South African DJ and producer Protoculture breeds beauty, glory, and emotion on his latest body of work, Lost In Isolation.
Few places feel so sonically raw for artists as those that spent their life on tour over the past year-plus. Sure – we started the return to normal social events, yet, the art, frustration, and energy bottled since December 2019 still conveys the struggles we endured. This angst lays bare under the warmth of the sun in Protoculture’s new album Lost In Isolation.
For those new to Protoculture, think of his sound as a blend of trance and progressive with an air towards instrumentation and sound design over clichéd song structure. Containing both energy, groove, and melodic hooks in packages that feel both pleasing to dance to as well as listen to independently, Protoculture affords room for all in his works. This album is a continuation of those strengths while also stretching the legs of its artist. Fans of Estiva, Fehrplay, Robert Nickson, Driftmoon, and even Jeremy Olander will find plenty of joy here.
The album itself breaks down into 14 tracks that play out over almost an hour. This is an experience album first, and while it does feature plenty of dance-floor moments, it feels more like a “put your headphones on and enjoy the world” vibe as a complete work. Get ready to dive into the darker depths as basslines, melodic elements, and percussion combine in precise manners – listen to Lost In Isolation on Spotify or your preferred platform, and let us dig in!
Stream Protoculture – Lost In Isolation on Spotify:
Breaking into Lost In Isolation is “Sequence.”
“Sequence” is a dark tune that recalls images of Hans Zimmer’s best elements in Interstellar. The dark void is empty and becomes filled with arpeggio-driven synthesizer poly-rhythms. An airy voice breaths life as the ticking percussion lets the listener know time continues to pass. Bright stabs imbue the space with light and strength. We are heading somewhere special and new.
After telling time in the empty space voids, “Seconds” brings an amazing atmosphere via tense strings and a smooth deeper female vocal line thanks to Diana Miro. There is a touch of Envotion in the vocal arrangement – so if you dig their style, you will enjoy this one too. The string performance though captivates all the emotions that race through the heart. Then there is that choral stab calls out to the listener, yearning for more: “Any second soon, they remember you, on my left, on my left / Any minute now, I’m letting out the hour, fumbling, fumbling.”
“Pilgrim” takes the third slot of the album and continues the interwoven tense string work. There is also a deftness to the mood and interplay of the synth work here. If Protoculture desired a tune that would appeal to the sensibilities of one Eric Prydz and his label family, this track is a good standard-bearer to take to the family. Combined with the strings and synth interplay, there is something about the strength of the stabs in this one – you are on a journey to somewhere, seeking greatness.
Next up – the title track “Lost In Isolation.” The soft plucked melodies continue to pour forth, but this time a sharp clap joins the fray to grab your ear’s attention. The arpeggios play with beautifully drawn-out horn-like synthesizer stabs. Moody yet uplifting, there is an atmosphere that takes the listener to a higher state of being. The break also features a throwback to the 1980s with the style of production – a classy tune indeed. If you enjoy this one, you should also check out Robert Nickson’s side project Analog 82.
As we dive into the middle sections of the album, “Inu” affords us a swell of energy in the most positive sense.
The beat on “Inu” plays a bit in the house end instead of the mood of trance, but the melody – oh the melody – is so full of trance highlights its infectious, in the best manner of speaking. The playful back and forth notes summon the bones to move to the groove, and the big effect elements such as bass swells and drops really give the oomph that tracks before felt lacking.
“Shine” keeps the elements just spoken of and capitalizes on the sci-fi elements of the album’s story. Echoing metallic percussive rhythms boom with subtle notes to the out edges of the sound-scape. The bass line drones straight through the middle as the soft vocal elements flutter through the atmosphere. The only downside is how the melody just builds upwards and the song suddenly lets it all end.
“Remember” turns us back to the darker sounds as we cascade towards reality again. Featuring JØRGØN, the tracks bear the emotional undertows of loss and yet becoming more. The chorus lines, “Now there’s nothing left of us… left of us” and “Out of touch, we swerve, no more of us against the world… against the world” pierce on the depths of loss. There is plenty of reflection in the melding moods of the vocal performance and of the production elements around it. I do not see crowds singing along with this one, but I also cannot see dry eyes in the club for those who know the depths of loss.
Halfway is marked by “Go,” released as a single all the way back in October 2020. Playful melodies play a key role in the track, bouncing back and forth off the walls of the soundscape. Accenting the break are tense strings before the melody comes back in multi-layered beauty. This is a brilliant track, suited for early rises in the dance floor, and yet, it remains smooth and sublime for any hour in a show.
Atmospheres always evolve and the ninth track brings us a bit dirtier sounds to the mesh.
“Nano” plays with moods one might hear in the first few hours of an Armin Only show – such as when the DJ crafts the early mood before the prime show begins. If Armin was to play a warmup for A State Of Trance 1000, this slots in brilliantly. There is plenty of energy for early dance floor goers to enjoy, but the mood is not so big as to overwhelm the marathon of the mix. It is all in the presentation of the atmosphere.
Teaming up with Gid Sedgwick on “Is This A Dream,” Protoculture keeps the bass growling deep on this one. Its darker, driving sound is a surprise but indeed a welcome one. The sweetest notes of the melody join the vocal performance and scream homage to Envotion‘s most brilliant works. The chorus, “And oh, I felt this way before / Thought it was over but still I need more / Is this a dream?” initially fooled my ears into thinking this was an Envotion tune. The yearning at the end of the chorus is just wonderful too: “Oh how I wish (how I wish) / You were here / Not just in my dreams.” Lovely – simply lovely – tune!
“Red Point” drops the emotional bits for dark techno vibes. If any track on the album could find itself on the playlists of the Anna’s and Adam Beyer’s of the world, it is this one. While it still distinctly relies on stunning melody works, it also drives along with a deep bass groove and would sound stunning at a festival like Caprices. Find some place that’s moody, turn up the volume, and cut a groove into the floor you’re standing on.
Closure comes so soon as “Fall Into You” brings back the vocal elements.
“Fall Into You” feels the closest to something stereo-typically Armada in its style. It booms and sparkles in all the right ways, but the male vocal here, and its drawn-out effects, grate the ears sometimes. There are some big moments that scream “Hollywood Blockbuster” in the track, but it also does not grab deeply enough to feel the payoff. That all said – the package is well produced and there are moments I can hear the influence again of Eric Prydz on the melodies within it.
“Beneath The Surface” beckons us back to the dark rooms with lights and fog machines. Made dancefloor first, it pulls the club back to the mind. Here the beats are loud and in charge. The plucks counter the distorted powerful main melodies and yet, it all works. Then surprise – a soft percolating melody grabs center stage – and plays through the big break where drums and that gritty plucked under-melody and bass pattern just drive us into the dance floor. There is also a classic-sounding vocal element in this one that old-school fans may love quite a bit.
Finally, we reach the album’s final song and one of its atmospheric best. “Deep Forest” shines with beautiful depth – from the low end to the upper highs. Musically, the track flips melodies up and down with precision, playing with all aspects of the listener’s focus. It is a whirlwind of sounds, and one you just have to give the listen to, as words cannot bring it justice. Get into the depths and enjoy being lost in the sounds.
Lost In Isolation dazzles as a complete work!
As a complete artistic work, Lost In Isolation capitalizes on the collective experience the world just shattered forward through. This is not a piece that expresses loneliness, but rather it offers the grounds of reflecting on one’s self. Is this an album I want to groove to on my way to a club or to a festival – maybe, but not likely. It feels too contemplative for it. This is one I want to put on as I drive through the mountains on a day trip to the deserts, or on a trip down the coastline with that one friend who sees you at your best and at your worst. Open the mind and keep a clear head – then enjoy the moment with Lost In Isolation.
Protoculture – Lost In Isolation – Tracklist:
- Protoculture – Sequence
- Protoculture ft. Diana Miro – Seconds
- Protoculture – Pilgrim
- Protoculture – Lost In Isolation
- Protoculture – Inu
- Protoculture – Shine
- Protoculture ft. JØRGØN – Remember
- Protoculture – Go
- Protoculture – Nano
- Protoculture ft. Gid Sedgwick – Is This A Dream
- Protoculture – Red Point
- Protoculture – Fall Into You
- Protoculture – Beneath The Surface
- Protoculture – Deep Forest
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