Image via Michael McKinney
Michael McKinney understands the cultural importance of Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci.”
As the heat index inched ever upwards in April, quite a few DJs took the opportunity to slow down and stretch out. Grand River turned in an hour of ambient music and progressive electronics suited for stargazing and space travel; elsewhere, wzrdryAV explored long-form ambient and techno idioms. Lucien Douglas and Susu Laroche dug up plenty of left-field ambience and weirdo dancehall for their radio spot and close affiliate i-sha went one further, stretching those sounds into outright manic territories. Thea HD went long in a session for murmur, offering up a deep dive into her soul and R&B crates. Traumprinz, one of Berlin’s reigning dancefloor enigmas, tunneled ever further into his world of hushed techno; Timnah, mixing from Basel, stretched minimal-techno rhythms until they snapped in half; and Detroit’s Aaron J found a quiet psychedelia in four-on-the-floor kick drums. Bean Bone, meanwhile, turned in a pair of critical sessions for windows-down drives: one focusing on ‘90s alt-rock and the other going deep into the sounds of hyphy.
It’s not all quite so slow-and-low, though. Chloé Robinson and DJ ADHD, two leading lights in London’s techno-etc. Scene, dug deep into chunky and playful club tools for their fabric podcast. Critical kitchen-sink selector CCL dug deep for their Dekmantel podcast entry, vaulting between why-not blends at a staggering clip, and Melbourne DJ al dente showed off what makes the city’s trance-and-techno scene so exciting. Anuraag, another Melbourne selector with devilishly deep crates, went wide for their session, folding liturgical techno into wild-eyed breaks and disorienting bass grinders, and Myles Mac & DJ Possum—in yet another Australian entry on this list—imagined the million moods of Ibiza, slowly moving from Golden-era hip-hop to jacking house cuts. Lastly, a trio of sets traced timelines to winning results: DJ Chak-Chak showed off the kind of rave music that was lighting up St. Petersburg at the turn of the century; Special Request moved between all sorts of retrofuturist dancefloor tools, moving from loose-limbed electro to riotous jungle; and dubstep evangelist V.I.V.E.K drew a line from dub’s roots to dubstep’s possible futures.
Here are some of the best DJ sets April had to offer.
Melbourne’s club scene is wildly exciting right now, and it seems to get more crowded by the day. The best stuff from the local circuit is defined by its utilitarianism and sheer joy: tune into a great Australian set and you’re likely to hear a Venn diagram of heads-down techno, spaced-out trance, and proggy playfulness. Even in that context, though, al dente stands out. Whether working solo, as one half of Nebula, or one third of Neurocrank, the DJ-producer works the sounds of progressive house, techno, and trance into heady territories even as they crank the volume. On its face, their mixes are hardly unusual, but al dente’s sheer finesse puts them over the top.
Their mix for Steeplejack is as fine an example as any. Here, al dente leans into progressive-house and techno stompers, cooking up an hour of off-kilter four-on-the-floor rhythms. Early on, it’s all clicks and whistles and rattles, but it’s not long before they bring in the percussion, building a foundation of kick drums and laying weirdo electronics atop. From there, anything goes as long as it’s a bit out there and primed for the dancefloor: ragged half-time and finger-gun dubstep, broken-amp electro and miles-deep techno. Between its slick mixing, quietly playful energy, and expansive vision of bass-heavy club tools, Steeplejack is a neat summation of what makes Melbourne so electric right now.
As the humidity creeps back up and the days get longer, it’s tempting to reach for celebratory and sun-drenched music. If you’re looking to turn up the sun ever further, Dog Whistle FM could be just the ticket. The station’s SoundCloud page is indicative of their approach: playful, irreverent, and messy in a highly particular way. (Think of it as deep-SoundCloud sprezzatura.) On The Bean Bone Breakfast Show, Bean Bone grabs an hour of fuzzed-up alternative rock records, full of heartache and unbridled joy in equal measure. The resultant assemblage lands somewhere between skate-video guitar slammers and heart-on-sleeve rom-com soundtracks; no matter the energy, though, it’s all linked together by tight harmonies, playful rhythm sections, and sepia-toned sonics.
If you’re looking for something a bit starker, turn instead to episode two of Dog Whistle FM, where Bean Bone turns the dial towards the sounds of hyphy. This one is pure debauchery pulled off with the sneaky technicality of the best west-coast stuff: kick drums built to bust trunks and local MCs showing off slang that eventually took over the nation. The bulk of the session is dedicated to genre heroes—E-40, Keak da Sneak, Mac Dre—but there’s a handful of nods towards the new school, too, subtly connecting the past and future in one fell swoop. Despite their different flavors, each mix is bright and jubilant, full of a celebratory energy that begs for a listen with the windows down.
CCL has, rightfully, earned a reputation as something of a DJ’s DJ. The Berlin selector is both playful and dead serious, with seemingly bottomless crates to boot; their best sets are full of seemingly counterintuitive blends that snap into place on the CDJ. Early into their Dekmantel podcast entry, they offer as good a window into their style as any: after pulling up a trippy kind-of techno cut, they crank up the hi-hats and segue into a mutant dancehall-trap roller; from there, they double the tempo only to halve it again, jettisoning everything but a few zero-grav drum machines. That bit happens in just under four minutes, and, miraculously enough, it feels neither rushed nor forced.
It’s an example of CCL’s everything-goes approach to the decks, where they draw unpredictable lines with unwavering precision. They spend the rest of Dekmantel Podcast 427 working their way towards peak-time mode, blending umpteen dancefloor wigglers with a wink and a smile. Blazing-quick hard-drum and turgid masses of kicks? Rickety electro-minimalism and chopped-up breakbeats? Black-hole synthesizers and Jersey-club ragga? Sure, they seem to say—why not? CCL maintains impeccable form through all the acrobatics, pulling off oddball blend after oddball blend without missing a beat. With Dekmantel Podcast 427, a world-class DJ shuffles through the encyclopedia of modern club music, rearranging its pages along the way.
Since Chloé Robinson switched over to her government name in 2021, she’s been on a bit of a tear. Alongside DJ ADHD, she’s been responsible for plenty of dancefloor fuel, taking the foundation of no-nonsense techno and giving it a bit of a wink. Robinson and ADHD both cut their teeth in the “bass music” circuit, and their cumulative decade-plus of experience is clear: these are two figures steeped in London dancefloors, with all the shuffle, swing, and smirking that comes with the territory. On fabric Podcast 13, the duo continues their hot streak, offering up a tightly engineered hour of four-by-four heaters: fleet-footed and limber but still carrying plenty of heft.
DJ Deeon’s “World War 3” is an early highlight: a thumping low-end flanked by a few spare synth lines, the kind of house record that splits the difference between club tool and dancefloor bomb. But then they segue it into INVT’s “Presha,” collapsing vintage house into new-school dubstep-techno at the flip of a switch. It’s an indicative blend. Chloé Robinson & DJ ADHD spend the rest of the session pulling off moves like this, tossing entire histories into a white-hot rave-up.
Sometimes, the joy of house music comes in plainspoken euphoria. Going by their discography, DJ Chak-Chak understands this. The Atlanta DJ grew up on the other side of the globe in St. Petersburg, where “progressive youth” were in the zeitgeist. This generation of clubbers immersed themselves in varying house, trance, and disco subgenres, all played hard and fast in the name of igniting the dancefloor. It’s no coincidence that these styles were among the most popular with ravers—they’re immediate, playful, and packed with an unmissable joie de vivre. Three years after their first ode to this era, DJ Chak-Chak is back, underlining that sheer joy yet again.
Summer Energy is stuffed with tracks that make good on the title’s promise: it’s seventy-odd minutes of old-school house, with plenty of trance and breakbeats mixed in if you tilt your head right. Chak-Chak keeps things moving apace throughout, reaching for the kinds of cuts that might have lit up a St. Petersburg club twenty years ago: quick and buoyant; high-energy and high-NRG; stuffed with careening drums, vocal lines clipped just so, and unstoppable kicks. Even with all the vintage sounds, though, the set feels of the moment thanks to its quick mixing and unwavering aesthetic precision. Summer Energy works as a soundtrack for a bygone era, to be sure, but this session could just as easily soundtrack a circa-2023 club night in Chicago or New York.
Grand River chose her stage name wisely. The artist otherwise known as Aimée Portioli makes music that moves with the patience, and force, of a large body of water: from a distance, it can seem still, but its smallest swells frequently give way to an onslaught of sound. Nominally, her music fits into the canon of ambient music, but it seeps into adjacent territories frequently enough as to defy easy categorization. With Fact Mix 903, the latest offering from the Berlin artist, Portioli offers yet another refinement of her approach.
She gets off to a pointed start, taking the choral-electronica collision of Dylan Henner’s “A New Living Being Opens Its Eyes For the First Time” and making it grander still thanks to a sizable tempo drop. The idea—sun-blotting post-minimalism and slow-motion Berlin-school electronics—is indicative. Portioli spends the rest of the session in a similar mode, taking modern-classical instrumentation and translucent synthesizers and stretching both towards the sky. By the end, she’s worked towards a kind of ecstasy, piling gauzy electronics atop each other until they scrape the clouds.
Even with a relatively trim catalog, Accidental Meetings has become a critical figure in the world of UK club music. A typical Accidental Meetings release—inasmuch as there is one—is singular and foreign, not so much a look towards left field as a dive into a miles-deep trench. (This idiosyncratic spirit, combined with anything-goes curation, makes their mixtape series required listening.) In the latest episode of their Noods residency, label co-founder Lucien Douglas, alongside label affiliate Susu Laroche, turned in two hours of outré electronics that further underlines the label’s approach. Douglas handles the first hour, starting things off with a shot of gauzy ambience and disorienting spoken word before diving into reverb-drenched dub experimentalism, disheveled folk, and million-limbed percussion stormers. Laroche, once handed the keys, turns things decidedly apocalyptic, taking world’s-end slam poetry and crashing it into walls of noise, tectonic-plate techno, and all sorts of cragged post-everything electronics.
i-sha, in an interview with Fact, singled out Accidental Meetings: “I always feel like I can do what I want there.” The Bristol DJ has become a regular at the label’s parties, and that’s hardly an accident: her style, both transgressive and firmly rooted in UK soundsystem culture, makes her a neat fit. Fact Mix 902 shows the border-crossing DJ at her moodiest, offering her a chance to go long and thread countless styles into a thoroughly disorienting and unrelentingly greyscale tapestry. She opts for a particularly confrontational style of mixing here: flipping ambient tracks inside out to reveal piles of snare drums, taking raging hardcore tunes and gutting them at a moment’s notice, crashing tempi into each other until the whole thing turns to a sludge.
In one particularly arresting segment, i-sha moves from the no-BPM bass-syrup of Sister Marion’s “B Safe (Version)” and slides it into an edit of Kinlaw & Franco Franco’s “Crocs on the Plough,” which sounds like dub techno beamed in from a more scorched earth; she only ups the apocalypticism with Spliftian and Jay Glass Dubs’s “Look Up Dub,” a dancehall riddim beamed in from a grimmer timeline. These tracks are all uniformly corroded, sounding like they’re on the verge of collapse—but beyond that, they’re speaking wildly different languages. For i-sha, that’s enough. She spends Fact Mix 902 diving deep into a world of stomach-churning ambience and broken-down club music, finding something that feels quietly revelatory along the way.
2022’s MDC.265 arrived late into the year like a blast of much-needed summer: a three-hour odyssey of dollar-bin hip-hop and R&B gems, chilled-out house records, and blissed-out downtempo. Two seasons later, the pair is back, and they’re picking up where they left off. Here, they zoom in on their rap and R&B crates before spiraling outwards into the heftier sounds of house and UK garage, pushing the tempo and energy up at a positively glacial pace. They go both wide and long here, stretching between all sorts of styles without making a show of things; they’re more liable to let a track play out than do any sort of head-turning jump-cut.
The mix is all the better for it; for the most part, it’s thoroughly laid-back and plenty playful, with an atmosphere that recalls a slow-and-low chill-out session. That’s not to say they don’t turn things up, though. What begins as a shuffle through the ‘90s hip-hop rolodex eventually turns to a full-on house party; in Myles Mac and DJ Possum’s world, there’s very little separating slow-motion Brandy covers and Queen Latifah notebooks from jubilant garage cuts and MIDI-house stompers. By the end, they’ve practically doubled the tempo, and in the process, they’ve reached previously inconceivable territories for a downtempo duo: a peak-time dancefloor.
RDC 063 starts slowly; at first, it’s just a slowly rolling piano, each note drenched in reverb, with snatches of conversation floating atop. If you listen closely, you can just barely make them out: “somehow,” a man mutters, “the music we grew up listening to doesn’t relate to our adult reality.” Then Special Request—a.k.a. Paul Woolford, U.K. electronic-music wizard—turns the dial back a few decades. Much of RDC 063, like DJ-Kicks before it, is concerned with the intersections of retrofuturism and the present, the ways that dreams of the future coalesce and evolve over time. So, early on, that means music that might soundtrack another timeline’s 2000s: old-school electro, tracky house and ambient-breakbeat bliss, a flying car hovering over every transition.
As the mix runs on, Woolford marches forward on the timeline, folding in all sorts of hyper-rhythmic club tracks that still sound like the future today. He speeds up the breakbeats until they turn to full-on junglist madness, ratcheting up the electro until it’s mutated into acid techno that bleeds into the red, and injects the ambient passages with a bit more menace. Woolfrod has been immersed in club music for long enough to see it carve out umpteen futures, and on RDC 063, he connects the dots, outlining an increasingly dark and frenetic vision for the dancefloor.
In many ways, murmur feels like a mixtape: like something sent between lovers, at once carefully curated and a bit roughshod. It sounds like one, too; there aren’t any hair-raising blends here, just several hours of vintage R&B heart-wrenchers, almost always played from front to back. It should come as little surprise, then, that murmur was recorded at a listening bar of the same name: this stuff isn’t screaming for your attention. Instead, it’s about filling the air with long-gone memories. Thea HD opens the session with a series of feather-light left hooks: gossamer folk and field recordings, elliptical classical music and strangely soothing typewriter lessons.
For the first forty-odd minutes, murmur coheres more or less entirely due to its dreamlike mood, and she sounds like she could linger there forever. But things really snap into place when she looks into her R&B, soul, and Motown crates: here, she turns her CDJ into a revolving door of yearning, cycling countless stories through her speakers: unrequited love and marriages gone wrong, odes to lust and love and joy and companionship, elegies for families long gone and those yet to come. She eventually returns to throwing curveballs—Will Powers’s new-wave motivational-speech oddity “Adventures in Success” is an eleventh-hour highlight—but, by then, she’s conjured such a deep catalog of longing that very little can shake it. murmur is roughshod, wide-ranging, and utterly captivating.
Since the launch of their flagship mix series two years ago, Animalia has quietly become a hot spot for Australia’s electronic-music scene. The Animixes, which show up frequently in these pages, are playful and deadly serious in equal measure, stretching from weirdo ambience to tough-as-nails drum-and-bass and back again. ani/live, their latest series, is exactly what it suggests on the tin: the same wide-ranging approach, but transposed into a live environment. For her contribution to the series, Timnah goes deep, offering up two hours of outer-space techno rollers. The whole thing’s thoroughly trippy and a bit vertiginous; it’s kick drums echoing into infinity and synthesizers ping-ponging into ever stranger territories. At some points, that translates to pitch-black ambient music; elsewhere, it’s hyper-precise drum-and-bass with the low-end sucked out, scraggly acid techno, or the kind of elliptical techno-minimalism you’d find on a Pom Pom black-label.
For his entry in the series, Aaron J sticks to his wheelhouse. That’s no small feat: the Sure Thing boss has garnered a reputation as a techno selector with bottomless crates, and his sets split the difference between spine-chilling minimalism and shoulder-rolling grooves. On ani/live Ten, he leans towards the latter half of that equation, starting with barely-there ambience and, ever so slowly, turning things up until he’s more than doubled the tempo and brought the dancefloor to a boil. He goes deep rather than wide here, working almost exclusively with dubby, head-trip techno; this is the kind of stuff that turns hypnotic if you just give it space, with loops stretching into infinity and changing thanks to sheer scale. Atop a slowly growing mountain of kick drums, Aaron J piles all sorts of loopy rhythms: slow-gallop hand-drums, walls of noise and static-encrusted synth, hi-hats that recall swarming insects. Perhaps more impressive than his selections or his aesthetic control is his sheer precision behind the decks. Never mind a scuffed blend: there’s hardly an audible transition in the session’s two-and-a-half hour runtime. Throughout ani/live Ten, Aaron J constructs a mountain of psychedelic techno, piling up the percussion until it takes on its own gravity.
ani/live Seven, by contrast, is downright riotous. Here, Anuraag shuffles between styles at a blistering speed. They’re never peacocking, exactly, but they’re never content to linger, either. The closest thing to a throughline is Anuraag’s commitment to high-energy left hooks, which only get bolder as the session runs on. Anuraag starts slow and low here, but it’s only a few minutes before the drums kick in; once the first kick lands, it’s off to the races, with the DJ moving between weirdo club tools, acid heaters, screw-faced techno, zero-grav dubstep, and all sorts of deep-Bandcamp experimentalism. One blend, pulled off about an hour in, is indicative: they grab the white-hot gqom workout of DJ Lag’s “Drumming” and slowly flip it into the title track from T5UMUT5UMU’s “Incantation 呪術,” a hard-drum stormer built around slow-motion throat singing. These tracks each offer a very different kind of mania—one a million drums piled atop each other, the other a collapse of timelines—but Anuraag nevertheless makes them speak the same language. ani/live Seven is filled with moments like this, showing a DJ crossing umpteen wires and finding a kind of magic in the process. By the end, it’s all turned downright euphoric: they play all nine minutes of Donato Dozzy’s ambient-techno masterwork “Vaporwave 07,” work their way into skyscraping noise courtesy of KMRU & Aho Ssan, and offer a gentle comedown thanks to blissed-out modern-classical records. It’s a minor miracle that it works at all, but what else is new? ani/live Seven is a masterclass in heady club music, taking material from umpteen dancefloors, histories, and traditions and merging them with exacting precision.
If techno is the practice of imagining futures, then Traumprinz—a German producer whose primary alias roughly translates to “dream prince”—is one of its most prodigious designers. In his work, which stretches across decades, aliases, and styles, Traumprinz erects utopias. As DJ Healer, his primary building blocks are thin air and sunlight; as DJ Metatron, he looks towards the stars; as Irini, he takes the sounds of Ibiza and erects a sandcastle to the clouds; and as Prince of Denmark, he teases infinities out of minimal techno idioms. With blue turtle, the architect of dreamscapes is back at it. In many ways, it’s a prototypical Traumprinz release: dropped to minimal fanfare on the artist’s SoundCloud page, seemingly unmixed, and presumably composed of as-of-yet unheard original productions. But even his most straightforward music carries a kind of beauty; his approach to techno finds that rare middle ground between heart-in-throat euphoria, plainspoken sound design, and club-night utilitarianism.
Throughout blue turtle, Traumprinz explores the sounds of techno, ambient music, and trance, intertwining the three until any distinction becomes moot. Even its most driving moments carry a head-in-clouds sensibility, and whenever it threatens to lose its rudder entirely a kick drum emerges to ground it again. One mid-session bit effectively encapsulates Traumprinz’s approach for the set: first, something that sounds like an Ibiza rave catapulted into outer space, with an old-school synth line and no-nonsense drum programming laid atop bleary-eyed synth washes; then, a heady techno cut built around an endless stream of arpeggios and hefty kicks; and finally, a blast of deep-space ambient music, all pinging synthesizers and yawning emptiness. Tellingly, Traumprinz settles on none of these sounds, instead finding something in between all three. In the process, he finds something remarkable, sketching out a labyrinthine world of sunlight and smoke-filled rooms.
V.I.V.E.K—née Vivek Sharda—is a titan of a highly particular scene. He’s built his career upon moving the culture of dubstep forward while underlining its histories. (Years ago, when he was unhappy with the sound quality at parties he got booked at, he simply built his own soundsystem.) In his productions and mixes alike, he champions the range of dubstep while making points to tie it back to the Jamaican soundsystems that first birthed dub. On RA.879, he makes that timeline explicit, threading a narrative that starts at the genre’s roots and ends up in the stars. Early on, this translates to heavyweight and wigged-out dub records which often sound quite a bit older than they are—Bukkha’s “Into the Void,” an early highlight, is three minutes of no-grav smoke-and-mirrors, threading the line between vintage dub records and new-school dub techno.
It doesn’t stay there for long, though. At an almost imperceptibly slow pace, Sharda turns up the low end, cranking on the bass and folding in new-school dubstep tools until it’s turned into the soundtrack for a smoked-out dancefloor. Alongside the razor-sharp mixing is a wide array of bass bombs: creeped-out and bone-chilling and vertiginous, stretching from screw-face grime to half-time rollers and back again. It’s a wildly exploratory session calibrated with exacting precision; throughout, Sharda outlines just how deep low-end club tunes can go.
PBA opens with a bit of a feint. wzrdryAV, a.k.a. Vancouver-based ambient shapeshifter Kelly Nairn, opens her three-hour session with “Untitled Dubplate,” a track she recorded in collaboration with Seekersinternational. The track is something of an ambient-music sound collage, but it hardly recedes into the background; it takes piles of noise, static, and clipped voices and builds something monolithic with them. It’s a shocking start to a relatively quiet set, which sees Nairn moving from zero-gravity ambient music to barely-there techno and back again. Once “Untitled Dubplate” fades out, she queues up Seekersinternational’s “Greenwash Hypnosis,” which is a more indicative way to open things up: this is ambient music for the bleary-eyed and barely there, full of clanks and whirrs and sounds that vanish as quickly as they appear.
Ever so slowly, she starts to work her way towards rhythm—the first hint of a pulse might come ninety minutes in, with Deepchord’s “Campfire,” a track composed of barely-there synthesizers that, slowly, attain a metronomic quality. That track might be the set’s fulcrum point; after that, she starts to fold head-trip percussion into the set, patiently weaving between all sorts of deep-space techno tools. There are a few points where she dares to crank the volume, but this session is hardly about individual moments. Instead, PBA is about the way a single rhythm can shift, the way that a wave of noise can crest and scatter to the wind. Think of it as ambient music for the changing tides.