Get Refreshed: Lessons On Dance, Pop, and Purpose

“Get Refreshed” is a column by Billy Bugara covering all things digital in the music world. Refresh yourself here

Cover by Bernard Vernon

Full Playlist (2021)

Dirty Bird: Dirty Bird

Dirty Bird is dance music’s preeminent academic. They make a living out of educating others on the craft they know so well, all the while farthing that very craft to new, unfounded places. Just like any professor and/or researcher in academia, they’ve earned their place by showing a simultaneous understanding of this craft’s contextual history and a beyond-adequate usage of it through action and practice. 

If Dirty Bird is dance’s professor at large, then their recent self-titled offering is their full-length curriculum. Even the most astute dance music heads learn quite a lot when listening to the discography of this Eldia Records standout; this project essentially serves as the one-stop hub for their endless library of electronic knowledge — and all the careful consideration of culture that comes with it. If you walk away from an album like this and fail to recognize just how tightly Dirty Bird grasps the nuances of their musical environment, then you either didn’t listen to the album at all, or you’re being purposefully dismissive towards the people that truly get this genre. 

In a time where naive observers of dance struggle with properly identifying the differences between its subgenres, Dirty Bird was able to string together the various styles’ shared traits while splitting their differences in such a harmonious manner. It’s clear that blistering drum and bass-infused cuts like “Midnight” and “Oasis” are quite dissimilar to the tracks that immediately follow them. But for “Atomic Feeling” and “FES,” respectively, their stark contrasts are less of a jarring detour, and more of a flowing scenic route that leads to yet another flawless exhibition of dance in a different form. 

The entire album carries this mantra from start to finish; even in its short length, there’s just too much to go over in the space provided here. So above all else, what that very mantra – the blending of dance’s commonalities and disparities alike – represents about Dirty Bird themself, is that there’s no single producer as perceptive of culture as they are — plain and simple. Every single dance subgenre they flaunt so perfectly on this project are rooted in culture, and it’s the basis of each of their histories, meanings, and all-encompassing makeups. When no one seems to understand that concept, education is necessary. So here’s your textbook in the form of a musical masterpiece. I hope you like your professor.

ericdoa: “back n forth”

Forget playing by the rules — ericdoa is writing a whole new rulebook by their own means. They own all the future-peering pop sensibilities one could ask for, and in saying this, their road to superstardom was paved in such a smooth and easily drivable fashion. But it’s never been Eric’s intention to take pop music’s easy route, even despite the release of the clean-as-can-be “fantasize” earlier this year. 

With their latest single “back n forth,” it’s quite apparent that Eric is still forgoing the paved pop highways presented to him; they’re a proponent of the turbulent back roads. This track thrives off of its brazen structure, shifting from passage to passage with instruments being thrown in and out of the mix just as frequently as Eric’s own multiple cast of refrains. In contrast to “Fantasize” – a track that just bleeds modern pop based on its hook-reliance and easily digestible structure – this single attempts to make the purposefully disconnected approach that digicore acts hold so close and make it more fashionable than it already is. 

Given that Eric was a product of that very community and still holds extremely close ties to it, it’s no wonder why this elevated offering comes off in the way that it does. Thank God for people like them — acts who, instead of playing into their new domain’s wishes, are changing the guard of said domains with pure, forceful creativity.

Umru + That Kid: “Honey”

Pop music is a blank canvas, but painting an image that most would consider “ideal” requires following at least a few of its set rules. Umru isn’t a stranger to adhering to pop’s most appeal-leaning standards. In fact, it’s what has made his work so digestible and wide-ranging for so many fans and artists within the modern pop landscape all the same. However, that doesn’t mean the pictures that the PC Music talent paints are in any way “normal” — not in the slightest bit. He understands what makes this genre click as a whole, but instead of illustrating its past or even present status, he’s far more concerned with always creating its future using that exact canvas itself. 

Take his latest single “Honey,” where a chord progression and structure that’s “as pop as pop gets” is transformed into a brand new light with a cast of future-centric sonic aspects in its wake. Atop the turbulent, distorted instrumental is fellow pop standout That Kid, whose delicate and softly-sung vocals are submerged in the mix like an innocent raft caught in a tsunami. Yet through all the chaos and calamity, there’s still a pop song here. And it’s a damn good one at that. These two come together for an exhilarating cut that lets us all know how well these two know their pop merit; nothing short of something like this could’ve spelled that out better. 

Pitfall: “mylife”

I adore the art of tone painting in music — when an artist can portray a certain non-musical aspect via the power of sound and structure. It’s not as common as you might think with today’s Internet-based musicians, but when it does happen, it pays off in droves. 

Pitfall’s new single “mylife” is the latest and greatest example of this idea put in motion. And it’s actually not even exclusive to this track in particular. Whether intentionally or not, the direction of this Canadian talent’s work precisely corresponds with the frequency of their output. When they were dropping singles at a rapid pace throughout 2019-2020, their music was fast-paced, swiftly delivered, and all things frantic. This track – dropping in the midst of arguably their most spaced-out and infrequent release period thus far in their career – is the direct antithesis of their past work as previously described; this laid-back, sentimental, and aptly-titled offering is an ideal reflection of their current status as both a musician and standalone person alike. 

It also goes without saying that the track itself is as brilliant as one would expect from an artist like Pitfall. No matter the approach they take, they are a master of the “get in, get out” mentality that so many young Internet acts hold so closely; even despite the lingering weight this track has given its more calculated direction, it still thrives off that exact mentality by doing quite a lot with as little elements as possible. 

Saturn: “Throne”

Saturn’s approach towards pop music – and really just music as a whole – is anything but a one-way street. Their work is just as diverse as their contemporaries’ — often times even more so than anyone else who could possibly be compared to them. Yet whenever they come through with a release, its direction is always crystal clear. If you had to place a single title on Saturn in this regard, nothing would be more adequate than “a master of purpose.” 

“Throne” – the 2-track EP from the Graveem1nd standout – is quite possibly their most purposeful drop yet. After teasing towards a full-length project for quite some time now, this offering serves as a small, yet poignant taste of what’s to come. 

Produced entirely by frequent collaborator rhine1k, both tracks reveal a pair of contrasting aspects within Saturn’s seemingly limitless pop acumen. Whereas the Tropes-assisted “King Duncan” is a bouncy, charm-filled cut fit with enigmatic verses from both talents, the solo “Traffic” sees its fast-paced and straightforward instrumental sitting under a more reserved and controlled vocal tone. 

The purpose of this EP, besides its teasing towards something far more ambitious in scope, lies almost entirely in its differential elements in regards to pop. Saturn has already proved that they’re well-equipped in tackling all that this genre could ever offer; bringing it together as effortlessly and seamlessly as they did with this project was simply a necessary bolstering of this fact.

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