Though the blithely sedate genre is certainly far from dead, its most important progenitors seem to have moved on since the peak it reached between 2014 and 2015. Though Kygo hasn’t entirely strayed away from the pan flute-laden sound which launched his career, his most recent releases have centered more on straightforward pop than tropical tones.
Meanwhile, Thomas Jack has veered in the opposite direction.
Once considered the Australian counterpart to Norway’s tropical superstar, Jack’s productions in the past year have trended toward chilling deep and progressive house (in the sub-genres’ proper forms, rather than their more commercialized bastardizations). His shift should come as no surprise, either.
In a 2015 interview with Dancing Astronaut, the artist announced his intention to depart from the confines of tropical house, asserting that he “never tried to push the genre, it just happened.” Expressing his love for house music, and desire for a legacy based upon his own, unique musical inspirations, he stated, “I want Thomas Jack to be something special. Not Mr. Tropical.”
In the aforementioned feature, Jack foreshadowed his stylistic transition with a telling anecdote:
“I walked out of a seven hour Dixon show and it literally changed my life. What he gave to me, I want to deliver to others. But I want to do it in my own unique way.”
Today, July 21, Thomas Jack has delivered on his goal from two years ago with the release of his new EP, The Versus. Though the two-track record arrives via Pete Tong’s FFRR imprint, its balearic percussion, mystifying synthesis, and brooding, techno-inspired bass lines would be right at home on Dixon’s Innervisions.
As its title suggests, the EP is collaborative. The Versus sees Jack reinvent tracks from electronica trio The Acid and its singer, RY X. In the EP’s opener, “Shortline,” the producer gives new life to RY X’s haunting croons with a moody, mellifluous composition. Jack’s take on the song further clarifies his new direction, at times recalling the Australian vocalist’s work as a member of Howling, with Frank Wiedemann of Âme.
The producer rounds out the record by transforming The Acid’s “Basic Instinct” from an essence of subdued minimalism into a transcendent, yet harrowing piece that echoes rivals the mesmerizing capacities of Solomun and Adriatique.
Two years ago, Thomas Jack pounded his fists on the table while sitting across from our former editor, Valerie Lee. With conviction, he proclaimed:
“Maybe in a year, or three years, we’ll sit back down here at this table and be like, ‘WE FUCKING DID IT!’”
And, if they reprised their meeting today, he’d be able to do so with full integrity.
Rinze and Jim done did it again. The Dutch-duo making up Sick Individuals dropped “Never Say Never” today and it does not come remotely close to disappointing. I actually heard this track for the first time listening to a set of there’s from earlier this year and remember vibing relatively hard. Once the bass dropped,
Canadian duo Sultan + Shepard have collaborated with Nadia Ali and IRO to produce a dynamic, progressive house original that will be officially released July 20th on Armin van Buuren’s Armada imprint. The lively track features mellifluous chord progressions, a bouncy, spirited beat, and touching lyrics that tell a story about unwavering love.
Sultan + Shepard state the following on the theme of their newest collaboration:
“‘Almost Home’ on the surface is about being gone from the person you love and reminding them these you will be home soon. But on a deeper level it’s also about the journey that everyone makes to understanding themselves and ‘coming home’ to a place of acceptance and peace.”
“Almost Home” follows Sultan + Shepard’s last release, “Honey Come Back,” which is the artists’ take on the 90’s classic “Honey” by Moby. The two producers are widely known for their signature style which showcases uplifting, melodic chords, stunning, imaginative climaxes, as well as a clean and balanced sound.
Of the new track, IRO says:
“For me, ‘Almost Home’ represents a feeling far greater then just the romance portrayed in the song. It’s a feeling that unites us all. Everywhere we might go there’s always certain people that really mean “home” to us. If not for the love of ourselves I feel like we can all root for the love we share for others and agree to help each other ‘get home.’ Just one more reason to respect the greatest gift of all, life, and maybe together we can break down the walls that keep us apart.“
Featuring soothing, harmonious vocals from both Nadia Ali and IRO, the two singer/songwriter’s vocals mesh incredibly as a bittersweet duet is preformed over Sultan + Shepard’s production. Nadia and IRO complete “Almost Home” with their sound, adding the cherry on top of the uniquely catchy piece.
Nadia Ali weighs in with her perspective the single, stating:
“‘Almost home’ is a song about patience and having faith in a bond that is unwavering. It’s a dialogue between two people turning to one another in love with words of affirmation that all will be well eventually.”
“Almost Home” captures every angle of artistry brought forth by Sultan + Shepard, Nadia, and IRO. With each aspect of the track from energetic synths to riveting vocals, “Almost Home” will captivate fans from first listen.
There are few things in life that fire me up more than tracks like this. Mainstream EDM has built this bubble around itself that simply doesn’t allow the types of tracks that got us to this point, in. The tracks that DJs/producers brought to the for-front years-ago like Hardwell’s Big Room anthems “Apollo” and “Spaceman”.
San Francisco-based Luttrell is a relatively new member of the Anjunadeep family, but his ability to fashion entrancing, fell-good progressive house has already stood out since the release of his debut single on the label, “Away.” Having released his Need You EP and a string of remixes and original pieces since, the producer returns with an extended body of work that once more offers a deeper look at his musical mind.
Generate sees Luttrell exploring various shades of his genre of choice, beginning on a swift, energized note with its title track. After taking the listener through fields of airy synthesizers and clever vocal edits, he slows things down in the dreamy “Float,” which flows through retro-inspired melodic bursts and conjures summery imagery while listening.
“Walking Dream” takes things off 4/4 for a bit and into the world of breaks – Luttrell artfully navigates this soundscape with cheery synth progressions and subtle bass. “Daylight” ends the EP on a lush note with enticing layers of percussion and atmospheric strings playing a central role.
It’s 2008, and the Deadmau5 remix of “The Longest Road” has just been nominated for a Grammy. Legends like Tiësto, Armin van Buuren, and Above & Beyond are leading the European fervor for Trance, but the dance scene in the United States is still very much a niche interest. Ultra isn’t a three day festival yet, and the US music tastes are at a crossroads.
Britney Spears is being awarded “Best Dance Track” nominations, and rap, pop, and punk rock are all at a stand still with no clear vector to the forefront of the millennial generation’s ever multiplying interests. Meanwhile, a 27 year old from Vermont named Morgan Page is navigating a hit single that will be the beginning of a long, career—hard won through persistence, talent, and the impending explosion of electronic music in the US.
If you ask Morgan Page when his career started, he would tell you that it was in the back room of the University of Vermont’s student run radio station, all the way back in ’96.
At 16, he’d discovered the channel thumbing through the jam bands, classic rock, and hip hop that cluttered the FM dial in his hometown, a suburb of Burlington, Vermont. Before long, Page was filling in as a host and DJ for students too hungover to make their shifts. After a stint managing a channel in Boston, Page scored a summer internship at a hot New York record label where his job duties included taking out executives’ garbage.
It wasn’t until Page released “The Longest Road” in 2008 that Page had his ‘breakthrough moment’ as an artist. After years of effort behind getting a club residency, he enlisted Deadmau5 to do a remix for his new single, hiring the superstar producer outright. This decision would earn Deadmau5’s first Grammy nomination, and produced the song that could be heard in every club and radio station nationwide.
“That was before [Deadmau5] had the mousehead and was at the earlier stages in his career arc. His stuff was just starting to blow up on Beatport, and Beatport was a real outlet and a real tastemaker then. I remember that remix being played when you went to any club in Miami. Every shop that you walked into, even the pizza store, was playing that song. But that was a different time where one song would really just plaster the continent.”
But the world in which Page first became a household name in the electronic community is so starkly different than the landscape of electronic music in the US now. Ultra has careened into a 3-day two weekend event, superstar DJs are filling arenas on the merit of their own productions, and the electronic music industry was valued at approximately $7.1 billion. It’s an evolution that hasn’t escaped Page’s scrutiny.
“My first reaction is what took so long? (For EDM to explode). There were three waves, and a lot of politics got in the way of that. There was this rave act that took all of these huge festivals that were happening and squashed them. No one could be a part of these for several years. That was like this false start for a lot of festivals, and I wasn’t DJing at that point, but I was starting to get into music then in the late 90s and early 2000s.
“It took several tries, and then major labels started putting in a lot of money and investment into Daft Punk,The Prodigy, Crystal Method, and all of these sort of electronica artists. It’s really humbling and great to see that it blew up. I think now it is all about maintaining that, and now it has matured and it is still doing great, but now we look into where does it evolve now? Does it just turn into hip hop? Where does it go next? That’s what it feels a little bit like now- that it is reverting to hip hop.”
Unlike other artists in the industry, Page has found a way to experiment with his sound as electronic has turned commercial without compromising the core of what makes him unique as a producer. He has not caved to the trends, pivoting to pop/rap collaborations that are sure fire radio hits. Instead, he’s has managed to stay not only relevant, but popular, despite a staunch disinterest in infusing hip hop into his music.
“As you have heard, my music has been been pretty diverse. ‘Other Girl‘ was a little more tropical focused, and “Fight My Way” is a little more my usual style of Progressive House. I think this is the time to really try different BPM’s, so that is the biggest difference you will see with future releases. To me, it’s not so much about teaming up with 2 Chainz. I like to surprise people, and I’m talking to guys like Kaskade about teaming up for a song, but for me it’s more about changing the framework rather than just famous guest appearances. There won’t be any DJ Khaled on there, and making songs that have strong vocals that last is the backbone of songs that will stick around a little longer.”
Another dynamic of the evolving music industry that has affected Page’s decision making not stylistically, but strategically, is the evolution of how to successfully release music to fans. Page has shifted his focus from album releases to singles, with the acknowledgement that singles can be missed when stand alone. Contrastingly, releasing a full album all at once puts the songs at risk for having one hit single on the album overshadow other great releases that may have made more of an impact if not released alongside other songs.
Despite changing his release strategy, Page has remained consistent in his approach to making his music. He discusses at length how he has managed to diversify his production process through collaborations as well as what goes into making a hit in the world of modern day dance music.
“My main criteria when I make music in the studio is goosebumps. How do you get that serotonin rush and the endorphins from making the music? And when that wears off from hearing the song too many times, is it still a good song? That’s the challenge- still staying objective with a song after you have heard it a lot. A big thing about what I am doing now is teaming up with a lot of younger producers to have that extra ear in the studio. I would just be very stubborn and work by myself, but you can see like the remix with Deadmau5, the collaboration adds so much. It just pushes you because you can’t work in your own vacuum.
“I think the hardest part is that I think every song is going to be amazing and be a hit record. Sometimes that is not the case, and other times some songs have done better than I thought it would. When you release a song, you’re hoping that all of the variables line up because a hit record is a million things going right. The bar for a platinum record is so high now- it is 150 million streams, and that’s crazy. Success depends on things like the good placement on a playlist because not everyone has access to the music. That’s something that has been really nice with Armada. They are important and really come through in these situations in an oversaturated market through making you a priority when it needs to be and pulling back where it’s good to do that.”
Page was unique in that he remained on a smaller label for years before joining electronic giant Armada in November of 2016. Armada was not his first run in with big record labels, however. Page and his team had a slight mishap with Atlantic when the label created electronic imprint Big Beat Records and tried to get him on board as the first artist to join.
“I was going to be the first artist with [the] new electronic label. A lot of people don’t know that, but creatively it just didn’t pan out with what we wanted to do. But it was funny, Craig Kallman, one of the heads of Atlantic, was all excited and we actually flew to this hotel and had a big meeting. This was before ‘In the Air,’ and they didn’t even know ‘The Longest Road,’ which was funny. It was just one of those things where you were like, that doesn’t add up- that’s a red flag. They liked “Call My Name.” It’s strange if they don’t know your body of work.”
As Morgan has navigated record labels, an evolving production and release process, and staying popular amidst changing fan desires and genre popularity, he attributes his success to a variety of factors. He also has definitive opinions on his place in the electronic community. He wraps up our conversation by talking about the challenges that many artists don’t publicly confront, along with how he has been able to not only survive, but thrive in the ever-changing journey of being an electronic producer in this day and age.
“It is very easy to get lost. I see a lot of guys do a 2-year thing where they blow up and then disappear. It’s a lot of work. I’ve never been an artist who has done that hockey stick exponential growth thing and been like the hot current artist of the moment. It has always been a slow burn, and I feel as if my strength is in my consistency. I think it’s good for people to have perspective because there are some artists who have never worked a day job before. I hope they don’t take this life for granted. The hard part isn’t blowing up. The hard part is sustaining it, and keeping that fire going.”
Dublin-born producer EMBRZ has released his highly anticipated Progress EP via Ultra Music. The record outlines a dreamy composition while effortlessly blending downtempo melodies with progressive dance music. The release is the perfect soundtrack for any chill setting while also exhibiting EMBRZ’s versatility as an artist.
The self-taught producer tells us the following about Progress, and what drove him to release an EP:
“This EP was in some ways an experiment. I wanted to both challenge and push myself to work with different tempos and music styles. What if EMBRZ tried to write a pop song or something a bit heavy? I still wanted each track to feel like it belonged in the world of EMBRZ, but just my own spin on a certain style.”
EMBRZ’s ability to produce multiple types of music that blend into one great soundtrack is unique, making it even more impressive that he is self taught.
“Higher” is a mythical track with smooth vocals juxtaposing magnetically with the downtempo bassline that builds into a surprisingly intense drop. Prior to the EP’s release, “Higher” reached number one on Hype Machine’s most popular tracks. Indeed, the electronica-fueled single provides a strong start to the EP.
“Heartlines” has vocals by Meadowlark, and is less electronically driven than “Higher.” EMBRZ sets piano as the backbone of the track, bolstered by folk vocals and a steady build leading to the chorus. “Heartlines” more reminiscent of a song that would play on the radio, rather than one that would play at the club.
“Black Hole” opens with vocals that lead straight into an upbeat drum and piano intro. The lengthy, lyrically-focused beginning of the song leads into a progressive house drop where synths are the main attraction.
“Kido” relies more on a drumline and bass sound. The downtempo track would be perfect for a coffee shop or a spa, invoking dreamy feelings of relaxation.
The last track on Progress, “Fire,”features vocals by former Skrillex collaborator Pennybirdrabbit. Catchy vocals open up the track and draw the listener into a house track still retaining the mystical elements that are characteristic of the rest of the album.
After two vibrant indie progressive remixes, up-and-coming duo Midnight Kids have put forth another energetic piece to add to their growing collection of tracks, establishing a signature sound categorized by playful harmonies, spirited percussion, and unforgettable melodies. While Midnight Kids are still a mysterious act – the members of the duo have yet to make their identities public – the two artists are quickly gaining momentum with every release.
The original by A R I Z O N A, “Electric Touch,” begins with a series of piano chord progressions in accordance with Zach Hannah’s soothing vocals, and then builds into a flurry of moving percussion and gentle guitar riffs. Midnight Kids take the breathtaking song one step further by incorporating more layers of alluring synth which add more texture to the original, and by creating a wildly addicting drop that makes dancing along irresistible.
Dash Berlin is a household name for old school progressive house lovers. While many of the genre’s producers have shifted to commercial house and pop, Dash Berlin remains as rooted in the sound as ever. His latest release “We Don’t Belong”is another characteristically progressive track from the Dutch producer. The song was released via Armada, and the upbeat anthem is enhanced by vocals courtesy of Haneri. This is a great listen for anyone looking for some feel good and upbeat music.