Kirsten Johnstone takes a listen to a trio of recent local electronic EP releases: Lunch With Bianca by Sachi; Switchblade by October; and 5/8 by Suren Unka and Levi Patel
If you’ve been to rock gigs lately and wondered where the younger audience is, I can tell you. Clubs and underground raves have cycled back around again, and they’re out dancing.
Cheaper and more intuitive technology has levelled the playing field for local production. It used to be that, without major label backing and a big budget studio engineer, NZ pop songs didn’t sit so comfortably beside international artists. But that’s not an issue now. Sure, there still needs to be talent and songwriting nous behind the machines, and it takes a huge amount of dedication to get to this level. But there’s no reason why any of these artists couldn’t stand back to back with stadium filling EDM artist Flume.
Lunch With Bianca by Sachi
Future-bass duo Sachi are Childhood friends from Auckland Will Thomas and Nick Chrisp. They’ve been playing music together since they were six, though apparently back then it was more punk than electro.
They’re now 18, and hold big ambitions. They mentioned in our ‘Introducing’ podcast a couple of months ago they’d like to win Grammy’s, and if they’re this polished this early in their careers, I don’t doubt that they will. They have a million and a half spotify streams of their debut EP Lunch With Bianca, which was released last month, they’re attaching themselves to international rising talent, and getting played by Zane Lowe and Diplo - who they stalked in order to get a USB stick of their music to. He played it on his BBC radio show six months later.
Drawing from 80s and 90s house music, current EDM, trap and hip-hop, their production is shiny, day-glo and upbeat. It’s addictive stuff, best consumed in moderation. They’ve built this EP around the idea of getting to know a fictional character called Bianca, and it’s a clever, human song cycle, with all the highs and lows of falling in love.
Vocalists like Los Angeles-based rapper Duckwrth, and locals INF and Zoe provide variety and interest. In a post-Lorde New Zealand, there’s the sense that anything is possible, you just need to want it bad enough.
Switchblade by October
October’s ‘Switchblade’ knocked me out first time I heard it, in the same way that Lorde did back in 2012.
She is 19 year old producer Emma Kate Logan. She comes from a well balanced musical household - mum is a classical music teacher, dad’s into classic 70s rock, and she’s obviously had a steady diet of pop and electronica on top. She’s Blenheim born, but says she was ‘raised by the internet.’
Like Lorde, she’s got smart lyrics, with a hip-hop braggadocio in places, barbed hooks, and a strong, singular voice.
But while Lorde is relying on other producers to supply her music, October does all her own production. She’s described herself as a control freak, and I think taking on all aspects of her music works to her advantage.
It’s dark, angsty and tension filled, and sometimes I want her to just let it go and smash something.
The EP’s five tracks aren’t all radio-ready and polished in the way Sachi’s are, and a couple of the songs could be stronger. But it’s an impressive introduction to a production voice I look forward to hearing more of.
5/8 by Suren Unka and Levi Patel
When you’re ready for the comedown try the collaborative EP by young Auckland based musicians Suren Unka and Levi Patel.
It’s called ⅝ - a reference to the percentage of Indian heritage they have between them. Each have a few releases already - Unka’s El Chupacabra was one of the local highlights of dance music in 2014 for me. It was a confident debut, with its clean synth sounds, dancefloor-ready beats, and pretty melodic progressions.
Levi Patel comes from more of an ambient, classical, film music background. Think Nils Frahm, or Ólafur Arnalds, or locally Rhian Sheehan. The 24 year old is already getting work for film, TV, ads and promotional videos internationally.
Here Patel takes the piano and string lines,and the percussion driven Unka brings the beats, bass and synth textures. It’s a cohesive effort, with the sound palate consistent throughout the EP.
I’m reminded of Burial and James Blake at times with its spaciousness, ghostly vocal samples, subtle field recordings, and frosty mood.
This four-track EP isn’t groundbreaking but it’s well constructed, cinematic, moving - and makes me want to move.
New research suggests your brain is more receptive to new information with a certain type of music in your ears - I’d say this is exactly the one to go for if you need something to fire up those neurons, think clearly and zone in on what you’re doing. Or zone out completely.