The Five Essential Recordings Of Outsider House

preamble:

The use of the word “Outsider” in Outsider House is a difficult word choice to wrangle with. The phrase “outsider music” has historically been used to refer to untrained musicians who make things outside the commercial sphere, artists like Daniel Johnston, The Shaggs, Wild Man Fischer, or Wesley Willis. As with most such labels though, it’s begun to mean a whole lot more than that depending on who you ask and when.

Humorously, Outsider House matches none of the qualities associated with the phrase by intention, but can often match some of them by accident, making the genre label unnecessarily obtuse. Many of the most prominent voices in Outsider House are electronic outsiders, oddities, or peculiar people, and at the very least when an artist like Delroy Edwards gives his debut album a cover that looks remarkably like the cover of a Jandek record, you can’t help but think that they are pulling from that words history.

Outsider House (or Lo-Fi House) is a genre of house music defined by it’s heavy emphasis on lo-fi, or “woozy”, mixing and the blend of digital techniques and analog instruments.

Emerging in the beginning of the 2010’s on labels like Long Island Electric Services, 100% Silk, and Mister Saturday Night Records the sound would be named in 2012 when Ben UFO referred to a collection of similarly minded artists working as “Outsider House” during a Rinse FM show. What he referred to wasn’t unilaterally Outsider House as we see it now, but the name stuck. In general, artists have disliked the name for the obvious reason given above, but they have also taken aim at the general absurdity of trying to corral the many people inside “Outsider House” into one pen.

The sonic description of what “Outsider House” is does however make it easy to create useful compendiums and understand a general trend which has been bubbling for the last decade.

5Delroy Edwards – 4 club use only

Delroy Edwards (aka Brandon Perlman, DJ Punisher)

LA, 2012

After some early fore-shocks from pioneering artists like Terekke, Legowelt, and Willie Burns, the half-built arena of Lo-fi House and its general plans were drawn out enough for a fresh face to enter. Someone ready to duke it out with what this new sound could be. Released in 2012 on the NYC-based LIES label (as most things of note in the burgeoning Outsider House “scene” were around this time), Delroy Edwards debut project was the first to draw a picture of how Outsider House could fit into the larger world of electronic music. It spins a yarn of a hypothetical LA club night coming to a dreamy and out-of-focus end. Strangler-ons dancing out their final few rounds inside a fantasy that is reaching both apex and conclusion. Smoke, haze, and an unspecified general absence from reality pervaded his lo-fi and saccharine take on Tech House.

Calling it Tech House does hide the subtler machinations of his real influences though. While what he made was technically lo-fi Tech House, it’s Delroy’s successive releases that show the sound that he was really aiming for. His eventual debut album, released four years later, would exist more in the worlds of Minimal Synth and Hypnagogic Pop. In fact his interest into Hypnagogic Pop would eventually culminate in a collaborative album with none other than Dean Blunt in 2018, the bonafide figure-head of the sound in the early 2010s. Hypnagogic Pop’s origins in the DIY LA scene, notably including Ariel Pink, cast a long shadow on Delroy’s city and on his music. Much like the work of early Ariel Pink or John Maus he utilized heavily filtered lo-fi melodies with repetitive pop informed rhythms with only the slight modification of changing it into a house drive.

The 12”, it’s title track especially, would form a conceptual blueprint of what LA-based Outsider House was reaching for. Where previous releases felt indentured into obscure sub-genres and inwardly focused house-head-only elitism, this combination of pop-informed voyeurism and traditionalist rhythms turned out to be Outsider House’s first landmark sound. It was the point at which genre which felt open and hospitable to wider electronic circles, available to collective appreciation. It presented the delicate and grainy lo-fi world his predecessors were incubating alongside knocking rhythms which safely cradled it while simultaneously holding back enough to not strangle it.

4LA Vampires With Maria Minerva – The Integration LP

LA Vampires (AKA Amanda Brown)

Maria Minerva (AKA Maria Juur, UNCANDY)

LA, 2012

LA Vampires was the founder of the early and influential 100% Silk label, and before that the co-founder of the equally influential Not Not Fun records. Founded in 2010 100% Silk had immediately begun releasing straightforward and experimental house records alongside Hypnagogic Pop records, picking up where Not Not Fun had left off in the years before. The interplay between the two genres had already begun on NNF, but on 100% Silk the work would start paying dividends.

While Maria Minerva had been playing with combining the two on her previous album, Cabaret Cixous, it wasn’t until her collaboration with LA Vampires that her sounds seemed to find the comfortable middle ground between them. LA Vampires unpretentious love of rhythm cut through the murky, sometimes overworked compositions of Maria’s early work. Where Cabaret Cixious felt lacking in it’s obtuseness, and the work of LA Vampires could feel under-cooked and sparse, their collaboration felt full-bodied and considered. The two discovered their best qualities in each other.

As the definitive statement on where exactly Hypnagogic Pop fit into house music it served an important function in 2012, furthering the work that Delroy Edwards had started. This function was relatively small and self contained to the early first years of Outsider House though. Within a few short years the whole specter of Hypnagogic Pop would be all but exercised from the genre in favor of Ambient Techno, Ambient House, and Dub Techno. It’s true significance lay in the fact that The Integration LP was the first truly successful pop album based on outsider house. Featuring pop song structures and an explicitly bedroom pop vocal style it was the earliest fully-fledged example of a female singer-songwriter in Outsider House. Setting the stage for artists like Sapphire Slows (who would release her debut album on Not Not Fun records), and Kedr Livanskiy. Artists who would made substantial progress in critically legitimizing the genre and then continuing the genre’s popularity into the late 2010s respectively.

3Huerco S. – Colonial Patterns

Huerco S. (AKA Brian Leeds, Pendant, Royal Crown of Sweden, Loidis)

New York, 2013

With the peak of the Hypnagogic Pop years of Outsider Gouse slowly dissipating the sound of Outsider House shifted out of LA and into more cold and resolute cities. For Huerco S. in New York City, this was expressed through an admiration for the more minimalist genres. On one hand he balanced the very austere brand of techno known as Dub Techno, a prominent and reemerging sound in the electronic underground at the time (e.g. Deepchord Presents Echospace and Andy Stott), and on the other hand he held the cool and distant world of Ambient House.

Where Delroy Edward’s had taken in elements of Tech House to give his lof-fi dreams a nocturnal and meaty bassline to shape them, Huerco S.’s sound was monastic and formless. The opening moments of the uncomfortably named “Struck With Deer Lungs” are the sound of a gradual approach. Slowly standing up as the melody emerges in front of you, inching inward and inward until it’s orbiting around your head with the subtle pan of the final chord, before finally it moves on panning away into oblivion. It’s music stumbled upon late at night, discordant and mesmerizing.

It was a moment of convergent evolution as the mix between Ambient House and Dub Techno arrived at the same conclusion as the mix between Hypnagogic Pop and Deep House. Colonial Patterns was the Leibniz to Delroy Edward’s Isaac Newton. Both had “invented” calculus, and certainly all evidence points to Isaac Newton doing it first, but Leibniz’s work was irrefutably done independent of Newton’s, and most importantly he did it a hell of a lot more beautifully.

Huerco S. was fully formed. Mysterious, polished, and most importantly consistent. Colonial Patterns was delivering an enigmatic and perfect full length album seemingly from nowhere. Other musicians were certainly doing similar things, Patricia and Ñaka Ñaka both released their debut albums that year, but none of them sounded quite as aesthetically complete as Colonial Patterns. This was the sound of the future.

2AL-90 – КОД-915913

AL-90 (aka АЛ-90, Absurdlight90, Absurd Light)

Russia, 2015

In 2013 James Blake released his highly anticipated sophomore album Overgrown and the album’s first single would even enter the UK Top 100. Burial was still the most celebrated and anticipated modern electronic artist in critical circles and the three EPs he released between 2012 and 2013 had become some of the most critically acclaimed EPs ever. At the time they were seen as signs of another classic album to come. Jamie XX’s debut album with Gil Scott-Heron, released just two years prior, was setting the groundwork for what was going to be an immensely successful solo career.

It’s fair to say that the sound of Future Garage was on the up in 2013, but somewhere, far away in the ghost town of Murmansk, Russia, AL-90 would release his debut EP on Endless Plain Records. A release which was presented to minimal fan-fare– the word minimal operating closer to the word absentee there. The EP’s brief five track run is not a great deal like the work he would release in the future, but it’s an important Rosetta Stone to translating the intentions of his latter music. An unheralded sign of what was to come.

AL-90 was someone genuinely concerned not only with what was happening in the insular worlds of club music and avant-garde electronic, but also with the kinds of electronic music that were making genuine breakthroughs into popular consciousness. In the grand scope of his career, viewed with the benefit of hindsight, it is obvious his flirtations with popular appeal were short breathed and would eventually fall back into something more insular and experimental, but in that brief moment though, they were massive. With the release of his second album, after the more demo-ey and ambient SCR, he revealed the blueprint of a new kind of Lo-fi House.

Following the dreamy and ominous rise of the opener “Efimernaya Nenavist’”, the album blows into a Microhouse number that feels like Four Tet via Lo-fi Hip Hop Mix To Study To. It’s an arresting but also deeply natural combination that carries an obvious popular appeal. Aesthetically it was perfectly calculated, riding between multiple indie electronic styles that were on the rise while simultaneously maintaining a clear voice within this new and untested genre.

It’s appeal extends far beyond placid aesthetics though, AL-90, pulling heavily from his Burial influences, tenderly pulls apart his songs and then sews them back up again. Time and time again the album creates a natural flow and development that keeps even repetitive melodies feeling constantly reinvigorated. While AL-90’s subsequent albums would have less obvious popular appeal, it’s influence can’t be understated.

The following year DJ Seinfeld would release his debut EP, and Ross From Friends would release their first significant project the You’ll Understand 12”. While neither explicitly pulled from the same Microhouse and Future Garage tool-house that AL-90 did, they did pursue the same outward facing musical style. Leaning towards sounds and relaxed melodic approaches that were favored by the YouTube algorithm. Each would eventually achieve something that AL-90 never would, garnered over a million views for single songs on YouTube. These successes were a sign of ultimate validation to what AL-90 was doing, easing house grooves into melodic frameworks, bolstered by the lo-fi aesthetic in a way that was dreamy and fluid between genres. A way for Lo-fi House to conquer the world.

1DJ Seinfeld – Time Spent Away From U

DJ Seinfeld (AKA Rimbaudian, Armand Jakobsson)

Sweden, 2017

Dj Seinfeld’s Time Spent Away With U, Ross From Friends’ Family Portrait, and to a lesser extent even Against All Logic’s 2012-2017 are all interchangeable for this segment’s purposes. The point here is that Outsider House went big. Ross From Friends had a genuine indie electronic hit with “Talk To Me You’ll Understand”, Kemt would be getting Lo-fi House on the Majestic Casual channel, and Against All Logic would manage to release an Outsider House influenced record that would receive some of the decade’s ravest reviews from Pitchfork and The Needle Drop. This was the genre’s long fought-for moment of clarity, and nothing sounds more lucid and revelatory about this newfound place than DJ Seinfeld’s disrobing grandeur.

The opener to DJ Seinfeld’s debut album “I Hope I Sleep Tonight” is one of those songs that channels the essence of new life, of mountain tops, and conquering yourself in pursuit of meaning. It is, despite its anti-dancefloor structure, the ultimate dancefloor channel, pulling passersbys into a formless mass of fellow dancers from across the world. Floating and grooving for six long minutes to the sound of distant chords and that relentless chorus pulling them on. Like Burial’s Kindred or Daft Punk’s Discovery it doesn’t seem like something of this world, connecting the body into a feeling of collective consciousness, evoking that rare sensation that this song has always been here. These are the qualities of powerful pop music.

The state of Lo-fi House after the rise of these popular figureheads has been both bloom and decay. In the two years since DJ Seinfeld’s debut Outsider House saw a great deal of substantive releases which covered the far corners of possible influences. Zaumme’s emo dub pulled together a dissociative collage of house and ASMR, Kedr Livansky’s sophomore album pulled heavily from European synth pop and breakbeat to further emphasize its place on the dancefloor, and AceMo’s album All My Life would draw from the rich history of deep house, hazing it into a lo-fi collective memory. And yet, each release seems to feel less and less like Lo-fi House. Or perhaps it is that more and more abstractly, possibly, maybe-kind-of Lo-fi House albums are being labeled as Outsider House simply because lo-fi styles are becoming increasingly popular. Lo-fi House was barely a meaningful collection to begin with, but as the tendrils of the genre extend further and further the name feels weaker and weaker.

At some point this year I was listening to Ohtearsofjoy’s bonsoir, fucker, which was arguably Lo-fi House in a significant capacity, and I remarked to myself “What the fuck is this, this can’t possibly be the same genre as 4 Club Use Only”. If I pull back and look at it as a pedant then maybe it is, but I’m not sure this genre label is helping me understand this scene anymore. Maybe it’s time we admit we’re moving onto something new, and that a new pedantic genre title is in order.