Put Your Earphones On, As There Be Bass Herein
Both that song and that video are objectively beautiful (kidding!).
Over the last week or so I have tried really hard to write a SXSW recap, but various things, not the least of which is a a near complete inability to do so without an extreme amount of editorializing, have prevented me from doing so. I will only say this: one of the things I have traditionally disliked about SXSW is the sheer number of entirely uninteresting and, in some cases, downright bad acts you have to see in order to find one you like, much less one you’re going to take home with you and make part of your regular musical rotation. So this year I mostly avoided the unknown and just tried to have a lot of fun going to see artists I knew, which I managed quite well for the most part.
Last year’s SXSW, however, was unusual for me. I saw three artists who were new to me and became some of my new favorites: Chance the Rapper (NSFW), Chet Faker, and Flume. They were all back this year, and I managed to miss all three (Chance’s first show was so popular that the fire marshal shut it down!), but Faker and Flume have been on my mind, and in my ear, since I saw them on the schedule. So now you get to hear them. I hope you find something you like.
One of the big trends among the kids these days, at least the ones listening to electronic dance (which is pretty much all of them, if the attendance at the shows is any indication), is a deliberate, hypnotic sound with a prodding, well-defined beat, R&B and jazz sensibilities, often accompanied by ethereal (often electronically altered) vocals, and a nod to dubstep or one of its derivatives to top it all off. It’s not an entirely new sound (think trip hop in the 90s), but it is everywhere now, and several young and extremely talented artists are masters of it.
The most prominent of these, perhaps, is James Blake, whose second album, Overgrown, won all sorts of awards and was on everyone’s list of the top albums of 2013. The Guardian called it “in effect a contemporary vocal jazz album that also drew on a host of modern folk traditions,” which sounds about right, though they left out hip hop, because oh look, here’s Blake with Chance the Rapper (see how I did snuck the hip hop artist into a post about EDM?):
And here he is all by his lonesome:
SBTRKT, whom I have mentioned several times before, also fits firmly into this trend:
As does Young and Sick, whom I mentioned in my South-By post of a couple weeks ago, and whom I count as my only real SXSW 2014 prize (which is saying something, because they are apparently fairly well known):
Perhaps even Active Child fits:
Even if he always strikes me someone who must have grown up on yacht rock, and who takes the ethereal part of the formula to near Church-music levels:
As “Pharaohs” in particular makes clear, most of this music is meant to be danced to, and man, I love to dance*. Unfortunately I’m not very good at it, so I need something slow and deliberate (and accompanied by alcohol) to really get into it, which makes this music perfect for me. And of the many artists pumping it out now, Flume has become one of my clear favorites.
Flume is the stage name of Australian producer Harley Streten, who at the young age of 23 has only been on the scene for a couple years, but after SXSW and a few other festivals last year quickly positioned himself near the top of the electronic dance world. In every interview I’ve seen and read, he’s mentioned the French duo Justice as his biggest influence:
But where Justice leans towards rock and, as “D.A.N.C.E.” shows, disco, Flume’s music is much more R&B-oriented, more mellow, and more modern:
OK, there might be a little disco in there. Mostly, though, he’s more James Blake than Justice, more SBTRKT than, say, Daft Punk, again with a dubstep feel thrown in for good measure. And whatever sound he’s borrowing, his songs are always slick and smooth, which is why his sound fits so well with fellow slick and smooth Australian Chet Faker (the stage name of Nicholas James Murphy), with whom he’s collaborated on some of his best tracks:
They’re so compatible, in fact, that they put out an EP together, titled Lockjaw, about which Flume said:
We went away for like a week and wrote some music and it turns out that we’re like an awesome duo… I mean, well, his strengths are all my weaknesses and vice versa so we kinda complement each other it’s a bit like a yin yang thing we’ve got going on.
That record doesn’t sound particularly like Flume or specifically like, you know, a Chet Faker record it really is kinda like a hybrid of both sounds going to one and I feel like everything we did with that EP it was just totally everything was collaborative about the whole effort, and I think that shines through.
I’m not sure to which weakness he’s referring, but if I were to select one, then channeling our true music expert, Glpyh, I’d say that it’s his tendency to build without release. Faker, on the other hand, is an expert at release, and what’s more, to Flume’s hypnotic rhythms he adds the earnestness of 1970s soul (and an 1870s beard):
The track from their EP at the top of the post is so heavily laden with soul that it makes my cheeks tingle, and I literally cannot help but dance to it (which makes listening to it on the bus awkward).
In his solo work, Faker has himself dabbled in electronic dance, to good effect:
That track builds to an almost perfect moment of layered samples with a guitar sort of strung between them, showing that he’s a formidable producer in his own right, and definitely showcasing his expertise at build and release. However, he’s better known for his folkier electronic tracks that feature his incredible voice:
Most know him for his cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity,” which works just as well scaled down, with live instruments, as it does in its fully produced form.:
As well as his cover of Burial’s “Archangel,” which I’ve included here before, but can’t resist using again:
I myself am particularly fond of “Terms and Conditions”:
And “I’m Into You,” which features multiple builds and releases:
In fact, Faker is one of my favorite new artists, and if I don’t cut myself off here I’m libel to just post everything he’s ever recorded.
I suppose that if this is all I’ve taken home from SXSW in the last two years it was still time well-spent (and I can’t lie, I had a lot of fun both years). I expect Faker and Flume to be in my rotation for a long time to come, and Chance as well. Maybe even Young and Sick. What do you think? Any new artists on your mind lately?
Oh, and feel free to tell me what sets you to movin’ even if you’re on a bus in comments.
* One of the questions answered at this year’s SXSW: How many free French 75’s it takes for Chris to dance with pretty much everyone in the room? Answer: 5.