This is the fourth instalment of Midnight Movement, a personal take on the attention-demanding club tracks being made, played and obeyed this month
It’s festival season, and after Flow in Helsinki, I’m trying to recover from the jarring shock to my body and my senses caused by free gin and Jeff Mills. I need to dance it off, but in my head, because my body feels weak and my heart is uneasy. I also ventured to WOMAD festival at the end of July, so I devote this column mostly to musical highlights from both spots. I had a mystical time, so be warned, there’s a lot of mystical shit here, from spiritual dancefloor jazz to smoky Turkish folk on acid, and swooning music from Cameroon, Chicago and the Congo.
Sons of Kemet – Play Mass
These guys are generally defined as jazz, which is why they go at the top, where I always put something shouldn’t fit in my column – plus it came out last year. But fuck off – two drummers facing off against each other playing rhythms that shouldn’t have worked together, a guy playing double-speed bass on the tuba, and the captivating frontman Shabaka Hutchins appearing like an afro-futurist deity with saxophone, clipped dreads and round shades. I’d only been onsite at WOMAD for an hour, and within a few minutes, and only two tokes of a nearby spliff, I was in another world – it was honestly the most intense live music experience of my life. My girlfriend and I were wide-eyed, grasping at each other, mouthing the words “I’ve never heard anything like this before”. You really need to see them live, because they had devastatingly loud, bassy kick drums in the mix and it took things to a whole other level – it reminded me of the Principe Discos sound in its utterly wonky, exotic appropriation of techno.
Big Mean Sound Machine - Triple Bacon (Mirko's Edit)
I recently came across this EP when I accused one of the label’s owners of sending me spam mail – the rest is history. It’s by Big Mean Sound Machine, the best afrobeat band to come out of Ithaca, NY. It’s being released by Blank Slate, the Berlin-based label that more often puts out creeping underground techno. The pick for me here is Mirko’s edit, where he cooks up the sizzling snare drums and noodle bits of melody into a disco-friendly dancefloor cut that simmers for the club, instead of boiling over like the sax-exploding originals.
Auntie Flo – Cape Malay Prayer (Mehmet Aslan Remix)
Auntie Flo’s name refers to menstruation, I believe, which is one good thing about him. Brian d’Souza, as he’s otherwise known, is a Glaswegian proponent of dancefloor music explicitly influenced by sounds from beyond the Western world – obviously he was a shoe-in for at WOMAD this year. Mehmet Aslan (another great name) turns the original into an undulating, hand-waving little chugger here, with plinky plonky bits that twinkle from witin the blanket of bendy bass.
Mehmet Aslan & Dario Rohrbach - Gazel
Even better, perhaps, is Aslan’s turn with Dario Rohrback on this club flip some Turkish folk music. There’s a touch of MANDY to that final, full-body drop, as juddering blocks of square wave bass slot in between a severely movement-imperative rhythm section of hi-hat hiss and shaking claps – it’s a minimal build worthy of Carl Craig, but lent a shisha-smoke atmosphere with hand drums, wistful vocals and Eastern instrumentation.
Francis Bebey – Forest Nativity (Red Axes Edit)
Red Axes were a highlight of the Resident Advisor Backyard area at Flow Festival, and this free download they recently popped out is an example of the intense vibe they created. A remix of the groundbreaking Cameroonian musician, here’s more chest-pulsing hand drums; more mystical instrumentation; more smoky fortune-teller-techno – get it down you and let your animal spirit escape like smoke through your facial cavities and drift wispily upwards into the blue starred sky.
St Germain – Sittin' Here (Boddhi Satva Remix)
St Germain was a revelation at WOMAD this year. I only had a vague idea of his sound, and it was actually my girlfriend’s dad who was the driving force behind catching the set (fair play Jem, you’ve got great taste). He performed his new album with a large band of mainly Malian musicians. It was done beautifully, the soft, insistent jazzy house pulse carried by a crew of brilliant guitarists and percussionists who jammed beautifully with restraint and control. This cut is from a remix package earlier this year where the Central African Republic-born Boddhi Satva deploys the tense aesthetics of deep house among jazzed instrumentation, leg-jerking South African snares and the almost unbearably gorgeous vocals of Malian diva Nahawa Doumbia, who sings in the Bambara language.
Tiga – Blondes Have More Fun (The Black Madonna Immaterial Girl Remix)
One of the best dances I had in Flow was provided by the sounds of Chicago ledge The Black Madonna, laying down big-bottomed house and Italo disco. This brand new remix was a big highlight – a big, blurry chunk of boogie, with an electrical basstone that pokes at your pleasure centres. The Black Madonna is obviously having so much fun right now as she takes over the world – she’s an endearing character to watch behind the decks, shaking her blonde mop to and fro and grinning all over, and even more so to follow her enthusiasm and surprised success on her social media pages. Anyway, this is pure fun, sounding like it was made on the hoof in between gigs but all the better for it, capturing the enthusiasm of a party smasher at the height of her powers – high NRG house with cowbells, shakers and a bassline that’s simply a thing of wonder.
Konono No 1 meets Batida – Nlele Kalusimbiko
Another furiously polyrhythmic dance experience at WOMAD this year was provided by Congolese thumb piano masters Konono No 1. It was more rhythmically intense and unforgiving than the hardest techno set, layers upon layers of rusty-sounding rhythmic melodies, chants and drums. Genuinely hard to keep up with at times, Bristol’s Big Jeff was giving it all that at the front too, which helped – he’s like a totem, a shaggy-headed music spirit that you draw strength from. It’s amazing to see that they’ve never toned down, even with their success in the world music scene, and their recent album with Portuguese producer Batida has produced their most club-friendly stuff ever, in my opinion.
LNS – Minas (E-Version)
LNS is Vancouver’s Laura Sparrow, and she’s making her vinyl debut this month on Freakout Cult. The label’s run by Fett Burger and Jayda G, the latter of which made a surprise appearance at Flow Festival on Friday night, with a set of chunky, sleazy body music, with a trio of drag artists voguing on the bar in front of her. LNS’s new record covers an array of styles, and this Rephlex Records sounding chunk of mainframe rhythm is one of my favourites. Only tiny clips available I’m afraid – buy the vinyl on 19 August.
Shackleton – Father, You Have Left Me
Finally, a cut from the unique, ever-mystical producer from Lancashire – who I saw presenting his new Powerplant project at Flow. It was another battering, battered experience, and another double-drummer assault on the brain and the ear drums – I was totally unprepared for it, and I’ve been a fan of Shackleton ever since his earliest Skull Disco releases. It’s clear now that he has never, and will never fit in with any existent genre or scene, and amazing to hear how he continues tapping into his themes in so many imaginative ways. The live set was kind of godlike in its sound, and quite hard to handle. It used a lot of elements from his latest EP that came out in late July, a collaboration with experimental musician Ernesto Tomasini. How to describe it? Just listen loud, and let yourself dissolve.