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Ilija Rudman presents Dead Horse Gang - Where Wild Horses Go (Forbidden Dance, 2021)

On their debut LP release, the ever impressive Forbidden Dance crew invite fellow Croatian and Disco-House wizard Ilija Rudman to provide a brand new album under the Dead Horse Gang project, and the results - as always - are fascinating, expansive and deeply groovy.

Over the past few years or so, we have seen a large amount of focus being placed on the intersection between the 4 to the floor rhythms of House and how funkified grooves and flicks can be implemented within those percussive patterns, and as a result of this audial cross-correlation we have seen a number of threads start to emerge that hold real significance. The concept of merging the stylings of Disco, Jazz, Funk, Boogie and the like has been a well trodden trope since at least the late 80s, which doesn't seem surprising considering the immeasurable impacts these genres had on Electronic music, and the ways in which these styles have evolved and converged over time has always been satisfying to grab a hold of. From the Jazz House vibes of the early 90s, to the Disco loops that dominated during the same period, through to more delicate Nu-Disco vibes that surfaced during the early 2000s, there has been plenty of excellence to shift through when it comes to House music and it's funk fuelled versions. As mentioned before, the influence which many of these past genres had on producers was profound enough for them to merge House with grooves from the sounds of old, and in today's contemporary musical landscape these notions are no different, with plenty of artists looking to make their presence known with their own take on this delightful blend. Instead of movements happening very much in their own space in time, nowadays we are greeted with a full spectrum of interpretations that lean in every single direction imaginable, be it looking more towards Jazz or Boogie or Funk, everything is available and present for us to sink our teeth into. Whilst for some producers this blend seems like a passing fancy, for others it remains very much at the forefront of everything they do, and as a result their blends in particular have a incredible balance, a refinement that only comes about when a master of the craft is present, and this is when the treads start to emerge which only further the potentials of this blend of music. Grooves come alive with an abundance of vitality, percussive arrangements hit hard yet tender at the same time, and the melodic features on top represent a 8 piece band rather than an individualised performance, and this kind of feel gives the listener a vibrant as hell experience. It involves you in such a way that if you were to engage with this music in a club, you would very much get down to it, but with a complexity thrown in there that means home listening gives you just as much pleasure in understanding the absolute parameters of the groove. This dedication yields results that come across different every single time, as all aspects of the universe in which these producers inhabit comes across with purpose and meaning, with staleness thrown out the window as originality, grace and joy come right to the surface, a daring and beautiful blend of the old and the new arranged and executed in perfect harmony. Many of us love groove, and a lot of us love House, and when the two come together in such a way there is an immense level of satisfaction involved, and in a contemporary landscape filled with records that sing to this song sheet, we simply gravitate towards those who wrote their own blueprint and very much ran with it. Threads like that simply cannot be beat, and these are narratives that we could get lost in time and time again.

A producer who very much remains in control of one of these treads is Croatian producer and label head Ilija Rudman, who for some time now has been wowing audiences the world over with his highly refined take on groovy House. Rudman has groove running through his veins, with this sentiment ringing true with pretty much every single release he has pushed out, but to say that he remained focused on just one kind of groove-House blend would be an absolute disservice to the man's vision when it comes to this convergence of styles. Looking back through his works, you see an incredible range of styles being explored and nurtured, with the music verging between all manner of spaces and places in the most beautiful of ways, all of which is linked together by familiar elements that seem to run through the core of Rudman's sound. The feeling, no matter the style being presented to us, always has a heavy dosage of emotion injected into it, as warm chordal arrangements lay themselves over a beat you can feel deep in the heart, no matter whether the vibe leans towards more contemporary tones or towards the sounds of the 1980s and 90s. Rudman conveys such a mood in his music, with an emphasis placed on how every element within his expertly designed system is placed to get you moving, and it remains the kind of music that burrows deep into the consciousness when you engage with it during the quiet moments, such is the level of depth found within his music. The narrative that comes forth remains very much inter-linked, with energies and vibrations from previous releases present and correct on records that arrived after, as a sense of progression continues to leap forth and entice you into investing further in the story, and as a journey from here to now it's pretty astonishing. Rudman's sound is a thing of beauty, a essence that wraps around the soul and keeps you close to the heart of it all, never wavering from it's original message but taking all the time in the world to showcase to us new sides to the story, and it's this flexibility and vision which keeps us on board for the longest possible time. His discography is a reflection of this extraordinary journey, with plenty of records that stick out and live long in the memory, with some of our favourite EPs including the deep proto vibes found on the bass heavy 'See' single, which landed in 2005; the expertly placed grooves of the 'Closer Dancer' record, which arrived in 2005 also; the bass laden beauties that reside within the 'Blast from The Past' record, which was released in 2008; the heavy boogie notions that persist on the 'In Motion/Definition' record, which landed in 2009; the superb feel good vibrations that jump out of the 'Cinematic Behaviour' record, which arrived in 2012; the summery and fullness that exists on the gorgeous 'EP One' record, which arrived in 2015; the Rhodes laden goodness that smoothly meanders along on the 'Pagoda' record, which was released in 2016; the wonderful swings and sways that make up the 'Higher Ground' release, which also arrived in 2016; the infectious melodic frequencies that make up the sure party stater 'Nights EP', which came out in 2017; and finally, the gently undulating tones that converge and prosper on the 'Tears to Sound' record, which arrived in 2018. From his LPs, be sure to check out the rich and invigorating funk and boogie that resides on 'The Reveal', which came out in 2011; the equally intoxicating sounds that unravel from the 'True Colours' record, which landed in 2015; and finally, the slow and sultry feels that wash out of the 'Paradigma' record, which landed in 2018. Be sure to check out 'The Garden' EP, which landed in 2008 under his Yolanta Sy alias, for equally good vibrations. In all, Rudman's discography reads like a bliss filled journey through all manner of tones, textures and styles, with rhythm and melody always playing a key part in conveying to us a groove of great meaning and purpose. It's music that makes the heart sing with it's warmth and it's feeling, as bass lines occupy the lower ends with gorgeous chordal arrangements operating up above, and as time passes by we feel more involved and welcomed, a passage through spaces and places that could soundtrack any room or context imaginable. His music represents some of the finest blends of disco, boogie and house going, and that is down to his dedication to the craft and the parameters set within his creative vision, which in many ways seemingly have no end to them. Every record is a gem to behold, and we highly encourage you to go out there and give his music a listen - it's always a pleasure, no matter where you are in the world.

Dead Horse Gang Music is more than music, it’s a way of life, a way of thinking, a path to a maximum freedom of the one, who can accept it.

And now we turn our attentions to his latest release, 'Where Wild Horses Go', which arrives under his new project Dead Horse Gang, and is being released by one of our favourite labels, Forbidden Dance. The record remains a love letter to the sounds of the 80s, particularly those found on the West Coast of the US, where proto-funk and boogie were all the rage at the time, and it felt like a frontier for a beautiful convergence with the sounds that resonated from Chicago around the same period, and in many ways Rudman looks to bottle that essence and present it within the present context. The results are pretty fantastic, with the music presented in a low slung, low-fi kind of way, with a beautiful looseness coming forward within many of the tracks that personifies both Rudman's passion for the music he is looking to emulate along with his dedication to sound design and composition. Effortlessly groovy, and oozing ideas from every facet, there's plenty of things in this record to fall in love with, and if you close your eyes you just might be transported to a sunny, breezy and dusty space, where the mountains' silhouette juts up into the deep blue sky, and everything feels calm, soothing and peaceful, a place where you feel at one with it all - and on that note, lets dive right into this majestic experience....

'Three Four Amazing' greets us right out the start of the gate, and the intro personifies the audial experience we are dipping ourselves into. The drums remain laid back and spacious, providing plenty of room for the keys to get involved on top, with chordal lines intermingling with one another with a beautiful sense of embrace, as fast paced vocal samples move in and around the top ends of the frequencies. The track then slides into a fuller drumming segment, with the chords doing much to continue the groove onwards and upwards with meaning and purpose, as we slide from rich arrangements through to sparser ones, and it's the transitions that help to keep us on our toes, forever moving from one space to the next at a beautifully designed pace. The music just soothes you all over, but in a way that you don't lose yourself completely, instead you glide from one layer to the next, transfixed on all these little reference points that keep you locked into what might transpire next, and it's that feeling inside that hooks you into place and keeps you right there. Mesmerising stuff. 'We Hold The Light' comes next, and this one begins with the drums to get us going. The percussion is suitably deep and sparse, which in turn allows plenty of space for the vocal sample and bass line to come into view, with the vocals coming across in a kinda cheeky manner, but with plenty of rhythm that helps to provide a precedent for the melodic lines that come right after. We are joined by two chordal lines, one that sits just below the drums and another that sits just above, and it's this dual approach which helps to create a sense of scale, to create a wide place all around us that contains so much wonderment and presence, and it's really wonderful to see the structures around us shift from one to the next. Our heads nod from side to side, as the track continues to keep us on our toes as elements slide by ever so slightly different to the previous segment, and that is a great feeling indeed. Up next comes 'Your Smile is a Shotgun', and this one begins with the drums and vocals to get us going. Like with before, the vocals help to set the stage from a melodic sense with things to come, with the drums here more dense and hat heavy, but their groove accommodates the chords that arrive perfectly, and as the vocals return you can feel the momentum right through your body. The snares come into view after this segment, which only helps to propel us further into the groove, and as the drums quieten down for a moment we start to imagine what might come next, and lo and behold it's the most profound keys ever, their presence hit hard right through the middle of the mix with a feverish intensity. The track then moves back into it's original segment, the vocals flickering in and out of view, floating down to engage with the groove when it suits, as time provides that gorgeous Rhodes chord line one final time to shine, which leads the track into it's outro segment. Wonderful stuff!

Up next comes the title track, and this one begins with the deep set vocal samples to get us going. This track arrives like a bolt of lightening, that slow meandering pace that emerged during the three initial tracks shocked into life with this overly melodic and enormously scaled track, with the pace still slow and sultry but the keys really do hammer things home in an emotion sense. Rudman turns his focus to really nailing the textures and tones on this one, and as the seconds pass by we are greeted with all manner of excellence, with the little key line that comes in around the half way mark a testament to that fact. We just sit there transfixed, in awe of the sound, and so excited for what might come next. 'Demons Race - Theme' comes next, and this one begins with the kicks to get us going. The kicks are set into trios, and as the snares come into view the sound starts to feel rounded, and before long the vocals come into view which help to provide a sense of where the melody is going to go, and the keys that come into view soon after are glorious, adding depth and solidness into the mix. The groove feels so well balanced, with the spaces found inbetween doing wonders to the mind and the body, a little rest before the second half of the record dawns. 'After The Gold Rush' comes next, and this one starts with the keys. The pads move between two chords with a real sense of intent, and before long the drums and bass keys emerge to keep the momentum going on strong, as we continually move from one phase of being to the next, as structures continue to move and jive within a sea of rhythmic flourishes and pulses. The key line that comes in around the 2 minute mark could move mountains, it's pace and application just so on point as we continue to move in and out of time with a startling sense of pace, forever open to what might come next, as we continue to slip into the early night sky. 'Over The Hill' comes next, and this one certainly has a cinematic opening indeed. The gradual growth of the key swell moves alongside the kicks as bird noises call out the bass and snare to get involved, and this is exactly what happens as we transition into the next phase, which contains plenty of excellent key lines that cascade all over each other, with beautifully warm pads emerging from the spaces that transpire from within. The way that the cut moves from sparseness towards fullness is finely balanced, but works so very well as time passes by, with the chords returning at all the right moments to get us involved again, our hearts soaring to new heights of understanding and passion with each passing moment. Glorious.

'Broken Home - Lost Son's Diary' comes next, and this one begins with a cascade to get us going. The track quickly builds up steam with the bass, drums and chordal lines coming into view, as gull samples speak out to us from within the track, adding this intriguing layer of texture up top, with the groove that comes forth something special indeed. The track remains keen to simply meander along at it's own pace, content in the knowledge that flourishes outwards and upwards aren't required to make an impact, with the dip down into the kick less segment building gradually back into the main groove, which also sees a lead key line come into the picture, and as ever it's really effective. 'Black Marble' comes next, and this one begins with the vocal sample to get us going. The voice speaks clearly, as if it's right in our ears, telling us all about the passion within us, as if we are being addressed directly, and that adds enormously to the background narrative that is beginning to play out, with the drumming, bass and light keys finding their groove with an enthusiastic intensity. The vocals move away in order for new key lines to be emphasised, before coming back into the mix to add further to the narrative, and as they slip away for the second time we see a beautiful key line come into view to really take us away. The drums and bass are left to keep us afloat, as the track looks to see itself out the door, content in it's ability to charm us and also speak to us on a humanistic level. Up next comes 'Exodus Theme', and this one begins with the choppy chordal arrangement to get us going. This goes through a number of sequences, dipping and diving with a real sense of intent, with light cymbals and hats doing the business underneath, and before long the drums arrive, with a gorgeous swinging rhythm that does much to compel us to continue onwards with the journey. Additional chords make their presence known up top, with the two layers doing remarkable things to the soul, and before long we move through one of Rudman's trademark transitions, as the feel becomes distinctly textured with a mix of bass, key lines and pads doing much to contrat with the fullness of the original chord sequence. We move back into this original movement soon enough, and the track continues to play itself out from here, moving into the final stretch of the phases with passion and purpose.

'Ministry Of Lost Souls - Outro Theme' comes next, and this one begins with the chimes of a clock to get us going. A distant distorted vocal sample swings into view before coming into the frame in it's entirety soon after, as the drums descend upon us with a gorgeous downtempo swing, and soon after the bass line and keys move into the picture, and we remain entranced by the ensemble of colours being presented to us. The lead key line moves along with a hypnotic feel, leading the way into the next phase of the track that features some beautifully deep chordal blemishes that do wonders the mind, as we move from left to right with a real sense of purpose and groove. Gorgeous stuff. To wrap things up, we have 'Riders of The Secret Gardens', and this one begins with the rhythmic stabs to get us going. The keys work on two levels yet again, with the looping bassy notes intersecting with the chords up top, and their rhythmic frequency provides the perfect basis for the drums to come sliding into view, which they do expertly, as the swing gets into it's fullness very quickly indeed. A sturdy bass line sequence merges underneath, as additional chords beef up the original sequences, and before long we reach the climax to end all climaxes, as all manner of chordal lines merge together with such purpose, an almost euphoric blend of tones and feels. it's just wonderful. The way in which the original melodic sequences move away to give space for the larger than life chords before moving back into the fray is expertly pulled off, and just shows how good Rudman is at perfecting the balance between elements within his tracks. The track sees one final flourish of elements come into view, in the form of high end chords that create one final moment for us to cherish on a record that has many wonderful moments, a love letter that could last a lifetime, all pulled together by a producer with passion, vision and charisma at the forefront. You will forever feel something with this record, it's that good.

Only the most visceral of records take you back to a time and a place, and it's often most effective where they pair the sounds of today with the sounds of the past, and with some producers you get that feeling every single time. Ilija Rudman is certainly one of those producers who combines effortlessly elements of Boogie, Disco and Funk within a House Template, and his discography is filled to the brim with wonderful moments that help the spirit soar to new heights, with the experience differing each time due to Rudman continually shifting and refining his sound. This new project really just elevates the aspects of his sound that we already knew and loved, and gives it a whole new twist, with the track lengths shortened but the amount of things going on seemingly doubled. Each cut flows seamlessly into the next, the passing between emphasised by a careful consideration for how tracks start, peak and end, and within those mini journeys we are greeted with all manner of excellence, be it inspired percussive segments or ingenious melodic outlines, this is an album that feels full, inspired and indefinitely engaging. One of our highlights of the year, that's for sure.

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