When I interviewed the folks behind Seattle’s Jungle Gym Records a few weeks ago, one of the first things I wanted to talk about was Vancouver, B.C. Three hours north of here, what used to be known around the world as “No Fun City” thanks to its dearth of venues and restrictive nightlife laws has evolved into “The Canadian Riviera,” home to a booming dance-music community that’s developing some of the most interesting contemporary house and techno producers in the world.
Collectives and labels like Mood Hut, 1080p, and Freakout Cult have started to define a bona fide Cascadian dance mindset. Although the music coming from Vancouver is incredibly diverse, there’s a unifying special attention paid to the environment and ambience of a track. Foggy, ruminative, and relaxed, it’s dance music that often projects mental landscapes outside the club—the rainy sidewalks you walk on the way home at night, or the salty whiffs and glimpses of the Salish Sea you get between the buildings downtown. Tracks like “I Met You on BC Ferries” by LNRDCROY and “The Glass City” from Pender Street Steppers stake out explicit chunks of the city in their titles and gorgeously soundtrack them to rhythms you could boogie, or read a book, to.
The core foundational group behind Jungle Gym Records moved from Minneapolis to Seattle just a year ago, but the collective’s music also stakes out our temperate, coastal spaces via loose house and techno idioms. “Through endless whirlpools and over cliff-side, JG02 is at home neither on land nor sea, wading in the shallows of the dreary Pacific coast,” reads Jungle Gym’s Bandcamp description for one of its latest releases, Lac Seul’s Districts 12˝. It’s a funny descriptor given that it was recorded in Minneapolis a few months before Jungle Gym’s move here—a “Pacific” record from a project recorded in the Midwest and named after a lake in Ontario.
You can hear Lac Seul’s transmarine longing for westerly moods in “Shallow Waters,” the drifting, reverberant beat scuttling atop restrained synth chords that gently suggest stormy, unsettled waters. Halfway through, a melodic shift calms those seas, casting a potential light into the mist. “Before,” whose title suggests the period just before the move to Seattle, is more outwardly optimistic: a pensive, stoneriffic swing through the haze toward the then-undefined West Coast. The record is the musical equivalent of Albert Bierstadt’s 1870 painting Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast—a mythic, breathtaking depiction of a place the artist had never actually been, but felt drawn to.
When I asked Jungle Gym if they chose Seattle because of Vancouver’s chilled-out, mood-heavy dance scene, they said that while they’re excited to play there, the main draw here was simply the water, and a call to the West.
It’s interesting to hear the city through the ears of these transplants. With excellent records like Districts exploring that Pacific feeling through Jungle Gym’s rigorous commitment to improv songwriting and one-take recording, the label’s also, perhaps inadvertently, begun to carve out Seattle’s identity within this developing regional sound. We’re all kind of making it up as we go here in Seattle, and the restless creative energy of its newcomers, eager to reimagine the city, will undoubtedly become one of the major driving forces shaping its future. Jungle Gym and Lac Seul’s distinctive contributions are a refreshing addition to the metronatural mix. junglegymrecords.bandcamp.com
LGEP II: Night and Day
We Are All Fucked
Seattle producer Caleb Talbert, aka Luna God, has been impressing us with his unusual approach to hip-hop the past year or so. Eschewing classic boom-bap and loops, his tunes are unafraid to rock weird instrumentation (harps, seal barks, hand drums), and their structures often veer off in surprising directions. LGEP II’s “Booty Bounce” and “Night Out,” for instance, turn into completely different songs two minutes in—halting their energetic, club-ready energy and ending on strange snippets of hypnagogic funk, spliced in like a French New Wave cinema jump cut. But one of the best parts of Talbert’s work is his devotion to working with and showcasing the breadth of up-and-coming talent in the area’s booming hip-hop and R&B community—especially folks located outside what’s commonly considered Seattle’s core. On LGEP II, he invited West Seattle’s Taylar Elizza Beth; South Seattle’s ZELLi, Campana, and Nitra; SeaTac’s Nani; and Burien’s Demise to give it their best shot, and they all more than rose to the challenge, knocking their guest appearances out of the park with their wildly diverse styles.
“There’s so much talent in this city, so much new talent, so much young talent, it’s crazy,” Talbert told me when we premiered the record on seattleweekly.com last week. “It’s exciting. Even just outside of the city, Federal Way, Kent, there are so many musicians doing dope shit.”
One such talent is Federal Way’s Donavan Satterwhite, aka bzkt., who first caught our attention last year after a run of four consecutive high-quality beat tapes. Up to this point, bzkt.’s instrumentals have been loose, experimental, and decidedly stream-of-consciousness, but his latest, the glumly titled We Are All Fucked, is easily his most polished, complete, and focused work yet. At a hefty 21 tracks, this outstanding album finds bzkt. picking up the microphone and rapping, producing roughly half the tracks himself and handing the rest off to a slew of other beatsmiths from across the country like Toonorth, LSP, and Kamandi, whose styles all complement bzkt.’s lush, sepia-toned, dreamlike instrumental style. But the record’s most interesting tracks come when bzkt. raps over bzkt. beats.
Maybe it’s Federal Way’s geographical location between the two, but on the all-bzkt. tracks, the talented rapper/producer bridges some interesting stylistic gaps between emergent Seattle and Tacoma hip-hop sounds. Lyrically, as its title suggests, the record is a dark, self-effacing trek through doubt, addiction, and existential angst—the MC reckoning with his own checkered past and sniping at the rest of the world while he’s at it. It’s a mood echoed by contemporaries in the Tacoma scene like Ghoulavelii, CRIMEWAVE, and Yung Fern. “NOT A FUCKING HAPPY SUMMER ALBUM. LISTEN TO THIS ALBUM IF YOUR [sic] GOING THROUGH SOME SHIT,” bzkt. writes in the Bandcamp description. That lyrical content makes for an interesting contrast with the instrumentals—airy, trancelike, and romantic, evocative of sounds coming from Seattle producers like BroBak, Khrist Koopa, and former Seattleite TeleFresco.
“I ain’t shit, I ain’t shit,” the rapper glumly repeats on “Pink,” the record’s gorgeous third track, twinkling with distant bells, thick atmosphere, and subtle trap rhythms. “Suicide Capital” blossoms like a flower with dewy choral flourishes and cymbals that mimic the trickle of rain while the MC laments his fallen social status and messy lifestyle—“Drugs help me deal with my stress/Lately been careless/My girls treat me like a junkie.” Track 15, “People are sh**,” pays homage to one of bzkt.’s icons, Nirvana, by slowing down and warping “Smells Like Teen Spirit” ’s familiar guitar line and tossing in a few extra bum notes for fun, repeating the line “People are shit” like an anthem at the song’s close.
Even though bzkt. evokes sounds from Tacoma and Seattle, he stands outside these scenes, landing in a space totally his own somewhere in between. He testifies to the importance of paying attention to the talent outside of western Washington’s major metropolises—where artists are developing the distinctive stylistic mutations that might define the region in the near future.