Top music gear news from Superbooth 2021 – the CDM monster guide

The music nerd cultural happening – modular pilgrimage is back, and with it… way too much gear to wrap your head around. Here are the not-to-miss picks and of course the exhaustive CDM monster guide.

Best modular

Tiptop Audio will make Buchla modules that are authentic – but also affordable. Buchla’s modules have always inspired passion among musicians for their unique approach to exploring sound, back to the 100 series debut in the 1960s. But the official Buchla recreations are pricey – I literally once had a company rep tell me, yeah, dentists are frequent customers. That means it’s great to see Tiptop’s authentic, official, thoughtful modules – finally at some prices that are within reach of more musicians. Check the full list with a lot marked “TBD,” but at least see some recognizable modules for less than $200. Buchla also updated their Music Easel at the show, for US$3999.

“Source of Uncertainty,” also the… theme of 2020-2021.

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Tiptop are also doing some irresistible effects. Even more accessible – thanks to a shared digital platform – are Tiptop’s own effects. The ModFX and FSU are friendly, not arcane, and do stuff you actually want. That’s chorus/flanger/filter on ModFX (with a lot of extras and additional filters), and a bunch of time modulation on FSU, including ring mod, frequency shifting, granular effects, and even tape-style overdubs. There are a bunch of additional modes and twists in both, reminiscent of Mutable’s modules as well as, frankly, a lot of what you now only see in software.

I know a lot of people are deep into the Eurorack addiction, but I like seeing things that are even more compact than what would be in desktop sets – stuff that’s flexible enough you could imagine it in a tiny suitcase rig. And this fits the bill. The ModFX gives you essentials; the FSU gives you the exotic stuff.

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Doepfer proves again it’s a great first-stop shop. Doepfer had the coolest booth – a relaxed bungalow full of playable stations where you could relax and make sound, bestrewn with TV sets powered by artist Alexandra Maciá’s CCTV videos. Eschewing ostentatious display of larger brands, it was the place you might actually explore some sounds. But they also had – as always – some of the most practical additions to the Eurorack scene they originated.

So you get five new modules: an updated Frequency Shifter, a 3-way crossfader, a four-way random voltage trigger, and a slimline module that converts light to voltage, and a cute little passive module with some rotaries. Plus they’re doing a case with a keyboard. Unlike other attempts at that, they stuck a Fatar keybed in the lid – the most space-efficient solution I’ve seen yet. Everything is clearly laid out on Doepfer’s site; Sonic State did a deep dive:

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Everybody loves Klavis. One of the comments you hear most often at Superbooth is, well – there sure are a lot of ways of doing, say, envelope generators. Klavis’ stuff was a big success with a lot of artists I talked to, though, in actually being able to do clever stuff with signal. This year there isn’t a whole lot new, but it’s useful – Two Bits and Tweakers just handle logic in smart ways.

But it’s not the new gear that is significant so much as I could find artists I know easily just by keeping an eye on the booth.

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Schreibmaschine opens up DIY and logic patching in wonderful ways. This is my personal favorite modular lineup of the show. Both the name of the modular line and the artist, Schreibmaschine has a line of wonderfully inventive modules and a set of tools for developing your own DIY projects. There are smart, useful logic gates – again, for elaborating intricate compositions with signal and making the modular environment really sing. Best of all, the Brainiac logic gate and new Pulsate module (a bank of PWM oscillators) all work directly with Music Thing Modular’s Turing Machine standard. Put the modules together in a rack, and wonderful things happen as Schreibmaschine’s modules expand everything you can do with the Turing Machine.

As if that weren’t enough, they’ve also built a bunch of prototyping tools that are the spiritual successor to Mutable Instruments’ offerings – with extra power and expansion flexibility.

Oh, and I love the grape color. More on this soon.

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Neuzeit Instruments won the most buzz for its 3D panner. Quasar just looks the part – while there were other digital mixers around, those giant knobs and brilliant blue bolts launch this thing right on the spatial audio hype rocket. It’s just a prototype, but it gives you CV control of 3D parameters and binaural output. (Curious about the encoder they’re using but will follow up later.)

Check the video for a sound demo. Their existing Orbit module is also lovely – bitcrusher, harmonizer, multimode filter (with fade between LP/HP), envelope generator, mixer, and VCAs all in one. https://www.neuzeit-instruments.com/

Befaco goes noise. Noise Plethora is one wonderfully overdesigned noise source.

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Planet drum

So many drum modules. Okay, some of these were new, some weren’t but were just fabulous to play – the Radio Elephant Portal Drum is just wonderful, for instance. (2019 Superbooth news, but here’s a video from the last 24 hours, so hope you’re happy.)

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Tubbutec and LPZW made a tiny 606-inspired module. Those 606-ish sounds fit perfectly in the form factor and are ideal for some CV control. 509.24 € before VAT. 350G. I like this little step sequencer, too (not new).

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And then there’s the much talked-about ZAPS – analog voice (courtesy Plankton Electronics) with digital control (Winter Modular) and Miguel Angel Martínez’ UI design.

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I think any of these three you could plop in a suitcase rig and … forego the rest of the modular, just about. Radio Elephant’s stuff most fits my personality, but choose your flavor.

Or get a nice compact FM drum module instead, also new this month.

Best of show

Creations that made an impression, and made their own category…

Expressive E’s Osmose keyboard might finally nail the alternative-keyboard design. This notion of how to extend the piano – with keys you can wiggle around or press further for added expression – have been around in various forms for a while, some even predating electronics. But the Osmose is getting there. The advantage of the hammer action is that you can get your fingers around the added possibilities. My sense from a few minutes on it is that skilled pianists, with the mechanical training of their hand and how they use weight, might actually be better mastering some of the nuances it offers, even though they run counter to that same training. (I recall my own piano teacher working endlessly with me on how to deal with the weight of my hand after the keys were depressed, even though normally this makes no sound.)

Osmose benefits from Haken’s sound engine, the sound source developed for the Continuum – a controller that uses a long pliable strip as its input, which helped create this whole category. That engine also found its way into Eurorack form this month. (Expression E were also touting a new software instrument powered by AAS, the physical modeling experts, though perversely that one doesn’t support expressive input. I’ll deal with it separately.)

All in all, this is one to watch – and easily bests the more-hyped entries from troubled ROLI, now Luminary. If you do want a piano keyboard, I suspect this is the one with the most potential. If you want continuous control or a grid, that’s something else.

DIY was everywhere, and Leaf Audio showed off wonderful sounds with contact mics. There was such a hunger for soldering that the workshops sprawled into Sunday into a separate DIY event atop a rooftop venue overlooking the Berlin skyline. Leaf Audio specializes in such workshops, and this kit with contact mics and pickups made surprisingly subtle and beautiful sounds.

Retrokit’s RK-008 is even cuter in person. This tiny sequencer might be the must-have of 2021. More on it separately. See our preview:

Best of desktop

Erica has a hit on their hands. I’ve said enough about this one, but here it is again – and I know from social media no one could take their hands off of it. (Plus a surprise about that shortly.) What CDM readers should know is that a comment about everyone at Erica Synths wearing black prompted Eliza from the company to show up in a blue tracksuit matching the instrument.

Previously:

Waldorf M was an instant hit. This might win the nomination for “Superbooth gear folks would most like to steal,” packing a whole lot of Waldorf’s wavetable legacy.

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ASM are making expressive synths affordable. Look out industry – crazy as it is, yes, this is a minikey (technically “mid-sized key”) instrument with MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression). But they’ve pulled it off. And as ASM continues to aggressively pack features-per-dollar/rouble/whatever you’ve got, it proves it’s possible to create original architectures for deep sound design without spending a ton of money.

It’s a little unfair, actually, putting ASM up against the independent makers, but no matter – I still think you’ll choose on personality. But ASM’s team, led by veteran Glen Darcey, really impress. And this – alongside all these wild indie entries – proves that we’re not in a race-to-the-bottom, clone-everything synth world after all.

Wait, all this wavetable business isn’t what you want sound-wise? Well….

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Don’t forget Sequential also have their Take 5. Was fun watching tire kickers get lost on these two keyboards. Good thing COVID-19 rules meant time limits on booths.

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Fred’s Lab has some overlooked gems of synths. If sticker shock has you on a lot of the rest of this show, there are always sanctuaries like the ingenious Fred’s Lab stuff. Töörö is a deep 6-voice, 4-part “digilog” poly, though it means getting your head around a bunch of button presses since it has just four encoders.

The ZeKit to me, though, was the star – a 4-voice paraphonic synth with step sequencer, multiple waveforms, and lots of easy performance features that make it fun to jam with, all starting at 129 EUR for the unassembled kit and only a little more to have it built for you.

Sure, the filter lacks a resonance knob, but the chill/acid switch is fun. Plus it was impossibly simple to punch in a melody and then mess around with it and recall presets and waveform variations – all perfect for live use.

PWM Malevolent is a complete patchable monosynth from a brand-new vendor. This one also got a ton of buzz – portable, minikey, all-analog signal path, and a whopping 19 outputs and 19 inputs for Eurorack-compatible patching, for 579.99EUR including VAT. The industrial design is really smart, and you get onboard FM and lots of performance features. I love that there’s a drone switch, too.

I’ll say, though, this was the one disappointment of the show for me. Basically, because they went full-analog subtractive, you wind up comparing the sound with (gulp) Moog. And the problem is, the sound of even the far cheaper Werkstatt is more interesting to play with than this (and with its expander even as patchable).

Conceptually, it’s great, and you should still have a look as it may fit a niche for you. But personally, I wish I could have a love child of the Malevolent’s form factor with the sound engine in the Arturia MicroFreak (which actually could benefit from a physical patch bay – you see my point).

This feels somehow like the Holga camera of analog synths. Though… wait, this thing I don’t like could for the same reason become amazing in someone else’s hands in the same way. I won’t stop you.

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Dreadbox’s Nymphes looks really beautiful and compact. I … feel slightly like I already own it, in that I do have the Polyend Medusa, and what play I had on the Nymphes made it sound like the Medusa, and they have similar architectures. But then if I like the Medusa’s multiple personality – grid, analog synth, digital synth, digital control, analog fader and encoder control – I can absolutely see folks wanting some lush Dreadbox analog sounds in a more concise form.

Dreadbox is special, too, in that its stuff feels vintage – not as in a recreation of something vintage, but like a piece of used gear you got from an alternate timeline. And 499EUR including VAT means a very competitive price for a 6-voice instrument with its own very beautiful custom digital reverb, tons of envelopes and LFOs, and metal enclosure.

Best of the depths

Lastly, some of the more leftfield inventions of the show…

Berlin’s own Jomox showed off a new FM module. All those encoders and CV patching make for a deep instrument on its own – even if I then long for a desktop version. (The large empty space on the panel is due to the design’s internals – well, Jomox is used to making fairly large things.)

Aodyo Instruments Anyma Phi is a new physical modeling synth. Of course this came from France. It feels a bit like 2021’s VL1 – a deep desktop instrument with both acoustic models and physical models and tons of control. Of course, it has to compete with a Mac mini running plug-ins like Apple’s own Sculpture, but it’s some nice stuff nonetheless.

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Schmidt are still doing the synth that ate Berlin. This giant instrument has become something of its own pilgrimage inside Superbooth, an epic-sized project with an epic-sized form factor. Even my wide-angle lens almost makes it look smaller than it is.

Mayer’s MD900 was a beast – a 16-voice, 4-part multitimbral desktop workstation made by a small builder from Austria, all running (impossibly) on a Raspberry Pi core. (What, seriously?) It does wavetable oscillators, it has a mixer, there are drum instruments, there’s a Clip Launcher (yeah, like in Ableton Live), there’s an arp and effects and it just sort of goes on and on. Spectral morphing? Mod matrix? They crammed the same engine into a Eurorack module, too.

It’ll be expensive, but if it’s too rich for your blood, this vendor is just as interesting for its smaller options and DIY tools.

Faselunare of Italy – connected to Soundmit, Italy’s own synth fair – was showing its essential open tools, both an excellent new drum module and the deep Microcosmos board. Exciting potential here, even as they also deal with this year’s brutal chip shortage. Think Teensy-powered open hardware you can learn to code on – and just as easily use as a deep, affordable instrument of your own.

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More on all of this soon.

Did I miss anything important? Sound off in comments.

Crust Nation taps TroyBoi for iBoat NYC Concert Series cruise

Crust Nation taps TroyBoi for iBoat NYC Concert Series cruiseTroyboi Concert Jatin Gandhi Photography

Crust Nation‘s tradition of nautical sonic curation continues with the New York concert producer’s revelation of its TroyBoi Yacht Cruise. Slated for October 1, the iBoat NYC Concert Series event will position the “BUSS IT” producer behind the decks for a buoyant, beat-driven evening on the Hudson, the Statue of Liberty illuminated on the horizon. The TroyBoi-soundtracked festivities begin with 9:30 p.m. boarding at Pier 40 (353 West Street, New York, NY 10014). The boat departs promptly at 10:30 p.m. and won’t return to dock until 2:00 a.m.

A limited number of tables are available for reservation (email rsvp@iboatnyc.com). Attendees will be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination and must present a vaccination card or photo of their vaccination card demonstrating receipt of at least one dose. Tickets and additional information are available here. View a full list of other upcoming Crust Nation events here.

Featured image: Jatin Gandhi Photography

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VAVO, nicopop, and ZOHARA create an eye-popping lyric video for ‘Why Do I?’

VAVO, nicopop, and ZOHARA create an eye-popping lyric video for ‘Why Do I?’DT7 SOHA

VAVO, nicopop, and ZOHARA‘s bouncing single “Why Do I?” has received a colorful new lyric video. Featuring comic book-styled visuals that match the single’s upbeat tone and grooving feel, “Why Do I?” takes listeners through its lyrical framework with imagery of beating hearts and smiling lips. ZOHARA’s vocals fit neatly into VAVO and nicopop’s buoyant production, creating a track made to get listeners up and dancing.

VAVO, made up of Jesse Fischer and Alden Martin, returned to the studio after the pandemic halted their 2020 tour and turned their focus toward making new music. Releasing the singles “Pieces” this year and remixing Sam Feldt’s “Pick Me Up” and RAYE’s “Call On Me,” the pair of producers has honed its sound while bolstering its ever-growing catalog of new music.

Nicolas DiPietrantonio began his nicopop moniker in 2019, following his previous project, Louis Vivet. With remixes for the likes of Duran Duran, Tove Lo, and Nick Jonas under his belt, the up-and-coming producer has a bright career ahead of him. “Why Do I?” follows his Deja Vu EP, released in March 2020, and expands on his pop-oriented sound.

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Cloonee unleashes the hot steppa—stream ‘Love You Like That’

Cloonee unleashes the hot steppa—stream ‘Love You Like That’Maresdefault 2

In an exclusive interview with Dancing Astronaut at DAY.MVS in August, Cloonee said the successor to July’s “Holla,” then still to come, was “one that people have been asking for for like three years.”

Noting that the single would arrive on September 17, Cloonee contextualized why there was such a stretch between the ask and the delivery, explaining “It’s taken us this long to get permission to use the vocal and it was for a track called ‘Hot [Steppa],’ but we have to change the name of it to ‘Love You Like That.’”

Cloonee concert attendees have been dancing along to “here comes the hot steppa” for quite some time. Well, the hot steppa has finally arrived, although the track’s official title has indeed been changed to “Love You Like That.” Currently mid-tour, Chris Lake‘s tech-house protégé is growing an immense fan base in the United States. Browse Cloonee’s forthcoming tour dates here and stream “Love You Like That” below.

Featured image: Cloonee/YouTube

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Warning issued over identical pills containing different drugs in the UK

Drug testing charity The Loop has issued a warning to UK clubbers about identical-looking pills which actually contain different chemical substances.

Scientists testing drugs at this month’s Parklife festival in Manchester came across four sets of pills in circulation that looked like they were part of the same batch, but were actually made with various different drugs.

The Loop has warned that this is a problem as people might purchase more pills following a good experience, and end up with something different that could harm them, depending on dosage. 

Professor Fiona Measham, chair of criminology at Liverpool University and the director of The Loop, told Newsbeat that the group “tested some pharaoh pills, almost identical in pressing, but the four different colours were four different contents. Only one contained what people probably wanted, MDMA.”

She continued: “”People might buy a pill and have no idea what is in it and have very different experiences. They might try to buy more of a pill after an OK experience and then what they get might have totally different contents.”

It’s believed that an MDMA shortage in the UK and Europe, caused by a variety of issues including COVID-19 lockdowns and Brexit, may be leading drug dealers to fill pills with other substances that aren’t MDMA.

“It’s difficult to overstate how much the drug market has changed since lockdown, COVID and Brexit,” Measham told Newsbeat. “Partly because of Brexit there is a lack of road haulage and lorry drivers and this has meant for example shortages to milkshakes for McDonald’s, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see similar disruptions to illegal supply chains.”

Measham says that people should test drugs where they can, “and always have a tiny, tiny dose and wait a couple of hours to see the effect before having more”. She further underlines, though, that the safest advice is not to take the drugs.

The warning about the pharaoh pills comes amid a number of other recent warnings about other pills, and various drugs, currently in circulation. The Loop put an alert out about blue Tesla-emblazoned pills last month, with two drug-related deaths of young people having happened after being taken ill at clubs in London and Bristol in July. (It’s not yet been reported exactly what caused those deaths.)

For more, read DJ Mag’s recent feature on why the discussion around drug harm minimisation is more important than ever, here.

Ben Böhmer treks through unbeaten territory for fourth album single, ‘A Matter of Time’

Ben Böhmer treks through unbeaten territory for fourth album single, ‘A Matter of Time’Ben Bohmer Press Image

Following a string of recent singles dripped out across the summer swelter, “Beyond Beliefs,” “Escalate ” and most recently, “Erase,” Ben Böhmer has shared his fourth album single, “A Matter of Time” ahead of his forthcoming full-length project, Begin Again.

Diverging from his typically airy and leisurely soundscapes, “A Matter of Time” calls forth a fast-paced and energetic output that is likely to offer a sonic sidestep from the rest of the tracklist that comprises the Berlin producer’s approaching sophomore LP. Although more upbeat, the track still features an atmospheric voyage listeners can fall freely into. Hinging Begin Again upon the idea of emerging from hard times with newfound strength and firm foundations, Böhmer effortlessly communicates his thoughts through intentional, otherworldly production quality.

Stream “A Matter of Time” below and stay tuned for the September 24 unveiling of Begin Again via Anjunabeats.

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Snakehips, Kasbo, Louis Futon and more confirmed for debut High Ground Music & Arts Experience

Snakehips, Kasbo, Louis Futon and more confirmed for debut High Ground Music & Arts ExperienceSnakehips4 CreditMatthewShelter

High Ground Music & Arts Festival is coming to Denver, Colorado for a single-day electronic music experience, set for October 2, 2021. Attendees, or “revelers,” should expect live-oriented electronic sets across two stages, performed by high-profile acts in the grass amphitheater of Levitt Pavilion at Ruby Hill Park. Performers include the veteran duo Snakehips, as well as Kasbo, Louis Futon, Chet Porter, and Haywyre among others.

Led by Noah Levinson of Levitate Events, High Ground’s inaugural event intends to encapsulate the wonders of food, art, and top-tier electronic music experienced within Colorado’s matchless natural beauty. Currently, Tier 3 general admission and VIP tickets are still on sale for the festival’s debut in early October. Grab tickets while they are still available here, and view the High Ground official lineup below.

Snakehips, Kasbo, Louis Futon and more confirmed for debut High Ground Music & Arts ExperienceHigh Ground Full Lineup Art 1

Featured image: Matthew Shelter

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Stream partywithray’s ‘#partystarters’ EP featuring brand new ZHU collaboration

Stream partywithray’s ‘#partystarters’ EP featuring brand new ZHU collaborationScreen Shot 2021 09 21 At 10.40.11 AM

Three years after bursting onto the scene with 2019’s ZHU-assisted anthem, “Came For The Low,” partywithray offers his junior EP, #partystarters. Appointed as the, “dada technicolor hipster of swag house,” partywithray individually rolled out three of the four tracks prior to the project’s September 17 release date. First arrived “Good Bad Boy,” followed by “1 Bump,” and then the highly anticipated ZHU collaboration, “Lil Mama.” Both dark and groovy, “Lil Mama” serves as yet another must-stream constructed by the two longtime friends and co-producers. The EP’s full release revealed the fourth and final title, “Smile Like Aaliyah,” which partywithray performed at Red Rocks while opening for ZHU earlier this summer.

Dispatched via Create Music Group, #partystarters is now streaming everywhere. Listen to the full project, alongside the new ZHU collaboration, below.

Featured image: Nate C. Concerts / YouTube

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GAIKA, Shannen SP and GLOR1A contribute to new exhibition on Black futurism

A new exhibition by Nine Nights – the collective that includes GAIKA, GLOR1A, Shannen SP and Zara Truss-Giles among its ranks – is set to open at London’s ICA next month.

Starting on 11th October and running through to 30th January 2022, the exhibition, titled ‘Channel B’, will take in music, performance and art, including sound and video installations from Nine Nights members GAIKA, GLOR1A and Shannen SP. 

Speaking collectively about the concept, Nine Nights said: “We are building an ecosystem that educates, platforms and promotes alternative Black art and supports Black-focused charities at home and overseas. The global music industry is worth over $50 billion, with 50% of that made from live music. The global pandemic has caused a crisis for all live artists and teams, wiping out a majority of income overnight. For 2019, total revenue for the global recorded music business grew by 8.2% to $20.2 billion. As Black artists, we provide much of the foundation for modern music with our labour. Currently, we are not seeing our share of this money.

“Nine Nights is a new music concept featuring thoughtfully curated Black artists across the world, spanning music, performance, poetry and spoken word. The name is rooted in Jamaican tradition that celebrates the life and safe passing for those deceased over nine nights. This ‘dead yard’ series is for those who have lost their lives at the hands of racism, police brutality and COVID-19, to celebrate their existence and push for change. We want a new system, one that helps develop Black lives in music, art and community.”

Offering a synopsis of the exhibition, the ICA’s website says: “Addressing sci-fi, speculative fiction, horror, political satire and experimental sound, ‘Channel B’ acts as an archive of Black subculture. This exhibition considers the contemporary role of surveillance, digital autonomy, non-human intelligence, and digitised human ritual, asking the viewer to reimagine the future.”

Find more information via the ICA’s website.

Nine Nights first launched as a collective in June 2020, with a series of live streams taking place amid the COVID-19 lockdown.