London based, South African producer Esa Williams (Or just Esa to fans) has released his debut EP Aweh for Dutch boutique label and electronic music brand Dekmantel. The news represents a marriage of minds that makes so much sense as to retrospectively seem inevitable, while also being an exciting bellwether for the future of the genres they operate in.
Esa is a world-touring, charismatic taste-making dance music producer with an eye both for the impact his music makes on dancefloors and on the world at large. As well as having an extensive back catalogue of releases across an impressive series of labels like Auntie Flo, Burek, Omena and Hello Sailor, he has curated music led educational programmes in Cuba, East Africa and South Africa. Each of these experiences crystallise in his music and the collaborations he undertakes.
Aweh sees him working with Cape Based electronica producer Narch and Ugandan vocalist Pendo Zawose – who turns in a stark and star making performance on the the track ‘Blast’. “It’s very special to me”, Williams says about the track. “I made this when I was in Uganda to record an album with the children of the legendary Tanzanian artist Hukwe Zawose, including Msafiri Zawose…” Pendo was one of them.
The B side, ‘Rift Valley’ also takes a collaborative approach, recruiting East African collective Santuri and Abakisimba for some percussive work. It’s a thrilling vision for the potential that EDM has.
The term EDM, these days, works more as word rather than as acronym for anything, and an increasingly dirty word at that. Each of its constituent parts wouldn’t warrant as much as a raised brow if said out loud – who could possibly have a problem with Dance Music or Electronic Music as concepts? But EDM has grown to represent much more than just those parts as it has grown in popularity and moved away from its underground roots, becoming more insular and exclusionary.
Where dance music once was famously inclusive of and pioneered by groups that were ethnically diverse and existed across gender and sexuality spectrums, EDM became increasingly more ‘bro’-centric and developed pronounced problems with women and other groups. While electronic music was inherently global and therefore musically diverse, EDM narrowed down on a set of superstars who became too big to fail and too big to allow wide experimentation with form and formula. The rest of the world, though (thankfully), has been moving in the opposite direction, and if EDM in any form was to survive, then it would have to find it’s humanity again. The festival landscape that EDM thrives in has also become increasingly fraught – testing the limits of the balance between being intimate enough to be a dance event and growing to the commercial scale of a live arena spectacle.
Dekmantel today exists primarily as a festival after having grown gradually from a set of carefully curated parties focussing on Detroit Techno. The bookings were well thought out, and represented enough underground heavyweights from global dance music that relationships with labels like Ostgut Ton developed and the reputation grew. Despite this, the festival’s biggest achievement has been it’s ability to maintain the feeling of a small, local party even as it reaches cult status, never struggling to sell tickets out. It’s label arm first released music in 2009, and now represents a wide variety of global producers as well as local legends, each handed equal reverence.
The festival now happens in two locations, the original Dutch festival and a sister act in Brazil annually – both providing smaller crowds than other mainstream festivals, with sets by artists curated to supply dance music from a world of locations. Here, Berlin techno heavyweights meet the obsessive disco vinyl collectors like Sadar Bahar.
Esa played a set at the 2016 edition, from which a selection of sets were broadcast globally by Boiler Room, who host a stage there. Instead of staying small, and misrepresenting the clear thirst for what’s on offer, the scale of these events is controlled. It’s the introspection that the overall dance music scene needs to take in order to continue thriving – growth through shrinking and including more of the world.