MASTER CRAFTSMAN OF NEW AGE SUBGENRES SANGO | Flat base decoded
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MASTER CRAFTSMAN OF NEW AGE SUBGENRES SANGO

 


"There's two motives to remixing," explains Sango. "You're remixing to pay homage or you're doing it to gain attention." And as an artist who gained a name for himself by releasing an album's worth of Weeknd remixes, he seems to be coming from both directions.

His More Balloons collection of remixes may have been a clever attention-grab for his new R&B album, North, but referencing the sounds that shaped him is at the root of his practice. Whether that be sampling the music of his youth, repurposing more recent influences, or re-envisioning entire genres through a new lens, his output has been a direct conversation with different eras, styles, and artists. He's produced EPs that placed his stamp on Latin music, introduced trap to baile funk, and made beat tapes based on aural memories of his childhood. Even North is a back-and-forth with the vocalists featured on it.

As the producer developed a sound for himself, he did so with the flat, forested backdrop of Western Michigan outside his window. "They don't force you to change here, which is good, but it's also pretty dry and doesn't offer much." The Ghostly camp was nearby in Anne Arbor, Toronto is a short drive away, and Detroit looms over all. But none of these can claim influence to Sango's output.

It was the Internet and his family ties that made Sango the producer he's become. He lived in Seattle until he was ten, so West Coast rap has always appealed to him. And his parents spent time in the South and listened to a lot of East Coast rap, which was how he was exposed to music from those regions. His grandfather also played in an Afro Cubano band, Sango tells me. "He was the only African American in the band. He passed the taste for Latin music down to the family." More contemporary inspirations range from Toro y Moi to Buraka Som Sistema and on to UK garage.

Despite this wide path, he's managed to circle around to a sound akin to many of his contemporaries in nearby Canada like Ryan Hemsworth, Kaytranada, and CFCF, who all combine R&B with sleek, forward-thinking electronic sounds. Another Canuck with similar tastes is Zodiac, an artist from the cornfields of Central Ontario who claims to have essentially conceptualized the Weeknd's dark R&B sound (without seeing a cent for it). His first solo EP dropped on the like-minded label Vase, which is based in Montreal.

Canadian producer and Weeknd collaborator Zodiac. Photo by Kavin Wong.

Of course artists working in this field aren't limited to Canada, and a similar approach is taken by producers from the around the world. There's the UK's Lapalux and Holy Other, as well as France's Stwo.

A lot of these producers have been lumped into the alt-R&B category since they came up through the internet and appealed to different audiences from traditional R&B fans. Singers like The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, and Miguel also get tied to the hashtag.

Although Sango sees it all as simply R&B, he takes no issues with the name and isn't offended if someone associates him with it: "R&B has always been alternative since Missy and Aaliyah, but now it's becoming darker and grungier with people talking about drugs. But I think it'll go through phases like R&B generally. I'm feeling it, but I'm not down with the dark stuff. I miss the stuff about relationships and how good they can be."

He does identify as something of an underground producer, however. "I'd love to break into the pop world," he says. "But I'd want it to sound like our music. Pop music is really just what is popular. But it's hard to get into that world without being told what to sound like. "

R&B and underground dance music have overlapped since Giovanni Moroder's prime. Whether it be 70s disco or 80s diva house, talented singers have been gracing big four-to-the-floor rhythms and analog synths since their early days of popularity. Juke and Jersey club remixes of R&B tunes have been a staple of the genres for a while now as well, since at least the early aughts, and still today. The only juke track to ever see a major label release was a Gant Man remix of Beyonce's "Check On It." Burial's 2007 single "Archangel" relied on a sample from Ray J's "One Wish."

By 2010, a strain of R&B-oriented "bass music" became prevalent. James Blake's "CMYK" sampled Kelis' "Caught Out There" and Aaliyah's "Are You That Somebody." There were remixes of Ciara's "Deuces" by the likes of Nguzung5uzu, Jacques Greene, and Dubbel Dutch that became staples at hipster hangouts, and Brenmar was busy remixing Cassie's "Me & You," as well as Groove Theory and Rihanna.

This group of R&B-worshipping underground dance music producers soon took the obvious next step and began working directly with vocalists. Rather than remixing R&B jams for dance floors within their particular scenes and subgenres, many of them set to writing songs that might sound more at home on daytime radio than at a warehouse rave.


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Mike Steyels | Vice Magazine
 
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