It’s often said that culture moves in cycles. The electronic music world is an extreme example of this phenomenon, where tens of dated styles are exhumed for every one bold new idea. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Artists can refashion old sounds into new ways forward. Not everyone who paws over history is a retro-fetishist. We can use the past in order to access the future.
The 2000s were a decade dominated by futuristic sound design in techno, dubstep and bass, but the last few years have seen many producers turn backwards. Dew-eyed nostalgia is evoked everywhere. Artists routinely add tape hiss and distortion artificially – to rebel against over-polished productions, to pay homage to dance music’s early history, or just because it sounds gritty and ‘real’. This approach has proved divisive, provoking complex questions about authenticity and innovation.
But the rise of lofi isn’t the only change afoot. The past couple of years, particularly in the underground house scene, producers have been moving towards the brighter melodies of long-maligned genres like new age and balearic. There’s an innocence and romanticism, particularly with the latter, which has seen a swift re-emergence from the likes of International Feel or Grammy-nominated Canadian producer CFCF. The modern world forces us to be cynical about so much that perhaps it’s now the place of our music to help us be sincere.
It’s within this realm of bare emotions that D.K. operates. Granted it’s not his only outlet – in fact the French-born producer has recently put out gritty house as 45 ACP and experimental techno with Low Jack as Slack DJs. But his music as D.K., mostly released on Paris’ Antinote, forms the largest and most impressive body of his work. Island of Dreams is his second album for the label, and here he reaches new heights by straying further from the dancefloor.
The seven songs here rarely last longer than four minutes, but each is an exquisite snow globe of glistening melodies and tropical boogie rhythms. Colour is applied generously, from the choir that float above Evening Shadows’ majestic harmonies to the panpipes that drift through the slo-mo funk of closer High On The Sea.
Sometimes the album sounds like the soundtrack to a videogame set on a desert island. Wildlife chitters on Ivory Forest while mesmerising glissandos caress the breeze on Journey To The Sun. Album highlight Memories gestures at the xylophones of Steve Reich’ Music For 18 Musicians, both a rhythm and a melody, unfolding dreamily under a wafting sax line.
While there’s certainly a retro yen across Island Of Dreams, there’s a sincerity to the songs that stands apart from most throwback material. We’re encouraged to just listen to the music and feel, rather than cross-referencing genres and identifying influences. The quality is what counts, and this suite of enchanting music has it in spades. D.K.’s step away from the club completely makes sense. By following the melodies rather than the rhythm, he’s latched on to something soothing and timely, a balm for the modern ache.