Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.
Back in 2011, I wrote a feature for the LA Times,“The New Age of New Age Music”, investigating how the one-time pariah of modern music, New Age, had slowly started making inroads with newer, cooler bands like Animal Collective, Gang Gang Dance, Oneohtrix Point Never, Teengirl Fantasy and the like. Even a quick perusal of the (now-shuttered) Altered Zones website would reveal that New Age’s visual aesthetic was being re-appropriated: glowing pyramids, spectrums of light, living oceans, beams emanating from third eyes. No longer banished to the bastard corner of the record store, no longer confined to the crystal counter at Whole Foods Market, to deep tissue massages, nor to your weird hippie aunt’s tape collection, the tropes of New Age were being assimilated and re-imagined by a new generation.
One of the artists who began to build a name for herself via Altered Zones was Parisian-born electronic music producer (and architect) Christelle Gualdi, who renders music as Stellar OM Source. “I was one of those music school cats, tripping on Debussy, fusion records and French band Magma,” Gualdi wrote to me via email. “A bit later I discovered Warp Records, Rephlex and rave parties in Belgium.” After school, she started off self-releasing her CDRs back in 2008, slowly garnering notice on the noise underground. While her previous musical influences were knotty and complex, this music was impressionistic, drifting, something arising from dream states. “When I felt ready to play music again after school, it had to be improvised and otherworldly, trance-inducing,” she says. “Using the gear that my dad didn’t use, I crafted tracks owing to the New Age genre.”
Soon followed releases on the No-Neck Blues Band-affiliated imprint Black Dirt, splits with Nite Jewel and Shabazz Palaces, as well as a compilation put out by Olde English Spelling Bee (onetime home to James Ferraro and Ducktails). But Stellar OM Source returned at the tail end of 2012, with a new EP for the Rush Hour sublabel, No ‘Label,’ that stands in stark relief to her previous work.
“About three years ago, I started to use drum computers and more sequencing,” she says. “And that resurrected my love of techno and the closeness with it I had lost over the intervening years. I was missing a ‘harder’ side to my own musical compositions and needed the bass and the beats again especially while playing live.” Both on-stage and in her studio, Stellar OM Source’s music moved back towards the electronic music from her memory. On the four tracks that comprise her new work, there’s a driving, writhing kineticism to it. “I needed the response of the audience, to get people moving. And yes, I also needed to feel that 303 falling from the sky.”
Fitting then that the first track on her new EP is called “New Look,” her synth layers shot through with hi-hats, canned claps, as squalls levitate higher and higher. It sounds at once primitive and cagey, a house track that wiggles out of such confinements. Acid bubbles up on “Club 5-7,” building up to evoke that classic Aphex Twin sound circa Selected Ambient Works 85-92. Elsewhere, her debt to old Detroit techno arises, but it’s always counterbalanced by her sense of spacing with her synth melodies. In that, these new tracks expound and expand upon her original sound. “I hear a similar essence in what I did three years ago and now,” Gualdi says. “I know people might say that I changed styles, but I don’t care about that and just follow my path with the sounds I love. Often in life we need to change things and move on when things are not adequate anymore.”
Change has also come to the London production duo of Jonny Nash and Kyle Martin, who recently teamed up to drop their resplendent, sunkissed downtempo full-length as Land of Light (on the ESP Institute label). While Martin has done some arpeggiated house stuff for a few years now as Spectral Empire, Nash has released obscure disco edits and done sumptuous shimmering ambient house as one-half of Sombrero Galaxy and as a member of Japanese collective Discosession.
On their gorgeous debut, Land of Light revel in the timbres that have been used for decades to suggest opulence and tranquility. One can almost feel the white linen and silk draping in every component here. Airy glissades of harp, congas that echo from the white sands of Ibiza to Corsica, synthesizers set to “Andean pan flute,” Land of Light handle such delicate (yet dangerously cheesy) tropes expertly, erecting these blissed-out billowing tracks that beg for replay. And while “Presence of the Past” could serve as the ideal massage music for Yanni, there’s just enough shadow and menace underpinning the epic eleven minutes of “Flares.” One can imagine Sonny Crockett blasting it from his yacht at sunset, just before a drug deal goes down.
Stellar OM Source’s Image Over Image is out now via No ‘Label’/ Rush Hour. Land of Light’s s/t debut is out now via ESP Institute.