ambient electronic opinion pop rock

Best albums of 2020

This post is dedicated to Martin Ploeg who died in 2020.

Since I stopped writing for music magazine OOR, making lists seems pointless. My taste is changing constantly and I love so many different styles of music that it is impossible for me to do justice to the diversity of cool albums I listen to.

Why posting a list of best albums of 2020 then? Good question. Music journalist and longtime friend Harry Prenger asked me to compile one and I felt like making a list because of this crazy year of working from home, not going to concerts and using music to give structure to a new daily practice without one.

2020 was a rough year for me. I left my teaching job at the Maastricht Academy of Media Design and Technology and wasn’t sure if my own Studio Hyperspace would provide enough work. My father died after years of suffering from Parkinson’s disease and I found myself in lockdown in a new unknown city.

Looking for new challenges in a world that seemed to have stopped spinning is difficult. I started STASIS to have an outlet to keep writing about pop culture. In November the Fashion Institute Amsterdam (AMFI, a part of HvA) asked me to help them set up a new master programme for changemakers in the fashion industry and just before the Christmas holidays, I got an offer by the new International Music Academy Lab of Inholland to join them as a learning director. The coolest job ever. E.V.E.R.

So professionally, 2020 turned out to be a great year after all. Personally, it was rough. Music played an important role to keep me happy and focused.

The following eleven records were important for me during the numerous train travels to my father in the deep south of The Netherland and, after he passed away, making the best of the situation.

Special shout out to Adorno. You are my best friend. I absolutely love your hairy fur touching my cheeks when I’m half asleep.

Okay, let’s go.

Apneu – Silvester

Been following this indie band from Amsterdam since the beginning and their third album is an absolute classic. It’s catchy, moody, tight. The production by Ralv Milberg lifts the album to a next level. But it’s the songwriting that makes Silvester stand out. Read my STASIS review here.

Applescal – Diamond Skies

Not only the missing link between the ambient techno of the Border Community sound and Dutch trance, but also a perfect medicine for missing out on parties and concert. Diamond Skies captures the moment in which the rave becomes you and you become the rave. Read my STASIS review here.

The Bug & Dis Fig – In Blue

The only interview I did this year was a Zoom call with Kevin Martin aka The Bug. In Blue reminds me of other work of The Bug but also serves as a perfect sonic representation of being in lockdown. The thin, high-pitched and ghost-like vocals of Dis Fig, give the album a melancholic feel that triggers me to listen to it over and over again. Read my STASIS review here.

Jessy Lanza – All The Time

An absolute sucker for slick, catchy and sweet pop music with a microhouse feel to it. Jessy Lanza is the best. No idea why I didn’t wrote about this excellent album here at STASIS. Listen to All The Time at Bandcamp.

Hunter Complex – Dead Calm and Zero Degrees

Always loved the music by Lars Meyer aka Hunter Complex, but this album is different than his previous work because there is no nostalgia anymore. Meyer has found a way to use all kinds of sounds and tropes from the past to come up with something that is 2020 at its core: a post-nostalgic ambient synthpop masterpiece. Read my STASIS review here.

Coriky – Coriky

Maybe this is a bit of a nostalgic pick. Coriky is the band of former Fugazi (and Minor Thread) guitarist and singer Ian MacKaye. Got to think of it, my love for Coriky isn’t rooted in nostalgia: this debut album is indie rock at its best. Wonder why I didn’t write about the album for STASIS. Listen to the album at Bandcamp.

Vril – Bad Manners 4

Dancefloor oriented project by Vril aka Ulli Hammann for the Berlin-based Bad Manners label. The album is a registration of a perfect early morning set (think 3 am) in the ambient techno room of Dekmantal or another cool electronic music festival. Also, didn’t review this one for STASIS. Listen to the album at Bandcamp.

We Are Joiners – Clients + Carriers

Sort of compilation of the first two EP’s by an indie duo from the city of Groningen. Love the slacker atmosphere. Harry Prenger also can’t get enough of We Are Joiners. Really curious what they are up to in 2021. Read my STASIS review of Carriers here.

Europ Europ – Slow Train

Ancient and timeless, that’s Slow Train. It’s like It’s the musical expression of Das Abendland‘s struggle for survival. The soundtrack to go with the ritual cleansing of a romantic past that never might have existed. Maybe, Dutch anti-modernist politician, Thierry Baudet should listen to Europ Europ and fall in love with Europe again. Read my STASIS review of here.

Vladislav Delay – Rakka

For me, Sasu Ripatti never made a bad album. His work as Luomo is unique and unmatched. As Vladislav Delay, he is more experimental. Rakka is an exciting blend of ambient, industrial, techno and dub. A perfect soundtrack for an underground dance party in your mind. Read my STASIS review of the song ‘Rajaa’ here.

Hirashi Yoshimura – Green

Reissue of the 1986 ambient album by Japanese producer Hiroshi Yoshimura. The album sounds like it has been released on Kompakt records by a hipster Scandinavian producer who just moved to Berlin. Love it, even the green vinyl. Listen to Green at Bandcamp.

What are your favourite albums of 2020? Let me know.


La Haine, De School and systemic violence

La haine attire la haine!

In Podcast Over Media, Dutch tech entrepreneur Alexander Klöpping admitted he is stuck in the 1990s. For me, his confession was an eyeopener. Suddenly I understood why I was so emotional after the recent situation at De School, a music club in Amsterdam, being accused of racism. I didn’t felt sad only for De School, but mostly because of the loss of my belief in the inclusive power of electronic dance music culture.

That feeling is soooo 1990s.

After the live-streamed podcast addressing the claims of racism at De School, I wanted to share my views on the matter but felt that it wasn’t my call. After all, I am a middle-aged white male living a decent life. I have been part of the electronic dance music culture since the early days. Wrote about it extensively and always from a sociological perspective of how alternative cultures change the status quo and can blend borders between race, gender, class, religion.

And species.

Since I became a vegetarian back in the mid-1980s, I’ve regarded humans and other species as equals. While that idea has become more common, in the 1980s and 1990s, it was still considered to be radical and extreme. As a strong supporter of the Animal Liberation Front, I participated in demonstrations and more drastic actions. I felt bitter, misunderstood and considered everybody with other thoughts to be my enemy. Hatred was the way to go.

Club culture changed my views dramatically. I experienced what compassion and genuine interest in the other can do. How it felt to be part of a family that wasn’t organised around hatred and nihilism. In the early 1990s race, gender, class, religion didn’t matter. Well, obviously they did, but we tend to talk about them a lot, have discussions and change our perspectives and take our words into action. Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto often was our starting point.

Coalition through affinity.

I decided not to get involved in the discussion about De School. Then a friend shared a link to a trailer of the 25th-anniversary edition of La Haine.

La Haine by French director Mathieu Kassovitz is one of the most disturbing movies I’ve seen. It tells the story of three friends growing up in les banlieues in Paris. Not going to spoil anything, it is a must-see because of the cinematic aesthetics and because of the message. Well, actually two messages. The first one is:

La haine attire la haine! – Hatred breeds hatred

The second one is even more critical and less visible: individual action matters. Maybe it’s the only thing that matters. We tend to think we are just pawns in a bigger play dominated by abstract organisations and systems. Well, it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy: you’ll become that pawn, battling other pawns while the ‘system’ is watching your struggle with a smile on its face.

This is what Slavoj Žižek describes in his book Violence: Six Sideways Reflections as systemic violence. The abstract violence of the system is maintained by the subjective violence used against it by individuals or groups. The only way to counter systemic violence is to understand and dismantle it by altering the symbolic values it uses.

So, how does this relate to the situation at De School?

The live-streamed podcast was a sad representation of pawns battling each other. Instead of a discussion on values, it turned out to be more like an inquisition with the inexperienced and clearly nervous moderator Souhayla Ou-Oumar as both judge and executioner. Her suggestive way of asking questions caused fear, and the three representatives of De School on stage carefully choose their words looking for the only appropriate answer. And even that was the wrong answer.

I was able to stop the urge to leave the live-stream, but what was happening felt not okay. People that founded one of the coolest and most inclusive clubs in the world (and have been doing good work in the scene for over a decade) were portrayed as apparent racists. Cancel culture at its worst. There are serious allegations against the hired security guards and De School doing too little about it. That’s an organisational responsibility and needs to be dealt with immediately. Absolutely no doubt about that. The importance of fighting racism, gender discrimination and other forms of inequality can not be exaggerated.

However, during the podcast, the impression was given (by a small group that claimed to speak for the community as a whole but actually didn’t, as the comments in the live chat proved) that De School is one of the most unsafe places to be.

How did that happen?

Partly because during the last two decades an intersectional approach has been substituted for a sectional. Instead of the idea that aspects of a person’s social identity as a whole create unique modes of discrimination and privilege, the focus has shifted to taking only one aspect (like race or gender) and isolate it from the rest. Isolation is one of the most significant forces neoliberalism has (just read Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse and Mark Fisher for more insights). When people are isolated in groups, they are easier to control and manipulated to turn on each other.

That’s what happened during the podcast and made me so sad to hear people ditching each other that have so many values in common.

De School feels like a lost cause after all that has been said, but I hope we can learn from this and make sure that the electronic dance music culture becomes inclusive (again).

Meaning: rebuilding communities where everybody is equal, differences are celebrated instead of condemned and commercial and financial gain is secondary. That’s the only way to battle systemic violence. We should be aware of our differences (in race, gender, class, religion and more) and never allow the system to use them against us.

That’s in line with the messages of La Haine. The three protagonists in the movie have both similar en different backgrounds. They choose to focus on the similarities and make radical decisions as individuals.

Coalition through affinity, as Haraway wrote.

You have the personal power to change things. We all have.

Let’s start listening.

Furter digging

The live-streamed podcast by De School can be listened here.

The situation at De School described in 3VOOR12 (Dutch), De Volkskrant (Dutch), Resident Advisory, Pitchfork and by sociologist Omar Munoz-Cremers (Dutch).

The full movie La Haine (1995) is over here (with English subtitles).

The late Mark Fisher wrote in Exiting the Vampire Castle (2013) about ‘cancel culture’. You can read the article here.

More about how neoliberalism divides society into isolated groups: Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Society (1964), Theodor Adorno’s Negative Dialectics (1966) and Mark Fisher’s Baroque Sunbursts (2016).

Over at FRNKFRT I wrote an article about how isolation works in contemporary society: Doe Normaal of Rot Op. Over Rolmodellen, Normaal Doen en No Lives Matter (2017, in Dutch).