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2023 Roundup

What any writer is reading or listening to in their downtime will always steer their interests, influence their work and affect what stories they choose to share. It’s no different when writing about electronic music. But what has our roster of writers been getting stuck into over the last 12 months? From publishing five books and seven zines to travelling to book fairs all over the country, we’ve had a busy year, so as 2023 draws to a close, we thought we’d find out…

Rob Smith caught up with our 2023 writers who’ve released titles this year to discover what’s been on their reading lists and in their headphones.

Oli Freke

OLI FREKE (Synth Evolution Zines)

Any tracks or books that surprised you in 2023?

This may be a bit mainstream, but I thought the choice of the Ezra Collective as the winner of the Mercury Music Prize was great. Both because their album is a really enjoyable fusion of jazz, Afro-funk and much else, and because it makes a nice change from the bl**dy Arctic Monkeys being nominated and winning it year after year!

Any new favourite books?

I always read new Velocity books and loved the insight into the creation and development of the Spiral Tribe (A Darker Electricity by Mark Angelo Harrison). It was a surprisingly gripping page-turner! By contrast, I also enjoyed a wildly imaginative sci-fi book from 1932 by Olaf Stapledon called Starmaker. A visionary guess at what universal consciousness might mean (including, but not limited to: stars with minds, galactic telepathic communities, and hollowed-out planets filled with water and aliens…)

Any new favourite tracks, records or releases from the year?

Best recent gig was GOAT at Kings Place. A Japanese percussion quintet who played some of the most precise and intricate minimal rhythms I’ve heard in a long time. Not to be confused with the Scandinavian death metal band also called Goat…! Jeff Mills at the Barbican was also pretty amazing; jamming with his jazz-funk keyboardist and virtuosic tabla player with Jeff on not one, but two, Roland TR-909s…!

Have you been listening to any podcasts, audiobooks or radio shows?

Radio 4 is always on! I was on the Plus Maths podcast showing how you could make chords by speeding up a series of clicks into the audio frequencies. That was definitely the best podcast of the year!

Been to any standout DJ sets, parties or events in 2023?

I was lucky enough to see Basement Jaxx on a beach in Australia back in March. They still know how to put on a hugely entertaining show!

Have you found any new sources of inspiration or creativity over the last year?

Minimalism; how much creativity can be wrung out from as few elements as possible…

What are you looking forward to in 2024?

More time to listen to new music, this has been a failing of mine this year! I think I need to listen to more new music; have been mostly immersed in techno this year!

 

Mark Angelo Harrison

MARK ANGELO HARRISON (A Darker Electricity)

Picked up anything interesting in any book or record shops this year?

Being more of a visual artist and set designer than a vinyl junkie, my star thrift shop hauls of 2023 included: A rugged 1940s Elna 1 Swiss-made, sewing machine. The motor is silent and it packs down into a combat green ammo box – clearly manufactured for the frontline and now back in action with the Free Party Resistance! I also found rare copies of Peasant Paintings From Huhsien Country, which is a full-colour book of Chinese propaganda posters published in Peking by the PRC in 1974. And Selling the Sixties: The Pirates and Pop Music Radio. An extremely detailed history of early pirate radio by Robert Chapman.

Any tracks or books that surprised you in 2023?

Surprised (and shocked) that the prize-giving ceremony of the LiBeraturpreis in Frankfurt, which was won by Palestinian author, Adania Shibli, was cancelled.

Any new favourite books?

I enjoyed very much: Emma Warren’s Dance Your Way Home, Harry Harrison’s Dreaming in Yellow and Ed Gillet’s Party Lines.
I also read, The Jakarta Method by Vincent Bevins. A brilliant book that opened my eyes to the anti-communist mass murders that have shaped our world. Not enjoyable, but deeply insightful.

Any new favourite tracks, records or releases from the year?

Puçanga – Algorhythm for the People.

Have you been listening to any podcasts, audiobooks or radio shows?

I enjoy Novara Media’s news channel on YouTube. Also, Andrewism, We’re in Hell, Chill Goblin, Foreign Man in a Foreign Land, Contrapoints and Folding Ideas.

Been to any standout DJ sets, parties or events in 2023?

The ongoing Tekquinox series of parties (held every Equinox), The Barrave free party and the last Hard Sessions party. All organised by local sound system crews and collectives here in Portugal.

Have you found any new sources of inspiration or creativity over the last year? And any reflections on 2023?

I’ve very much enjoyed working with Colin Velocity and publishing A Darker Electricity with him. Top geeza! The multiple book presentations I’ve been invited to, all over Europe, have shown me that the love of dance music and free parties is stronger than ever! Thanks to everybody who’s made 2023 such a creative (but intense!) year.

Big ups to all the SP23 Crew who contributed to the book and Aaron Trinder for his tireless work on documenting this important culture in his film: Free Party, A Folk History.
Recent events have made it clear that the ruling elite’s eradication of a people’s culture is key to their evil plans for the future. Documenting the people’s history is, I feel, a powerful antidote to that plan.

What are you looking forward to in 2024?

The abolition of the British monarchy. A reduction in emissions and global warming. Nationalisation of the UK public transport system, water, telecoms and energy supplies. More affordable public housing and free social space. Massive investment in culture, health and community projects. An intensive rewilding of nature. The absolute right to roam. Money out of politics. Peace in Palestine. Refugees welcome. Justice for Grenfell. Tony Blair on trial for war crimes. In fact, put the whole military-industrial complex on trial. And of course, the decriminalisation of free parties!

Matt Anniss

MATT ANNISS (Join The Future Redux)

Picked up anything interesting in any book/record shops this year?

I’m a bit of a sucker for stumbling on interesting or odd books while out and about. My favourite random find of the year was C.J Stone’s Fierce Dancing, a 1996 tome based on his counterculture columns in the Guardian. It chronicles his first experiences of free party culture before moving between personal reflections on his time as a new traveller and party person, and explorations of free festivals, traveller life, the impact of the Criminal Justice Bill and more. A unique first-person account that has largely been forgotten.

Any new favourite books?

In terms of dance-music-related books published this year, there are two that impressed me more than any others. The first is Emma Warren’s Dance Your Way Home, which makes a strong case for the social and personal benefits of dancing, while arguing that we should protect dancing spaces, via a mixture of personal history, wider social and cultural history, and reportage. It’s a genuinely unique book that puts dancing, and the experience of dancers, front and centre – something which is rarely done within dance music literature.

The second is Ed Gillett’s Party Lines: Dance Music and the Making of Modern Britain, a much-needed update of the ‘totalising histories’ of UK dance music of the 1990s. Detailed, well-researched and thoughtfully argued, the book examines the relationship between power, commerce, protest and dance music culture from the early 1980s to the present day. The sections on dance music trends and changes of the 2000s and beyond are particularly good, while the chapter looking at the relationship between New Labour and club culture in the late 1990s and early 2000s is a genuine eye-opener.

Been to any standout DJ sets, parties or events in 2023?

Aside from a wonderful weekend spent in Cornwall at a weekend-long private party organised by a number of old free party crews, and of course some of the talks I was privileged to do across the country promoting the updated and expanded edition of Join The Future, my favourite event of the year was DC23, the first in-person conference dedicated to research into dance music culture. It was brilliant to meet so many people dedicating their lives and careers to researching different aspects of the culture we love, and so many of the presentations were interesting and thought-provoking. I was honoured to do a presentation myself, arguing for the research I’m currently doing into rural rave culture, and couldn’t have asked for a more supportive crowd on what was my academic conference debut.

Have you found any new sources of inspiration or creativity over the last year?

The things that have inspired me the most have been encounters with community-focused grassroots dance music collectives, especially those that put marginalised groups and intergenerational knowledge exchange – i.e. bringing younger and older members of their local dance music scenes together – at the heart of what they do. Big shout outs, then, to Sheffield’s Mondo Radio and Gut Level collectives, Tony Nwachuckwu’s CDR project, The Cause CIC in Bristol and their community networking events, and the brilliant Sable in Leeds.

Speaking of Leeds, I was also very inspired by the A Hip Hop Journey: 50 Years of Kulture exhibition at Leeds City Museum. Put together without funding by a group of local hip-hop activists and historians, it does a superb job in not only marking five decades of global hip-hop history but more importantly celebrating all of the DJs, dance crews, producers, community mentors, events and soundsystems that have played a role in West Yorkshire’s hip-hop story. It’s a brilliant example of putting local, grassroots musical history front and centre, something we need much more of going forward.

Any reflections on 2023?

On a personal level, I was blown away by the success of the tour we did in support of the publication of the expanded and updated edition of my 2019 book Join The Future. It was fantastic to be able to talk about the book for the first time in the city of my birth, Sheffield – over 100 people turned up for a wonderful panel discussion hosted by writer Daniel Dylan-Wray – and my adopted host city of Bristol, where I was surrounded by friends and people I’ve known for a long time through the city’s dance music scene.

Also memorable were the events in London with Walthamstow Rock & Roll Book Club (where Lanre Bakare of The Guardian acted as host), Edinburgh, Glasgow and Amsterdam. The latter, where local techno scene veterans Marsel Delsin and Steven Brunsmann joined me in the basement of the legendary Rush Hour store, was a lot of fun – as was the spontaneous drinking session we all had afterwards!

Dan Lish self portrait

DAN LISH (Egostrip Book 1)

Picked up anything interesting in any book/record shops this year?

I picked up the nice Jorun Bombay 45, an edit of Cool V’s tribute to Scratchin aka Markie Jackson. Also on Mushi 45; Ashadwa by The Ethiopian Brothers. On Cha Cha records; Malcolm X by Overnight Players. I’ve also been getting stuck into the Brutal Game of Thrones book series, and picking up (and putting down) Stalking The Wild Pendulum – On The Mechanics of Consciousness by Itzhak Bentov.

Any tracks or books that surprised you in 2023?

I discovered Airport Love Theme by Waldir Calmon. I’m a sample nerd and always get a thrill from finding a sample that someone I rate has used. That was the sample used by MF DOOM on Curls. Another one this year was Trouble by Brenton Wood. Beautiful music! Velours by Anomalie is great too. Although made in 2017, it’s got such a super disjointed baseline and keys, quite Dilla-esqu. Also Move 78’s music that DJ Format put me onto.

Any new favourite films/TV programmes?

Been loving The Bear on Disney +, but it can be very stressful watching family disputes before bed. Also, been dipping in and out of People Just Do Nothing series again. So funny.

Any new favourite tracks, records or releases from the year?

I have 114 Playlists on Spotify (dlish77), each with 45 songs. We listen to these when playing Pétanque down on the Brighton seafront. My point is; the music covers 35+ genres, but not much of it is super contemporary. If I stumble across a track and it’s good/moves me, I don’t care if it’s old or new. Ya get me?

Have you been listening to any podcasts, audiobooks or radio shows?

I’ve been listening a bit to the All City Taxi Talk Show. Lots of nice Hip Hop history. Also Neil Kramer’s Roamcasts whenever they come out. Full of profound wisdom and open-minded contemplative chat.

Been to any standout DJ sets, parties or events in 2023?

I was going to go to see Move 78 but double booked myself as it was my eldest daughter’s 16th birthday! I very rarely go to parties nowadays. Too much input for me. Currently, I prefer a winter sea swim, pétanque or a country ramble.

Any reflections on 2023?

My first solo gallery show was brilliant! Also, the recent book signing and Q&A was a great experience. It’s been a tough one though, and the year has flown by. I need to look after my body and mind in a more nurturing way. We are all storytellers. The things we elaborate in one’s mind is not a truth and in reality, is open to many possibilities. I’m learning the hard way to relax and go with the flow. Full body immersion in the freezing sea really helps settle my mind, making me present in the moment. I’ve definitely been in rest and relaxation mode since the Covid fear campaign.

What are you looking forward to in 2024?

Being with my daughters as they grow. Creating art for myself or other cool clients. Getting stuck into creating my second art book ‘Egostrip Book 2’. Meeting new people all over the UK. I may be showcasing artwork in the US and creating more live art on walls soon. Lots to look forward to!

Shawn Reynaldo

SHAWN REYNALDO (First Floor: Reflections on Electronic Music Culture)

Picked up anything interesting in any book/record shops this year?

My wife just bought me a copy of Naomi Klein’s new book Doppleganger which I’m dying to read, but then she decided to read it herself before I could get my hands on it. I’m hoping she’ll finish before Christmas so I can finally dig into it.

Did you listen to many albums this year, did any have a profound impact on you?

I listened to more albums than I can count this year, but that’s just part of being a music journalist. I liked many of them, and a few I liked quite a lot (Tirzah’s trip9love…??? and Purelink’s Signs immediately come to mind), but a “profound impact” is a much higher bar to clear. During a time when more music is being made and released than at any previous point in human history, and we’re all being hit with a constant firehose of content, it’s honestly an achievement for something to stay on my radar for more than a few days. Sadly that doesn’t happen too often anymore.

Any new favourite films/TV programmes?

Sadly I haven’t been going to the movies as much this year, but I did quite like Oppenheimer, As Bestas (released as The Beasts in English) and Past Lives. I think I’ve actually been having more fun and watching gritty ’80s flicks like Manhunter and Thief, which I totally missed when I was a kid (and my mom wouldn’t have let me watch anyways). As for TV, I enjoyed Silo, The Last of Us and Telemarketers, and so far The Curse has only deepened my love for all things Nathan Fielder.

Been to any standout DJ sets, parties or events in 2023?

I finally managed to catch OK Williams at Sónar this year, and she really blew me away. It was nice to see someone do a proper set of jackin’ house music without it feeling like a tired nostalgia trip. She just hopped on the decks and things immediately started bumping.

What are you looking forward to in 2024?

Something genuinely different. The whole “pop edits” trend has lasted a lot longer than everyone anticipated, no? Post-pandemic euphoria has fuelled dance music during the past couple of years, but my suspicions are that ravers will soon tire of nosebleed-inducing tempos and hearing the Vengaboys at supposedly “underground” spaces. I’m not sure what’s next, but the time feels right for something new to pop up and take a chainsaw to at least some of the culture’s many ridiculous excesses. Will that something be better? That’s TBD, but I’m excited to find out.

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