As 2015 draws ever closer to its ultimate conclusion, we will attempt to reflect on the year that’s been through its greatest moments; not the moments we caught and wrote about, but the moments that slipped us by and has since made a huge impact on The Formant’s year. Although these moments may have made the news, been streamed or made an odd reviewer write a sentence or two on them, they have been largely overlooked by the Formant and as we head off to the end of the year we’ll try to make amends. We will attempt to recognise their brilliance and significance before every one else sums them up in their 2015 best-of showdown. These are not necessarily the best moments from a subjective opinion, just the moments we wished we covered as they happened.
* Play our playlist while you read this.
We start at the most recent point of familiarity, with an album that deserves the best-of albums accolade if ever there needed to be one. Helena Hauff absolutely astounded with her debut album via Actress’ Werksdisc imprint for Ninja Tune. It was an album, which saw the German DJ/Producer and Golden Pudel resident bring her unique machine aesthetic to the album format for the first time, bringing gaps between Techno, Electro and Drone conclusively to achieve what would be the most concise release from the artist to date. The album features a great title, a title that gives you some insight into what lies between the grooves as Hauff refines her sound in tracks that work incredibly well in the album format. Individual tracks like Piece of Pleasure are instantly memorable, and come together effortlessly in an album that sees Hauff reach new dimensions in her music. The album at times is progressive in nature, but never too progressive to forget the development of melody or harmony and as ever Hauff found a dichotomy between Techno’s current droning nature and its more futuristic history that works incredibly well in any situation. Discreet Desires symbolises a consensus I’ve picked up from various artists working in the field, a consensus that suggests the functional aspects of Techno are being negated for an approach closer to the Detroitian roots of the genre. Whether it is the expressively progressive nature of Techno emphasised by acts like Stephen Bodzin or Steve Rachmad or the more dystopian imagery of an act like Hauff, what becomes clear is that Techno is no longer content in the monotonous drone of a four on the floor kick punctuated by atonal noise.
One particularly release that has significantly reinforced this idea of Techno’s changing nature is Martyn’s release from October, “Falling For You”. The release itself is hardly significant as Martyn does what he does best through music that picks through elements of Garage, House, Techno and even Dubstep to arrive at something that is immediately recognisable as a Martyn release. “Falling for You” is momentous however when we consider that the EP arrives via Ostgut Ton, a label so synonymous with a sound of Techno in its purest driven form and a particular Berlin aesthetic you’d hardly associate the Dutch artist with. Martyn goes as far as including a beat-less introduction in the form of a piano riff for the opening title track, and during “Ahmadiya” the closing track on the EP Martyn gives us a little peak of his dubstep roots and brings a bottom end that would shake Berghain to its knees in its vinyl format. Ostgut Ton’s reserved hype machine has slipped this one by us, and if I hadn’t seen the record in my local record store, it would have almost disappeared in amongst the thumbnails of new releases that flick across my screen on a daily basis.
2015 has once again been a year of vinyl’s steady ascent to dominance as shown through the many pie charts and industry info throughout the year, and it’s easy to see why too. In a market that has become increasingly saturated with releases, finding a record that’s only been printed in a small number and handpicked by your local record store clerk, shows an audiences in today’s society that are eager to look for a more exclusive experience when they buy music and we concur. Some of the more exciting release to come our way has been in that glossy plastic design. It’s mainly been music of the dance persuasion and almost exclusively 12” records, but some of these have truly astounded and many have been records with various artists represented on the record, and the stuff you are unlikely to find on Spotify. This makes absolute sense, doesn’t it? With the production of vinyl being so much more difficult as the majors saturate the presses, a very refined selection process needs to happen, to rid records of many of the redundant B-sides that could make room for a much more relevant A-side from another artist. French club label, Concrete and DVS1’s Mistress label has done this to great effect in 2015 with a series of releases that have featured some of the more impressive dance floor constructions of the year. Concrete’s Textures series went from an integer to timeline as they traced the various different moods of a club from 3PM to 4AM to 7AM. They featured the likes of Matthew Herbert, Abdulla Rashim and Trus’me in evocative pieces of dance music that you’d relish to hear at any forward thinking club night. Some brood, while others entice, but every track on every release brings a unique interpretation of the club at a definitive time from artists that make rare impressions on the dance floor. Mistress too has forged ahead through various artists to bring us three very unique ladies in 2015. The Blonde, The Redhead and The Brunette are three V/A EP’s that have introduced and solidified new artists like Juxta Position and ASOK’s reputation in 2015, artists that look set to make a serious impression in the near future. (Look out for Juxta Positions Vol. 2 making it’s way to us soon via the label.) Unlike Concrete however Mistress bring a very distinct sound their releases across the various artists, a sound that likes to loiter in the darker corners and often feature a heavier percussive assault, without ever venturing into IDM territory.
There’s something a little rough around the edges to Mistress’ releases and it’s something that’s cropped up around a few seminal releases this year, including L.I.E.S’ ADMX-71 release Coherent Abstractions. While we covered that release quite thoroughly L.I.E.S 12” releases from this year have been left fairly untouched and EP’s by M/R, Rébeval and Gavin Russom have brought a grungy dimension to Acid and House. They represent the grimy streets of New York in brick wall percussion and synth hooks that aren’t afraid to show their stained teeth. Like Helena Hauff’s Discreet Desires, L.I.E.S have delivered with a punk attitude for dance music that has been sorely missed since the computer-digested creativity and spat out the slick productions of a lazy imagination. Gavin Russom needs a special mention here, not only for Mantel of Stars on L.I.E.S, but his Body Minimalism EP on Curve that preceded it. The trippy tie-dye record has an eerie likeness to the trance-inducing low-slung grooves and the psychedelic synth works that it represents. Like the L.I.E.S release it shows an adventurous personality on the dance floor that holds very little back, music that’s not afraid to test the patience of their audience and rewards them tenfold for it. But even with that, it hasn’t exactly been L.I.E.S that brought the grittiest development to dance music in 2015, as The Trilogy Tapes delivered music from the likes of Chemotex and EMG & Battista that caused me to take a step back and mutter “what the fuck” under my breath. They’ve not pulled any punches with provocative artwork and music that really doesn’t comply with any gentrified idea of what it should be. 150BPM House is not for the faint hearted after all, but TTT aren’t as obnoxious in their pursuits as you might think, and they do offer something unique for the dance floor. In the case of EMG & Battista, every 150BPM house tracks is accompanied by a 100BPM adventure for an early evening in a disused parking lot. Chemotex’s Thulsa, much like 2014’s A Made up Sound’s 12” on the label, is as functional as it is experimental, and finds a very niche spot on the dance floor, a spot that 50 Weapons might be leaving open as they go the way of the dodo, but you already know all about that, I imagine. 50 Weapons have called it a day with a special bunch of releases that bring their number of releases to a neat round fifty. Bambounou’s split with Maragret Dyas was one of our favourite moments there, and the progressive nature of See You Soon perfectly bridges the gap to a release that leaves 2015 on a high-note for the Formant.
Floating Points’ debut LP Elaenia is a true work of genius. We were concerned that the UK producer’s Jazz inclinations and cerebral music might have come off as something pretentious in the album format, especially when we saw the track listing and the Uk producers three-for-one combo callet Silhouettes, but Elaenia most certainly stunned when it reached our ears. The Jazz traits are there, but the improvised moments are refined in the electronic aesthetic. It might not be a dance album in its more figurative sense, but the music impresses something of Nicholas Jaar on the listener as progressive song structures are redefined in elements of Techno, House and whatever other music you might care to mention. Elaenia rounds off the year the same way Björk opened it, with an unexpected surprise that feels impossible to top. It’s a release that garnered much media attention, and we’re sure that it will make many of those best-of lists at the end of the year, which it deserves just as much as all the other music mentioned here, but also every other release we’ve mentioned in 2015. So consider this The Formant best-of list of the things we didn’t get a chance to cover, but make sure to include all the other releases we’ve mentioned throughout the year, and we’ll leave it up to you to make up your own mind.