Techno and reggae fans are usually a different breed, at least on the surface. But on his latest album Kalaatsakia, out now on The Bunker New York, Gunnar Haslam looks to various Caribbean music styles for inspiration—synthesizing his striped-down, cerebral techno with reggae, dub, and dancehall rhythms to brilliant, and sometimes disorienting, effect.
Below, the Brooklyn-based artist breaks down eight of his favorite 4x4 tracks with distinctly Caribbean features. —Michelle Lhooq
Reggae and house/techno have a long and storied history together, and why shouldn't they? Both forms of dance music are constantly in motion and looking towards the future, and have always embraced cultural dialogue.
Dancehall in the UK influenced many genres around it over its long history, and infiltrated dance music predominantly through hardcore and jungle in the early 90s. Meanwhile, reggae's influence in Germany can be primarily attributed to Moritz von Oswald and Mark Ernestus, especially the latter's Berlin record shop Hard Wax, which still maintains one of the finest selections of reggae and techno in Europe. And here in New York, reggae and house were always going to be subject to the cross-pollination that regularly happens in this city.
What I find most fascinating about this shared history is not so much the sonic traces of reggae throughout house and techno, but how its ideas have permeated dance music.
Dancehall 7-inches throughout the 70s and 80s typically came with both an A-side, and a version on the flip which dubbed out and stripped back the original track's elements— shifting the focus to the producer and his mixing console, often armed with a slew of tape echoes and spring reverbs.
The idea of the dub mix has, at this point, become a long-standing dance music concept. Some producers, however, really take the idea of the dub version to heart, allowing their music to stretch out in time and space, achieving a genre-straddling hypnotism.
What follows are eight personal favorites that each, in their own way, chart the influence of the dub version concept, and how it has fertilized house and techno.
1. Actress - "Wee Bey"
Actress' finest moment, if you ask me. While I love when his music gets manic and wild, "Wee Bey" is a quintessential less-is-more track. You can almost imagine this as the version of a much busier A-side.
2. Newworldaquarium - "Lovin U"
An absolute all-time favorite. I remember finding this one while living in Paris and binging heavy on NWAQ. Goes on forever following its own internal logic. Hazy and smoked out.
3. Pan Sonic - "Sykkiva / Throbbing"
Pan Sonic's Ilpo and Mika's love for dub comes through at very obtuse angles in their catalog, but never as obviously as here. Ilpo's recent dub albums for Mego continue this exploration. As for Mika, I'm still struggling to digest his tragic passing. A recently unearthed mix of Mika playing dub records in 1998 has been on constant repeat at home.
4. Karen Gwyer - "Common Soundproofing Myths"
Something about Karen's rhythms has always felt very reggae to me, especially how she carefully layers and trips out each element in her tracks. This one is a gem—it keeps going and going, and still ends way too early.
5. Ra.H - "Spacepops"
Morphosis' great early Ra.H records on Morphine always approached a kind of dubby house sound—one that he nailed on this 12". B-side "Spacepops" kills it with the CR-78 and sample of The Congos' mega-classic "Congoman," twisting the whole thing into a mess of echoes and feedback. Donato Dozzy's incredible remix has rightly gotten a huge amount of praise, but Rabih's fucking with the RE-201 on the original can't be beat.
6. Basic Channel - "Quadrant Dub I"
Basic Channel are obviously one of the major vectors introducing reggae concepts and sounds into techno, especially with the Rhythm and Sound records. But they started folding the ideas of versions and long dub mixes into house and techno as early as 1994 with the incredible Quadrant dubs of "I'm Your Brother."
7. Bobby Konders - "Massai Women"
A nearly-perfect New York house record, and certainly one of Nu Groove's finest—one that has been sampled to death yet never tires. Konders was primarily a dancehall producer and translated that knowledge to this incredible slice of dubbed-out house.
8. Bookworms - "African Rhythms"
Almost a modern take on the Konders' record above, and already a New York classic.
Gunnar Haslam's Kalaatsakia is out now on The Bunker New York.