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This weekend, the Brooklyn Electronic Music Festival will take over Williamsburg for the fifth year running. (So it’s technically the Williamsburg Electronic Music Festival, but who’s counting when you’re drunk and dancing to Nick Catchdubs at 4 a.m.?) Last year’s Festival brought Matthew Dear, Beats In Space’s Tim Sweeney, and HudMo before he was TNGHT. MeanRed Productions, the multifarious company behind BEMF, kept the style and structure largely the same this year (two words: food carts), bringing back Cubic Zirconia’s Nick Hook and rolling out Nadastrom, Gold Panda, and Nicolas Jaar. Think of it as the anti-Ultra, or perhaps Electronic Zoo. This year, however, there’s going to be an all-ages stage at 285 Kent, and as of now there are still tickets available.
“It’s just a lot of bleeps and bloops,” a former co-worker of mine said when I asked him about electronic music, so in case you’re of a similar mindset, we’ve provided a guide to the 10 essential acts you should see on Friday and Saturday night. You don’t really have an excuse — since the venues (including Glasslands, Cameo, Brooklyn Bowl, Public Assembly, and Music Hall of Williamsburg) are just a few blocks from each other — but you do have the right to a disco nap and making an entrance in your snow boots free of judgment.
Photek at Music Hall of Williamsburg (Friday)
“I’m not up for discussing how it needs to sound more like Moby, you know?” L.A.-based producer and DJ Rupert Parkes has gone by a lot of different names: Aquarius, Code of Practice, Phaze 1, and The Sentinel, among others possibly still from high school. Now, the former Londoner goes by Photek. Since he got started in the U.K.’s drum ‘n’ bass scene in the early ’90s, Parkes has composed film soundtracks (The Animatrix, Dreamland), earned a Best Remix Grammy nomination for his brutally technologic rendition of Tron: Legacy‘s “End of Line”, and written Eastern-influenced songs like “Ni Ten Ichi-Ren,” with the meticulous synth-based sounds of clashing swords. Those idiosyncrasies, like a computerized lion’s roar on “Avalanche” and “Sleepwalking,” which gives Skream’s untouchable remix of “Bulletproof” a run for its money, elevate his subterranean jungle-tronica far above ground.
Photek plays the DJ Kicks Stage with Gold Panda at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday, 11/9.
After founding his own label, composing some of the most legitimate musique concrete this century, and releasing a prism of music to rival the Flaming Lips’ gummy skulls, Nicolas Jaar might be the most famous Brown University student this side of Emma Watson. The 21-year-old American-Chilean producer and comparative literature major specializes in self-described “blue wave”: noir & b that sounds just as exquisite during one of his five-hour experimental PS1 sets as it does tantalizing drops on a Friday night at Music Hall of Williamsburg. The best part is you never know which one you’re going to get. And Steven Spielberg’s daughter, Sasha, might even show up to join Jaar onstage to sing in their cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Avalanche”.
Nicolas Jaar performs with Nick Hook at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday, 11/10.
Hiawatha is the side project of Toronto’s David Psutka, who usually performs and records as Egyptrixx. He started his softly psychedelic alter-ego with fellow Canadian Ian McGettigan, who also plays with Thrush Hermits and Camouflage Nights and who had worked with Psutka before on some of Egyptrixx’s live sets. On Hiawatha’s recent debut, Language — a middle ground between Psutka’s preferred MIDI and DAWs and McGettigan’s analog synths and guitars — Psutka’s meditative rhythms still undulate in the lower regions of consciousness as opposed to fully climaxing; but for his new outlet, he drew more from pop traditionalists like Prince, Terius Nash, and the neo-folk of artists like King Dude. The results, which sound closer to the Junior Boys end of the electronic spectrum than Egyptrixx’s ethereal soundscapes, definitely show.
Hiawatha performs with Baths and XXYYXX at Glasslands on Saturday.
Los Angeles-based producer and DJ Kingdom doesn’t shy away from the genre Diva House. “I’ve never been one to be ashamed of my taste based on social pressure,” he told Dummy Mag a few years ago. That’s a good thing, because 2010’s Mind Reader EP, which features the delicious vocal talents of singer Shyvonne, is what catapulted him to notoriety in the first place. But Kingdom, formerly of Brooklyn and originally (and proudly) from rural Massachusetts, isn’t just a one-trick pony. Though hypnotic hits like “Fog” and “Let You No” still prominently feature R&B-derived vocal samples, Kingdom also draws on the hard house enjoyed by his London audiences, Eastern-inspired synthesizers, and his label mates on Fade to Mind (including fellow BEMF attendees and label showcase participants Nguzunguzu, Mike Q, and Rizzla) and Night Slugs. They’re arrayed in full on his XLR8R and Fader mixes, which altogether serve as useful primers for Kingdom’s sophisticated, integrated approach to making beats.
Kingdom plays with Nguzunguzu and Rizzla as part of the Fade to Mind showcase at Glasslands on Saturday.
If you haven’t seen Mykki Blanco yet, you really should. I mean that in the most literal sense of the word: the six-foot-plus, heavily made-up cross-dressing alter-ego of Michael David Quattlebaum, Jr. cuts quite a figure even in the dark of a 4 a.m. bar. And with lyrics like “I pimp slap you bitch niggas with my limp wrist, bro/ What the fuck I gotta prove to a room full of dudes/ Who ain’t listening to my words cuz they staring at my shoes,” the Illuminati Prince/ss isn’t just a pretty face who takes her name from the Ramones and Lil’ Kim. With beats by the likes of Arca and Brenmar, she’s been redefining the boundaries of queer rap with mixtapes Mykki Blanco and the Mutant Angels in May and Cosmic Angel, which drops today.
Mykki Blanco plays Cameo with Brenmar on Friday.
The first thing that comes up when you Google New York DJ Brenmar is the LA Weekly article, “Brenmar: His Goal as a DJ Is to Get You Laid.” It seems a bit obvious — isn’t that always the point? — but in his case, it might be more true than most. Just listen to his Opening Ceremony mix: “Silly Hoe”, Trey Songz, Ginuwine! After stints as a one-man band and drumming with former Liars bassist Pat Noecker, he returned spectacularly to the hip-hop and electronic fold with his 2010 comeback debut “Taking It Down” and “Temperature Rising”, which paired Avant’s serious slow jam “Makin’ Good Love” with, if possible, even smoother bedroom beats. He might be trying to get you laid himself, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
Dre Skull’s roster reads like a dancehall dream: he produced Vybz Cartel’s Kingston Story, was recruited by Diplo to produce Snoop Lion’s forthcoming record with Major Lazer, and between flights between Jamaica, New York, and LA, managed to collaborate with reggae all-stars Beenie Man and Sizzla. So how does a former art-punk white boy from the middle of Massachusetts have such good riddim? Modestly. “I’ve never felt like I’ve had a natural aptitude toward music,” he told XLR8R in September, “but somehow, that’s what’s made it interesting; I take a bit of an analytical approach to finding out what goes into making the songs that I like.” If his addictive, Pirates of the Caribbean chase music hooks are any indication, he analyzes well.
Dre Skull performs at the Mixpak Stage at Public Assembly on Saturday.
Groundislava’s name shares the youthful origins of his music’s 8-bit nostalgia: according to the Venice, CA-based producer — Jasper Patterson by day — it comes from a childhood game of trying to avoid touching the floor because “ground is lava”. He moves fluidly through different effects, intertwining themes seemingly lifted from Mortal Kombat with Texas-screwed (and kind of funny) exclamations like “Holy shit!” and equally lethargic trap and bass on August’s Feel Me LP. As a member of middle-school friend Shlomo’s collective Wedidit, Groundislava has collaborated with the master bedroom artist; not to mention fellow BEMF attendee Baths, who contribute appropriately eerie vocals to “Suicide Mission”.
Groundislava plays with Shlohmo at the Friends of Friends Stage at Public Assembly on Saturday.
Omar S is a legend and he knows it. “People say I’m arrogant, how the fuck am I arrogant?” he told Resident Advisor after claiming ignorance of fellow Detroit house superstars Carl Craig and Stacey Pullen’s mixes for notorious London nightclub Fabric (and calling Ricardo Villalobos “Willalobo”). But after listening to a monster of a track like “Here’s Your Trance Now Dance” off last year’s It Can Be Done But Only I Can Do It, you can see where that confidence comes from. At 10 minutes long, it pumps with a hard and fast rhythm and what sounds like a whetsaw, with steadily building melodic elements that drop out all of a sudden, leaving you with just the beat. To all the “stupid ass motherfuckers” who pretend they know how to use an AOS 600, that’s how it’s done.
Omar S performs on the Numbers Stage at Public Assembly on Friday.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of Waajeed, a.k.a. Robert O’Bryant IV, a.k.a. “finder” or “seeker” in Arabic. The producer grew up in the same Detroit neighborhood as Dilla and became DJ in their group Senepod, which in the early ’90s became Slum Village. O’Bryant took a late, convoluted path to the production game, making beats as himself and as part of the group Platinum Pied Pipers starting in the early 2000’s. In 2009, he released The War LP, which expertly mashes hip-hop beats and samples with low-slung ’90s bass, sirens, and blistering vocal and instrumental contributions from Jay Dee himself.
UPDATE: Waajeed will no longer be performing.