G-Dragon – ‘Heartbreaker’ and EXO-M – ‘Wolf’ | Holiday Review Series: Post 19

EXO, CL (2NE1), Diplo, G-Dragon (Big Bang), Skrillex

Here’s a post to officially introduce a new category added to this blog, because I now find existence of electronic K-Pop undeniable and essential to acknowledge. Better late than never, aye? However, only the ones that are explicitly electronic are going to be featured on this blog. Hence why I added the word ‘electronic’ in front of the word ‘K-Pop’.

‘Heartbreaker’ was the first electronic K-Pop track that got my attention back in 2009. I was pleasantly surprised by how well produced it was. The layers seem to build then pop with every beat, creating a pulsing sway that’s just as snap-worthy as the literal snaps in the piece. I recently found the English translation of the lyrics, and I was even more surprised. Such a devilishly haunting and hypnotic melody was accompanied by bitterly sad lyrics of resentment. In fact, I was so surprised, that I wanted to re-evaluate my thoughts on the track. Yet, I still decided to write a good remark: I consider it very innovative to combine the different emotions that both track and lyric create, because it accurately represents the complex emotions involved in the word ‘heartbreak’. After that, G-Dragon collaborated with Diplo and Baauer for ‘Coup D’Etat‘. Then, he and another K-Pop star CL from 2NE1 went to work with Skrillex and Diplo for ‘Dirty Vibe‘. All that just proves, once again, that electronic K-Pop should be considered part of E/DM.

Now, allow me to introduce you to EXO, who had two wins and one nomination at the MTV Europe Music Awards in 2013. EXO includes EXO-K and EXO-M, the difference being EXO-K focuses on promotion in Korea and EXO-M focuses on promotion in Mandarin/Chinese-speaking locations. EXO-M even have members from China, and do covers of originally Korean songs in Mandarin Chinese. Evidently, in both music production and promotion, the Korean entertainment industry fully harnessed and expanded their influence in the Asian music markets by creating relevant content for both Korean and Chinese fans.

When I first the Chinese version of their song ‘Wolf’, I found it quite funny and odd. After all, it’s a bit odd to hear them saying: “I’m a wolf, a wolf, a-woo~”. Also, they sang their lyrics in a fairly monotonous fashion, eliminating many crucial tones required for comprehension. Along with the foreign accents of the Korean members in EXO-M, some of the lyrics became quite difficult to understand unless one decides to look up the lyrics on a search engine. I guess that’s one of the many problems with singing in Mandarin. Consider this: No matter how people sing in English, the pronunciation is still there for people to understand. Unlike English, in most cases, the tones in Mandarin have to be spoken properly for the listener to understand what was spoken. For the sake of comprehensibility, I would rather hear EXO-M rap this without following the original, monotonous melody. On the other hand, removing all that monotonous chanting takes away the hypnotising element of mystery.

In terms of production, I’ve got nothing negative to say. This song crawled its way into my head like an ear worm because of its descending notes, Dubstep influences, and a tiny bit of Trance kicks in the breakdown. In fact, I have to give kudos to the Korean industry for incorporating electronic music into pop correctly and innovatively. I’ve heard too many American and Chinese producers incorporate Dubstep in very lazy ways, thinking that ear-piercing wobbles automatically makes a track relevant in popular culture, with no consideration on harmonious balance. The wobbles in this track are quite clean, and do not dominate the layers of sound unpleasantly at all. That’s why it’s brilliant.

If you have any electronic K-pop tracks that you would like me to review, feel free to submit your suggestions through the contact form.

Ali.i.an – Firelight | Holiday Review Series: Post 18

Ali.i.an - Firelight

I’m constantly looking for cool electro house tunes, so you can imagine my joy when I came across this pleasant surprise in my promo inbox. The naturalistic title completely matches the theme of the track. In fact, my favourite part, where the drumstick rolls get infused with trumpeting melodies, perfectly resembles a crackling bonfire. I could totally imagine a bounce pit trampoline being formed on the dance floor when I heard it. The other part I really love is how the bass line changes its intensity with different effects. Also, the overall composition of this piece really helped to build up to that pinnacle. Progressive and Electro House are combined seamlessly to create both light-hearted joy and ground-breaking explosiveness. What an awesome combination.

Mad Dog Review | Holiday Review Series: Post 17

DJ Mad Dog

Mad Dog is one of my favourite Hardcore artists. In this post, I’m going to tell you how my admiration for this artist was ignited.

As a person who hasn’t listened to Hardcore for long, I first heard of Mad Dog’s name from the ‘This Is Hardcore’ album released by Neophyte Records. The track ‘Agony’ starts off with accursed death chants, then explodes with a scream and a high siren-like sound. The arrangements in this piece perfectly represents how suppressed hate can build up and be released into violent anger. My favourite part is the incorporation of that old-school horror organ, melodic style, and excruciating scream in the background. In the breakdown, the notes have some sort of click to them, which greatly complements the claps that get added in. Even the bass varies as the track builds up.

The next track that I fell in love with was ‘The Flow’. I heard the Advanced Dealers remix of the track first when it was announced as part of Mad Dog’s album ‘Rudeness: Hardcore Beyond Rules’, before I looked up the original. The Advanced Dealers remix features an electric guitar solo, and I always love it when electronic music producers incorporate rock. It’s has a higher tempo than that of the original, and I usually find Hardcore songs at that tempo very addictive. Of course, I enjoyed the instrumental component of the original mix equally. The suspenseful break down features violins, light and muffled piano notes, as well as ringing bells. This effectively build up haunting suspense until the ultimate build up and chorus release. Honestly, the original mix and remix of ‘The Flow’ are tracks that allow others to hear how Hardcore can contrast the beautiful and the dark to trigger highly emotional responses and be extremely memorable.

The track that prompted me to write this Mad Dog review post, was yet another release from a second ‘This is Hardcore’ album with the ‘Rebellious’ sub-title or theme. Mad Dog’s second contribution to the album was titled ‘Rewind’.

The most surprising element was Mad Dog’s modification of what I think is a baby’s wailing cry. After all, the sound of a crying baby is often heart-wrenching because it comes from a pure and innocent soul, calling for help and unable to express it in any other way. When modified electronically in such a manner, it seems to become a cry of a suppressed beast. Isolated from the world, unaccepted and helpless. Finally, there’s another adorably cheeky element in the ending. All of a sudden, Mad Dog decided to add a funky tune with the rap lyrics: “And if you don’t like it, I really don’t give a damn”. It definitely fits well with the theme for the album since it hijacks the genre with a random insert.

Mad Dog. I suppose even the name fits his production style too. He may be mad, but he was born as man’s best friend. I look forward to hear more brilliant tunes from this creative Hardcore producer!

Update (1/7/2014): Mad Dog’s ‘Rewind’ was played as part of the Defqon.1 Netherlands 2014 End Show

Massai One – Wildling and Supersphere | Holiday Review Series: Post 16

Massai One - Wildling and Supersphere

Do not be deceived by the odd titles, for these releases are hardly wild or forceful. In fact, they are beautifully graceful.

The chord progressions for ‘Wildling’ are highly enchanting and unforgettable. It includes piano notes in the background, creating a plethora of pure droplets that will wash all kinds of despair away. However, there were some parts where the vocals were given solo moments intermittently. This was done far too frequently with dramatic differences in levels. As a result, the flow of the track gets disrupted in the middle segment of the entire track. Nonetheless, the melody for this piece is simply amazing.

The original mix for ‘Supersphere’ has quite an interesting chorus. The chords are hit repeatedly at levels that are closely equal. Yet, usually, other producers like to create a pulsing effect by twisting volume and compression, which is why this track gains originality points. Unfortunately, due to the lack of variations, the individual layers of this track sound less appealing when they are not all meshed together in harmonious unity, and require listeners to wait far too long for the best part as the layers get added on.

Massai One’s EP has been released through Macarize Records on 16/6/2014 and is now available on Beatport.

Afrojack feat. Wrabel – Ten Feet Tall (Brennan Heart and Code Black Remix) | Holiday Review Series: Post 15

Afrojack feat. Wrabel - Ten Feet Tall (Brennan Heart and Code Black Remix)

I don’t know if I should give this a 2 out of 5, or 3 out of 5. In fact, I’m struggling so much here, it feels like I’m doing splits. On one hand, Brennan Heart and Code Black are among the most respected Hardstyle artists out there. But, on the other hand, this remix wasn’t Hardstyle from start to finish.

Personally, I think it would have sounded pretty good if it had a Hardstyle tempo and style from start to finish. Code Black’s trademark notes and Brennan Heart’s melodic powers can definitely be heard, but Hard Bass Junkies might feel like the tempo gets dragged out for too long and too often at some parts. As a person who has listened to a lot of Hardstyle for a long time, I was bothered by how the transition between tempos were not smooth enough. I’ve heard other remixes that managed the tempo changes more smoothly.

On the other hand, I don’t know how this track would sound like to a person who listens to Hardstyle less often, or a person who has never heard of Hardstyle before. Sure, if Brennan Heart or Code Black played the track from start to finish at a multi-genre festival like Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC), the crowd might not mind. However, if they played this track from start to finish at a festival like Defqon.1, I think the crowd reaction might simmer down. Why? Because festivals like Defqon.1 are more well known for being predominantly Hardstyle than anything else. It really depends on where this track will be played, and at what point the cue is for a set. For instance, if the Hardstyle DJs skip huge portions of segments that play the original mix at the original tempo, it might still be able to work well in a predominantly Hardstyle set.

I might be wrong though, since genres are crossing over a lot these days. Maybe, a lot of people who go to Hardstyle festivals like a lot of Electro or Progressive House and Trance. Maybe, a lot of people who go to Electro or Progressive House and Trance festivals like Hardstyle. Or, maybe, on one side, there’s a case of unrequited love. Either way, it’s part of the effort to introduce Hardstyle to a wider audience. Consider these questions: Do you think Brennan Heart and Code Black will succeed with this track? Or have they succeeded with this track? Should Hardstyle DJs consider the Hardstyle side of things when introducing this genre to an audience that has hardly heard of it before? Should they just focus on the perceptions of audiences outside of the Hardstyle scene? Or should they strike a balance? Is it possible to strike the perfect balance? So many questions remain unanswered, since experiments are still in its early stages.

Let me know if you heard this live at either a multi-genre festival like EDC, or a predominantly Hardstyle festival like Defqon.1. Let me know what happens to the crowd when Hardstyle DJs play this. Or, actually, let me know what happens to the crowd when DJs like Afrojack play this too. I’d be interested to know.

The remixes for Afrojack’s ‘Ten Feet Tall’ have been released through Universal Music.

Matisse and Sadko – Sigure | Holiday Review Series: Post 14

Matisse and Sadko - Sigure

With tribal percussions and chants, it’s no wonder a track like ‘Sigure’ can awaken the dancing beasts within the party people. The chord progressions are fluid, simple, and the layering of electronic sounds with instrumental components is absolutely rich. The breakdown melody creates excitement in a joyful way with its trickling notes and its whistle-like effects. Additionally, the cheekiest part of this track lies in the build up. As the whoops increase in frequency, one can faintly hear a crowd saying “aww yeah”. This release from Spinnin’s Doorn Records deserves all the support it has gotten from DJs such as Hardwell, Armin van Buuren, Sander van Doorn, and Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike. The track has been available for purchase on Beatport since 31/3/2014.

Kiesza – Hideaway (Original and Remixes) | Holiday Review Series: Post 13

Kiesza - Hideaway

Classy, light and contemporary, yet groovy and soulful. The ‘Ooh’s and ‘Ah’s in the original mix makes everything sounds sassy and spicy at the same time. And that bass line? Downright irresistible. One thing that irks me slightly is one of the build-ups, where it brings cliche, Electro-Trance like beeps that increases in pitch. It just doesn’t fit in with the light House vibe. Fortunately, that only appears for a brief second, which is why that wasn’t enough to make me hate the track at all. In fact, it’s still the version I love most in this single.

The remixes bring unique goods to the table too. Gorgon City amps up the bass line, digging deep with round twists. Every time the compression levels release and contain the sound waves like that, I get goosebumps. I especially love the flute-like parts and very subtle wobbles which are hardly overdone at all.

Zac Samuels’ remix takes the 70s vibe intro even further with more instrumental incorporations, with the piano as the main focus. Remember those beeps in the original mix? Zac Samuels managed to muffle that and tone it down with cymbals. I would have liked the cymbals to cover it up more, but nonetheless, a good effort was made to blur out the flaw.

I give this Lokal Legend/Neon Records release a 5 out of 5.

Frontliner and Sway – Just Film It | Holiday Review Series: Post 12

Frontliner and Sway - Just Film It

This Hardstyle and rap combination is quite unexpected, especially when it’s coming from a producer like Frontliner. With tracks such as ‘Halo‘ and ‘I’m the Melodyman‘, the man is undoubtedly one of the icons of Hardstyle, known for making marvellous melodies.

I actually have a love-hate relationship with ‘Just Film It’. Let’s start with what I love about it. I like how Frontliner incorporated siren-like beeps, operatic choruses, and violin segments. They give the track a whole heap of attitude and swag that I just can’t get enough of. Not to mention, just have a listen to the way the operatic choruses come in with the kick each and every time. That’s not something I’d hear every day in a Hardstyle track, so every time it happens, it just pumps energy into my veins.

Now, for the part that I hate: The lyrics. “They don’t make” what “like this” anymore? Hardstyle? Well, from what I can’t hear, Frontliner’s methods are quite new, so it’s not like he has done this before, and it’s not like other producers have done this before many times. Sway can’t be referring to Frontliner, right? When Sway says “record” what are people supposed to “film”? How are listeners supposed to immerse themselves in a context that they can’t understand?

If people watch the music video, they might get the hint that this is about drifting on a highway, but I have no incentive to remember the rap for this reason: As far as I know, the only thing that Hardstyle lovers have in common is their love for raves and partying, but not necessarily for drifting. Not everyone is going to understand this rap in a snap, and I doubt that most Hardstylers would start to go drifting after listening to this either. With lyrics like “let me see your lights like you’re Edison”, the dead man would be rolling in his grave if he heard his name associated with gangster drifting. Also, if this rap was about drifting, why enter a password? Live by what code? The password for someone’s phone is a code that people live by? When did that ever happen? I find the rap too difficult to understand.

Anyway, despite my hate for the lyrics, I still love the music production style. You can buy this track through Frontliner’s label ‘Keep It Up Music’ on Beatport.

Frontliner and Synthsoldier – The New Age | Holiday Review Series: Post 11

Q-Dance Presents: Frontliner EP

The melody man and the soldier of synths have joined forces to strike a memorable chord in this day and age. The internet was exposed to this collaboration in conjunction with Frontliner’s Australian tour, which was probably what the Q-Dance Australia team came up with after they realised just how popular Frontliner was among Aussies.

Allow me to go slightly off-topic for a moment, because the context is part of the reasons why this was one of many tracks from Frontliner that became popular. For those of you who haven’t read one of my event reviews, Frontliner’s promised performance at Q-Dance’s first, and probably last, uniquely Aussie Q-Dance event called IQON, was cancelled. Fans were so disappointed, that Q-Dance decided to have Frontliner perform at Defqon.1 Australia 2013 as compensation. Naturally, the reactions were so desirable, that Q-Dance decided to create a ‘Q-Dance presents: Frontliner’ event. Boy, Frontliner and Q-Dance really did make the event special. Firstly, Frontliner released previews of brand new projects. Collaborating with Synthsoldier to produce ‘The New Age’ was one of the projects announced. Secondly, Q-Dance released a special album, and those who bought tickets to his show could collect a signed copy at the venue. Thirdly, Frontliner performed in Sydney for two nights!

Within five seconds of hearing the melody, there wouldn’t be any doubt in the minds of any melodic Hardstyle fan who watched this preview. Synthsoldier had created the ultimate melody for Frontliner to work his magic. Yet, although I was expecting either Synthsoldier or Frontliner to do more than just repeat that melody, it ended up being repeated throughout the whole track. Don’t get me wrong, it’s catchy and uplifting. I love it. However, I wanted more variation. I wanted it to present more experiential possibilities.

I was mostly impressed with other elements of the track though, especially the contrasting elements. There was just enough time for listeners to enjoy it and savour the reverse bass, before the reversion to the usual Hardstyle bass creates a completely different and wonderful experience. Another element of the track which I found interesting was the clapping layer. It’s not the typically loud, clear, sharp and cliche clapping sound that a lot of electronic music producers like to use. It just sounds as if Frontliner or Synthsoldier decided to clap with their own hands in the quiet studio, tapped different parts of their palm to produce different clap sounds, recorded it quite far away from the microphone, and edited it so that it would only sound a little bit like clapping. Fascinating. That’s just my theory though.

‘The New Age’ was released through Q-Dance Records as part of the ‘Q-Dance Presents: Frontliner’ EP on 05/05/2014.

Kronos and Drone – Game Over | Holiday Review Series: Post 10

Kronos and Drone - Game Over

Remember those days when consoles were all bulky, and all the music in the games were MIDI? This brings back those childhood memories, and more. Incorporating Mario, fighting games, Tetris, and the best of raw Hardstyle, this track offers something no one should miss out on: A treasure chest loaded with devilishly addictive fun. The MIDI and electric violin component, sounds just like those old-school, cheesy villain themes in pixellated games. On top of that, this is one of those rare Hardstyle tracks that manage to incorporate tempo variations very effectively. The slow parts are very easy to bounce to, and the Hardcore tempo is slick yet fiery. It might have something to do with the fact that this was released under Zany’s label Unite Records. Zany himself has had experience with producing Hardcore as an ex-member of Shadowlands Terrorists.

‘Game Over’ was released through Unite Records on 11/03/2014.