'Billboard Presents: Electric Asia Vol 4' will be released globally on November 6 by Hong Kong label b2 Music and US music giant Billboard. The latest edition of the popular compilation series features 15 tracks of new and exclusive music from like likes of Taipei-based RayRay who teams up with South Korean sweetheart DJ SODA, Taipei's KING CHAIN, the Philippines’ No Rome (with UK singer Bearface) and an Alma Negra track remixed by Japan’s Kuniyuki, to name just a few.
'Electric Asia Vol 4' is much more eclectic than previous editions of the series, perhaps reflective of dance music fans in Asia digging a bit deeper into music since the onset of COVID and subsequent closure of clubs around the region. It feels more underground and explorative, much like the listening patterns of music fans in the region who have been living online and searching out new sounds and artists. The result is a less name-driven album, but with some real gems, and a deeper dive musically.
By now, many electronic music fans in the region know of Barong Family’s girl wonder RayRay but her collaboration with DJ SODA — from the recent Barong Family compilation that celebrated their 200th release — is a nice surprise. ‘Obsession’ is a dark, speed house track with a haunting vocal and a big drop. Another artist out of Taipei also features on volume four — KING CHAIN might have been building his base in the mainland for a few years now but is back in his motherland and has come up with a big, accessible track called ‘Kryptonite’ that features US singer Sam Creighton. Built on an earworm spy theme riff, the song is a dark, minor-chord lament buoyed by Sam Creighton’s sharp-edged vocals. It’s a twisted love song that finally explodes in an orgasm of a drop with KING CHAIN’s heavy dubstep stylings. Another track on the darker side is Zok’s ‘Feelinnn’, also built around a sultry female vocal lead, and featuring effective use of breakbeat in the verse. This song is catchy and effortlessly funky, with heavy bass tones and a bouncy house beat.
LIZZY WANG’s track ‘Tonight’ Feat. SHIMICA is simply a fantastic dance floor energizer with a tour de force lead vocal by Hong Kong’s best topliner who stretches the limits of dance music vocals. SHIMICA has also collaborated with RayRay and others, and she brings an RnB element and range that takes electronic music to unexpectedly soulful places. Similarly, the UK’s Bearface has a plaintive, lovelorn style that perfectly matches UK-based Filipino producer No Rome’s blinding garage track ‘1:45 AM Feat. Bearface’. If this track feels like retro UK garage it should — MJ Cole contributed to the production along with The 1975’s George Daniel. The beautifully melancholic vocals, jazzy chords and the urgent beat make this a massively accessible track, for the club or your headphones.
One of the more pleasant surprises on 'Electric Asia Vol 4' is a breezy, soul-kissed house song called ‘This Love’ by Indonesian it girl Kallula. With production from Indonesian house god Dipha Barus, the song is catchy and danceable, and Kallula’s vocals are breathy, sun-kissed and sublimely poppy. A youthful Thirstkid hails from Manila and delivers a lovely house gem called ‘Wake Up!’, which was apparently a class project. In fact, the subject (perhaps tongue in cheek) is about being late for class. The build-up of the song and structured layering certainly feels slightly paint by numbers — but oh, what numbers! Once all the elements come together, along with his vocals, the song is a perfect little house hit that will stay in your head long after it ends.
Singaporean producer JUN has created some of the most stunning EDM inspired tracks of the past few years on the Asian landscape, and his contribution ‘Love We’ll Find Feat. Simone’ is no different. The lyrics tell a story of lost love and yearning — beautifully sung by Simone — while the synths wash over the bassline and vocals in epic waves, ending in a big, memorable chorus. JUN represents the bright future of Southeast Asian producers and songwriters. On the more experimental side, Zokhuma is a leading light in the vanguard of post-EDM electronic producers who are now distinguishing themselves in India. His beats blend breaks, Indian elements and stunning, hypnotic soundscapes. Funkier than most electronic tracks, ‘Shatter’ is built around an upbeat break and uses rhythmic vocal samples that wouldn’t be out of place in a few 80s hip hop tracks. All in all, ‘Shatter’ is a stone-cold groove that will get any dance floor moving.
Another much-appreciated surprise on 'Electric Asia Vol 4' is Tontrakul, a Thai polymath who plays bass, keys and indigenous Thai instruments, all to great effect, and all on the stunning drum 'n' bass track called ‘Electro Khaen’. Once the moody, liquid D'n'B groove sets in, Tontrakul plays the melody on the Khene, a Thai reed instrument similar to the Chinese Sheng. It’s a groove-driven, electronic time-warp that blends sounds and cultures in a way that could only be 2020. In that same vein, Japanese beatmaker and producer Daisuke Tanabe has forged a name for himself in eclectic circles, from hip hop to breakbeat to techno. His track ‘Tablasuke’ finds him weaving a b-boy hip hop break with Indian tabla drums to mesmerizing and funky effect. This truly original track is a sonic, cultural mashup that found its way onto the highly acclaimed ‘Kaala Khatta – Flavours of the East’ compilation from the new Indian label KRUNK KULTURE. This one has been on heavy rotation since we first heard it. Another Indian artist making waves in the leftfield electronic field is Oceantied — a new electronic project from Indie artist Ketan Bahirat. He combines diverse styles in his releases, from moody downtempo tracks to manic footwork and jungle styles, like his track ‘Shadows’, that pushes boundaries and form. It’s sure to appeal to fans of broken beat artists like Flying Lotus.
BeepBeepChild is a newcomer from Hanoi, Vietnam, and the dance music hotbed 1900. ‘Choi & Nhay’ revolves around an up-tempo house beat that owes a debt to UK garage and hypnotizes with a repetitious chorus of the title. This track is simply a danceable joy but also has a deeper vocal moodiness that makes it dramatic even if you can’t understand Vietnamese. Rounding out the album are two longer tracks that get in a groove and stay there. Alma Negra have been turning out quality Afro and Latin inflected house tracks for the past few years, and ‘Dakar Disco’ falls right in their Cape Verdian sweet spot. ‘Dakar Disco’ sits rhythmically on the Afrobeat tempo and is dance floor ready. It gets a more ‘live’, analogue-sounding makeover by Sapporo-based producer Kuniyuki Takahashi, who has been quietly turning out solid records and remixes since the 90s that get played and name-checked by similar deep house globalists like Joe Claussell and DJ Cosmo to name a few. Kuniyuki remains one of Japan’s best-kept secrets. Finally, Apsara AKA Mari Furuya finishes up the album with her track ‘Biocat’. The Jakarta-based, Japanese DJ creates a deep tech house track that fits in with her DJ sets that range from tech to minimal — all the while keeping it deep and spiritual. Apsara has become one of Indonesia’s most in-demand DJs, from Bali to Yogyakarta and wherever the groovy, spiritual vibes are happening.
All in all, 'Billboard Presents: Electric Asia Vol 4' covers a lot of territory and goes a long way towards proving that Asian dance music is coming into its own — with its own sounds and identity. Perhaps the best part of lockdown this year will be this branching out and growth from the Asian dance scene. Here’s to 2021!
'Billboard Presents: Electric Asia Vol 4' is out Friday November 6.