Portland's indie-rock and folk scenes outshine most other cities'. This is a universally accepted truth, and something that has made electronic music a second-class scene. That's not for want of trying: While the scene is fledgling and underappreciated, these trials have produced some serious dance-floor innovation. Through productivity, independence, versatility and enigma, Portland's electronic community is set for an explosion in 2014, and these artists will be at the flash point.
Nearly every Sunday in 2013, Cory Haynes, founder of Internet label STYLSS, has compiled a Soundcloud playlist of ambient, alt-trap, bass and house tracks. He applies the same diligence and hard work to his performances as Quarry. In 2012, Quarry played prestigious bass party Low End Theory in San Francisco, and as far as I can tell he hasn't stopped working since. There's been a thundering, stuttering Quarry single on each of STYLSS's 11 label compilations, beginning in February 2013. I won't even delve into his collaborations with Tyler Tastemaker as Most Custom. If he keeps up this pace, I'm not sure who will have a bigger 2014, the STYLSS team as a whole or its hyperproductive figurehead.
Portland has enough raucous soul nights to steam-power the whole city, and Beyondadoubt's I've Got a Hole in My Soul is the best. So it's easy to forget that Beyonda is the woman who brought New Orleans bounce to the West Coast, and that she's a resident at Ecstasy and released her first single in 2013. "9inch Heels," with spooky and sexy vocals from London's Niyi, refits bounce's harsh thwaps with an old-school Chicago house beat. It's out of left field, but not out of Beyonda's range. She's the most versatile DJ in town, and I wouldn't be surprised to see more releases from her in 2014 with an even greater variety of styles.
Most artists wouldn't catch much hype from just two officially released tracks in a year, but Philip Grass is different. One appeared on Dropping Gems' Gem Drops Three, and the other on Blankstairs, a newborn Portland net label focused on pushing the electronic envelope, which included Grass' "Can I Talk to U," a soulful cut dipped in a warm oil bath, on its freshman compilation release. On their Soundcloud, another seven even more forward-thinking tracks stand alone, in Grass' often bassy, jazzy corner. In the coming year, catch Grass live or online, but forget about catching them on a label.
Pretty much all anyone knows about Vektroid—who has released atmosphere-free, post-whatever e-albums under names like Macintosh Plus, Laserdisc Visions, PrismCorp Virtual Enterprises, Fuji Grid TV, Dstnt and others—is that she's from Portland and she's a key player in the so-called "vaporwave" movement, a softcore, pitch-shifted, chopped-and-screwed '80s Muzak revival. Her entire persona seems designed to confuse and amaze the investigative music journalist or avid fan, and while it doesn't always work, when it does, the enigma not only deepens the listening experience but grants a broader license for experimentation, something Vektroid will continue to do in 2014.
This is the first in a series of features on local artists to watch in 2014.