New Wave Magazine writer Nathan Evans's UK garage and club music column covers the latest songs, remixes, bootlegs, mixes and albums that captures his attention.
Photo credit: Ben Zacaroli, Jett Yamada
Thank Video Game Soundtracks for So Much Quality Dance Music Today
I was originally meant to write about this topic last month before the discourse, but all the time, we hear club music that sounds like it could have come from a video game. This can be vice-versa.
It first came to my mind when New York producer Dazegxd release a jungle edit of ‘Vela-Nova’ from the soundtrack to Sonic Rush for the Nintendo DS. The edit didn’t need much to improve the funk rock of the original, embedding it with new crisp break drums and dub sirens.
The Sonic Rush soundtrack was created by Japanese composer Hideki Naganuma (famous for also writing the Jet Set Radio soundtrack) and the sounds it uses are strikingly similar to those we see today in internet-obsessed breakbeat music - frenetic tracks like ‘What U Need’ and ‘Jeh Jeh Rocket’ could sneak into any club night in the UK with no complaints. Sampling Malcolm X on ‘Wrapped In Black’ was an odd choice, though.
The ‘Vela-Nova’ edit and the other examples highlight how the 2000s era of video games in general was a gateway to underground club music that was otherwise kept away from the traditional music industry. A recent viral tweet from TheCartelDel illuminated how many games of the era that, regardless of genre, had jungle music in their soundtracks. There’s another Twitter account dedicated to it. It seemed as though when soundtrack makers and licensors were tasked with making the perfect sonic accompaniment to the action in the games, jungle - with fast tempos, acid basslines and cutting textural shrapnel - fit the bill perfectly.
Dance music has informed so much of the very best composers from the modern golden era of gaming, and the players who grew up producing are informed by that in return. For example, Two Shell’s ‘Speedrun’ not only has a title that references a niche video game culture, but the top comment on a YouTube mirror reads, “The influence of Crash Bandicoot, I can hear it.....”.
A lot of UKG’s sounds seem inspired by, and sometimes were, from video games. The steel drums on the Exemen Works of Sia’s ‘Little Man’ sound like they could have been pulled from a Super Mario game, and Burial famously sampled sound effects from Metal Gear Solid on ‘Near Dark’. There’s a history of video game sounds either directly or spiritually being used in dance music today to show that connection to their childhood games.
Today, that positive feedback loop falls into part of the larger Y2K revival. But it’s a cycle that started long before it and will hopefully continue to make each other more exciting.
Swami Sound - back in the day
NYC producer Swami Sound has become known for his Two-Step Verification edits on Soundcloud, but his new project back in the day pitches him as an ‘album artist’. In its seven tracks (plus two great remixes), he slot-machines through R&B, garage, atmospheric drum & bass and CD-era electronica, his subdued and reflective songwriting congealing it all.
Opener ‘Midnight Dominator’ marks the stylistic sea change with Tycho-quoting guitar and synth pads, before ticking into the tempo of a punchy breakbeat. The mood sweeps into the title track, which sees Swami Sound duet with CVMILLE, whose vocals here bring to mind Diana Gordon’s arresting falsetto. ‘Favourite Song’ reflects on past mistakes lyrically, but his lack of vocal presence means you often bypass the lyrics - back in the day suffers from Swami Sound’s muttered tunes being swallowed by the production repeatedly.
Saying this, ‘Favourite Song’ does end with a cloaked breakdown that sounds like a video game soundtrack (hello there, repeating theme), and some of the best moments on this album flourish in the closing stages of a song. ‘Hope It Stays’ is as great as Erika de Casier’s finest and changes key from a slippered-toned 2-step tune to a post-dubstep fever dream. ‘Hallesches Tor’ suggests a Berlin techno influence which appears in a rough-textured synth finale. back in the day may have a nostalgic streak but rather than dwelling on it, Swami Sound takes it with him into the future.
Nottingham’s LES GENS Presents Conducta
Guest writer Fidji Mendy reviews Conducta’s recent club night in Notts.
Brickworks, Nottingham. An electric, vibrant, exuberant warehouse that has hosted infamous one-off events like Detonate and Boiler Room in the past. Today, it was Conducta, and I was extremely surprised at the atmosphere I plunged myself into. UKG classics like ‘Too Many Man’, ‘Ripgroove’, ‘Head Shoulders, Kneez and Toez’ were gloriously combined with club classics like Jax Jones’ ‘You Don’t Know Me’, Nelly’s ‘Hot In Here’, Skepta’s ‘Microphone Champion’ and Professor Green’s ‘Just Be Good to Green’. From spins of Nia Archives’ ‘Baina’, Conducta’s own ‘Vitamin C’ to the groovy ‘Coke & Rum’ by GEE LEE, each second was thoroughly enjoyed.
As well as hearing the UKG we had all expected, it was surprising to have a sprinkle of Brazilian Funk, a now-international genre phenomenon that allows us to move freely and fast to an addictive beat. Bass and synth instruments are the genes that these tracks collectively share and form the true essence of a rave.
As well as experiencing the Conducta palate, recognition goes out to the other DJs and their respective sets as well; surusinghe, RLLG & MIGG, contactghost, ELL & ro and LUCKY. It was such a shame that their performances had to come to an end as I was left wanting more to dance, listen and embrace… but with such a varied musical library such as UKG, it’s very possible that the rave may have never come to an end.
MPH - 132.00Fm
UK beatmaker MPH fuses old-school UKG tones with dirty 4x4 basslines and his debut album 132.00Fm firms up a set of his best peak-time heaters with some playful combos. In an abrupt 20 minutes, he lays down a gooey soul flip on ‘Sunrise’, a supple string chop-up on ‘Ghost’, and bluesy vocals on the Hamdi collab ‘R&R’. There’s a darkness in tracks like ‘California’ that doesn’t reveal itself at first, and ‘Rush’ begins with Disclosure-flavoured chords before igniting a seething bass. He’s still partial to a breakdown switch-up to the point of it being a crutch, but it also means that every track feels like a thriller that unravels the monster underneath at its apex.
Wildcard: Milkfish Boiler Room
Milkfish’s Boiler Room set had me losing my mind. Dripping in internet-hogging queerdom, she splits apart the unwritten rules of Boiler Room and fashions a mix of face-frying glitch pop and an entire Now! comp’s worth of pop songs from the 2000s and early 2010s reeking, and I mean honking, of cheese. We’re talking starting with ‘Pompeii’ by Bastille and wheeling up the goddamn Numa Numa song halfway through. In a tight 43 minutes, she goes through reggaeton, Jersey club, hip-house and hyperpop, darting quickly between songs at nightcore pace. As the crowd pours their hearts out for Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Since U Been Gone’, Katy Perry’s ’Teenage Dream’ and three remixes of Zedd’s ‘Clarity’, Milkfish is almost challenging you to reassess these songs that would otherwise be seen as a jokey inclusion. It wouldn’t come together without her audacious mixing technique, which is haphazard at times, but never your standard crossfade. I’d have Milkfish’s skittish energy over a clean mix any day.
Sage Introspekt - Face Down EP
Whether you know her for this alias or as Sage de Lestrogén, LA’s Sage Introspekt has harboured that dark, grimey Bristol sound and sure enough, she has a new EP on Shall Not Fade coming out next month. Face Down is an EP of loosies that slide from croaky squelches (‘Injections’) to shuffling house (‘rn’). The title track is a 2-step twitcher with little synth scratches and a Cardi B-like vocal sample rapping, “Face down! Ass up! That’s the way we like to fuck!”, about as Sage as it gets.
Alpaca Beats feat. Tilla - How Do You Feel?
Start getting to know what Norway is doing to UKG. Alpaca Beats’ ‘How Do You Feel?’ revolves around a golden hook from Tilla, double-tracked to give romantic undertones. The piano keys have a frosty breath around them and the percussion patters like rain, but it still has a playful groove from reversed textures and a fluttering bass synth that could have come from Floating Points. More than anything, it’s an enrapturing track about two people confiding in one another.
Mix of the Month: Vanessa Maria - BlueDollarBillz Mix Series 006
Vanessa Maria’s new mix for BlueDollarBillz is how to do an edits mix. Kicking the door down with Mason’s ‘Exceeder’ into Habibeats’ Baby Keem edit, the Foundation FM DJ’s set here is prime-time UKG and UK funky classics with some dips into baile funk. I’m jealous of her bootleg-finding game - she whips out the legendary Clint Eastwood refix and a re-rub of Little Man in ways that make them feel lively again. She weaves the trumpets from Daft Punk’s ‘One More Time’ into Baby Keem’s ‘Family Ties’ with the same line-treading genius as she manages to squeeze in three appearances from Donae’o and a cheeky Armin Van Buuren track into all of this. It feels like the sort of night where the DJ is playing all your favourite tunes.
SP:MC - Missing You
Halfway towards a club sparker with its trampolining sub-bass, the new one from London producer SP:MC ‘Missing You’ lays longingly on the side of the dancefloor than surging it. The title gives it away, as the song is about needing someone to the point of frustration. He deploys house vocals intermittently to let you live in the feeling for a bit; between wafts of ambience, the sample sings sentiments like “there ain’t nothing to ease the pain”. The B-side ‘Big Request’ is ground-quaking, but ‘Missing You’ is dark in feeling rather than in its production.
MarsWalkz - Singalong
This freebie rizzler from the No More Parties label gets its energy from group rapping that sounds like a 20-person-deep DJ booth at Victory Lap Radio. You can imagine it filling up a room with noise, no problem. It taps into that same energy as tracks like ‘Ghetto Shout Out!!!’ by Parris Mitchell & Waxmaster did decades ago. The club loves a singalong - or shout-along, to be more accurate.
Speed Garage Bootleg of the Month: YVES - Love At First Sight Dub
Kylie Minogue’s ‘Love at First Sight’ crystallises that turn-of-the-Millenium dance-pop euphoria everyone was going for but few could match, and this bootleg from regular bootlegger YVES takes it from the rooftop to the basement. He teases the original’s summery guitar line before throwing it out for a hopping bassline and some Korg bleeps for good measure. The track goes to far-out places with a dusty breakbeat then snaps you back into Kylie’s track with another reload of the vocals.