A year on from his debut album, and a year after moving from Australia to London, the latest Air Max ‘97 project has landed, the four-track ‘Falling Not Walking’ EP. The release features two collaborations with artists also impressing with their own distinctive shades of club music — Italian producer TSVI on ‘Paroxysm’, and Manchester’s LOFT on ‘Xhrinicibles’.
Decisions is a label founded on the basis of releasing idiosyncratic “music to move people”. With past releases from the likes of DJ Plead and Oroboro, van der Lugt is excited about the label’s upcoming projects. The first, from Avbvrn, due later this month, and later Isamov, a producer from New York City whose tracks feature in recent Air Max ‘97 sets (including his Recognise mix).
With upcoming shows in London, New York, Glasgow and Madrid, Air Max ‘97 also recently played a show in Hangzhou, China, in a venue called Loopy, behind the food court on the third floor of a mall. “It’s a concrete cube with a huge Funktion-One soundsystem,” he says. “I was so gassed to finally go there, the crowd was amazing, creative, young and free.” Travelling the world is an “indescribable privilege” for van der Lugt, who will never miss an opportunity to meet local people, eat in their favourite restaurants, and explore local scenes.
“It’s important that we cherish record shop culture — it’s the last thing not informed by an algorithm”
Her personal music tastes expanded from dream pop to punk, blossoming into electronic music on her CFRC-FM college radio show. Li recalls her first real experience of club music seeing Justice live in Montreal, at the peak of the saccharine bloghouse era. “I was a snob about dance music before — I thought it was commercial trash!” she says. “Justice was special. Coming from the band world and seeing that era’s crossover artist and that line blur between indie and electro, I miss that excited feeling.”
“Our target audience in North America is the weirdest weirdos you’ll ever see,” she says wryly. “They are some freaks. It takes a bit of getting used to Europe’s different kind of freaks. Dance music in Europe has this strange commercial industry surrounding it, seeing guys in suits out on the dancefloor... is very different.
“Music is something that constantly grows, that we need to build on. It’s about knowing a lot of music, loving a lot, and wanting to make it better — otherwise, I would be bored”
Online — when she’s in the right headspace — Li pushes for spectrum in dance music community conversations: about corporate sponsorship, insidious misogyny, “post-woke” politics, cancel culture, artist oversaturation. Finding the balance and nuance has been a tough but important lesson. “Twitter feels like everyone is arguing at each other, but never directly responding or engaging. I had to delete the apps off of my phone, it really taps into my bad impulses.”
“I miss doing house stuff,” says Inês Borges Coutinho, laughing, a little frustrated. She’s not talking about music – thankfully, there’s lots of that. She literally misses being able to walk around her house.
“When gqom came it was made for clubs. Made for nightlife. Dance is the best thing in Durban, so when gqom came, everybody went crazy as it was the perfect combination. That’s why it took over”
“2012 was the year it got super popular in Durban,” Gwala explains. “But it was underrated. At the time the sound was raw. We didn’t know how to master our music. It wasn’t being played on radio or TV. We didn’t get interviews. Nothing. The big artists were trying to stop the sound being big. But, eventually, people started to love what we were doing and they couldn’t stop it. Now it’s the biggest genre in South Africa.”
Gwala describes London as the second home of gqom due to the prominence of artists like Moleskin, the producer and founder of the Goon Club Allstars label, which has been pushing Durban sounds since it released Rudeboyz’s self-titled EP in 2015. He adds that its popularity outside of South Africa — also spurred by the Italian label Gqom Oh! — has played a large part in giving it more credibility in his home country. “I didn’t know how the sound makes the world go crazy until I started touring,” he says of gqom’s global impact.
“I’m happy to see people from around the world trying to be a part of gqom as it’s going to create a big growth for the sound”
Gqom can now be heard across South Africa’s TV and radio, with superstars like Okmalumkoolkat, Cassper Nyovest, Big Nuz and Babes Wodumo — the latter’s ‘Wololo’ racked up almost 10 millions hits on YouTube — adopting the sound into their music. Gwali has recently been in the studio with M.I.A., with the pair currently working on music together, as well as starring on Kelela’s Warp released remix album, ‘Take Me Apart’. That’s all ahead of his debut at Sónar this summer and an upcoming collaboration with Hyperdub.
Through our Fresh Kicks, Recognise and Podcast mix series we’ve been privileged enough in the past year or so to feature a plethora of incredible artists and DJs.
Recognise 006: Djinn
Podcast 99: K-Hand
Podcast 89: Paramida
Fresh Kicks 65: Elkka
Zozo’s approach to music is both earthy and otherworldly, organic and encyclopedic, political and hopeful. Standing at the core of Istanbul’s electronic music circuit for close to two decades now, the DJ/producer – real name Nigar Zeynep – started clubbing as a teenager in the late ‘90s in a time where the rave was a central part of Turkey’s youth culture. Since, amid an atmosphere of increased conservatism and political unrest, she has become a vital figure in the local scene herself both as a selector and curator.
From there, she visited events like J&B Techno Festival in 1998 and the 150-capacity Godet Club (which would later become Wake Up Call). A rave outside Istanbul organised by the Godet crew gave her a taste of dance music’s rebellious edge while she would soon discover club anthems from Turkish artists Gökhan Kırdar, Tuğçe San and Ahmet.
Determination and defiance burst from every beat of Lag’s output. As a producer, DJ and promoter, the Serbian upstart has become a vital fixture in the country’s underground scene and beyond, championing a style of techno that is at once unhinged and immediate, razor-sharp and raw, politically charged and liberated.
But it was far from intense, percussive techno that Lag was reared. An upbringing on punk veered into an education in classical music before, eventually, an epiphany in a club awoke something in him that would change everything.
LSDXOXO is a rare artist in the current electronic music landscape, having built a fervid following whilst making music entirely on his own terms. Although he’s been putting productions out under the name since 2014, this year’s ‘Body Mods’ introduced an urgent brand of mutant Baltimore club music which, although inspired by the genre, comes off as anything but pastiche.
“Pop culture is certainly one of my main musical and creative influences,” he enthuses. “I enjoy taking a popular narrative, whether that may be a highly recognisable artist or song, or even samples from a TV show or interview, and flipping them on their head. I guess it’s a way for me to be socially and sometimes politically aware with my sound, without being so overly-conscious or heavy handed on the matter.”
But, did he ever think his music would cross over to bigger stages?
With his 2016 mixtape ‘Fuck Marry Kill’ landing on GHE20G0TH1K, LSDXOXO has maintained a close association with the New York club night and label. “Aligning myself with them came very organically,” he explains. “Even before knowing about the collective, I considered my sound very ghetto and very gothic. When Venus X heard my music, she expressed interest and asked if I’d be down to be involved. What really convinced me was the fact that she seemed to genuinely believe in me as an artist. That came at a time where I was a bit unsure of myself.
Jensen Interceptor is one of the brightest lights on the booming electro scene that’s seen a renaissance in the recent years.
Melas also started his own International Chrome imprint in May with long-term collaborator, Assembler Code, with the pair having put out two releases on the label so far. “We have so many amazing friends around us making incredible music — as well as our own never-ending output — so creating International Chrome was a no brainer,” he explains of the label. “The focus is weaponised electro for the club. We may explore other genres in the future but for now we’re happily locked into the Drexciyan realm.”
The end of the year also sees Melas put out his debut album on Maceo Plex’s Lone Romantic. Featuring collaborations with DeFekT, The Hacker and, of course, Assembler Code, the ten-track LP is an ode to his mum, titled ‘Mother’. One of the strongest albums of the year so far, it’s a relentless showcase that fleshes out his signature sound over nearly an hour of club-focused electro, with highlights coming from the mechanical electro weapon of ‘Drip Freq’, and the dusty, Detroit-esque production styling heard on cuts like ‘Ufology’.