Londoner Sara Abdel-Hamid returns with a new vision of Britain’s electronic future: her own urban dream world
When Ikonika’s debut ‘Contact, Want, Love, Have’ emerged in 2010, it did so at the fringes of dubstep and UK funky with a cheap and cheerful chipcore twist. It was spontaneous and sporadically brilliant, but even Sara Abdel-Hamid herself admitted it was an imprecise science that was often the result of her bashing at a keyboard until a nice sound came out. Despite this, people warmed to her upfront, playful diversions. So it was a surprise when she suddenly disappeared.
In the three-year gap between that record and ‘Aerotropolis’, the silence broken only by last year’s throat-clearing ‘I Make Lists’ EP, dubstep and chipcore have been usurped by the lumbering fist of American EDM and the UK funky scene has ground to a halt. In their place, the rest of UK dance has distilled, distorted and refined itself along more varied lines. Disclosure have taken over the charts, grime and bashment have become niche industries, and leftfield labels such as Night Slugs and Hyperdub have consistently put out pioneering releases, following in the boundary-pushing footsteps of Warp. Things are better than ever.
It’s against this backdrop that ‘Aerotropolis’ drops – and what a spectacular drop it is. Soaring electronic melodies wrapped in rich production get deep under your skin, laced together by the album’s evocative title, artwork and tracklisting, conjuring up a world of their own.
‘Beach Mode (Keep It Simple)’, featuring up-and-coming vocalist Jessy Lanza, sparkles and shimmers with a nostalgic mid-’80s Manhattan disco-ball melt. The melody on ‘Eternal Mode’ is a jet-speed night flight through a megacity of the future. With every track we are given a peek into Ikonika’s urban dream world: ‘Let A Smile Be (Y)our Umbrella’ is the sound of two lovers finding solace in the chaos of metropolitan fug; ‘Manchego’ is a relentless, penetrating soundtrack for men hard at work keeping the infrastructure of the machine running.
Indebted to the Night Slugs crew, to whom Ikonika remains close, the London label’s influence is palpable throughout. The light-touch euphoria of ‘Mr Cake’ feels like a direct answer to Girl Unit’s ‘Ensemble (Club Mix)’, and ‘Aerotropolis’ as a whole sits nicely alongside Jam City’s excellent 2012 album ‘Classical Curves’. If you pick up this record and haven’t heard those two, add them to your playlist. Ultimately, ‘Aerotropolis’ is not just a statement of Ikonika’s personal growth and reinvigoration, but a measured statement of British electronic music’s broader lift-off.