California born and now Berlin-based, DJ / electronic producer Lady Blacktronika (real name Akua Marcelle Grant) saw her productions reach a considerably wider audience when Mike Huckaby featured several of her tracks on his 2007 Detroit radio show, and since then she’s amassed a fervent following, as well as a prolific backcatalogue of EP releases, including on her own Cocaine label.
More than anything else, Grant’s been associated with Chicago indebted deep house, though as this fifth album ‘Wax Cylinder Only’ shows, it’s something of an oversimplification of her sound, which sees more stripped down and tech-y Detroit elements smoothly coexisting alongside the deep house grooves. Indeed, describing the seven tracks here as representing a meeting point between deep Chicago house and Detroit techno wouldn’t be a misleading description.
As is customary for her, she contributes her own vocals, which shift from soul through to more diva oriented stylings, often cutting them up into short looped fragments, which become just as a much a rhythmic element as the backing beats, rather than ever really resembling a song. Opening track ‘Perception’ gives good indication of the balance of elements here from the outset, sending airless deep house snares and glittery refracting pads floating against angular, hard-sounding bass arpeggios that call to mind Detroit techno’s stripped back mechanistic precision more than anything else.
Indeed there’s a dry grittiness to the handclaps and echoing snares that suggests the influence of Juan Atkins seeping through perhaps most of all. Like the rest of the tracks here, there’s isn’t much in the way of drastic development once the initial blend of elements and groove has been set up, giving the sense that they’re perhaps more aimed at the context of a mixed DJ set.
‘Body Move’ gets darker and moodier as eerie minor key pads vamp against jittery funk sequences, shuffling snares and stacked 4/4 handclaps while Grant’s soul diva vocals get cut up and pitchshifted into busy layers, in an offering that evokes one of Bad Yard Club’s stripped down dubs. Elsewhere, ‘Love Room’ gets more bouncy and camp, as aluminum-light house snares skip against sampled yells, looped background chatter and a muted funk bassline, in what’s easily one of the most busy-sounding, rattling house excursions here.
‘Loosely Strung (Ruff Draft)’ meanwhile loops swooning violin swoops over an urgent backing of shuffling house hi-hats, murky analogue bass sequences and a vocal sample that repeatedly intones the phrase “on the street”, its seemingly endless locked loop heightening the sense of tension. In this case, it’s the convincing meshing between the more flamboyant deep house elements and the grittier Detroit-hewn grooves that results in ‘Wax Cylinder Only’s most intriguing moments.