Kim Anh – After Dark
If you are unfamiliar with what goes down in the underground queer club spaces of the world, it’s perhaps best to start by understanding that you’re dealing with a counterculture rooted in modes of subversion and performativity. These are spaces unafraid to reference, to clash, and to piece together mutant ideations of a potential future that exists outside of the heteronormative, cis-gendered realities outside. In these spaces, bodies who might otherwise be rejected in the real world are celebrated, and voices who are otherwise silenced are given latitude to be the loudest in the room. Genres like techno and house rule not only for their propulsive, hedonistic throb, but in reverence of their inherently queer roots. Those playing and creating the music in these spaces are often artists who recognise this history, and progress it by daring to reimagine these genres in their own image. The abject becomes the beautiful, failure becomes merit, and an existence usually experienced as trauma becomes euphoric. It’s in these spaces that America’s Kim Anh cut her teeth, infamously dubbed the “Club Queen” of LA by Vice. She’s been a fierce supporter and mainstay of the city’s alternative queer scene, and for a better part of a decade she’s worked her way through this circuit to some of the biggest club stages in the world. Her music, simultaneously glossy and grimy pastiches of house and EBM styles, echoes the pulse, energy, and seedy glamour of her queendom. 2015’s Shadows was near perfect piano house that precedes Peggy Gou’s similar Starry Night by four years, while 2018’s Pleasure sits at the start of the current acid house revival. But whereas those records were made during a time that saw Anh immersed within the underground, on her latest EP After Dark she’s paying homage to a scene that’s somewhat new to her from afar.
After Dark was created following Anh’s relocation to New York during the pandemic, and for her the music on the EP serves as a “reflection of missing my past life and finding beauty in the current way of life.” It’s likely why After Dark courses with a retro-tinged allure, a smokey modular heartbeat and disco strut that conjures images of neon soaked strobes and pallor faced New Romantics. After Dark is an EP about the past, and an attempt to understand the present moment by way of what has come before. On The House Of Virgo, she looks to locate herself in the history of the New York underground. Proclaiming “this house is mine,” Anh entices her listener to “remember a sensual revelation” against a throbbing bassline and vintage house beat. Anh’s voice, foggy and saturated in drowsy sensuality, heavily references the cadence and speak-sing style of Vogue-era Madonna, perhaps unsurprisingly given the context. The title track functions similarly, with lashes of acid techno synths and a bubbling bassline that intensifies the louche desire Anh feels when she wails, “will I see you again?” over the synthesisers.
Sometimes, her exploration into this world is a touch trite. Lyrics like “under the flashing lights / where it always feels so right” or “the moon is high / come feel my energy” are reductive at best, but then After Dark is more about style than substance. Still, there are moments of genuine poignancy. The quasi-ballad Giving is desperately forlorn, full of yearning and 4am post-party sentimentality. “You just keep on giving me love,” Anh muses over a lover, simultaneously from genuine gratitude and nihilistic disbelief. Recovering, an Erykah Badu cover, is perhaps After Dark’s most intriguing hour. Over drunken jazz piano keys, Anh plasters scattering jungle breakbeats. It makes the song lilt more intensely, allowing an off-kilter gait that would otherwise be achieved by Badu’s delivery. While Anh is not quite Badu, her club reformulation of Recovering lands in theory. After Dark closes with a Chicago house style remix of Anh’s Recovering by Alinka, and its treatment here feels better suited to the overall style of After Dark as a body of work.
What Anh achieves with this EP is a definite mastery of an aesthetic. She understands the sounds and styles that have become synonymous and emblematic of the underground spaces that inspire her, and while she ardently embraces these in her work it may be to the detriment of originality. Especially given that other artists in the vein of Honey Dijon, LSDXOXO, or ShyGirl have been taking these same signifiers and increasingly making them their own, After Dark risks sounding like a tribute record. Still, it’s a fun listen that manages to maintain the magnetism of its influences, giving After Dark far more replay value than expected on first listen.
Listen to Recovering from After Dark below.
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