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Clafrica - Never Not Balling EP (Darker Than Wax, 2021) THIS WEEK

Updated: Apr 12, 2021

The Sicilian Sound maestro cooks up another impeccably balanced storm on his new EP, that perfectly switches between electro and house blends with the kind of skill you would expect from a master technician.

When the feels hit just right in ways that we couldn't predict or preconceive, it always leaves us wanting more, and with some artists they reach that spot each and every time. Electronica has had some outstanding producers throughout it's long and incredibly varied history, who have spent a significant amount of time nurturing the scope of their sound to leave lasting impressions on listeners. Producers who care deeply for the genres in which they inhibit and have invested a part of themselves into making music that touches upon well trodden paths and familiar tropes but presents it with a twist, with this twist being something that only they can really muster up. It's a distinguishing feature or set of features that pulls them apart from the rest, a collection of sounds delicately tweeked and pulled together to craft something of real significance, a uniqueness that shines through from every facet of their sound. This branched out kind of sound helps to bond us to a unique audial identity, one that feels new and invigorating even when we get a few releases deep, such is the quality in sound that resonates from some sonic narratives. Within the realms of genres like House, Techno and Electro, of which are still incredibly popular in terms of producers who gravitate towards the genres and those who listen to them, it's more often than not the music makers who speak differently through their songs that make all the difference, crafting spellbinding soundscapes that feature elements that are familiar to the touch but very much in-depth in terms of substance. It's not just a simmering gleam that gets the blood pumping, but the living breathing structure that resides on the multiple layers presented to us, a vision more than a passing belief, a force rather than a mere bump in a general direction. To continue onwards in this fashion helps to retain our interest two-fold, as we are initially drawn to the mesmerising pool of feels that abound initially, and then we get on board completely for the structural integrity and creative brilliance that ensues from that point onwards. It's perhaps something we can't put our finger on, a response to a audial environment that we cannot place yet we know that when we chance upon it it's something we shall cherish for a very long time indeed. This is the kind of reaction we want to get with dance music, a style presented within the realms of established structure yet galloping ahead in terms of mood and depth, a world that feels so confident in it's abilities to mesmerise that we cannot help ourselves but be reigned in for more. It's these kinds of producers who have that touch, an application that broadens the genre in which they find themselves within to new heights and scales that we feel more alive and invigorated than ever, engaged by their evident love for the craft and their endlessly creative will to perfect that craft. It's a narrative that we want to hold in our hands, a seamless story of experimentation and drive that keeps us on our toes both mentally and physically, as melodies and rhythms pass us by that remain something to behold and cherish. When substance and environmental uniqueness shine through, then it's an infectious combo indeed, and we are all for it.

One such producer who has certainly carved out a singular yet diversely unique sound for themselves is Sicilian producer and sound engineer Claudio Rappoccio, who since 2014 has been wowing us with his takes on multiple genres under the Clafrica name. Since acquiring a set of turntables aged 12, Rappoccio's love affair with music has seen him pursue both the technical and emotional side of the medium, with two degrees attained in Sound Design and Audio Production balanced out with a series of bountiful records that have seen him explore all facets of his wide reaching passions. Rappoccio, heavily inspired by the multi-cultural make up of Sicily and the music that resides within it, has released records that touch upon a number of different genres, with Hip Hop Instrumentals playing a key role in his early career before excursions into House and particularly Electro as the years passed, all of which was delivered to us within a signature blend that he calls his own. There's something about the tone within his music that immediately strikes a chord with the listener, the melodics in particular are delicately poised within a sea of analogue rhythm which helps to create a impeccable balance within the experience, with flairs of colour and vitality occurring on a regular basis that ignite a fire in all of us. No matter what style he undertakes, Rappoccio manages to make it hang together so well, with the distinctive genre movements found within his discography flowing so naturally together, bound by technique and an understanding of the parameters and possibilities of sound. It very much feels like a pairing of his expert understanding of sound design and how with a little creative understanding of the technical side can lead to some magical moments within releases, something which occurs on a frequent basis within his music. Since moving to Edinburgh Rappoccio has been particularly busy on the release front, with a number of impressive records coming out in 2019 and since that point he has conjured up further releases that continue to dazzle in both their level of depth and emotive substance. All of his previous releases contribute to the Clafrica sound in some of or another, with our favourites including the fantastic 2014 debut LP 'Pitch Black', that features some very fine Hip Hop inspired soundscapes indeed; the wicked Electro tinged groovers 'Magic City Bright Lights' and 'Flexin on that Bihhh' from the 2019 joint EP 'Broke'; the dynamic and genre defying 'Triple Dubz' release, that also arrived in 2019; the superb Electro power contained within the 'Players Only' record, that also arrived in 2019; the gorgeously deep and driving sounds found within the '2 The WRLD' album, that also arrived in 2019; the breezy feels and expertly timed rhythms found on the joint EP 'Reyetto 001', that was released alongside Elio in 2020; and finally, the sonically rich and vocally intriguing 'Memphis Vs Houston Screwed Up' mixtape, that came out out in 2021. In all, the Clafrica name is one associated with many things, namely a distinctive atmosphere and a continual sonic twist, both of which are applied to genres we all know and love to provide a truly unique feel to proceedings, one that remains very much held in the hands of the man behind it all. Rappoccio fused together a collection of passions that stem from his upbringing, his profession and his hardware, all of which combine so effortlessly within his music, with those passions coming across from every corner of his releases. It's a substance that we all yearn for in music, where an individual applies themselves totally to the curation of a vibe that consistently feels just right, a continuation of the successes of initial releases that flow into a new era that contains something different and fresh, but ultimately something that feels like it progressed so naturally. His story is a rich and varied one, and one that we feel will continue to bear fruit for years to come. We cannot recommend checking out his early works enough to you, either for it's genre stylings or simply for the production value and environmental story telling, trust us it's quite the ride.

And now we arrive at his latest offering, 'Never Not Balling', that arrives via the always impressive Darker Than Wax imprint. Here Rappoccio throws another influence into the mix - his love of sports, which shines through immediately through the song titles but then comes full circle as we delve into the music itself. The blend on display here is a mixture of his superb take on electro combined with with two awesome house leaning cuts, all of which are delivered with a familiar eye for detail that is present across his whole discography, with an immediate charm residing within all the cuts and an incessant energy that leaps out and grabs you from the off. It's music that works on two levels, with the melodies doing much to workout the mind with their weaving modulations, whilst the drumming patterns are beautifully poised within the structure, crafting rhythm upon rhythm of meaning and groove. Finally, the atmosphere remains something to behold, as hazy tones lie over the whole ensemble as a kind of window into the world in which Rappoccio is trying to create, one set down by the basketball court in the summer sunshine, your mates all around as the warm air washes over the skin in a repeated fashion, as cares and ills are washed away in an instance. So, without further delay, lets dive right into this beautiful offering from a producer who certainly knows how to curate a unique feeling indeed....

Up first comes 'U Teach I Teach', and this one begins with the chirpy key line getting us going within a sea of hazy sonics and rhythmic chordal swells. The set up is immaculate, and with the drumming line coming in just after it all comes together very elegantly indeed, with his signature electro swing beat crafting a very engaging rhythm indeed. There's a lot of little variations in all the elements that keeps the momentum going, such as the claps of the drums, the slight fluctuations of the lead key line and the simmering flairs of the backing chordal lines, with the ensemble keeping the flow very tight indeed. The track then leads into it's first breakdown, as the lead key line moves away to showcase other elements, but before long the drums begin to rebuild, with the elements all doing their part to find their way back into the mix, and like that the track begins to see itself out, confident in the experience in which it has just delivered, and we are totally game for what might come next. A very strong start indeed. Up next comes 'U Can't Guard Me!', and this one begins with the thuds and the solidness to get us going. The vibe is suitably deep house, the chords driving yet smooth to the touch, the drums diving far down into the core, with the two elements quickly joined by a double time hi hat and a beautifully considered bass line that adds in a welcome rhythmic variation. The claps that join in soon after enter us into another phase, where the drums twist and turn in a frantic display, and arrive out the other end with continued variations occurring in the keys, our minds firmly locked into all that is going on. Again it's the subtle additions and manipulations that work so well to elevate this track, ensuring that we don't get stuck on just one density but a number, where differing layers operate so well alongside each other to give a total experience. The movement back into the intro segment then sees the track build itself up once more, with a similar approach to the method seeing our hearts rise once more to the tops of our mouths, forever locked into this sea of intensity. Gorgeous stuff. Up next comes 'Skip Thru This Lane', and this one begins with the electro rhythms and melodies getting us going. The weaving lead key line mesmerises us from the off, and before long it is joined by a whole plethora of melodic features, which wash over the caps of the drums with a blissful aura, the whole array of sounds so impeccably put together. We are placed right in the middle of proceedings, as flickering pads shift from left to right on the pan as the drums strike through the heart of the structure, keeping pace as the keys are allowed to float freely across the immediate spectrum. The additional key lines do much to keep the intrigue going, starting off with an initial key line which is then followed by a fuzzy bass sequence, all of which come into the mix so naturally, the progression never caught off guard but merely welcoming the new features into the fold. A beautiful track.

'Halftime' arrives next, and this one begins with the drumming pattern getting us going. The drums skip across the pan with an effective breeze, maintaining a steady feel as light squelches drift within the structure, and as the drums take a dip in energy we are released back into the mix with the bass line throwing it's name into the hat, and like always it all comes together flawlessly. The bass then retreats to provide some breathing room to a particularly delightful pulsating melodic line, one that chimes along to the drums with a real sense of beauty and drive, with the bass line arriving back into the fold not soon after to complete the picture. A final layer of keys gets placed on top towards the back of the composition, which in turn marks the end of this short but very sweet outing. Gorgeous stuff. Up next comes 'Ride the Defense', and this one begins with some rather erotic messaging indeed. The metallic tones in the distance are punctuated with a solid as hell electro beat, accompanied by a slick bass line that bounces along within the drumming pattern with an impressive intensity, with the cheeky vocal line of 'Don't you want to ride my dick' punching through the top ends with a feverish feel. The chordal touches arrive soon after, filtering from left to right with a serious intent in immersing us further into this world, maintaining an air to it all that feels fresh and fun at the same time. The track then tapers off into a breakdown of sorts, as a new melodic sequence greets us within the sub level of the cut, as all manner of softly undulating bass lines make appearances within the the bottom layers. It's a deeply intoxicating soundscape indeed, and one that we cannot get enough of. To wrap things up, we have 'Sharpshoota', and this one starts off with a typically mesmerising display of melodics to get us going. The arpeggio key lines are distant, playful and full of tone, with their presence added to with additional lines that fuel the distinctiveness and feel, and before long we are joined by the kicks, hats and bass line, and we feel whole. The collection of sounds makes for real interesting listening, with the subtitles being flexed here to maximum efficiency as little lines of inquiry move and groove within the foundations, peeking up top when required to keep the energies alive and well and ensure the progression is kept healthy as fuck. The movement onwards is a joy to listen to, a deep dive into intrigue and delicacy, with the acid line that emerges around the 2 minute mark sure to get heads moving on the floor. The track takes a dip in energy just after, allowing us to get familiar once again with the key work, with the drums coming back into the equation once again afterwards, and from then on it's all up to us to imagine where this song might be playing out to next. Gorgeous stuff, and an exceptional way to end things on.

We started this review talking about feels, scope and substance, and how certain producers have the midas touch when it comes to these particular features, and how often they are the ones people always return to when they need a bit of the good stuff. Clafrica has all these qualities in spades, his sound a nurtured and meaningful one that spins many a personal twist on classic genre tropes to provide an audial experience that is both carefully revealing and deeply interesting to listen to. On this record it's no different, with the vibes sutble yet designed to maximum effect, with the space within the determined boundaries utilised to their maximum to craft beautifully considered soundscapes that hit hard and speak softly all at the same time. It's yet another step forward for Rappoccio and his music, and we for one cannot wait to see what the future holds for him. Top draw, all around.

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