Written by Jesse Silbert
Los Angeles producer Dot, aka Kate Ellwanger, has been busy. She recently founded Unspeakable Records, a record label with an all-female roster dedicated to creating a platform for woman producers to spread their music. Ellwanger is also a member of weekly beat-cypher group Team Supreme, a collective that has fostered an impressive amount of creativity and collaboration by hosting weekly beat challenges. (On Team Supreme’s website, they describe these weekly beat challenges: “Every Monday one of the participating artists picks a BPM and two samples, one transition sound and one remix. With the original time constraints relaxed, the producers must then create a one-minute track in one week, the results of which are merged into a weekly podcast and played out in a monthly event.”) Ellwanger’s L.A. Brainfeeder influences are clear in her sound — one can hear echoes of Flying Lotus, Nosaj Thing, Daedelus, etc. — yet her songs are impressive enough to stand on their own. On 2014 release Playtime EP, she combines elements that are danceable, intelligent, and as the title suggests, playful.
The first track of the EP, “Mind Games,” begins with a tight, bouncy drum beat that hits just the right offbeats to immediately make heads start bobbing. Instead of a classic snare sound, Ellwanger throws in what sounds like a few snaps all sampled together with a touch of delay. The drums stay constant for only a few bars before their rhythm, timbre, and intensity is modified, creating an evolving, intoxicating beat. During the first half of the song, layered above the drums is a collection of long drawn-out synths whose filters, amplitudes, and pitches oscillate by means of cleverly-used LFOs, creating a complementary counter-beat to the drums.
The second half of the track introduces a new synthesizer part which somewhat takes on the role of a melody, but which remains, like the first half of the song, still more texture- than melody-driven. These new synths sound like swirling bubbles, different tones ephemerally popping in and out, leaving the more sustained, melody-creating notes on the downbeats. Eventually, as the different synths thin out, the track dances to a minimalist finish.
The next track on the EP is a remix of a track by fellow Team Supreme member Elos. Ellwanger’s remix is more intense than the original, creating a chopped and heavy beat that is as close as she gets to a banger. In her striking lead synth work, she produces melodies that fly over the big bass and drum beat as if spinning and flipping in the air, which adds a light tone to an otherwise deep, thick beat. “Higher and Higher” uses what sound like piano samples or piano-like synths to create an off-kilter rhythm that emphasizes the echo of the melody as much as the original notes themselves. In addition, some fast hi-hat work accompanied by a winding and unwinding synth hook create yet another captivating groove. Closer and title track “Playtime” features some vocals, some plucked string samples, some piano samples, as well as some skillfully panned slightly tuned clicks. Echoey vocals mark the end of the EP, hauntingly adorning the short but sensitive string melody.
On Playtime, Dot plays with a specific duality quite well. She creates a handful of beats that are dancey enough to be played out of loud monitors as well as complex enough for one to sit down with headphones and be enchanted by the swirling melodies. Electronic artists often pick one or the other: they can succumb to the draw of producing a dance track with a big bass line and fast moving hi-hats to be played at a club, or they can try to make people sit down and think about and be fascinated by their music. Ellwanger has the talent to masterfully pull off both with her unique sound.