Playlists allow you to play the role of musical tourist, immersing you in a regional scene on the other side of the world without the need for airfare. Or sometimes, the scene is less a geographic construct than a spiritual one, coalescening around a record label or common, internet-facilitated aesthetic. These are the scenes we were drawn to over the past year:
The emergence of a viable rap scene in Seattle didn’t happen overnight. Even as Macklemore & Ryan Lewis briefly took over the pop airwaves with “Thrift Shop” in 2012, less-celebrated artists were determining the future of the Northwest city’s sound. In fact, much of the Seattle rap underground resembles other U.S. homegrown scenes that formed in the wake of indie rap icons like Lil B and Odd Future: The music is amorphous and electronic, the lyrics tend toward chemically enhanced streams-of-consciousness (with Shabazz Palaces’ surreal, Afrocentric-inspired treatises serving as a touchstone), and there are enough sonic quirks to make you want to crawl down a SoundCloud wormhole.
Profound Lore was founded in 2004 by Chris Bruni as a casual venture, but within a few years it grew to be a serious metal label. Based in Kitchener, Ontario—about an hour’s drive west of Toronto—Profound Lore has produced some of the most vital voices in contemporary black, experimental, and heavy metal.
Chicago’s underground has been on fire the past few years. Every other week seems to deliver a new batch of releases from the Hausu Mountain label, purveyors of madcap electronics and cyborg-bopping eccentricity. The shadowy Beau Wanzer, whose icy and forlorn productions disintegrate the divide between post-punk and techno, is nearly as prolific—and that’s just one dude. And then there’s Jaime Fennelly’s always progressing Mind Over Mirrors project: his latest album, the critically lauded Undying Color, wanders dense, rippling expanses of pastoral art folk and baroque électronique. For this playlist, we focus primarily on musicians, bands, and oddball geniuses who stalk the back alleys, linking DIY electronics, industrial, droning experimentation, and mutant dance music.
Maybe it’s the cheap rent that’s essential for sustaining the vitality and vibrancy of artists and culture in a modern metropolis, or maybe it’s the proximity to beloved landmarks and bit players from The Wire and the movies of John Waters; either way, Baltimore continues to thrive as a musical hotbed, one that retains a fierce loyalty among the many great acts born and bred there. With the release of Future Islands’ fifth album, The Far Field, we celebrated the city’s indie scene with a playlist of Baltimore acts you may already know and love (Beach House, Dan Deacon), and others who deserve more than hometown-hero status, like Ed Schrader’s Music Beat and relative newbies Sun Club.
Los Angeles rappers have a propensity for giving themselves two letter names. YG is the city’s most well-known export, but there’s also RJ, AD, T.F, and KR. Most of these artists have collaborated with each other, and are a hit or two away from breaking through at the national level. This playlist contains songs by these two-letter rappers, as well as the rest of the city’s best young talent.
On what feels like a weekly basis nowadays, Dais Records revive some long-forgotten synth/ambient masterpiece or a vintage industrial jam that’s exquisitely dark and dreary. Dais isn’t just an archival label, however—their catalog features churning brutality from hardcore-troublemakers-turned-EBM-fist-pumpers Youth Code, and Sightings, the most important noise-rock band of the 21st century. And not everything Dais puts out seeks to obliterate eardrums: On top of their taste for the ugly and abrasive, they have a deep love for the beautiful and sublime.
Home to international stars like Hugh Masekela, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and, um, Die Antwoord, South Africa has always been known for its music. Even during the days of apartheid, this country of 55 million people was a hotbed for pop, jazz, choral, and dance music. While Paul Simon worked with South African musicians back in the 1980s to make his career-defining album Graceland, these days it’s artists and label heads like Kode9 who are looking to the country amid the rising global popularity of gqom, the moody, broken-beat take on South African house that was first divined with the help of cracked Fruity Loops setups in the coastal city of Durban.
Afrobeats is the sound you heard on pop radio for much of 2016. It’s not to be confused with Afrobeat, the funk-based form that Fela Kuti made famous in the 1970s. Afrobeats emerged from Lagos, Nigeria and Accra, Ghana in the mid-to-late 2000s, and serves as an African response to post-millennial hip-hop, electronic music, Jamaican reggae and dancehall, and R&B. There are tracks that rely on familiar tropes—Auto-Tuned vocals, English-language lyrics about partying and sex—as well as build upon distinctive traditions like highlife and Afrobeat, resulting in songs that could only be African.
As cassette tapes and CDs proliferated in the ‘80 and ‘90s, music began to travel to uncharted territories—like small villages in South America. And thanks to the vast reach of MTV and, later the internet, that cultural cross-pollination has only accelerated. One of the more intriguing results of this process has been the rise of Latin American shoegaze: young South American musicians in thrall to U.K. bands like My Bloody Valentine and Ride, but putting their own spin on the genre.
SoundCloud rap sounds like an extension of a thread that arguably began in 2010 with Odd Future. As the genre of rap becomes more notional than actual—lyrics are harmonized and sung in barely recognizable hip-hop cadences, and beats are reduced to murky approximations of a boom-bap tempo—MCs trade form for texture, and professionalism for bellicosity. SoundCloud rappers are representative of the genre’s post-regional phase, when it’s no longer uncommon for a Philadelphia hook-man like Lil Uzi to sound like a trapper from Atlanta, a Texas melodicist like Post Malone to sound like a rapper/singer from Chicago, or a Florida bedroom producer like SpaceGhostPurrp to sound like a gangster from Memphis.