Perhaps no one would have predicted that Future’s “Mask Off” would have captured the collective aspirations of the early 2020s. And yet, here we are, 14 months into the pandemic and now getting word from the CDC that it’s okay for fully vaccinated people to take that mask off in most indoor spaces. (Outdoor spaces have been deemed safe to go maskless, too.)
Does this mean clubbing is coming back soon? We don’t know. Does it put us one step closer to stepping back onto that dancefloor? We hope so. As we all take baby steps into the post-pandemic future, we also get by day-to-day on the club-ready sounds that have been living largely in our speakers for the last year-plus. This week brings another wave of fresh, spectrum-spanning dance music that does not disappoint. Let’s dig in.
Skrillex, Starrah & Four Tet, “Butterflies”
When Four Tet announced on Twitter in March 2015 that his next gig would be a back-to-back DJ set with Skrillex, some fans thought it was an early April Fool’s joke. The pairing was surprising, to say the least: Four Tet, the revered producer unspooling intricate rhythms unto “serious” warehouse heads, and Skrillex, the EDM supernova who made “filthy drops” part of dance music vernacular as the American face of a new, head-banging breed of U.K. dubstep? How it even began is unclear, though in June of 2014 Four Tet Tweeted Skrillex while watching the latter performed at the UK.. festival Glastonbury: “watching you and eating donuts. massive,” he wrote, followed by, “saw you in your spaceship.”
Somewhere, Four Tet’s eclecticism and Skrillex’s alien bass tendencies found common ground and the show was a success, according to live reviews. Over the years, their careers have remained fairly separate. They next went B2B four years after their first IRL encounter at Manchester’s Warehouse Project in October 2019; that December, Four Tet remixed Skrillex’s collaboration with Boys Noize and Ty Dolla $ign, “Midnight Hour.”
The announcement earlier this week of an actual Skrilltet collaboration, “Butterflies” with singer Starrah, arrived to more supportive fanfare. The production sounds like a 50-50 effort — its doubly powered DNA resulting in a vocal-heavy house track that’s moody and made for the midnight hour (no pun intended). Its steady rhythm is anchored by subterranean bass, with blocky percussion and a sweet chime-like melody that could have only been made by one Four Tet. Meanwhile, Starrah’s vocals shine across various manipulated states, its glitching, alternating pitches creating a vibe all their own.
Is it weird that Skrillex and Four Tet have merged into a pop-leaning lane? Not really. Just as they found middleground in their DJ sets, both share an appreciation for pop music. After dubstep’s commercial reign, Skrillex’s career found a second wind producing major artists like Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and Ed Sheeran. Four Tet, from his darkened corner of the dancefloor, can also work his way around a good pop vocal, having sampled Brandy, Nelly Furtado and Mariah Carey in his songs. Add a live vocalist who can work on the fly (and who has written for Rihanna, The Weeknd and Megan Thee Stallion, no big deal), and you get an unexpected new layer to each artist’s legacy. As with Skrilltet’s B2Bs, hopefully this doesn’t start and stop at just one. — KRYSTAL RODRIGUEZ
LSDXOXO, “Mutant Exotic”
Track by track, LSDXOXO’s new EP Dedicated 2 Disrespect (out today on XL Recordings) has shaped up to be one of the year’s most riveting and fun releases thus far. With his self-described “vulgar techno-pop,” the Philly-born producer took us to the club in the video for lead single “Freak B–ch,” then to hell for the Cajmere-like “The Devil,” where lyrics like “I’ll make the devil f-k- me good” assure us that the titular character stays busy post-“Montero.”
New song “Mutant Exotic” takes on a softer tone with a rolling deep house rhythm peppered with sunny horns and rave whoops. “I could be the devil, or maybe I’m a goddess,” LSDXOXO sing-speaks, “clap your hands for Miss Mutant Exotic.” It’s opulence and glamour with a glint of mischief — picture it playing in the background while a supermodel poses for a cover shoot, or while cruising down Rodeo Drive in a blood-red convertible with the top down. Get in, loser. We’re going bopping. — K.R.
Cookiee Kawaii, “Relax Your Mind”
You know that dream Jersey Club Tik Tok anthem from the start of quarantine that was like “If I back it up, is it fat enough?” That glorious lo-fi club monster “Vibe (If I Back It Up)” — one of our Best Dance Songs of 2020 — came from the mind (and voice) of Cookiee Kawaii. Now, she’s got another little something to ease your addled brain. With plucky key chords that’ll bring you right back to Super Mario 64’s Dire Dire Docks level and a classic Jersey Club beat, it’s the low-lidded cuddle puddle soundtrack of our clubland dreams.
“’Relax Your Mind’ was made for listeners to do exactly what the songs says,” Kawaii says in a press release. “It’s a combination of smooth, sultry sounds and of course, my Jersey Club style that everyone is growing to love even more … It’s the perfect introduction to the new vibe I’m creating to set the tone for my debut album.” — KAT BEIN
If house, techno and trance deliver various flavors of ~~vibe~~, then straight-up American dubstep delivers VIBE, DAMMIT! — and sometimes that type of mega-aggressive, hammer-style headbanger is just what we need to shake out some aggression in the face of a surreal world. If that’s what you sometimes need too, then turn off lights out and enter the “Blackout,” the latest from LA-based party guy/total sweetheart Ghastly.
All sharp-edges and shouting, the track is one of the harder thing we’ve heard from him in awhile, and it piggybacks off the circa-2012 festival dubstep/trap sound of his previously released “The OG.” Both of the tracks will live on a new forthcoming Ghastly EP, coming later this month via Kannibalen Records. — KATIE BAIN
Juliet Mendoza, “Soul Rhythm”
Two years after its inaugural mini-festival, Dusk Camp, Los Angeles DJ collective Surround is set to release Dusk Volume 1, a California-based compilation on their soon-to-be newly minted Dusk Recordings. Taking place at a creekside clearing on a remote Native American reservation in Southern California, the first Dusk Camp was one of those events attendees will remember for the rest of their lives. In this raw setting, dancers were at one with the elements and the music was at one with nature.
Dusk Camp’s Heidi Lawden, Masha Mar and Jeniluv capture that same energy on Dusk Volume 1, a 14-track compilation set for release on June 4th — also the launch date of Dusk Recordings. Four tracks are already out, the most recent being Juliet Mendoza’s “Soul Rhythm.” A product of the Los Angeles house scene, the DJ/producer/dancer brings classic house elements to the production. Mendoza’s own hypnotic, repetitive vocals lead the track, which is ushered in with a flirty hi-hat that gives way to an escalating piano riff. A honking synth line is threaded through against a 4/4 beat, making “Soul Rhythm” a solid stormer. — LILY MOAYERI
Pat Lok & Party Pupils, “So Fine”
Who’s got extra pep in their step? The CDC more or less just said “if you’re vaxxed, you can disco,” and cool beat brothers Pat Lok and Party Pupils have the breezy, springtime groove to get you in the mood. “So Fine” is an easy-rockin’ jam custom-built to ease your transition back onto the dance floor — even if that dance floor is for now still just your living room. It’s not the first time these two have gotten together, but it is a song of firsts.
“Back in quarantine, Ryan (PP) hit me with this beat idea and it needed vocals,” Pat Lok tells Billboard Dance. “As a joke, I decided to sing some vocals into iPhone voice memos under my duvet — but it didn’t sound too horrible, so he added some and I put down some keys. It’s my first time singing on a record.” — K. Bein