Imagine a pixelated virtual club, vibrating with a spectrum of neon-tinted pastels, resembling a Limara deodorant commercial, filled with dancers whose holographic Swatches match their bright VR helmets. It’s 1987, and computer game designers are aiming to create a convincing a near-future venue, filling it with vibrancy via a combination of bouncy Chicago House and brisk, synth-rich disco-pop in the vein of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’. Ikonika‘s ‘Aerotropolis’, just released on Hyperdub, would make the perfect alternative soundtrack.
It’s been quite a while since we heard from Sara Abdel-Hamid, aka Ikonika. After releasing a series of well-received singles, and an LP which marked the shift from auteur dubstep towards a dizzying, rollercoaster-ride combination of chiptune and bass music, the London-based producer focussed mainly on DJing and her own Hum+Buzz label. ‘Aerotropolis’, Ikonika’s second full-length, shows further transitions in both technical and stylistic terms. Replacing her earlier software of choice, Fruity Loops, with Logic Pro, the resulting sound has a more polished, smoother quality.
Far glossier than its 2010 predecessor ‘Contact, Love, Want, Have’, ‘Aerotropolis’ offers the soaring sensation of lavish synth passages, instead of wonky 8-bit melodies, a jet-set edge replacing the rough and slightly disquieting tone of the debut album. At times, it’s almost mid-1980s airbrush illustration translated into musical language; riding a glitter surfboard, champagne in hand, towards a Miami sunset; the joys of discovering the then-novelty of the personal computer; or the sheen of sky-scraping glass castles in an imaginary Metropolis 2000. Ikonika herself suggests that the proximity of Heathrow airport, coupled with her fascination for the imagined futures visualised during past decades, contributed to the spacious, elevating mood pervading Aerotropolis. This blend reaches its peak on the baroque ‘Mega Church’, which echoes the cathedral-like, spacious tropes of early 90s techno a la 808 State, as much as it invokes video game soundtracks, resulting in a mental image of ‘Lawnmower Man’-era computer graphics. Many tracks have an illustrative, filmic or library music tinge to them, which together with retro-futuristic ornamentation make ‘Aerotropolis’ a distant, more cheerful relative of Kuedo‘s Severant.
At the same time, the album contains a number of potential hits. The poppiest tracks, vocal-led ‘Beach Mode’ and the infectious ‘Mr Cake’ share a sensibility with the chillwave trend of 2009: a neon-toned, synthesised hint of end-of-summer melancholia. References to a style which has now been pronounced ‘dead’ make Aerotropolis a temporally-confusing release and provoke thoughts about the Moebius loop of retromania: here we have an album that alludes to an already-outdated aesthetic, itself the revival of a bygone style. Does this mean that stylistic recycling has suddenly accelerated, or rather that chillwave and neo-90s house have yet to be fully explored?
Ikonika’s Aerotropolis is out on Hyperdub today, July 29.