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Weird times in the world means we need more oddball music

As the world threatens to spin off its axis, out-there music seems to gain more and more traction

  • Words: Joe Muggs | Illustrations: George Morton
  • 19 June 2018

Would you spend £120 on a box set comprising eight hours of whirrs, boinks and clangs that sound like a robot trying to psyche you out? Plenty of people have: Autechre’s sprawling release of tracks made for their NTS Radio residency has shown just how deeply fans will engage with vast quantities of very, weird music. And Autechre are far from being the only artists putting freaky, psychedelic irregularity into our world. Just look at the albums reviewed in one recent issue of Mixmag: among the Maceo Plex and Paul Kalkbrenner records are some outrageously individualist creations – not just Autechre’s shapeshifting labelmate at Warp, Oneohtrix Point Never, but the Aymara-Bolivian-American ‘decolonising’ activist musician Elysia Crampton, and the Tibetan-Swiss producer-singer-songwriter Aïsha Devi. Every one of these releases is full of inhuman, processed voices, genres dissolving and flowing into one another, cryptic and disturbing psychological and political messaging, and all-round general mindfuck.

But these things aren’t way out on the fringes. They really are in Mixmag’s world. OK, no, you’re not going to set your local sweat-pit alight by dropping a 25-minute Autechre cosmic drone. But for all their sonic ambition and awkwardness, the duo remain a pair of old acid-inspired ravers from Manchester, with all the mischievous underground spirit that implies. Elysia Crampton’s collisions of Atlanta trap beats, shimmering electronica, raw noise and broken glass aren’t easy listening, but like her allies in abstraction – people like GAIKA, Rabit, Yves Tumor and this month’s cover star, Lotic – it is still, uncontrovertibly, music for underground parties. Aïsha Devi’s record might be a discombobulating spiritual acid trip in itself, but it’s also a thrilling, Blade Runner-ish experience, and (crucially) it’s on Fabric’s Houndstooth label, which consistently puts out the very weirdest sounds next to club bangers by people like Paul Woolford. Oneohtrix Point Never’s album is a full-on brain-melter, but he’s certainly not a marginal figure. Just look at his collaborators: Iggy Pop, David Byrne, James Blake, Sofia Coppola...

And all of this is vital to the very nature of club music. You don’t have to be an electronica dweeb to appreciate that, either. Club culture has always been a place to fly the freak flag high. After all, David Mancuso, whose Love Saves The Day Loft parties sowed the seeds in New York for the birth of disco and DJ culture as we know it, wanted his parties to be a sanctuary for freaks and misfits, and clubbing and raving has always carried that spirit with it. Dance music thrives on accommodating both anonymity and flamboyance, regularity and thrilling experimentation. Leaving aside the pharmaceutical exploration, clubbing and raving are about experiencing things, people and ideas you never normally would. Whether that’s witnessing the excesses of Berghain, watching the dawn in a strange country, or just dancing alongside a local oddball in your home town club.

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