capturing what i love and what i experience (sight, sound, movement, colour, texture) in some of my favourite electronic tracks.
track #01 : ELLLL – sooty tern
Irish producer ELLLL (Ellen King) has been releasing diverse and creative techno tracks since 2016. Following her debut EP Romance on independent label Art for Blind, she returned in 2019 for a prolific year that saw the release of three more records: Polarbergs, Confectionary, and Febreeze. Her latest EP, Housebreaker, followed in February 2021. In between, she contributed Sooty Tern to the 2020 compilation Evident Ware Pt. 1 from Bristol label Sneaker Social Club. The album reshuffles the splintered off-shoots of UK hardcore, panning across 30 years with remixes and loops. ELLLL’s track, just one of the multitude of refractions, weaves broken beat nostalgia into something fresh and glittering.
Born in a year of restrictions, yet seeming to transcend the real world altogether, Sooty Tern both harnesses and defies the melancholy of 2020. The track opens with cool, wistful, fluted notes followed by scraping percussion that adds a layer of solidity. Textures gradually build: silken strings daub a curtain of translucent colour in the mid-ground, and a second, fluttering synth arrangement pops and bubbles. The final addition arrives in the shape of wheeling high notes. Skewed and slightly dissonant, they carve angular lines, filling every corner of the sonic space. The result is a subtly woven wall of sound, cut with gently abrasive beats; industrial chimes and twangs are like a seabird slicing through clouds and spray.
As a whole, Sooty Tern soars with the kind of dynamism, motion, and colour that 2020 deprived us of.
Electrifying though it would be to hear live, in a small venue with a dreaming crowd, this is almost too cinematically beautiful a track for the dancefloor. Perhaps reflecting its creation in a year of confinement, it lends itself to solo listening. This is one to enjoy deeply—headphones on, eyes closed—for the immersive six-minute dreamscape that it is.
The Evident Ware blurb asks, “Is this the sound of the future or fragments of the past coming back to haunt us?” In the case of Sooty Tern, forever etched in a timeless present, it ceases to matter. Breathe the salty air and plunge in. Come back to earth grounded.
track #02 : peggy gou – starry night
A slick, sparkling track for after-hours dancing on a rooftop.
Starry Night opens with a tight, chewy bassline. Punchy kick drums set a brisk pace, handclaps and hi-hats keep things light and airy, and piano chords and whirling strings lend a colourful house vibe. At a steady yet energetic 120 bpm, this is a track made for dancing—easily sustainable for all 3 minutes and 54 seconds, even with a cocktail in your hand.
Alternating between Korean and English, Gou’s vocals are cool and slightly husky, like a beam of light through bluish smoke above the dancefloor.
By way of a chorus, Gou throws out single words (ocean! stars! moment!) whose pared-down drama makes you want to strike a pose with each one. For two climactic seconds, the explosive now…us? hovers, all backing stripped away.
In all, Starry Night is a gleaming house tune with an infectiously danceable beat and a tinge of the cosmic. Its sassy bassline groove, light-footed piano, and chugging wobbles give a hi-gloss 80s feel, while the tightly coiled power of the vocals electrify the track with starlit, summer-night mystery.
track #03 : HAAi – bon viveur
If HAAi’s gentler tracks are the sensual outer layer of her diverse musical output, Bon Viveur might be its mechanical heart—and this trip to the engine room is loud, clanking, oily, and exhilarating. A jagged slice of techno from HAAi (Teneil Throssell), this production is both fragmented and light on its feet, reflecting the elastic aspect of the artist and DJ’s journey in music so far.
The third of four tracks on the Put Your Head Above the Parakeets EP (released in 2020 on Mute), Bon Viveur is a fractured trip through hardcore EDM and techno, matching the dark tones of the final track, Bass Is the Place. Double-edged, swinging, and diverse, Bon Viveur is a whirlwind journey that leaves you catching your breath. Eclectic without losing integrity, it is proof of HAAi’s versatility as an artist, which allows her to juggle pithy techno and breakbeat (Keep Moving remix; Bass is the Place; I Never Cared Too Much for Jungle) as skilfully as she melds pastel-hued ambience and hazy melodies (Head Above the Parakeets; Feels). The energetic somersaults of Bon Viveur are characteristic of the whole EP—whose A and B sides are like a flip from day to night—as well as of HAAi’s career in music, which has metamorphosed through psychedelic rock, grunge, and guitar bands in her native Australia to land her halfway across the world as an accomplished techno DJ and producer in London: a testament to her persistence and courage.
Bon Viveur launches straight in with choppy broken beats and brash, glossy chords, overlaid with a time-lagged vocal loop. The first minute lulls listeners into a loping rhythm, which soon plummets down a level into a deep, rolling bass. In a landscape crawling with strange machine sounds and hyperactive glitches, it’s time to expect the unexpected. Sure enough, as high-pitched vocal samples converge in an uncanny whine, a breath-drawing pause is followed up with a barrage of bass. Leaning into a pounding techno beat, the track gathers momentum with frantic arpeggios backed by a single heavy drone, while the “relax” vocal loop intones its psychedelic paradox. Sounds spin out and disintegrate momentarily before the breathless techno resumes. Finally, skittish breakbeats and glancing synths make a final appearance with a wink to the opening sequence.
This is a trippy and hyperactive track best suited to the spaced-out early hours—though, with frequent breaks usually heralding an ever-more pulverizing segment, it’s one to approach with a sink-or-swim mentality. It also makes for a rich deep-listening experience; otherwise, a great soundtrack for a car chase, or running music if you like to imagine you’re being chased by a cyborg.
Track #04 : HAAi – head above the parakeets
Head Above the Parakeets is like a strange, soothing dream; a blissful seven minutes of rolling textures that is tinged with melancholy. One of four tracks on HAAi’s 2020 EP Put Your Head Above the Parakeets, it sits alongside Rotating in Unison on the record’s more diurnal first half, while the second half is home to the darker, grimier Bass is the Place and Bon Viveur.
This warm, wistful, playful track opens with a gentle, faintly echoing bip-bip—something like a heart monitor—matched with a resting heartbeat of muted kicks. A soft, scribbly drone repeats a three-note sequence throughout, cut with a zinging croak like a loose metal spring.
One by one, intriguing sounds come to join this gentle, days’-end choir: a motley collection of distorted drums; taps and crackles that waft in like metallic insect wings (but so softly, you feel sure these bionic insects are friendly); and a time-stretched vocal that feels both cosmic and urgent, though too dreamily misshapen for its words to be made out.
Scattering cymbals and snares maintain a silvery shower of broken beats. A consistently rich and interesting texture comes courtesy of other chopped and twisted sounds, calling to mind a machine gently twirling and falling apart, losing its pieces in arabesques, slowing like a failing engine. Hazy pads fill the space with glowing colours, while percussive glitches ricochet from left to right. As the sequence winds down, elements are shed one by one until the final, sun-dipping fade-out.
Parakeets is the kind of track that lets you step inside, soak in the otherworldly scenery, and step back out into reality at the end. And if you look over your shoulder, you might just glimpse the last robot of all time, half-buried in the beach sand, repeating its serene and futile message from another galaxy as the machines spin to gentle stop.
track #05 : HÆLOS – full circle
London four-piece HÆLOS have slowly and carefully built a following, an aesthetic, and an imagery all of their own. Launching in 2014 with their first single, Dust, the band (originally Lotti Benardout, Dom Goldsmith, and Arthur Delaney, before Daniel Vildósola joined in 2019) had already honed a sound that aligned with—and helped to shape—the 2010s feel for clean vocals, dreaming melancholy, and majestic echoes. They describe their sound as “dark euphoria,” and there is certainly something of the depth of inner darkness about their work, though it is always lit with sharp lines and a gleaming edge.
HÆLOS released their first LP, also titled Full Circle, in 2016. The single of the same name is a persistent, haunting track. It rolls in gently like a train approaching out of the dark, disjointed samples and strange snatches of conversation punctuated by echoing percussion. Organ sounds lend solemnity and a deep kick drum thuds epically in your ribs. A glittering snare shudders over a blobby and wavering synth, conjuring a labyrinth of confusing, consuming thought cycles.
All three band members carry the vocals, and the balance is as smooth as brushed steel. This is a song steeped in the dull horror of the realization that “we’ve come full circle” and the sense of the dead-end, the closed loop, the mirror-hall. Lyrics such as “If my heart’s sinking / Then we’ll walk this wasteland again” are unequivocally desolate, while the repeated call-and-response “These colours in my head / You” offers no respite from the cyclic claustrophobia. Curiously, though the words are carved from profound introspection, the three voices in unison give a choir-like impression of universality, as if this deep loneliness and struggle were shared and intrinsically human.
In his interview with Sabine Spethling (on the excellent Techno & Travel podcast from Tunes & Wings), Dom Goldsmith has spoken about the “colours and textures” that are conscious points of reference for HÆLOS in constructing their tracks. Full Circle certainly comes across—viscerally, architecturally, visually—as a well-thought-out balance of elements: the boom of the kick builds a solid framework over which the vocals and synth draw out lines and waves of bright colour, overlaid with snares and cymbals like silvery dots and dashes.
An intensely evocative piece, Full Circle turns its steady rotation, drawing the listener into a troubled yet compelling headspace that persists, hits a wall, persists, and repeats. But for all the bleak yearning and loneliness of this track, it nonetheless broaches the void and fills it with dazzling beams of light for a few minutes. The mood of the whole album may be one of desolation, but it’s a desolation in which we’re not totally alone.
Full Circle closes like tail-lights pulling away into the night. And perhaps this was not a train after all, but a Ferris wheel, revolving alone in the darkness, glittering with strange colours and throwing shadow-shapes. The track turns a corner and is gone, leaving you to stand in the wind and wonder.
track #06: liam mour – nineteen ninety
Liam Mour is a Berlin-based DJ and producer whose latest EP, Dreaming of a Better Place, was released in early 2021 on his own label, Ode to Youth. Mour has been playing piano, experimenting as a multi-instrumentalist, and recording and mixing sounds since a young age, and the varied palette of instruments and textures he uses in his electronic music reflects diverse inspirations. Nineteen Ninety, released as a single in 2020, is the EP’s second track.
Named after Mour’s year of birth (which also happens to be mine), Nineteen Ninety is a searingly beautiful dance track that whirls with prismatic tones. Its jumpy energy is immediate. Early constellations of notes are ribbed with scatty drum taps, and while the rhythm is porous and breezy, the brisk kick that joins in is built for the dancefloor’s bounce and footfall. Melodic, bubbled plucks and pops progressively build, superimposed like Spirograph—the harp note, in particular, glistens—structured and tumbled as a peal of church bells. When the vocal loop arrives, it is sweet and fresh, androgynous and wordless, lilting around a crush of soft cymbal.
The hush of the bridge is almost total. It’s a powerful use of negative space: next-to-nothingness, waiting to be filled, a ghost of the vocal met with a koto-like string.
And then… it’s one of the most life-affirming drops I’ve ever heard. The track’s final phase falls into spinning and effortless orbit. The light comes pouring through and it’s a kaleidoscope, turning, changing, full of sunlight through rich dark tones. There’s nothing ethereal or delicate about these fragments. Here you are—riven, laced, anchored, corded—and all around, the wild sparks are flickering and weaving. For me, this is what sets this track apart, what lifts it above the ocean of melodic instrumentals cut for the dancefloor: sounds so bright and clean, so intricate, still bold enough to pace and kick and slam with a dancing rhythm. It scatters its galaxy of jewel colours up and outwards, refracting plucked notes into chips of bright light. At the same time, its rhythm reaches right into your chest, finds heartache, becomes your pulse, shakes up a chromatic whirlwind.
track #07: E.M.M.A. – into indigo
Distant thunder sets the tone for this dark, lush, contemplative number. Grandly ominous opening notes call up black turrets, and you can feel the rain down your neck as the track blooms into descending arpeggios – layered and repeating, they bleed into each other like ink. And when the dreaminess reaches its peak, a cloudy drum machine steps in, punching and stuttering, its glossy 80s thump adding some glitter to the storm. Here, Into Indigo stops mooning and starts stomping; breaks its reflection to rail and bawl. But it can’t help drifting back to the blur, slipping in and out of focus. Synths tumble over each other, disintegrate, and are gone – leaving a beautiful, stalling tape-machine whir, like it was all a dream. You feel the eeriness of dead tape, the fuzzy grey screen left glowing.
Into Indigo’s name is just right. It’s a blossoming bruise, a moody sky, the cosmos in puddles on the night street. It drips with a sweet, sparkling sadness, getting right to the heart of a feeling that lyrics wouldn’t be able to catch.
Of all the gloopy, twinkling electronic music I love (and there’s a lot), Into Indigo stands apart for its dark gothic towers and its glowering face; its sense of near and far; its pacing energy and the spark in its belly. The Indigo Dreams album is a compelling piece of art, and this track is the perfect introduction.
E.M.M.A. (Emma Davies) is a London-based electronic music producer and a composer for visual arts. She has collaborated on audiovisual projects and produced music for fashion campaigns and film scores, as well as founding the organization Producergirls, which provides training and support for women making electronic music. She has also run several workshops and events as part of this project.
Into Indigo is the opening track on her 2020 album Indigo Dream, described as “nine inter-connected tracks, which play out like an imagined film score inspired by emotion in nature.” Find out more about E.M.M.A. and her work on her website, pastelprism.com.