- Since his 2009 Innervisions single, "The Bright Forest," announced him to the worldwide house community, South Africa's Culoe De Song has been on the ascent. He's released music on an variety of labels and played gigs around the world, his sound plumbing deep house while also exploring tribal timbres specific to his home. 2016 was a breakout year for him, as his ambitious second album, Washa, showed that he wasn't afraid of working across a wider canvas, conceiving of an 80-minute epic that wove a post-apocalyptic folkloric tale into his deep house rhythms. On the day of its release, the album hit #2 on iTunes in South Africa, just behind Beyoncé's Lemonade, suggesting that De Song had become one of the biggest dance music names in his home country. He now caps the year with the 21st entry in Watergate's mix series. Comprising four exclusive De Song tracks mixed in with other exclusives from newcomers like Em Ex and Corinda, it's at times thrilling, but bogs down at crucial points.
The mix starts strong. Ominous and queasy bells introduce De Song's "Deadman's Walk," though he lets in glints of light with well-timed cymbals and a church organ drone that blooms into a rising chord progression. But by the time we get to "Bang Royales," the pace starts to lag. De Song's synth strings and echoing tribal chant add texture but don't move the mix forward. Thankfully, &ME's thumb piano-laced "Trilogy" brings the energy up.
The mix wanders off again with two De Song tracks in the middle of the mix. "Aftermath" takes two minutes to develop, though it builds to a clanging, thrilling peak before plunging back down into "Juice." Again, De Song takes a winding path towards a peak, scattering cymbals at random intervals before finding a coherent beat. The canned claps give way to a lurching tom roll and the nagging guitar lick and wordless vocal of Corinda's "Sleepless Nights." The knocking wood that drives Boddhi Satva's "Skin Diver" dribbles to an almost complete stop by the time of illuMonate DJs' carefully paced "Nomvula." It's as melodramatic as an Ennio Morricone score, but it dampens the effect of the last two tracks.
Mr. Joe's "Dharma," with its cool claps and swelling keys, has a slow but nifty beat that leads directly into Guti's "Hurt (Yoruba Soul Mix)." Vibraslap, roto-toms, double-picked guitar and a shaker-laced house beat rattle around the track, converging to send the mix out on an upswing. But beneath the rhythm, the keys exude a calmness that slowly comes to the fore, to where it even sounds like crickets rise into the mix. While Watergate 21 fluctuates in terms of pacing and energy, De Song resolves it all with a fitting closer.
01. Culoe De Song - Deadman's Walk
02. Francesco Chiocci - Nightmares
03. Em Ex - Fire
04. Culoe De Song - Bang Royales
05. Mr Joe - Vector Groove
06. &ME - Trilogy feat. Sabota
07. David Anthony - I'm Free feat. Beverlei Brown (Manoo Dubstrumental)
08. Culoe De Song - Aftermath
09. Culoe De Song - Juice
10. Corinda - Sleepless Nights
11. Em Ex - Somadoda
12. Boddhi Satva - Skin Diver feat. Teedra Moses
13. illuMonate DJs - Nomvula
14. Mr. Joe - Dharma
15. Guti - Hurt (Yoruba Soul Mix)