This started out, all all the very best journalism of the 21st century seems to, as the result of a Twitter chat. The genesis was the publication of Resident Advisor’s list of the best electronic live acts of 2016. While their other chart, the infamous best DJ one, was pretty much every bit as predictably annoying as Nigel Farage appearing on Question Time, I realised that a lot of the live names were unknown to me. I pointed out that I wasn’t claiming this from a position of bohemian coolness, but that I genuinely hadn’t a scooby about who these people were. Thus a challenge was born: get familiar with some of them and see whether I could fathom out why they had been voted best-in-show. This could be tricky.
It doesn’t help that I’m not reporting from a manky club or festival. I’m sat on my arse watching Youtube and listening to Soundcloud trying to fathom all this out. Obviously I know some of them, even if I’m not sure in what context they are here. Is the Jeff Mills on the list a Jeff of sequencers and synths, or is it Jeff with a bucket of tunes and a 909? And yes, I think there is a difference. Why are Autechre only 39th out of 40? Can Rrose’s opening and closing of a fader over 8 minutes really be an exciting live proposition? Who cares? Well, not me. For we’re here for the alien names, the ones the great gangs of RA readers think are hot stuff. Here goes absolutely nothing.
Red Axes – Number 35
Never heard the name before, and here they are, nestled between Voiski and SNTS. A glance at their bio tells me they’re from Tel Aviv and used to be in a post-punk band. Ok. Youtube seems to have very little live stuff, but there are a few DJ sets which are all plod along in a fairly inoffensive but slightly boring way. Soul tearing acid this ain’t. Their own music echoes a similar vibe. I’m actually at the end of the second Youtube video before I realise it’s not the same track I started with. The one live video I find suggest there isn’t a world of difference between this and the DJ stuff. They also have a bit of a thing for dirty surf guitar. So did the Dead Kennedy’s, mind you, and it work out all right for them. Red Axes aren’t the Dead Kennedy’s. Let’s move on.
Premiesku – Number 21
Second in our game of Who Dat Band are Romanian Trio Premiesku, an act who, according to their bio, no one can stop the rise of. Well, quite. And they’ll be doing it with some fairly straight forward minimally house. This is no slight (ok, it is) as the stuff I’m hearing is thoroughly professional, deep, with some fairly decent grooves. It isn’t the most exciting music I’ve ever heard, but at least it’s definitely the sort of stuff you could pass 20 occasional minutes in room 2 with. Boy, do they like their long, deep, pulsing, bass lines. And squinky bits. Actually not that bad even if it is a bit tame.
Guti – Number 27
First disappointment is that this isn’t the former Real Madrid mid-fielder. Anyone hoping here for a techno/sporting personality interface had better stick to Steve Davis. Second disappointment is that judging from the live vid I’m watching of him, he seems to have nicked all his bass line from Premiesku in a remarkable musical meta-crime. Third disappointment is I’ve watched 40 minutes of this video and I think it’s still on the first track. No, wait, a bit of vocal just started. No, I’m wrong. It’s a Glaswegian shouting at him to change the fucking record. HAHAHAHA. It does however build a bit towards the end. You can tell because there are some tribally drums. Very serious (in the original sense of the word), deep, expansive, deep, and deep. Basically all the deep. The sort of producer who ‘takes you on a journey’ regardless of how you feel about it.
Agents Of Time – Number 17
This Italian trio’s bio states they have an old school flavour. If by that they mean they sound like a tribute act to the 80s that’s pretty accurate. I find myself liking them but I’m not sure if that’s because they sound quite different to all the minimal corporate house bollocks I’ve subjected myself to so far. Snare rolls, big maudlin descending chords and little flourishes of melody immediately stand out. Pretty trancey but not in that huge, bonkers, tortured 303 way. There is also an unmistakable love for early Euro house which is at least pleasingly different from an unmistakable love for aping the Beatport top ten. Charmingly rough around the edges, not afraid to get a bit of an IDM-ish wibble in there (which makes them at least a little bit subversive) and clearly enjoying hitting sounds off each other. I can see why people would pay to see them. Not bad at all.
David August – Number 8
I’m not sure how anyone can get to number 8 on a list like this and me not be aware of them. Actually, After listening I have my suspicions why that might be. Technically this really isn’t my thing, although it’s a lot of fun watching the Boiler room audience trying to figure out how they can dance to music as slow as this. This is a weird one as musically it’s lovely, meandering soundtracky stuff that seems determined to build worlds and drag you into its ethereal arms but it seems like its natural place is on a CD at home. It doesn’t half go for the hard sell at times though, occasionally thrusting you into a saccharine half-gloom of weaponized tastefulness and artful embarrassment. Still, those Boiler room dancer looking confused at the lack of anything resembling a pulse is worth it.
Conclusions? Do I feel ashamed not to have known any of these acts before? Hmm. This is a little portion of the listees music I listened to, and there is a definite theme that quickly began to develop. It’s interesting that the acts who I would pay to see are the older one, producers who are still very much predicated on techno, electro, and house DNA passed down through generations from a magical land of beats and grooves. It makes me feel very old. As for the others? I don’t know. A lot of it seems very safe, very pleasant, very non confrontational, and not the sort of thing that’s going to change your life. Importantly, a lot of it seems bland enough to appeal to the largest cross-section of the public. Did I learn anything at all? Nothing. Unfortunately, I suspect that’s the point.