As the curtains slowly close on 2014, I spend copious amounts of time doing what all music nerds love: looking back, crafting lists (upon lists, upon lists) and attempting to form some kind of cohesive overview of the year that was. Specifically, I have trawled through my (unnaturally enormous) list of loved records of the year and attempted to decipher trends in my listening and in the state of modern music. Obviously, stacks of new genres, styles, artists and trends emerge every year and so, even for a guy like me, keeping up with everything is virtually impossible (although I’ll be damned if I didn’t try). Therefore this overview pertains to some of my personal favourite trends of the year and is likely lacking in other defining elements of 2014 music.
PC Music and Bubblegum Bass
Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first, shall we? Straddling high-octane pop, experimental collage and four-to-the-floor dance with effortless zeal, bubblegum bass was certainly the most fascinating new trend (genre? scene?) to emerge from music in 2014.
The notoriously divisive label managed to quickly spark a legitimate fan base using a highly innovative marketing campaign which basically saw unknown artists like GFOTY, Lipgloss Twins and Hannah Diamond staged and treated like pop stars in the same league as Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift. Combining this glossy visual aesthetic with the delightfully infectious and addictive sounds of sparkling keys, silly string MIDI, pitch-shifted vocals, kawaii, 160 bpm dance and sound-collage, PC Music and bubblegum bass attempted to provide joy, laughter and good times to virtually everybody.
But of course, there were just as many haters as there were lovers. Many couldn’t fathom the prickly production of “Hard” (“it sounds like needles spiking my ears”), the demented vocal delivery of Hannah Diamond or the inconsistent and shameless bouncing from genre to genre, somewhat resembling an 8-year-old on too much red cordial. Others dismissed the genre as divisive and insincere, with most questioning the intentions and purpose of the genre (“nobody canenjoy this kind of music”) with some even accusing the genre of harmfully attacking pop music and some of its ideals (capitalism, misogyny, fakeness, etc.)
However, in my mind at least, A.G. Cook and Sophie are about as sincere as it gets and it seems that members of this collective share equal respect for sugary pop and music that exists on the strange and seedy edges of popular culture. And I’m certainly not alone, considering a large portion of the genre’s music features prominently in many publications end-of-year lists (specifically this, this andthis). My own “best songs of 2014” list is currently topped by Sophie’s incredibly addictive “Hard” (I swear, I’ve listened to this song a thousand times) and would also contain lots of GFOTY, Lipgloss Twins’ fucked up consumerist-collage “Wannabe”, some Hannah Diamond, “Hey QT” (yeah?) and the other three Sophie songs.
So while we excitedly wait to see what kind of demented charades the genre will produce in 2015 (I await a full length release from one of the artists, however, I fear anything more than 30 minutes of bubblegum bass would likely cause serious mental harm), we can safely look back on 2014 as the year bubblegum bass broke-through (the internet, brains, pop music etc.).
Instrumental Trap/Cloud Rap
I’ve juggled and attempted to find a better term to describe this kind of music but will have to settle for what’s written above. Over the last two years, a steady stream of instrumental hip hop has emerged on Bandcamp and Soundcloud to great acclaim from publications andwebsites championing outsider music.
Following the early 2010s success of trap and cloud rap in the hip hop circuit (which seemingly continued taking stride this year, more on this later), a plethora of artists took influence from the heavy bass, speedy cymbals and dreamy soundscapes of Lil B, Clams Casino, Mike Will Made It and others to craft a delightful collection of instrumental jams combining equal respect for hip hop and dream pop.
The shimmery sheen of bine☃ and Suicideyear’s wonderful 2014 releases incorporate this kind of aesthetic perfectly, sounding like beat music made while floating through the heavens in a Maserati (for the best example of this sound, check out Suicideyear’s wonderful cover of My Bloody Valentine’s “When You Sleep”). Similarly, oddball releases by artists like l s d x o x o, Bladee, M-O-R-S-E and others incorporate the dreamy aesthetic into their own sound, sometimes taking it to the dancefloor or separating instrumentals with proper rap tracks and party bangers.
But for me personally, the best 2014 release from this micro-micro-genre is undoubtedly James Ferraro’s wonderful Suki Girlz mixtape.Suki Girlz delicately fuses elements of trap and cloud rap and filters it through Ferraro’s own personality and interest in post-Internet music. The minimalism of Suki Girlz is its biggest draw card, with Ferraro looping his ambient and atmospheric micro-beats into the abyss. Influenced by 3am night walks through New York, Suki Girlz is a lengthy and introspective beast, further affirming Ferraro as one of the most fascinating chameleons of modern music.
I fucking love this term. “Sampledelica” is an umbrella term I use (though few others, it seems) to net a wide range of music that fuses disparate samples to craft something new, psychedelic and wonderful. Collage (as we know it today) artists fusing found sounds have been around for ages and the genre was (somewhat) popularised in 1968 by The Beatles’ classic “Revolution 9”. Next, the genre detoured via krautrock, Negativland, and eventually hip hop, finally evolving into the fascinating beast we know sample-based music to be today.
Over the last couple of years, the genre has really taken on a variety of forms, most notably those that have stemmed from the creations of Daniel Lopatin and James Ferraro at the start of this decade. Vaporwave, a genre that supposedly came and went, has had one hell of a 2014, with the “dead” scene producing one of its (and the year’s) finest releases in the form of Nmesh’s Dream Sequins®. I spoke with fervour earlier this year about this release and the abundant stamina seemingly still powering the genre and its followers. Though some publications, writers and critics are still staying well away from vaporwave, Nmesh has certainly encouraged further interaction and discussion within the genre, reinforcing its merit with this high quality release (“it transcends the genre”). Transcendence is basically what vaporwave needed to kick it in the pants and maintain interest from those outside of the community, with artists like Infinity Frequencies, Gobby, Magic Fades, Delroy Edwards, E+E and Eco Virtual each releasing multiple (!!) albums in 2014 that took establishing vaporwave tropes and combined them something different and intriguing gathered from outside sources.
Sampledelia was heard elsewhere in 2014, on other releases undoubtedly stemming from the Lopatin tree. Brooklyn label Bootleg Tapes produced an astonishing amount of fantastic albums, each operating under the sound collage/instrumental hip hop/vaporwave/glitch bent. C L E A N E R S’ Real Raga Shit Vol. 1 was undoubtedly the highlight from the top-quality label; an album comprised of two 20-minute tracks fusing samples spanning the globe and seemingly the entire history of recorded sound. Real Raga Shit Vol. 1 takes the listener to Asia, India, electro 80s, Casablanca, space, 50s soul, 60s girl groups, bluegrass and to countless other locales and times, resulting in an mixing pot of sounds amassed into 40-minutes of unrequited joy.
Elsewhere, the sampledelic sub-genre glitch had another brilliant year, with a steady flow of releases from the ever-prolific D/P/I (two full-length albums, two mixtapes, a side-project and probably others) and everything produced by the oddball label psalmus diuersaetopping a long-list of fascinating releases within the genre. Like the collagists of Bootleg Tapes (D/P/I actually released one of his mixtapes on the label at the start of the year), these artists fuse sounds from everywhere and anywhere, filtering them through a blender and releasing them as a full-assault of randomised chaos on the ears. It’s too much for some, but there is something fascinating in the genres fixation with shortened attention spans, globalisation and the question of what-is-music.
All Hip Hop From the South
Again I am going to attempt to blanket an array of genres into one place to enable easy reading and to try and avoid this article getting any further out of hand.
In my opinion, and I highly doubt I am alone on this, Southern hip hop has slowly been developing some of the most exciting and influential music the genre has heard during the new millennium. If I look at my Top 5 hip hop releases from 2014, the top three are from southern rappers (Future’s Honest, Run the Jewels’ Run the Jewels 2 and Isaiah Rashad’s Cilvia Demo). There’s also a smattering of others spilling through the rest of my list, including plenty I still need to dedicate more time to.
Trap is obviously the biggest, most influential and most talked-about subgenre of hip hop in 2014 and is an inherently southern creation. Though the genre has been floating around since the 1990s, trap has had something of a modern reboot and restyle, with modern acts like Gucci Mane, Future and Migos each redefining the genre for modern audiences. The triplet rap style established by these artists over the last year or so has slowly spilled out into every echelon of rap music and has become one of the most influential movements in the genre of the last couple of years. In poetry, it is called a dactyl, referring to a long syllable followed by two short syllables. If all of that is too confusing, try saying “contraband, contraband, contraband” to get an idea of what this recently developed flow sounds like.
Commonly spat by trap rappers, the “dactyl flow” has found its way into non-trap acts from all across the country. But if we are being serious, one of the best recent examples of these triplets can be found throughout the Run the Jewels track “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)”. Zach de la Rocha’s vocal loop that the song is built on (“run them, run, run, them”) is loosely based on that triplet, but it is Killer Mike’s ridiculous fourth verse that showcases the possibilities created by this new flow when placed in the hands of a really fucking good rapper (no offence to Quavo). (Also, Kiler Mike delivers another ridiculous set of triplets here).
But its not just trap that dominated the sounds of southern rap in 2014. Isaiah Rashad’s deliriously wonderful Cilvia Demo mixtape/EP channels cloud rap of the druggiest and wooziest kind; the Top Dawg Entertainment protégé promising to be one to watch in 2015 as he prepares his first proper album. Of course, it is also hard to deny the influence or importance of newcomer iLoveMakonnen, who’s infectious track “Tuesday” garnered the attention of Drake and went on to become one of the biggest singles of the year. Likewise, Atlanta rap clique Awful Records have had one hell of a 2014, producing an unnaturally large amount of high quality records and not looking to stop dominating the indie scene any time soon. Travelling even further underground, Houston-born Amber London has been combining southern styles with G-Funk to craft a handful of mixtapes (including 2014’s spectacular Hard II Find (Not Found)) showcasing the talent lurking throughout the unsigned corners of southern rap.
P.S. There are countless others, far too many to mention. But 2014 has produced an abundance of spectacular releases, guest verses and mixtapes from other southern rappers not mentioned above, including: CunningLynguists, 2Chainz, CyHi the Prince, Kitty, Travi$ Scott, T.I., SpaceGhostPurrrp, etc.
Outsider house music, literally meaning little more than “house music made by/for outsiders”, undoubtedly would have lurked in the corners of dance culture since at least the late 80s/early 90s. If we look at the genre according to Rate Your Music (my go-to guide for emerging genres), “Outsider House” has really only been around for the last year or two. But if we were to get real for a second, this kind of music could relate to any range of a plethora of defining dance artists; anyone even remotely akin to Aphex Twin, Jon Hopkins, The Orb, etc.
Semantics aside, Outsider House does, at least partially in my mind, refer to a relatively recent group of musicians and DJs taking influence from acid house and dance music, filtering it through cassette to give their beats and tracks a kind of woozy, hypnagogic bent.
All fingers point to Canadian label 1080p as the leading figures behind the popularity of this type of music; their collection of tapes from 2014 being among the smoothest dance music heard all year, steeped in nostalgia and deliciously home grown. The cassette gives the recordings a bedroom feel, resulting in the songs being acceptable not just for the dance floor, but the after party, the come down and the morning after. The soft, dreamy and psychedelic imagery accompanying these releases resonates with the music perfectly.
D. Tiffany and Riohv released two of the strongest house records of the year for 1080p. Both artists fuse the fuzzy cassette aesthetic with hypnotic four-to-the-floor rhythm, resulting in what 1080p label founder Richard MacFarlane perfectly described to Fader as some sort of “club and anti-club dichotomy.”
Bubbling closer to the surface of popular music, Actress’ spectacularGhettoville incorporates the grungy, DIY outsider house aesthetic and thrusts it into the mainstream via his major label affiliation. Combining an interest in microsound, ambience, vaporwave and above all, house music, Actress currently stands – in my mind at least – as a figurehead of the genre, a kind of beacon of immense success many of these artists are seemingly striding toward.
Elsewhere, other house artists have incorporate different styles and genres into the lo-fi outsider house aesthetic: trance (RSS B0YS), pop and disco (Bobo Eyes), New Age (A.r.t. Wilson), devotional (nima), neo-classical (Francis Harris) and lots and lots of drugs (Gobby).