From Galcher Lustwerk’s moody hip-house to Lee Gamble’s urgent electronic experimentalism
The fourth quarter of 2019 saw Kanye West staging operas and releasing a gospel film, Hyperdub putting out a compilation of Burial’s singles and EPs from the last eight years, and the grand return of TNGHT. Caroline Polachek released her first album under her own name, Ariana Grande met Bernie Sanders, and Grimes started ramping things up for Miss Anthropocene. We also tragically lost K-pop star Goo Hara and Chicago rapper Juice WRLD.
Beneath all this, in the world of underground music, new and under-discussed talents are still finding a way. Throughout 2019, we’ve been acknowledging this every three months with our series celebrating lower-profile musicians, artists, and producers with real visions and important statements to make (see the previous editions here, here, and here). For our final entry of the series in 2019, we pulled out ten essential final quarter releases from Bandcamp. From the mutant beats of Bonnie Baxter to the bedsit sentimentality of Lontalius, independent culture remains vital.
BONNIE BAXTER, AXIS
WHO: A genre-busting producer, multi-instrumentalist, and vocalist from New York’s mutant underground.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: From darkcore synth-pop (as ShadowBox) to cyberpunk beat sculpture, by way of electronic noise rock (through her membership in Kill Alters), the evolution of Brooklyn’s Bonnie Baxter has been a joy to witness. Project by project, Baxter has stretched out her musical vocabulary and reference points, becoming increasingly comfortable in her own skin. Representative of an energetic scene that lives in the interzone between punk, noise, techno, and rap, AXIS is a virus-ridden retooling of club music as heard through a wall of fuzz. Baxter’s a surreal joker and prankster, as her digitally-manipulated vocals display, but she’ll definitely make you dance.
FOR FANS OF: Machine Girl, Object Blue, Hatsune Kaidan
DIAMONDSTEIN, REFLECTING ON A DYING MAN
WHO: A low-profile Los Angeles-based electronic music composer and producer wrestling with his past.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: After getting his start in the post-vaporwave scene with his chillingly dystopian album The Ridges in 2016, Ben Majoy AKA Diamondstein spread his wings, revealing himself to be equally comfortable working in post-rock, synth-drone neo-classical, and even ambient jungle modes. Outside of production, he also hosts Night Shift, a monthly radio show broadcast from NTS’s LA studio. Written in response to the six months he spent helping his mother take care of his dying father in Charleston’s Chemical Valley, Reflecting on a Dying Man takes a potentially suffocatingly personal concept, and transforms it into an expansive and accessible journey through Majoy’s interior world.
FOR FANS OF: 2 8 1 4, The Caretaker, Clams Casino
GALCHER LUSTWERK, INFORMATION
WHO: The Cleveland-raised, New York-based producer, rapper, and DJ who reinvented hip-house as something deeper and more spacious.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Since his first mixtape in 2013, Galcher Lustwerk – man of smooth, borderline spoken word raps and spacious, psychedelic house music production – has become one of the more subtly influential figures in underground music. His third full-length album, Information, is Lustwerk on stylish, signature form, dreaming up lush, late-night beatscapes, before fleshing them out with swerving, steezy raps. Speaking to the after-midnight party world, and the existential exhaustion that eventually comes with it, Information is a rich and moody exploration of how memory, dreams, and imagination can sit together when you’re still partying, but in your heart, you know you’re coming down.
FOR FANS OF: Channel Tres, Park Hye Jin, Moodymann
LAMIN FOFANA, BLACK METAMORPHOSIS
WHO: A Berlin-based DJ and electronic artist looking beyond the dancefloor for new ways in sound.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Lamin Fofana, the founder of the Sci-Fi & Fantasy label (home to Lotic’s first releases), is one of the great conceptualists of contemporary electronic music, and yet, his concepts never overshadow the rich textuality of his ambient works. Born in Guinea and raised in Sierra Leone, Fofana came up alongside the Dutty Artz crew in New York, before relocating to Germany. Following his 2018 album Brancusi Sculpting Beyoncé, Black Metamorphosis draws on his experiences as an African in Berlin and the writings of Jamaican postcolonial theorist Sylvia Wynter, crafting a set of sonic environments that pose as many questions as they answer.
FOR FANS OF: Aphex Twin, Afrodeutsche, Holly Herndon
LA VAMPIRES DOES COLOGNE, 10 OUTTA 10
WHO: Not Not Fun and 100% Silk co-founder Amanda Kramer returns through the stargate, bringing friends with her for a holographic pop adventure.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: When Amanda Kramer’s LA Vampires project emerged in the early 2010s, her virtual reality R&B, augmented synth-pop, and holographic disco dub felt like a transmission from the techno-noir future presented in films like Blade Runner and Total Recall. She subsequently took a break and became an experimental filmmaker, before returning recently with her first release in seven years. Created in collaboration with high-gloss producer duo Cologne, 10 Outta 10 pivots through the same pleasuredomes that Kramer’s past work occupied, ambient drum machine soul and sultry new jack swing, but now those futures are our present, or maybe even our past.
FOR FANS OF: Christine and the Queens, Björk, Prince
LEE GAMBLE, EXHAUST
WHO: A UK producer, DJ, and sonic stylist using music to explore the philosophy, politics, and grim futurism of the contemporary world.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Over the last year, Hyperdub’s Lee Gamble – a thinker/music maker as indebted to the theories of the late critic and cultural theorist Mark Fisher as he is to the interconnected threads of jungle, rave, and techno – has been carving out a three-part album series titled Flush Real Pharynx. The second volume, Exhaust, sees him continue his exploration of the three stages of what Fisher called the ‘Semioblitz’, the aggressive onslaught of visual and sonic stimuli in contemporary cities and virtual spaces. Rendered through breakneck drum programming, malfunctioning synthesiser melodies, and supercharged bass stabs, it’s a fascinating, if not sometimes claustrophobic experience.
FOR FANS OF: James Ferraro, Digital Mystikz, Lotic
LONTALIUS, ALL I HAVE
WHO: The young New Zealand-born singer-songwriter and producer examining heartbreak, anxiety, and stress with the depth and sensitivity of an old soul.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Over the last five years, Eddie Johnston AKA Lontalius has gone from uploading lo-fi Casiotone covers of Top 40 rap songs to SoundCloud to crafting rich, lyric-led guitar-pop infused with subtle post-Drake R&B electronics. Despite his bedsit origins, Johnston’s aspirations have long extended to the commercial end of alt-rock, which following his debut album I’ll Forget 17, led to a stint spent working in Los Angeles with the likes of Om’Mas Keith and Jim Fairchild (of Modest Mouse and Grandaddy). All I Have is the sound of Johnston reflecting on those experiences before looking inward and returning to the intimacy that initially drew listeners to him.
FOR FANS OF: Roy Blair, Snail Mail, Ryan Hemsworth
TAYHANA, TIERRA DEL FUEGO
WHO: An explosive Argentinian DJ and producer who honed her skills and energy on Central and South American dancefloors.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: Tierra del Fuego is the name of a breathtaking archipelago at the end of South America. Fittingly, it’s also a collection of hypnotic tracks informed by Tayhana’s deep understanding of emergent club music movements and the power and character of underground regional hits. Operating within a convergence of dembow/perreo rhythms and euphoric rave atmospherics, Tierra del Fuego’s nine songs balance undeniable dancefloor grooves with the deep melancholy of minor-key chords. This is music that’s seductive and sad, celebratory but nihilistic, and perfectly suited to the energy, pace, and pulse of life on the verge of the 2020s.
FOR FANS OF: Debit, Florentino, Kelman Duran
VŌX, I AM NOT A GOD
WHO: An introspective Los Angeles-based singer and musician with a deep investment in the power of music as a healing force.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: vōx (pronounced ‘wokes’, like the Latin word) makes ethereal dream-state pop music rooted in self-love. Detailed by calming affirmations like “I love myself” and “I’m enough” and delivered in a style equal parts techno-angelic gospel and slow, syrupy southern screw music, her I Am Not A God EP takes the otherworldly and gives it a warm, relatable heart. As she told us earlier in the year, the EP’s topics “are entirely related to shame and self-worth, and me finding that I can be imperfect, and still be enough”. Paired with a theatrical, but poised stage show, she’s got something special to share.
FOR FANS OF: Lafawndah, Kate Bush, MUNA
YEULE, SEROTONIN II
WHO: The London-based Singaporean cyber-pop artist using music and visuals to bridge the void between the digital world and real life.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE LISTENING: With Serotonin II, yeule synthesises the influences like classic jazz (which she grew up listening to on her father’s record player) and Björk’s Post (the first CD she ever bought) with synth-pop dreamscapes and polished dance instrumentals. This music serves as the backdrop for her lyrical explorations of obsession and decay, love, and the liminal zone where our offline and online lives bleed together. As she told us in October, “I still can’t see myself well, but I’m trying to be the best version of what I can see. It’s okay to feel a little distorted in your self-perception, I think. You just gotta swim through slowly.”
FOR FANS OF: LIZ, Grimes, Alice Glass