21st-century noise and sci-fi lullabies

For music, the future felt like it arrived at the turn of the millennium. Digital sharing went crazy and music was more accessible than ever.

Over the last ten years, multiple services have popped up (Apple Music, Tidal, Spotify) with many disappearing just as quickly as they arrived (Muxtape, Rdio). All promised similar options of vast catalogues filled to the brim with the latest and the greatest, unlimited streaming subscriptions and permanent digital access. The more boutique offerings provided the chance to connect to an artist and to purchase or stream directly from their own unique microsite.

Then Bandcamp came along. The platform gave more freedom to the artist. With free space to load your recorded music and sell merch (t-shirts, LPs, cassettes or CDRs), Bandcamp enabled you to connect as both a musician and a fan. As a result, incredible, unique DIY scenes have risen, exposing buried and alternative genres – like nu noise, lo-fi hip-hop, tape looping, digital hardcore and black ambient to name a few – to larger and more diverse audiences.

As the new century has progressed, digital spaces like Bandcamp felt the most genuine, democratised and available. Above all, they can be trusted to deliver the music you like and want, in earfuls.

Below are 12 tracks that have been released within the last year or so. You’ll find new glitch symphonies, lo-fi dreamlike utopias and digital noise explosions. Hopefully this sends you on deep dive into some new worlds that feel uncharted, energising and alien. It is music from the future, delivered to the present.

Where possible I have shared Bandcamp links. Throughout the pandemic, Bandcamp have waived their revenue share for 24 hours every month. This means 100% of the profits go directly to the artist if something is purchased from their microsite.

1. Duval Timothy – 2 Sim 

Released in 2018, the 2 Sim EP hung in my thoughts for a long time. Sitting somewhere between cut-up piano, Fender Rhodes loops and field recordings, the tracks are all laced with powerful spoken-word pieces that are personal and real. When I revisited the EP in anticipation of Duval Timothy’s upcoming album, it offered new perspectives during this pandemic year. In the context of the global discussion about migration and representation, I can’t think of a better way to start this list other than with this multidisciplinary artist who splits his time between Sierra Leone and London.

Side note: Duval Timothy has released a new album in August titled Help. It is well worth digging into the two tracks that are available on his Bandcamp and other streaming services, but get to the end of this list first!

2. 1127 – Renaissance

Giza-based digital noise artist 1127 delivered one of the albums of 2019 with Tqaseem. Mqamat Elharam, a compilation of tracks recorded between 2016 and 2019. The album is sporadic. It glitches and sputters from hard beats to white noise, but somehow it’s filled with these odd large empty spaces. The gaps in sound leave moments for the harsh noise to ring in your ears. ’Renaissance’ arrives early on, like a lost symphony full of synth pads and wave-shaped FM oscillations (FM synthesis is a form of frequency modulation that produces both harmonic and enharmonic sounds). It sounds distant and deconstructed, almost as if it’s falling apart. It makes me look forward to what comes next.

3. Arca – Time

I love Arca; she’s been pushing pop into better places for almost a decade. This track is subtle, mining electro dream pop and eventually finding its way under your skin. A simple, melodic, pulsing sequenced synth gives way to breathy euphoric vocals that are drenched in reverb. The new album KiCk i has dug in deep; I could have included anything from it here.

4. Dijit – Soaad (feat. Aki Talibab and SD)

Hyperattention, from Cairo-based producer Dijit, has been a favourite of mine this year. Released in March, it has also likely been adding to my paranoia. The album is filled with cicada-like beats that drill and burrow into your ears. On ‘Soaad’, a hazy pitch-shifted vocal drifts in and out of phase. The stereo spread is unmatched on this list. Best experienced with headphones.

5. Armand Hammer – Leopards (Feat Nosaj)

The album Shrines by New York City’s Armand Hammer appeared in early June, mid-pandemic lockdown for most of the world. Apt timing. It has raw bursts of sonic energy, with dense lyrics filled with stories of utopias built on unstable platforms.

6. Del Lumanta – Preparations II

Preparations II is a thick and woozy, full-bodied exploration of synth pads and computer manipulations. It was released last year on the excellent Brisbane-based record label Room40, which is owned and curated by musician and artist Lawrence English. The Preparations album informed Lumanta’s performance for Masters of modern sound, an event co-presented by the Art Gallery of NSW, Force Majeure and Sydney Festival in 2019. The event also included Lawrence English performing with William Basinski, among other ambient and contemporary classical musicians. Lumanta and English met at the event. It’s one of the things I love most about the Gallery – it brings people, artists, musicians and ideas together and lets them germinate new and exciting things.

Del Lumanta is a force in the Australian contemporary music scene right now. I loved this performance and love this record. As a document of that moment, it is incredibly special.

7. Mica Levi – Monos

Mica Levi is an inspiration. In my music career, I have been fortunate enough to perform and travel the world and in more recent years have composed for Australian television. Levi is the benchmark. Over the last ten years, she has been one of the most forward-thinking contemporary composers and her work with filmmaker Jonathan Glazer has built a new sonic blueprint for film scores. The soundtrack to the sci-fi movie Under the skin, with its contorted, bent and detuned strings, resampled and pitch-shifted, has influenced many contemporary pop songs. You can hear it in music by artists like The Weekend.

Using acoustic instruments and electronic equipment to manipulate raw sound, Levi builds worlds that sit inside the films they are composed for. They blur the line between underscore (the ambience that holds a scene) and score (the melodic emotive music, with hooks). The score to last year’s war drama film Monos applies this acoustic electronic technique to great effect. Alejandro Landes’ film about a group of Columbian teenage commandos is held together with space and tension provided through a simple whistle tone that sits alongside synthesisers and acoustic drums.

8. Fever Ray – Mustn't hurry

Swedish duo The Knife has been one of my favourite acts of the new century. The double album Shaking the habitual from 2013 is still on high rotation in our house. Uncompromising, weird and raw, the album spoke to everything from gender politics through to environmentalism, structuralism and capitalist global greed. In 2008, Karin Dreijer’s (one half of the The Knife) solo project Fever Ray arrived, fully formed. Dark, gothic and completely unique, Dreijer wrote songs and stories about her experiences of motherhood and everything associated with it.

We had to wait nine years for the next Fever Ray album. Released in 2017, Plunge was a revelation. Sexuality fuelled the album and its subsequent music videos. The music was no longer bleak; it was upbeat, poppy and full of beats, but still with a subtle strangeness that gave it some magic. ‘Mustn’t hurry’ is slower and more measured compared to most of the album, but the synth break and Dreijer’s vocal delivery really demonstrate the magic I speak of.

9. Dean Hurley – Edge of the known

In 2017 David Lynch delivered Twin Peaks: the return, the long-awaited follow up to his warped 1990s TV series, Twin Peaks. Essentially forming an 18-hour film, the episodes were filled with oddities, characters and pop bands performing live, but what stuck out was the series of sound-design works. They blew my mind. I became obsessed with the music and eventually stumbled across Dean Hurley’s digital-only release Anthology resource vol 1, a compilation album that featured all the wonderful sounds.

In 2018 the Gallery invited Dean Hurley to compose new music for the Masters of modern sound event. He spent a week listening and recording in a variety of spaces within the building. Sampling everything from air conditioners to fire alarms, he went on to manipulate, warp and distort the sounds digitally. ‘The edge of the unknown’ from Hurley’s second album Anthology resource vol II was written during this residency. Composed using elements of the sounds from the Gallery, the uplifting alien drones that swell and pulse in waves transform the samples into something completely new and unrecognisable. I loved watching Hurley’s process unfold and learning how he extracted melody from fragments of sound to create fully formed compositions.

10. Model Home – Baya Style

Washington DC post-hip-hop duo Model Home has released a slew of albums in the last two years. Their debut self-titled album was released on iconic DC label Dischord and their new album One year (a compilation of self-released mixtapes) found a vinyl and digital home last month on the Disciples label. One year is a fractured, polyrhythmic, beat-driven and broken lyrical journey by the experimental outfit. On ‘Baya style’, Patrick Cain’s delayed and bit-crushed beats are tough and gritty. MC NappyNappa’s vocal is heavily processed, rising in and out of the mix. There is immense energy in their music and it has been the perfect antidote for me during this strange time.

11. Phew – The very ears of morning

Japanese experimentalist Phew has been pushing post-punk and industrial music since the late 1970s. Ranked among sonic pioneers like Throbbing Gristle and Laurie Anderson, her catalogue is intimidating to say the least. Ryuichi Sakamoto produced her early work and she has collaborative albums with Conny Plank and members of Can. This track, from her upcoming album Vertigo ko, is glorious, drawn out and filled with uplifting organs soaring high and ringing until they give way to a screeching feedback that descends into a cascading cavernous reverb.

12. Alessandro Cortini and Daniel Avery – Illusion of time

I have been a big fan of Italian musician Alessandro Cortini for a long time, from his performances with Nine Inch Nails to his countless solo albums that began with the release of the Buchla-based Forse series. His album Avanti from 2017 has been played at length in our home. We have put our 18-month-old to sleep to this album every night since he was born – it’s a lullaby. If you haven’t heard Avanti before, I implore you to seek it out, it truly is a special sonic journey.

Released earlier this year, Cortini’s collaborative album with English ambient musician Daniel Avery plays on nostalgia. Each track is filled with tape hiss and warble. ‘Illusion of time’ is a standout track. Its sequenced synth, sub-bass and classic pop melodies float and glide blissfully in a locked loop – the perfect way to end a mix. Sometimes I listen to this on repeat and it genuinely feels like it stops time.