track ‘I’ve Been Waiting’ with Richter (formerly of Consouls) and Dr. Apollo.
Last but certainly not least, big daddy dubstep label Disciple’s more curated imprint Disciple Round Table also released a ripper of an annual, their fourth volume of ‘Knights Of The Round Table’. Featuring Barely Alive & Voltra, Bandlez & Nyptane and tonnes more high-energy artists, Disciple is determined to remind the world that raves are not spent yet.
While we wait to see what 2021 brings to the world, bass music artists are busy crafting its soundtrack, and on that front there’s no mistaking: it will be heavy, it will be loud, and most importantly, it will be ready for the rave.
Aidan Taylor takes a look at underground Japanese electronic music, specifically the ‘doujin’ scene that grew out of self-published anime enthusiast groups
Japan has given the world some of the most highly respected techno, drum & bass and experimental artists, but there also exists a hidden, homegrown scene only connoisseurs and anime enthusiasts might have heard of.
Doujin (同人in Japanese) refers to a culture made up of people sharing the same passion. Stemming from self-published works of Japanese anime, it rapidly expanded to music with remixes of animated content and evolved to a majority of original works.
This community formed small labels called circles, usually only operating at convention-like events where they reveal and sell their releases to a collector-driven fanbase. With around 2,000 labels spanning all genres being present at every one of those events — a third of them producing some kind of dance music — the scene has locally overshadowed a lot of the mainstream market. These labels are mostly made up of hobbyists, but also boast quite a few more established names such as Nhato, Shingo Nakamura, DJ Genki, Ujico and even Camellia.
This underground and more intimate scene also allows a lot of the bigger artists to experiment with their music without alienating their fans or using an alias. In just five years, the Wavforme label and its cast of producers — many of whom come from the more mainstream label, Otographic — has put out nearly 30 releases and has been continuously impressive — every one of them bringing a new concept. From euphoric trance to summer-ready nu disco, glitch-hop and arcade-inspired hardstyle, it’s anyone’s guess as to what they might experiment with next.
Hardcore Tano*C has been incredible at popularising hardcore and more uptempo genres, with their influence boosted by a whole load of tracks being pushed to Japanese arcade rhythm games.
Compllege is one of the most interesting labels out there — formed by Taishi, he and his guests have been releasing story-driven concept albums and experimenting with applying a more classical approach to composing to a whole lot of genres, offering a one-of-a-kind experience.
Finally, I have to talk about Diverse System. They could be described as the pillar of the whole community when it comes to dance music, releasing an impressive catalogue spanning many genres and featuring many artists from all around the country in genre-specific compilations or full concept albums since the scene first emerged.
Young Dutch producer IMANU and his DIVIDID label-mate Abis are helping to bring through a new generation of drum & bass artists less constrained by genre norms and the neurofunk straitjacket, says Ben Hunter
FLUME isn’t an artist you associate with drum & bass, but his bright, melodic approach is inspiring a handful of young producers on a quest to reinvigorate the genre. Dutch producer and Noisia protégé IMANU is the ringleader, whose fresh approach takes the frenetic dancefloor energy of neurofunk and pumps it through something almost entirely new: a unique concoction of future bass breakbeats, brightly coloured synths and complex melodies. ‘Monchou’ from last year’s ‘Memento’ EP on Vision Recordings is a case in point, with fluttering vocal leads that spasm in detailed, Technicolour patterns alongside fractious breakbeat strikes. It’s an instant adrenaline shot and one which speaks to a new generation of drum & bass producers bored of familiar formulae.
IMANU is quick to tell DJ Mag that this new style isn’t neurofunk, a sub-genre he dabbled with earlier in his career but which he believes has now “devolved into hard drum & bass with no substance whatsoever — basically everyone is just trying to copy Noisia and The Upbeats”.
It’s a belief that’s shared by Abis, a long-time neurofunk producer who thinks the sound has “failed to evolve over the last five years”, in part because of an unhealthy obsession with perfect sound design that’s constricted creativity. Abis and IMANU run DIVIDID together, a record label that Abis wants to use as a “platform for younger artists”. In part, this is because this group are less constrained by deference to established drum & bass norms, a generation who are “stepping away from this really loud sound and trying to express themselves using influences from outside the genre”.
One of those artists is The Caracal Project, who resonated with Flume’s ethos of never using tools as they were intended. Embodied by tracks like ‘Expresso’ on DIVIDID, he sees the technical basis of this style as “experimenting and exploiting impurities in sounds, glitching them and granulating stuff, using methods much more random than engineering regular drum & bass grooves”.
Tom Finster, latesleeper and rising talent Gyrofield are other producers coming into the fold with this sound and, significantly for drum & bass, the latter two are both women. In a genre which can over-contort itself for the benefit of its early creators, most of whom are men, it’s unsurprising that its insurgent sub-genre is more influenced by women than most.
What’s needed now is a name and, during our call, The Caracal Project and IMANU agreed on ‘future breaks’. Sub-genre labels are fickle and whether this will stick is impossible to know, but there’s no doubt that drum & bass’ next generation are here to stay.