Sometimes little is known about new producers who eventually become well-regarded in the dance/electronic music sphere. Actress, to take one example, debuted with his No Tricks EP and a confusing moniker that inspired Boomkat to question his gender, ultimately becoming a darling of the leftfield electronic scene that they’ve pushed. But anonymity is little barrier to success, as Mr. Cunningham and others have so willingly demonstrated, and this time around, the producer in question is in fact female.
Shanghai Den, a new signing to R&S (a strong proponent in recent years of the future garage/UK underground scene), offers many of the qualities that made producers like Actress, Burial, and James Blake so promising; shadowy productions wary of being pinned down to any particular genre and intent on staking out a highly idiosyncratic aesthetic.
The jazzy chords present on EP1 are, to some degree, reminiscent of the productions of FaltyDL, who first broke Shanghai Den to the world with a guest production spot on the “King Brute” B-side this year, but the latter’s tunes, given the spotlight on their own, are far more introspective and much less sunny than Lustman’s. “The Sun,” for instance, offers paranoid atmospheres, somewhat prickly sound design, and a central hook (not at all catchy, perhaps intentionally so) reminiscent of a more subdued mentasm stab, clearly connecting to rave and dance music at large but at no point letting itself be overtaken by the drug-addled euphoria that so characterizes much of rave music (perhaps this is what marks Actress, Burial, and others as so unique, their ability to create music that’s clearly in the lineage of rave but isn’t at all characterized by the mood thereof, instead more in line with the exhaustion and melancholia of the night spent recuperating after the party, quite literally post-rave). It reminds somewhat of the apocalyptic overtones and relationship to genre shared by Old Apparatus, producers indebted as much to post-rock as to ‘ardkore.
“Vale W. Group,” meanwhile, reminds even more obviously of FaltyDL’s jazz samples and 2-step swing, but again in a much more downward-gazing manner, paranoia and minor-key uneasiness abounding, the squawks of brass instruments sounding apocalyptic rather than joyous, especially when compression tricks are utilized to quash said sample under the relentless rumble of a three-note Reese bass line. Then somehow the whole thing morphs into a Shakir-esque stomper, Den obviously unafraid to blast through any genre barrier in order to create interesting pieces.
The tracks contained within are by no means masterpieces, and they’re certainly not thesis statements from an artist quite clearly still in the making. But these impressive, innovative productions deserve a considerable amount of merit from an artist who herself deserves a close, thoughtful watch. These are the beginnings from which stars are made, and Shanghai Den has all the makings of such.