History hasn’t ended – more’s the pity, some might say – and culture continues to evolve fast. Indeed, in chaotic times, culture, and particularly music become more important than ever, and whether it’s old streams coming to the surface or completely new rhythms bursting through, the shifts and changes become more vividly visible. So here is Sound of Life’s guide to what is pulsing through the world’s veins this year: music that is giving people comfort, inspiration or just moving their bodies, and that is evolving to fit their very particular needs.
HOUSE – YES, JUST HOUSE
Very nearly 40 years from its inception in Chicago and New York, the fundamentals of house music remain perennial. But just recently, it has been especially resurgent for a number of reasons. First, the global EDM generation has grown up and dug into the deeper roots of dance music. Second, and not to be underestimated, the amapiano sound of South Africa – the single most passionate “house nation” on earth – has spread globally, and with it some of the deeper sonic and dynamic qualities of classic house. All of this has led to new attention being paid to veterans like Louie Vega, whose sprawling new Expansions in the NYC album is as great a document of classic house’s core elements as you could hope to find. And of course, house has now been taken up by two of the world’s biggest stars: Drake, as the basis of his Honestly, Nevermind album, and Beyoncé in her song “Break My Soul”. Expect it to be absolutely inescapable for the rest of this year – and decades more to come.
CRUISE / FREEBEAT
Genre delineation has always been tough in the 21st century, as constant information flow makes styles and eras blend and swirl around one another. But new styles do still emerge, especially outside the traditionally dominating territories of the US and Europe – and the most exciting one right now is the “cruise” or “freebeat” sound of young Nigeria. Light years away from the smooth and aspirational sounds of Afrobeats that have dominated in the past decade, it’s the rough and ready, rave-like sound of bedroom producers and all-night dances. Punctuated by random samples and shouts, hectic in tempo but deceptively sophisticated in rhythm, it’s absolutely addictive – as are the wild TikTok dance videos it inspires. Freebeat is only now starting to reach international audiences via the UK’s Moves label, but there is a vast amount out there to discover on TikTok and other sources if you dig deep.
JAZZ GETS COSMIC
If you follow our KEF Culture Hub (and if not, why not?), this year you’ll have seen a fair bit of jazz that is way, way out there: most recently the new album and live stream by Chicago duo I AM, and the re-release of a lost 1971 masterpiece by Ndikho Xaba. It’s a logical next step on from the burgeoning jazz movement of the past decade: already UK artists like Shabaka Hutchings and Emma-Jean Thackray have been emphasising the weird and wondrous spiritual possibilities of the genre – and now it’s being pushed further in all directions. This year we’ve also seen the beautiful cosmic-pastoral jazz electronica of Greg Surmacz’s Timelines (Part 2), and there is a whole lot more to come. LA’s Jimetta Rose & The Voices of Creation erase the boundary between spiritual jazz and gospel on How Good It Is; Mississippi diva Jhelisa just released an 11-minute disco-Afro-cosmic single titled “Oxygen”; while Philly experimental rap-punk-noise artist Moor Mother brings out the underlying jazz elements in her work in Jazz Codes. The extraordinary Houston-via-Berlin musician Lotic has a new EP, Sparkling Water, that dramatically reworks trap and club-influenced tracks from her Water album with brass arrangements and spiritual jazz atmospheres. Meanwhile, British band Szun Waves has a new album produced by leftfield dance star James Holden which takes their astral jazz-post-rock-electronics to whole new levels of ambition.
THE DARK EIGHTIES
The “long Eighties” of revivalism has, extraordinarily, been going on for almost quarter of a century, since the inception of electroclash in the late Nineties. But it has always tended to focus on a few elements: electropop, neon colours, retro rap; and in the leftfield, artsy but generally upbeat postpunk grooves. Right now, however, a darker side of the decade is ascendent. In Amber, the new album from NYC dance auteur Andy Butler, aka Hercules & Love Affair, drinks deep from the wellspring of Siouxie & The Banshees, Killing Joke, Dead Can Dance and other goth-adjacent bands. Gemini Aaliyah, aka the “GH£TTO GOTH GIRL” from Leeds, UK, takes similar inspirations from a very different angle. The extraordinary Ezra Furman’s upcoming All Of Us In Flames album finds bleak beauty in more mainstream Eighties sounds. The Eurythmics’ performance for their Songwriters Hall of Fame induction was a stark reminder of just how strange and intense a band they always were despite their stadium-filling giga-fame. And of course, the explosive global recognition for Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” after its Stranger Things inclusion has re-established her eerie art-pop credentials for a whole new generation. This dark drama will run and run.
We touched on the consistent resurgence of jungle last year, and clearly touched a nerve as it led to one of our most popular playlists. But since then, a new synthesis has really come to the fore. For the likes of piri & Tommy Villiers, Porij, Pink Panthress, goddard., Vierre Cloud and Nia Archives, jungle and drum’n’bass have become a vehicle for various combinations of pop melodies, introspective lyricism and/or lowercase internet culture cuteness. It’s more or less completely out of the hands of the original creators and gatekeepers of the sound who kept such a tight hold on it for so long. Despite this, Nia Archives, with her new collaboration with scene originators DJ Die and Randall of Watch The Ride, is maintaining a sense of continuity; while Chase & Status’s new album What Came Before is a masterful joining of the dots between jungle’s rave and reggae roots and the new pop. On top of all this, there is a darker twist via blends with hardcore hyperpop from the likes of Machinegirl and NANORAY and straightforward goth-pop from the aforementioned Gemini Aaliyah.
Somewhere in between, or overflowing across the constantly growing revivals in ambient and jazz music and the globalisation of culture, is a huge revival of what the late Jon Hassell christened “fourth world music” back in 1980. It’s a difficult area to define but very much one of those ones where you know it when you hear it – and it’s unmistakeably at the heart of one of the albums of 2022, Only Love From Now On from Norwegian-American-Mexican polymath Carmen Villain. Arooj Aftab’s Vulture Prince from 2021 has also continued to make huge waves this year, making her the first-ever Pakistani artist to win a Grammy, and soon to be given a deluxe reissue treatment. In more futurist twists, the Tunisian auteur Azu Tiwaline continues to elaborate on her own deluxe desert dub on her astronomical 4-Vesta EP, while Bristolian Hyetal’s States bizarrely blurs hard trance and shoegaze in a fourth world style. Meanwhile with more traditional instrumentation, Frenchman Akusmi’s new Fleeting Future steers closer to Steve Reich and the Penguin Café Orchestra, and on Liquified Throne of Simplicity, Slovenian “imaginary folk trio” Širom creates lengthy rituals of impossibly hypnotic powers. With deeply affecting grim irony, Misha Sultan, from Novosibirsk, Siberia, creates a vision of an interconnected world on Roots even as he is fleeing from Russian imperialism. In hard times, this is some of the most transporting – and maybe even healing – music being made.
Cover Credit: A Paper Creative
Writer | Joe Muggs
Joe Muggs is a writer, DJ and curator of many years standing, covering both mainstream and underground. His book 'Bass, Mids, Tops', covering decades of UK bass music, is out now via Strange Attractor / MIT Press, and you can subscribe to his newsletter at tinyletter.com/joemuggs.