This restless innovator is smashing electronic music’s binaries to bits in order to build something more utopian.
For Loraine James, blurring lines—between club rhythms and experimental sounds, agony and ecstasy, continuity and rupture, the storm and its aftermath—comes naturally. Over the past several years, across a prolific stream of albums, EPs, edits, and outtakes, James has developed one of the most distinctive sounds in contemporary electronic music, in which IDM, grime, ambient, techno, rap, and noise collide in a thrillingly unstable fusion. The autumn of 2019 marked James’ proper arrival: Released on London’s vaunted Hyperdub label, her breakthrough album For You and I wrapped up her opposing tendencies into a deeply personal statement, by turns tender and confrontational, about life as a young, working-class queer Black woman in contemporary London.
The accolades flowed and her bookings multiplied. Then, of course, came the pandemic. James responded to the uncertainty by burrowing deeper into her volatile world of sound. After a stretch of Bandcamp-only experiments, she returned early this summer with Reflection, an album that amplifies everything that makes her music special: vulnerability, expressiveness, sheer force of will. It also marks James’ increasing interest in collaboration, with features from drill rapper Le3 bLACK, Zurich-born experimentalist Xzavier Stone, and even chillwave veteran Baths. In the album’s closing track, Manchester rapper Iceboy Violet gives voice to the twinned senses of struggle and purpose that run throughout James’ music, addressing police violence and capitalist oppression before offering a proud counterpoint: “We bop, we flex, we groove…. We’re building something new.” James’ work takes us inside that reconstruction, in all its beautiful tumult. –Philip Sherburne