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Reviewed this week
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It's rare that an electronic album is the biggest album of the year, or at least the most hyped. That's certainly the case with Syro, Richard D James first official release under his Aphex Twin moniker for some 13 years. So, is it in any good? For starters, it sounds like an Aphex Twin album. Listen through to the 12 tracks, and many of his familiar staples are present - the "Digeridoo" era rave breakbeats, the mangled synth-funk mash-ups, the intoxicating ambient-era melodies, the warped basslines and the skittish drill & bass style rhythms. There's madness, beauty and intensity in spades. In other words, it's an Aphex Twin album, and - as so many have pointed out since the album's release was announced - there's no-one else quite like Richard D James.
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As the Houndstooth roster becomes increasingly diversified with age, so Call Super remains the label's brightest star. Responsible for inaugurating the Fabric-housed operation, J R Seaton has subsequently gone on to deliver some of their best 12" offerings and the time feels right for the Berlin-based producer to show his hand at full length albums. In contrast to the techno-focused approach of his Call Super 12"s, Suzi Ecto finds Seaton expanding on his palette with 11 tracks that veer wonderfully between moments of electronic poignancy and more thrusting fare. Spend some time with Suzi Ecto and you'll find it to be one of this year's most rewarding listens with new favourites emerging with each cycle - "Raindance" is the current fave here at Juno HQ.
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There was naturally much excitement when Aaron Jerome announced the forthcoming release of his second SBTRKT studio album, Wonder Where We Land. Before that drops, Jerome offers up another tasty teaser in the shape of "Look Away", an inspired collaboration with Chairlift vocalist Caroline Polachek. Her fragile, folksy vocals are the perfect foil for Jerome's imaginative musical backing - a kind of uneven fusion of grandiose jazz piano flourishes, spitting post-dubstep beats, immersive strings and foreboding electronic noises. Polachek's vocal is typically melancholic, which adds to the track's beautiful but intensely haunting feel. If his is the direction Jerome has chosen to take with Wonder Where We Land, it could be a great album.
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Emerging techno artist Manni Dee - known for his productions on Black Sun Records, 2nd Drop and Candela Rising - collates 16 tracks of leftfield electronics, ambient melodies, spoken word - and beyond. Aside from sourcing music from known producers WANDA GROUP, Shelley Parker and Rush Hour's BNJMN, there's a range of other fascinating music to unearth. Check out U's "Over" for some dense industrial techno mixed with Atari/Commodore 64 bleeps and the hazy murmur of a grime MC, while on the flipside of that there's the folky toy tones of Memotone's "Abbot Bromley Horn Dance" and the rainforest percussion of Alphabeat Heaven's "Mujo". There's a lot to discover here thanks to Manni Dee.
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The rapid rise of New Zealand artist FIS continues unabated with the inaugration of the Loopy imprint, showcasing a fresh set of productions that defy easy categorisation beyond fitting into the niche he has carved out for himself. "Speech Spirits" kicks things off with evil industrial tones and scrapes that swoop and tumble over a light sprinkling of beats, before "Knecht" continues into a pattering set of bongos and loping bass tones. Kassem Mosse then steps up for a remix of "Speech Spirits" that gives the German producer the chance to dart out into experimental territory to great effect, while Oren Ambarchi delivers a monstrous fourteen minute revision that becomes a kosmische-influenced journey of its own.
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Not much is known about Ueno Masaaki other than he's a Japanese artist that's debuting on Raster-Noton with a burgeoning new sound. It's a cutting edge sound that fits in perfectly with demeanour of Raster-Noton and all tracks on Vortices sound like dry, micro-loop reductions of Aoki Takamasa's music. Masaaki's inclusion to the label's Unun series follows previous releases by Mika Vainio and Emptyset - and if that's who label founder Byetone wishes to associate the Japanese artist with than we can expect great things in the future.
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After several years of pushing the boundaries of experimentation within music, Matthew Herbert pulled a curveball few were expecting when he elected to return to his house music roots and continue the series of Parts releases issued under his surname as far back as the mid '90s. Part 6 was a sublime way to mark this return (especially "My DJ") and Herbert looks to be inspired as Part 7 feels every bit as good. Lead track "Bumps" sees Herbert working with Rahel Debebe, vocalist for Accident act Hejira, and the results have a similar charm to some of Michachu's early material though a bit more polished, a bit less ramshackle. "Sucker" is a killer DJ tool that will confuse people in the best way possible, whilst "Get Strong" is a typically idiosyncratic Herbert production with very few elements utilised expertly. Closing track "Pretty Daddy" sounds like old Roots Manuva track "Son Of The Soil" remixed by Jamal Moss (this is a good thing).
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The Guillotine duo come from Brazil, but they make a noise more in keeping with the kind of grimy electronics one would expect to hear on Diagonal or Panzerkreuz. "Bastard Prince" starts the release with waves of droning noise before veering into a low-slung electro rhythm that stutters, belches and burps unpredictably. "Giant Steps" is even more unusual, a discordant mess of a track that sounds like an update of Test Dept or Foetus. Finally, the duo veers back towards a form of electronic dance on the title track. "Razor" is underpinned by dubby beats but it's the distorted sonic fog and jarring distortion that'll shatter nerves and synapses every time.
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Bristol resident Sophia Loizou makes her debut appearance here for Astro:Dynamics, presenting an immersive exploration of sound design that teeters between tense moments of restraint and shocking blasts of guttural noise. "Uranium" sets the tone perfectly with its slow-release lead-in of mournful tones and a crushing finale of monolithic bass destruction. You're never far from some creative distortion here, through the fiery drones of "Archaea" and the scratchy space-transmission balladry of "Baptisia" to the thrumming factory processes at work in "Demansia", but through it all the grand scope of sound sources is what makes Chysalis such a gripping listen, sharing good company with the likes of Roly Porter in the cavernous halls of West Country noiseniks.
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Once again wiping the floor with all before her, Holly Herndon brings her uncompromising sound back to Rvng Intl with another exercise in vocal led experimentalism rich in wild dynamics and staggering sonic detail. Herndon is wise to place her voice at the front of the mix - from the core lyrics to the processed hums and haws, they give her a peerless sound. When it's worked into the mix with pinging and swelling hits of subby bass and glitchy percussion stretched across an epic narrative, it makes for another stunning slice of electronica that floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.
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Jacob Stoy's 2012 debut, Redenswart, marked him out as a producer to watch - a maker of atmospheric, off-kilter deep house music that eschewed genre staples in favour of far more intriguing and left-of-centre sounds. This belated follow-up is similarly impressive, delivering six varied cuts to move the head and the feet. There's much to admire, from the woozy synths, cute melodies and soft focus beats of "HIM" and wonky, lo-fi electronica of "HHM", to the intoxicated, Stereolab-goes-deep house swing of "CCFM" and decidedly creepy "OGM". The latter is impressively melancholic, with long, bittersweet chords and relentless cymbals riding rolling kick-drums and winding electronics.
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Nestled comfortably on his constant home of Erased Tapes, Rival Consoles imparts another collection of plush forays into warm, melodic synthesis for those who like their instrumental electronic music scuffed with a little earthly charm. With the same starry-eyed innocence that bursts out of Nathan Fake's music, tracks like "Helios" leap with great strokes of synth and upsurging drums, carefully running threads of live instrumentation into the fold through some canny processing. The progression of each track is a beautifully crafted story with pleasant surprises aplenty but always reaching a logical resolution, making for a thoroughly rounded and satisfying listening experience without losing that all important bite of intrigue.
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Given the expectancy hovering around a certain Cornish-rooted electronica artist making a comeback of sorts, it seems likely that Baron Mordant knew exactly what he was doing when teasing the source of this archival missive for Mordant Music as being a "nebulous collective with an analogue core" from "Cornwall 1992-1996". Whatever the case and whoever was responsible, it's a damn good thing that this expansive collection has been brought to light as it's quite magnificent. 22 tracks drenched in dour English tones and played out with a minimum of fiddly arrangements in favour of sustained ideas and hand-crafted magic to get any self-respecting electronica head giddy with excitement. Cue the lengthy online debates about who is responsible...
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Most recently seen on the Banyana EP for Japanese label Speed Of Sound, Damon Bell returns to his more regular home of Aybee's Deepblak label with the HIM EP, blending his influences in Afrobeat, bossa and batucada into some decidedly mechanical dance music. "Ezuku" sounds like vintage Jamal Moss without the excess grit, putting high pitched percussive textures together with subtle African rhythmic influences, while "Babylonian Spliffs" drags its sluggish bass and lolloping beats across the ground like a wounded animal. On the flip, "What" sees something a little straighter, but as hypnotically abstract as any recent Joey Anderson production, while "No Deuce No Dose (reprise)" sees a driving sequence of linear bleeps and trilling synth siren joined by some dramatically dystopian chords. Highly recommended!
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With their debut album, Different Fountains reveal themselves to be an outfit capable of delivering on many different levels. The first half of Shrimp That Sleep, which comes to light on Belgian leftfield powerhouse Meakusma, is peppered with song writing sensibility and live band dynamics shot through with warm and lilting electronics. "Catch 23" has a whisper of The Whitest Boy Alive about it, with indie pop replaced by a more psychedelic undertone, but as the album progresses so the vocals dip and the content becomes more abstract. "Deep Home" works around a 4/4 framework with brooding atmospherics, while "Muybridge" makes for something of a highlight with its dubby approach infused with Eastern mysticism in a non-explicit way. As you can tell, it's an eclectic ride and yet a wonderfully cohesive one too.
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With a mind-bending array of releases behind him, largely on cassette, it's not easy to get a firm grip on what Hans Dens' Innercity project is all about, but then that's not necessarily what it's about. In the same spirit of adventure that possesses the likes of Ekoplekz, the music on A Lion Baptism is a chaotic blend of noise and drone studies with a nod to Musique Concrete in the manic and detailed deployment of samples. At times this can reach discernible musical peaks, only to be manhandled by another barrage of sonic grot wielded with a thrilling impulsiveness. The diversity on the release will keep your brain on its toes, touching upon so many different tones and moods across the eight track savagery.
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After Order Of Noise presented Vessel as a fearsome force within and without the Young Echo collective, Seb Gainsborough brings his foremost alias back for another bout of long-playing exploration, and this time he's crafted a wholly different sound from homemade instruments. The drums rattle and thud with a tacit live-ness, while the synths wail, groan and strain their way through grand and opulent sound scapes to chill the spine and un-nerve the soul. It's a masterfully well-sculpted record with moments of light bleeding into bottomless pits of murk, and it further establishes Vessel as a powerful force in forward-thrusting electronic music.