CTM-Festival’s new and irregular series of events, POLYMORPHISM, introduces forward-thinking artists, labels and networks whose innovative programs and aesthetics relentlessly subvert – or simply transgress – the established parameters of musical scenes and genres.
Number 2 in the series is dedicated to Hippos in Tanks. With barely twenty releases since its launch a good two years ago, the LA label run by Barron Machat and Travis Woolsey, has rapidly made a name for itself as one of the most exiting labs around for unusual electronic music.
With a moniker derived from And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, a novel written jointly by William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac (the title of which was inspired apparently by a radio report about a fire in a London circus, and addresses the murder of a friend of the authors), the label consciously identifies itself with one of the most fruitful strands in American underground pop. The grotesque absurdity of its moniker is reflected in the label’s challenging approach to both visuals and musical aesthetics.
Not that the respective sounds of artists such as James Ferraro, Hype Williams, Laurel Halo, Sleep ∞ Over, Games (aka Ford & Lopatin), D’eon or Gatekeeper can be thrown easily into one and the same pot. Yet each artist’s endeavour to fathom both the reality-bending worlds of communication and consumerism and the endless stimuli of electronic entertainment constitutes a common thread in their work. It therefore comes as no surprise that the 1980s mainstream aesthetic, with all its blatant materialism, shrill hedonism and highly polished artificiality is one of the founding pillars of the Hippos in Tanks cosmos; and it also fits perfectly with the hyper-synthetic synth variations found in pretty much all these artists’ productions. In combination with ultra-modern elements in the current club sound – complex beat structures, fuzzily wavering sub-bass, sophisticated funkiness, plastic distortions and multiple echo effects – their inherent futurism, reduced to a shallow cliché in many productions today, emerges here in a new and potent guise. In addition, in particular in the work of James Ferraro or Hype Williams, one finds a diverse medley of indigestible samples garnered ad lib from flea markets and pop culture discount stores: everything from corporate design jingle-drivel through Net folklore to 3D-kitsch and zombie pop. This friction between cultural entropy and disembodied digitalism’s promise of eternal life, between yesteryear and the future, the trash heap and clinically clean cyberspace launches listeners on a riveting trip to Hippos in Tanks’ unique and far-out cosmos – which is, moreover, a deliciously danceable place to be.
James Ferraro is an artist of the 21st century Pop Art wave, exploring the chaos in today’s world by focusing on its most garish aspects and on the fetishes of today’s hyper-real capitalism. He releases under a wide variety of pseudonyms and is also a member of The Skaters (with Spencer Clark) and Lamborghini Crystal. His acclaimed 2011 album Far Side Virtual was elected best album of the year by British music magazine The Wire. While with Far Side Virtual he was recycling the sound trash of corporate terror, with his new project Bodyguard Ferraro draws heavily from r&b, hiphop und synth pop. Sweet synth melodies, stretched reverbs, compression-heavy vocal snippets and slow, hazy beats melt into a mushy, organic and hypnotic sound to yield a new kind of deformed electronic pop – or rather a paranoid slow jam for the late night hours. A Bodyguard album is announced by Hippos in Tanks for late summer. After shows at the Primavera festivals in Barcelona and Porto, Ferraro and partner Sean Bowie of Teams will present the Bodyguard project live for the first time in Berlin.
Since 2010’s King Felix and into last year’s highly lauded Hour Logic, Laurel Halo has developed a self-contained take on electronic music, collapsing the boundaries between ambient, pop, synthetic psychedelia, dub and the techno music of her Midwest roots. Fixed stylistic territories fold in on themselves, time quickens – her music is meant for transit, body listening and loud soundsystems.
Quarantine, her debut album and first release on Hyperdub (May 2012), is her most focused and evolved release yet. This is an album of transporting songs, various altitude shifts via effecting pop-concrete, built on a rich synthesis of intuitive but exacting electronic abstraction, bass pulse and heartfelt songwriting. Like Halo’s previous releases, Quarantine slams ambient suspension and disorienting detail up against each other. What is different on Quarantine is that Halo’s voice is foregrounded. Her expressive singing works as a pivot in songs that eschew the usual melodic routes to generate emotion, serving as contour and human definition in contrast to the forbidden synthetic space.
From house-inflected UK bass to kuduro to hi-tech reggaeton to Chicago juke to leftfield grime to zouk to cumbia, rhe Los Angeles based duo Nguzunguzu take a grab bag of worldly sounds and re-imagine them into the familiar framework of a contemporary R&B and hip-hop. Creating something much greater than the sum of its parts, Nguzunguzu makes futuristic global club music made to bump in Jeeps, knock out on world-class sound systems, and transmit into the unknown. With just few EPs and a handful mixtapes and remixes circulating on the internet, Nguzunguzu has alreadymade quite an impression earning them a reputation for being the best DJ crew in Los Angeles.
Puzzle is a member of the Leisure System collective, which has held a multi-year residency at Berghain as well as recently founding its namesake label that has so far released Russian artist Piexlord and San Francisco’s Eprom. 808-sound, hip hop influences, dubstep and hard techno are all encompassed within the collective’s sound.
Falko Teichmann aka The Monokid has been around in the music world since the mid-90s. He started off rather downbeat, exploring the in the darker corners of the lounge scene. But the multi-faceted musical fairground that Berlin has become today soon inspired him to open towards the dancefloor, forging long lasting alliances with places like the Circus/Bar 25 and KaterHolzig, diving into Slo-Motion Disco and Cosmic Space Funk, and frequently collaborating with DWFB, The Goldmunds and Mystic Rock. Recent solo excursions added retrodelic instrumental hip-hop, weird coast electronica and some soulful bass music to the equation, creating pleasure zones off the beaten paths of the four-to-the-floor grid.
Opium Hum – initiator of Berghain's not equal series, co-organizer of the Leisure System parties and a progressive force on the Berlin club scene – nourishes his DJ sets on sombre, hazy drones and fantastical soundscapes permeated by deep and shifting rhythms to create what can only be called a wide-awake dream.