2018 was for me a bit of a shitter, to put in bluntly, and I think my relationship with music – particularly electronic music – took a bit of a battering. If I’m honest it was mostly the circus which seems to now permanently orbit electronic music which really did it for me. Frauds, arseholes, and grifters are par for the course in all the arts, but something particular in electronica’s wide-ranging seems to have drawn them in. The gap between what I’m looking for, and what there seems to be, is growing. There were times I just couldn’t have cared less. And it’s led to an interesting re-education in the basics of what it is I want from electronic music, and the realisation at the heart of it all is that I’m not looking for authenticity, but honesty. And I’m happy to take it wherever it appears regardless of whether it’s the underground or somewhere more accessible.
This fed back in on itself, and when more personal issues raised themselves my fallback wasn’t into electronic music, but into soul, and punk, and all sorts of bit n pieces that were as far from techno or electro as you could get. Comfort music, I think. I probably listened to more soul last year than I have in a couple of decades. The unintended up-side to that is that it gradually came to colour almost everything else I listened to, and remind me of what it was I really loved about a lot of electronic music in the first place. I’m sure I have said it before, but you can parade all your disco icons, or Krautrock gods around as much as you want, but the real heat in-house, and in techno, comes from soul before anything else. Without soul music this is all just expensive sound boxes bleeping at each other.
One of the niggles I’d had with electro all through 2018 – that after the sugar high its mini-renaissance delivered in 2016 and 2017, and after it had once again settled down into relative isolation there would be a slow drift back into entropy; all the newly won energy and ideas boiling away into the cold-state of same-old same-old, with what was left further calcifying into the chilly fractals of IDM-ish academica – was probably related to this. There seemed a dearth of electro which offered something beyond either frigid introspection or gleeful abandon. It’s a wonderful genre, but it does have a certain taste for starkness at times, and a predilection for particular routes and directions which sometimes makes it look like a dog who can’t turn right.
There were a few tunes here and there which pushed out from these common boundaries. Mor Elian’s Xerik Zula started off with threats of large-scale stomping but became an endless fluctuation of mood and shade; glimmering light forever hanging on the edge of sharp transients. Posthuman’s Steal The Show, right at the end of the year, tied a prowling breabeat into a shuffle of bright rave stabs and set them to work in a cathedral of strobes. La4A’s Creased was almost the best thing I’d heard this year. A tune which remembered that one of the things about early IDM which made it so good was the optimism, the sense of wonder and escape, of machine minds looking out across the sun-dappled uplands towards a future-music. It was graceful, blissful, and majestic. These, and a handful like them, were tunes which dug a little beyond the obvious of the genre. Track 2 on the anonymous Keep Your Mouth Shut EP brought a sample from an Aphex Twin remix of Saint Etienne and created a daft, ambling, and deadly track that sounded like the best anthem baggy never had. It was as brilliant as it was stupid.
Fresh Gildans, though, was the one I listened to probably more than any other, and I think the reasons for that are probably quite simple. Something in its weight didn’t feel like anything else this year, and yet it felt entirely comfortable; It rode straight in there under the intellect, hitting up a connection on the emotional level. In some ways it reminded me of Theo Parrish’s 71st and Exchange Used To Be on Trilogy Tapes from a few years back. Not because of a similarity of music, but in the way the music flares out, working in the guts and the feet, but lingering a beat behind in the subconscious, rendering the whole thing instinctual.
And Fresh Gildans just strutted. So bright, so alive. So utterly captivating in the groove it required nothing more than to be allowed to do its job. The beats (particularly at the start) are pure Mad Mike. Taut, rolling. Perfectly marshalled. The rain of Detroit-esque strings, the throb of the bass. It felt liked submerging yourself in cold water on a hot day. It was a master class in the idea that music does not always have to challenge you on an obvious level to get a reaction, and that the best tunes sometimes work by simply showing you what they right from the start. There weren’t many tunes this year which made me want to laugh and cry at the same time, but this one did. There was honesty and soul here for sure. It was heavy with them, using them the fuel a vibe of warmth and life, and remind us of the simple joy of movement. 2018 didn’t deliver many treasures, but it delivered this. And that’s far, far, more than I had any right to expect.