From Starchild & the New Romantic’s VHS boogie to Peggy Gou’s invigorating dance music
The first quarter of 2018 is done, we’ve already seen some superb efforts from the rap, R&B, grime, electronica, and indie worlds. But as well as banner releases from artists as varied as Migos to David Byrne, incredible new talents and scenes have been bubbling up from the underground. In celebration of the musicians and producers with big visions and important statements to make, we pulled out 10 essential 2018 releases from Bandcamp, from Khruangbin’s dusty globetrotting funk to the celebratory electronic experimentation of New York’s Discwoman collective.
WHO: A shapeshifting singer-songwriter from Las Vegas with pop-ready melodies and a DIY-or-die work ethic.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: In 2014, Shamir wowed us with the intoxicating nu-disco of his Northtown EP, before busting its groove into pixelated raps and gutsy ballads on his debut album Ratchet. Success came fast, and his delivery was flawless. Sadly, Shamir knew he wasn’t making the music he wanted to make, and he was grappling with mental health issues. After breaking his deal with XL Recordings, he recorded a lo-fi indie rock record called Hope that he self-released. Things got rockier before they got smoother, but a deal with San Francisco indie imprint Father/Daughter Records manifested soon enough, and on his third album Revelations, his countertenor vocal and frantic instrumentation again traced a line around swinging 60s pop, 90s college rock, and bedsit lo-fi. This year, Shamir has continued his run with the earworm-heavy country pop of his Room EP (produced by Big Taste) and another surprise album titled Resolution. No one processes the bittersweet through song like Shamir.
FOR FANS OF: 60s girl groups, Hole, Unknown Mortal Orchestra
STARCHILD & THE NEW ROMANTIC, LANGUAGE
WHO: A New York City-based session musician taking center stage with his own sartorially sharp blend of VHS boogie, electro, and R&B.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Bryndon Cook, aka Starchild & The New Romantic, sharpened his craft as a session guitarist and backing vocalist to Solange, Kindness, and Blood Orange. With his debut album Language, you don’t just hear the lessons he’s learned from moving around these idiosyncratic modern soul, R&B, and synth-pop talents, you see them as well in the record’s Instagram-ready retrofuturist imagery. In interviews, he’s cited the likes of Prince, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Laurie Anderson, and Carole King as influences, all of which come through in the drum machine funk, synthy bop, and flamboyant-but-honest vocals that thread his songs together. If his 2016 EP Crucial cleared the way, Language is the self-taught multi-instrumentalist, DJ, songwriter, singer, and producer diving headfirst into the oceans of his dreams.
FOR FANS OF: Blood Orange, Prince, Solange
VARIOUS ARTISTS, PHYSICALLY SICK 2
WHO: A range of underground electronic artists banding together for a special compilation in support of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: A year ago, New York’s Discwoman – a crucial collective, booking agency, and events platform focused on representing and showcasing female-identified talent in the electronic music community – released a compilation called Physically Sick in collaboration with the Allergy Season record label. With follow-up Physically Sick 2, we’re given a similarly sprawling and thoughtfully curated line-up of artists including Fatima Al Qadiri, Lady Blacktronika, Laurel Halo, and Elysia Crampton, who come together to fundraise for the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, which assists those tangled up in the punishingly challenging cycle of bail and prison. Besides being in support of a good cause, it’s also a stellar survey of some of the most exciting and under-discussed electronic musicians active right now.
FOR FANS OF: Umfang, Le1f, Laurel Halo
WHO: A Mexico-born, New York-based producer, walking a tightrope between Latin club music and ambient with philosophical poise.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: NAAFI affiliate Delia Beatriz, aka DEBIT, started learning her music craft in her teens on basic audio editing and sequencing software, before diving into the analogue worlds of circuit-bending and synth-making while living in Buenos Aires in her early 20s. Although she now primarily works on Ableton Live, with her debut album Animus, she draws on these experiences and her experimental impulses, as well as studied thought about gender, personal and social consciousness, and socialised sexuality. Equal parts sweaty dance music and gauzy ambient, Animus is the work of an artist operating from her heart and her head, fully engaged in the heat of the moment, while dissecting it with clinical clarity.
FOR FANS OF: Venus X, Fatima Al Qadiri, Midori Takada
LOLINA, THE SMOKE
WHO: The latest alias of former Hype Williams member Inga Copeland, an artist from everywhere and nowhere.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: On The Smoke, her latest project as Lolina, Inga Copeland delivers what are arguably the most direct and clear vocals of her career – and yet, throughout it’s eight-song running time, she remains opaque. In the same sonic traditions as her Hype Williams work (and the Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland album), she ruffles a mixture of playful singing and spoken word against rusty asymmetrical rhythms, cleverly chopped found sounds, and a crammed toolbox full of bashed down 90s synths. As an experience, the record hangs together like a booby-trapped funhouse, one where all the walls are mirrors and perspective disappears inside billowing smoke. There are worlds within The Smoke, and the ground is always shifting.
FOR FANS OF: Klein, Mhysa, Hype Williams
DJ TAYE, STILL TRIPPIN
WHO: A Chicago-raised producer, DJ, and rapper, who came up under the tutelage of Teklife’s DJ Rashad and Spinn, and aspires to take footwork music to the world.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: If you’re a footwork fan with an interest in contemporary rap music, it’s hard not to have a bit of a nagging feeling that we should be seeing a bit more crossover between these genres on a mainstream level. Sure, DJ Khaled and Drake took a shot at it last year with “To The Max”, but across Dante Sanders aka DJ Taye’s Hyperdub-released new album Still Trippin, the potential this fusion could offer becomes crystal-clear. A 90s kid who was raised on classic jazz and house literally came of age within the Chicago footwork scene, and while he intuitively understands the rhythmic nuances of producing and DJing for the dance, he’s also a confident and comfortable rapper. With assistance from a fascinating cast of guests, he’s threading it all together on his own terms.
FOR FANS OF: DJ Rashad, DJ Earl, Jana Rush
KHRUANGBIN, CON TODO EL MUNDO
WHO: An open-eared instrumental trio from Texas who bonded over Thai psyche, vintage Iranian pop, and jamming in an old family barn.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: With their new album Con Todo El Mundo (which means ‘With All The World’ in Spanish), Khruangbin (‘Engine Fly’ in Thai) hone in on the transportational power of instrumental music. Using their signature breakbeats, dubby bass, and cinematic guitar as primary colours, they chart a spellbinding course. Navigating from the Thai-influenced psych of their 2015 debut The Universe Smiles On You through the lush funk and soul sounds of pre-Islamic revolution Iran, they arrive in Europe, docked in front of exuberant festival crowds across the continent. There is a little of the border-crossing 90s downbeat of Kruder & Dorfmeister and Thievery Corporation to Khruangbin, but it’s rendered through the passion and playing style of voracious mp3 blog enthusiasts who wiped the dust off the surface and looked deeper.
FOR FANS OF: Googoosh, Gilles Peterson, The Impossibles
PEGGY GOU, ONCE
WHO: A South Korean-born, Berlin-based producer and DJ, who invigorates her own take on 90s house music with touches of electro, and wistful Korean language vocals.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: From her base of operations in Berlin, Peggy Gou has been earning her stripes as a producer and a DJ for a few years now. While her signing to Ninja Tune was a clear signal something was up, her Once EP really illustrates her command of mood, tone, and vibe. In her own words, she wanted to represent different styles and moods on the EP, “from ‘open air’ warm-up vibes to ‘proper party’” and bring together influences from electro, 90s house, African music, and cult dance music producers like Maurice Fulton and DMX Krew. Although Peggy’s songs hem close to the conventions of house and electro, she always finds a twist or pivot point, like the soft Korean language vocals she deploys throughout the sleekly produced EP.
FOR FANS OF: Helena Hauff, Maurice Fulton, Galcher Lustwerk
SOCCER MOMMY, CLEAN
WHO: A Nashville-raised singer-songwriter and guitarist who imbues her intimate bedroom pop with longing for summer days been, and summer days to come.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: In 2016, Sophie Allison aka Soccer Mommy was recording humble demos in her bedroom while gearing up to move from Nashville to New York to study music business at NYU. In the time that’s passed, easy-going Bandcamp demos have led to live shows around Brooklyn, a buzz on the DIY circuit, and a deal with Fat Possum Records. In a similar vein to the breakout works of Mitski and Julien Baker, her debut album Clean takes her teenaged experiences and translates them into something bigger, something that’s on the verge of opening doors for her across the globe. Soccer Mommy’s songs trade on universal feelings set against the sunkissed nostalgia of a delicate guitar flicker. She’s not reinventing the wheel, but she might take you back to a golden memory or two.
FOR FANS OF: Mitski, Waxahatchee, Sandy (Alex G)
WHO: A Glasgow-based producer and DJ who draws from the best of the past to create brighter futures.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: DJ, producer, vocalist, club promoter, label boss, activist, and RBMA alumni – what can’t Maya Medvesek, aka Nightwave, turn her hand to? As it turns out, not much, especially when it comes to tastefully traversing a diverse range of influences and integrating them into joyous after-midnight anthems. Where her last EP took its cues from grime, Japanese city-pop and boogie, and the evergreen Baltimore club sound, Sanctuary, her latest release with Brooklyn’s Fool’s Gold Records, looks back to the strobe-lit warehouse rave sounds of early 90s house and techno. As the title implies, this is music to escape with, the sort of sounds that turn the dancefloor into a refuge or shelter, which is what it was and is, all supposed to be about.
FOR FANS OF: Jubilee, 90s rave YouTube channels