In recent interviews, both Jam City and Bok Bok have moved the conversation surrounding Night Slugs away from “neon synths” and genre collisions and towards more abstract ideas of architecture and space. The label’s recent releases certainly reflect this development. The Club Constructions series is devoted to stripped-down building blocks for DJ sets, while the artwork and title track of Girl Unit’s latest, Club Rez, point towards an ideal sound and listening space — the artist’s influences processed and tamed into a soundtrack for 2001‘s hotel room. The label’s roster utilizes traditional signifiers of futurism — this is electronic music, after all – but, so far, they have avoided crafting retro recreations.
In the age of Retromania, this is a remarkable achievement, and Jam City’s Classical Curves is the label’s best release to date. In his Dummy Mag conversation with visual collaborator Ms. Muzik Channel, both Jam City and Ms. Muzik stated the importance of separating “influence and emulation” from nostalgia. I think this is another twist on the architecture theme: in order to prevent their hybrid club sounds from stagnating, it’s necessary to create a new context, a new space in which these familiar sounds and tropes still sound like the future. With Classical Curves, Jam City’s influences are clear as day (he’s even created a mix entitled “Classical Genesis” to accompany the release), but, as he says in the Dummy piece, they all sound a bit “off,” or, as I’d put it, shifted out of context.
This is such a refreshing idea, and Jam City completely nails it. To make the abstract a bit more concrete, listen to “How We Relate to the Body.” The repeated synth stab is straight up Rick James, but it’s mostly left out to dry, almost like an eski beat. Repeated listens reveal layers of sound, but the odd, insistent synth is the obvious bit that registers. It’s just “off,” yet raw and funky as hell. Or, take “Strawberries,” which sounds like Jam City trying to create 30 percent of a Prince track — another building block. The track remarkably congeals into something approaching beauty by the end, but it never really erases the distance between the synth and the drum track. And what to make of the jaw-dropping “Her”? Sensual, industrial vogue is the best description I can muster. The commands and camera flashes have been shifted — in this case, onto a staggeringly brutal Night Slugs beat.
By the time “Love is Real” closes the album, we’ve arrived back in the timeless, peaceful 2001 hotel room. Discordant, mechanical sounds have become, if not familiar, then at least relatable; the sparse and the raw take on new meaning as parts of a holistic vision. Above all, Classical Curves is an album, not just a collection of singles and ambient interludes, with an aesthetic so rich that it could be twice as long and just as rewarding. I doubt I’ll hear anything better this year.