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Soso Tharpa: Upcycled Sonics

Soso Tharpa’s ingenuity spills out of his tracks – they bristle with energy and land with such a punch you imagine banks of sought-after synthesizers and premium signal chains, meters tickling the reds but smoothed out by a high-end console. But the Washington DC-based producer doesn’t believe that more tools bring about better music. Since he began his music production journey almost by accident after purchasing a MIDI keyboard and discovering the bundled copy of Live, he’s focused on pursuing sound through the immediate means at his disposal and avoided the creative cul-de-sac of over-abundance. 

“I didn’t have the hardest of upbringings but I had to do with what I had many times in my life,” explains Tharpa, real name Michael Aniekwe, as we chat on a video call, “and I feel like you hear that with my music. I’ll use the same sample in three different tracks, but people will never know just because of the way I processed it.” 

Aniekwe could be considered early in his career due to his concise discography, but behind the veil of publicly available music are many years spent developing his sound. Since arriving at a point where he was ready to release something out into the world, he’s chosen to keep focused on why he wanted to make music and not subscribe to the demands of the modern age, where productivity and visibility are supposed to equal success. His music has reached respected labels and DJs without the industry-approved pathways of PR and networking, serving as a heartening reminder that genuine talent shines through no matter what.

Read more on Ableton.com.

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Truancy Volume 312: Sami

Dualities can lead to life’s more fascinating moments, and in music, generate some of its most spirited sounds. Seamlessly tapping into this quality, the DJ, producer, and award-winning journalist, Sami, consistently explores the contrasts that exist within this world, channeling joy, sadness, pain, and brightness through his work as he fills seemingly disparate roles as a musical artist and Executive Producer at NPR. A deep love of house music and appreciation of its roots bleeds into all aspects of his artistry, showcased in his blissful and evocative productions across releases for labels such as 1432 R and Future Times, and within his skillful, infectious DJ sets.

Over the 20 years he’s lived in Washington, DC, Sami’s constant involvement with the DC dance community has built unshakeable connections, and his desire to see his musical peers shine and their artistry celebrated can’t be overstated. This passion for his community has also led Sami to a number of inspired collaborations and co-productions, including writing credits on the latest dreamcastmoe record, Sound Is Like Water, plus recent live sets and a new track with rapper Sir E.U, which was recently featured in livwutang’s Impact mix. Sami’s latest EP, Elevate, released July 2023 on beloved DC label 1432 R, explores a wide range of perspectives on house music as each track imagines a unique sonic landscape. Immersive, sensual, and featuring the sun-kissed sound of Sami’s flute playing, Elevate embodies summer bliss with its whimsical touches and melodic embrace.

Read more on Truants.

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Truancy Volume 298: Jackson Ryland

For many regular Truants readers and speed-seeking techno connoisseurs, Jackson Ryland of Washington, DC hardly needs an introduction. Beyond the sounds and insights shared in his past Superabundance interview and Seven Plays takeover, the artist’s particular brand of electronic music, marked by driving rhythms and ethereal melodies, has continuously captivated artists and dancers worldwide. Displaying a robust imagination and creative versatility, Jackson Ryland approaches music-making with a childlike curiosity and intuitive lightness, which has led him to collaborate with a diverse set of beloved DC artists in addition to his prolific, multi-genre discography of solo EPs. 

Across releases for sought-after labels like 1432 RPeach DiscsPleasant Life, and Fixed Rhythms, whilst operating under a number of aliases over the years, the artist has freely explored sonics ranging from breakneck techno at staggering bpm levels, to down-tempo, ’90s chill-out tracks named for his pet cat. Presenting a mix that parallels his energetic DJ sets and fluid recording style, Truancy Volume 298 playfully transitions between house, techno, hardgroove, and electro with flowing ease, for an inspired 90 minutes of music from throughout the decades. In the accompanying interview, Jackson Ryland shares his perspective on the evolution of his sound, his latest EP as JR2k, production methods, recent club experiences, artistic inspirations, and the DC music scene.

Read more on Truants.

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Seven Plays X: Jackson Ryland

This installment of Seven Plays comes from the Washington, DC based artist, Jackson Ryland, whom we recently interviewed on the site. While rooted in house and techno, both his vibrant personal productions and versatile collaborative projects (Rush Plus, Superabundance) find him consistently pushing the boundaries of his sound. A passionate fan of electronic music, Jackson Ryland also frequently documents his thoughts on new releases in the form of reviews for his personal website. Spanning the course of a week and highlighting numerous genres and atmospheres, his seven plays below briefly reveal the wide breadth of his musical connections and inspiration.

Read more on Truants.

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How Ethiopian Records is shaping the sound of a genre with NI tools

Ethiopiyawi Electronic originator Endeguena Mulu on using TRAKTOR in the studio, sampling traditional instruments, and developing Ethiopia’s next generation of artists.

Based in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, Endeguena Mulu has spent the last two decades reshaping the sound of African electronic music, pioneering the genre of Ethiopiyawi Electronic with help from fellow artist Mikael Seifu. More than a representation of dubstep-influenced electronica and Ethiopian folk, Ethiopiyawi Electronic is an ethos that embraces culture, community and diversity through the prism of technological collaboration.

Behind Mulu’s stage name, Ethiopian Records, is a strong sense of inclusivity. The now experienced producer first started making music in high school using rudimentary software – a routine that soon became a daily addiction leading to his debut EP Qen Sew (For My Father) in 2015; an experimental release combining the sound of Ethiopian Azmari hymns and sample-based beats and instrumentation.

Further EPs followed, from the free-flowing Letu Sinega to In My Sleep and Ye Feqer Edaye, employing samples culled from the African jazz scene and bonded by Mulu’s fluid cut and paste approach to production. In Ethiopia, where the cost of modern technology is prohibitive, the availability of affordable music software – including that from NI – has had far-reaching consequences for the region’s budding producers.

Mulu himself relies on NI tools not only to create his own music, but also to facilitate Addis Ababa’s WAG entertainment agency, which he co-founded in order to provide support to the next generation of up-and-coming African musicians. However, due to the ongoing pandemic and recent political unrest in the region, the project is now fighting for survival.

Read more on Native-Instruments.com.

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With clubland closed, Jackson Ryland is making dance music for everywhere else

Even when it’s designed for mass communion at max volume, most dance music enjoys a quiet second life outside of clubland. District producer Jackson Ryland knows this, which is why he hopes people might listen to his latest recordings on a bike ride, on a walk, around the house . . . and those are pretty much our only options these days, anyway. Is he cool with that?

“No, I’ve definitely had the existential crisis of ‘Why am I making this?’’ Ryland says on a sunny December afternoon during an unrelenting pandemic that continues to make the city’s nightlife feel like a shrinking memory. That said, you won’t hear any panicked energies on Ryland’s two recent EPs: his self-released “Acting Careless” and “Stealth Mode” on the 1432 R label. Instead, these new tracks pry open the gap between house and techno, creating a sense of capaciousness and composure — especially compared with the rhythmic wind sprints Ryland likes to run as a member of the techno duo Rush Plus.

The music feels roomy, but Ryland says he doesn’t visualize it spatially. “I wish I could trip while making music — seeing sound waves would be cool — but for me, it’s more like trying to hear what’s missing,” he says. “I try to drill down on the sounds I really like: Take a sound, splice it, reverse it, put a different pitch on it, or, like, slow down a high-hat sample until it becomes something totally different. . . . Then it’s about making it fit, like a Lego piece. By the end, it all has to feel like a running machine, but it also has to have a human feeling to it.”

Read more in the Washington Post.

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RA.754 Ethiopian Records

A rousing and humbling anti-war mix from Ethiopia’s electronic music hero.

Endeguena Mulu subtitled his RA Podcast “war is a racket.” Just days before he was due to send his submission in, he scrapped and remade the mix in the wake of what looks like a a burgeoning civil war in his home country of Ethiopia. Following an attack on a camp housing federal Ethiopian military troops in northern Tigray state attributed to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front—the political party and militia that ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist until 2018—the government sent troops to the semi-autonomous region and announced a six-month state of emergency. There are reports of mass killings blamed on the TPLF, while the state has been cut off from telecommunications as people have started to flee across the border amid fears of a new war. Mulu has been a vocal critic of both sides of the conflict, authoring several posts decrying the conflict as well as Ethiopia’s allies who have historically ignored the TPLF’s long and well-documented history of repression, human rights abuses and atrocities. So his new mix comes with a theme and a purpose. It’s defiant, mournful and filled with hope all at once: alongside the Ethiopiyawi electronic that Mulu has helped pioneer, there’s Digital Mystikz’ classic dubstep anthem “Anti-War Dub,” UK funky fusion from KG and rousing speeches from figures and leaders around Africa. It was made in Ableton on-the-fly like one of his live sets, incorporating samples along the way into a set that feels more emotional than functional, leading you from one heavy—and sometimes uplifting—feeling to the next. The specific circumstances of this mix shouldn’t take away from Mulu’s long and impressive record. He’s the originator of Ethiopiyawi electronic music, a hybridized strain of electronic music that doesn’t have a particular sound so much as it has a mission: to create new music from the incredibly rich and varied traditions of Ethiopia, from instruments whose histories go back thousands of years to the heritage of 20th-century Ethiopian jazz. It doesn’t even have to be electronic, necessarily, and Mulu’s output as Ethiopian Records—for labels like 1432 R and Warp’s Arcola offshoot—have been restless and inspiring. He’s not just the driving force for electronic music in Ethiopia, but an important and unique artist in a wider global, context too.

Read more on Resident Advisor.