Updated: Jun 29
The Robert Johnson resident continues on his quest to serve up visions of the future with a brand new four tracker that features two brain storming original productions alongside classy remixes from the formidable talents of DJ Overdose and Nadia Struiwigh.
Power and progression within Dance Music comes in many forms, but more often than not its the relationship between the keys and the drums that help to push things onwards and upwards into the most euphoric of states. Throughout history, there have been many musical movements that captured the spirit of the dance, where like minded revellers come together to let loose to the purest rhythms and feels going, be it bombastic rhythmical explosions within genres like D'n'B, Jungle, Footwork or Ghetto House, or the wonderfully cosmic chugs of Techno and Acid, through to the smoothness and subtle meanderings of House, there has always been a combination on the go that firmly focuses on the floor. When looking further back in time, genres such as Italo-Disco, Electro, Hi-NRG and Chicago House helped to define a new era, a new generation of soundtracks in the club, with their razor sharp and dynamic drumming patterns interwoven with beautifully varied melodic sequences taking audiences literally into new dimensions. The music had a particular set of frequencies applied to it, a collection of wavelengths that placed the listener firmly within the spaces between the rolling bass lines, the high octane lead synth lines, and the hard hitting drumming lines, all of which combined flawlessly to move dancers into some very exciting places indeed, and in turn helped to usher in a new dawn. It's no surprise that these genres remain highly influential to this day, with countless artists looking to these genres for inspiration in crafting their own interpretations of the energies and connections that permeate through the dance floor, and the combinations in which these artists morph and develop their own voice is pretty remarkable indeed. Just like the sounds of the 80s and 90s sounded like the future, we now live very much in that future, where dance music has reached a new kind of musical hybridisation, with a plethora of flavours combining effortlessly within discographies to provide to us a rhythmic and melodic environment that feels duty bound in moving us to some very special places indeed. The production value is crisp and clear, the compositions always moving to the right places, and the overall feel is sublimity incarnate, with lush tones and vibrant textures moving within a set of deeply emotive structure, where the sometimes cheesiness of Italo has been replaced with an overall sense of emotional sophistication. It's a sound very much grounded in the ideals of the past but always searching for avenues in which to grow in a forward sense, it's pace and momentum defined by superbly placed passages that help to move you in both the brain and body department. To compartmentalise all these feels into a record is mightly impressive, and for some producers it comes incredibly naturally to them, as if their life blood feeds through and drives the tracks they make, where passion eeks out of every corner with gleeful abandonment and all we should really worry about is when the next peak will arrive - which it always does. It's a window being created into the virtual spaces in the back ends of the imagination, the smokey environments that cause a sensation in your bones, ignites the fires that burn within our hearts, and sets off a series of excitements all over, as we descend into ourselves to capture that feeling once again, a visceral experience that takes us to a particular space in time that never fails to impress. Music that transports you with it's feverish energy, it's passionate outlook, something that remains pure of essence and somewhat wild at heart, and when all these things remain captured within a record, you stand still for a moment and listen, soak it all up, and prepare to ascend - you never know what you might find.
If these are the kinds of ideals you look for in dance music, then you need look no further than the works of Stefan Haag, who for the past few years has been wowing music lovers and dancefloors the world over with his wide ranging signature sound of melodic excellence and rhythmic power. Haag, a resident at the iconic Robert Johnson club, has been releasing music since the turn of the previous decade, with his focuses diverted between the Italo tinged sounds from the Chinaski name, and the more experimental sounds from the S-F-X name, with both threads amounting to some beautiful feels indeed. The sounds feel inherently inspired by the jaw droppingly diverse audial spectrum that abounded from the 1980s and early 90s, with strong Italo and progressive house tones underpinning much of his work, but with a strong contemporary twist that streamlines the scale into a tangible flow that is so easy to fall in love with. The music ranges from the outwardly infectious to the brazenly experimental, and as a whole his discography reads very well from a dynamic perspective alongside feeling accessible and easy to get into. That isn't to say the music isn't complex - it very much is - but it's the balance that Haag finds within his compositions that means you can really dive into it with a clear conscious, with an eye always firmly set on exploring to the left and right of the pan, and your ears are always set to the ground as if to always find new spaces in which to grow. There's a beautiful consistency to his work also, with each release speaking to it's siblings with a calm soothing voice as if to remind one another that they are all in it together, and as a result Haag has carved out a very strong audial narrative for himself. On the one hand, you have the Chinaski name, that remains filled to the brim with all kinds of energies, progressions and forces, and on the other you have the more texture filled S-F-X name, which speaks of tonal soundscapes which contain all the vibrancy in the world, and as a pairing of treads they work spectacularly alongside one another. Haag has carved out a sense of presence with his work, and to showcase both sides of his interests so vividly is testament to his abilities as a producer and his creative visions. There's so much goodness to highlight in his works, starting off with his S-F-X alias and the beautiful self-titled LP from 2019, which contains the widest palette of sounds you could imagine; the really intriguing long play album 'Werkschau', which features a large collection of melodic and textural snapshots, which came out earlier this year; and finally, the equally compelling '2021' tape from earlier this year, which features some wondrous meanderings indeed. From the Chinaski side of things, the first record to highlight is the power and the presence of the 'Ghost Rider' record, which came out in 2016; the gorgeous sublimity found within the 'Rivers Edge' record, which came out in 2018; the progressive feels found on the 'Unschuld Der Sinne' record, which also arrived in 2018; the purity in the dance that is the 'Unruhe' release, which came out in 2019; and finally, the big and beefy feels of the 'City Galaerie' record, which arrived earlier this year and was released alongside fellow synth wizard Lauer. In all, there's a little bit for everyone in Haag's work, be it a space where you just want to explore the outer realms of human emotion and existence, or if you want to free your body on the dance floor to the most vibrant dance music going, he has you covered in more ways than one. His works are certainly a thread you will want to hold on to, so why not go check out his previous works whilst you're at it, its all pretty damn amazing.
And now we turn our attentions to the subject of today's review, his latest release as Chinaski, 'Energy', which arrives via the Dischi Autunno imprint. As the title of the EP suggests, the two original cuts are all about the energy of it all, with the drums leading the way from the off and Haag's formidable melodic talents making themselves very well known indeed as time passes by, with so many incredible sequences floating by and embedding themselves in the music. Whilst the two original cuts are worthy of much praise, we also have two remixes to look over, coming courtesy of two of the best in the game, DJ Overdose and one of our favourite producers, Nadia Struiwigh, who both rework Haag's cuts effortlessly within their own visions. As a package it holds together so intuitively, with the amount of audial diversity on display staggering and highly refreshing, and as an experience you will be certainly coming back time and again for more. So, without further delay, lets dive right into this powerhouse of a record, and see what the word energy really means....
Up first comes ‘Energy 1’, and as always it's the kicks and the delicate hats that get us going. The two elements are allowed all the time in the world to develop a relationship with one another, but it isn’t long until the keys emerge up top with arpeggio key lines criss crossing above the top ends of the rhythm, as the bass line comes into play not too soon after. Whilst all these lovely sequences take time to get to know one another, the chord melodic driver comes into view, and oh boy is it a big one, with it's cascading energy lapping all over the progression with fever and meaning, as the underneath elements respond in kind with their own moments of spontaneous energies. The track then takes a big old dip into the pool as the kicks move away, and this is the time where the arpeggios and sequences move away to reveal cosmic pads, with the hats remerging to remind us of the energy that is to come. The drums then hammer themselves back into view in the most incredible of ways, seemingly digging deeper than before as we move along to the sways with gleeful abandonment, never straying far from the rhythm as we reach out to touch all that flickers around us. There’s time for one final flurry of kicks, as we simply melt into the dance floor for the final minute as the kicks return to give us one final monumental kick into touch. What a opener. ‘Energy 2’ arrives next, and this one begins with the drums to get us going once again. The relationship between the kicks and hats is ever so slightly different on this one, with less space provided but that just means the foundation is alive and well, and this is confirmed as the energetic arpeggios swing into view, with every aspect burning with emotion. Fuelled by this initial progression, we then see the main melodic driver come into view, and it's perfectly weighted in both tone and presence, never quite dominating but doing much to capture the feel of the dance. What comes next is truly extraordinary, as that lead key line ascends into this fluidity that cannot be matched, as drums and keys move along in perfect harmony, with this sequence then moving us in all kinds of differing directions. The keys then move away for a bit to keep our focus firmly placed within the mix, but soon enough we are greeted with the chords and arpeggios that remain the stuff of dreams, as the whistle key line does much to keep the smiles very much plastered to our faces. Glorious stuff.
Up next comes the first of the two remixes, starting off the DJ Overdose remix of ‘Energy 1’, and this one begins with the deep set drumming pattern that immediately feels wonderfully different to the original. The drums provide the frame for which the keys can float into view, and this happened gradually before launching very much into a full on spectrum of flavours, with the lead key line continually teased into the frame before launching into a full on momentum driver. The way in which the sequences all interweave and move around on another is a joy to behold, with bass tones moving underneath with a real sense of purpose as lights and colours flicker on the peripheries with such meaning. The track keeps on building from within, with new layers finding a way into an incredibly dense mix that resides very much between the drums, with plenty of elements finding time to move beyond and explore, and it's these little expansions that make for very compelling listening. The little blemishes in audial frequencies that occur towards the end of the cut throw one final sense of dynamism into the mix, and it's absolutely epic. A worthy contraster to the original cut, bravo. To wrap things up, we have the Nadia Struiwigh remix of ‘Energy 2’, and immediately the tone is reset into something glorious. True to her personal style, Struiwigh deconstructs the notions of melody and rhythm that remain prevalent and wrap it all up with a soundscape of unfathomable depths, with so many features seeping in from the left and right of the pan, to stand back and appreciate is all you can really do. The way in which lines are bought in and out of view is beautifully done, with the lightest of touches applied to the tonal atmosphere that make for very serene listening indeed. Around the half way mark, we are greeted by the original key line, which hovers in the air for a few moments before making itself known to us all, it's feel subdued amongst the sea of melodic richness, it's tone one of lush vibrancy that remains warm to the touch, with it's volume going up and up as time passes by. The lightest of drumming patterns begins to come to the surface as we swing and groove through the membranes, never loosing sight of both the original melodic sequence and the gorgeous tones that Struiwigh throws our way. What an incredible remix, truly extraordinary.
You come away from this record feeling all sorts of things, and all of those things remain inherently positive. There is a fine balance to be struck when bringing originals and remixes to the table, where sometimes the balance isn't struck as neatly as it could be, but on this record you are continually filled up with good things to say and to see. There's the incredible flow of the Chinaski originals, that float and bounce with a kind of brilliance only reserved for the sharpest minds and the most in control, whilst the DJ Overdose and Nadia Struiwigh remixes add an unbelievable sense of taste and contrast. As an EP, it reads so very well, and as an experience, you are simply transported to other realms, be it staring at the walls with the lights and the colours, or moving around under a deep blue night sky as the stars flock to welcome your presence, it simply has it all. Not one to miss, and certainly one to not play out at your next night, as the music found here will transport you away to sheer bliss. Stellar work all round.
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