Image via Michael McKinney
Michael McKinney understands the cultural importance of Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci.”
In June, some of the world’s best DJs hit the decks yet again, exploring the nooks and crannies of their sounds and finding new corners along the way. House wizards Masters at Work dug deep into their crates, offering up a confrontational and dizzying exploration of the style; Nicolas Lutz went long, looking towards the sounds of techno, electro, and breaks. CCL, a critical kitchen-sink selector, explored umpteen shades of club psychedelia in their latest session, and DJ Voices did something similar, rocketing between dubstep, breaks, and wiggly techno. georg-i, a relatively new name from Bristol’s ever-exciting rave circuit, triangulated the space between techno, jungle, and UK bass music; Solid Blake, a well-established name in the world of left-field electro and techno, presented a proper opus of the stuff for Intonal Festival. Andrew Devlin, an essential figure in the New York circuit, turned in a set fit to soundtrack a slow day at the pool.
If you’re looking for precisely the opposite of that, though, look no further than Bang Face. Minor Science, an IDM-etc. producer with a wicked hardcore streak, cooked up a blood-boiling set of breakcore, gabber, and techno bootlegging, while [Insert Gore] zoomed in on breakcore for a riotous sixty minutes. Ron Like Hell, a fixture of Brooklyn’s club scene, turned in their own version of a warehouse rave, building a technicolor array of left-field percussion tracks; Escaflowne and fleet.dreams dug into everything-goes rave music for their show over at Brooklyn’s Good Room. Autechre, electronic-music legends in their own right, twisted up their image yet again with a long-form set that wraps acidic electronics around hip-hop, punk, and ambient music.
Here are some of the best DJ sets June had to offer.
In April of this year, Andrew Devlin posted a mix, entitled Ibiza 2008, to his SoundCloud page. In a way, it feels like a bit of a skeleton key to his sound: a bit blissed-out and plenty nostalgic, with old-school dancefloor idioms stretched out underneath the midday sun. With MDC.284, the New York DJ leans farther into the sepia tint suggested by Ibiza 2008, offering up an imagined soundtrack for a poolside chill-out session in Miami. He starts things off with a bit of slow-motion ambience; eventually, a light snare-drum jostle kicks things into gear, a bleary-eyed journey through sandblasted grooves and zoned-out keyboard solos. From there, it’s anything goes, as long as it’s thoroughly laid back: beachside balladry and roughshod Golden-age hip-hop, barely-there balearic beat and shuffle-and-skip synth workouts. Devlin described the mix’s ideal setting—that aforementioned Florida pool—as a space filled with quiet joys: slowly sipped cocktails, makeout sessions in the neon-blue water, iguanas running across the soundsystem. MDC.284 captures that sense of sun-kissed awe to a tee, inviting listeners to slow down, stretch out, and relax.
When they were last featured in this column, with January’s 1992 Continuous Mix, Autechre went deep into their dustiest crates, digging up hours of vintage electronic-music wizardry. In a way, Mix for Neuvoids plays like a continuation of that: once again, the legendary dance-music experimentalists are going for something long and playful; and once again, they push against any preconceived notions of their music as something strictly for headphone purists. They spend the bulk of this mix throttling between all sorts of styles, jumping ship right as soon as things get too settled. Here, million-limbed acid techno sits next to space-age ambience, and golden-age hip-hop revivalism plays nicely alongside zonked-out rock records. In this sense, a particular highlight lands about halfway through: they slide the jump-cut bleep-IDM of Sluta Leda’s “Snöade Läger” next to Westside Gunn & Slick Rick’s “Good Night,” bridging decades and traditions in the process; from there, it’s deep-space ambience courtesy of Patricia Taxxon, the ghostly choral experimentalism of Civic Edits’s “Hassle,” and, in one last left turn, a shot of gristly post-punk thanks to The Stranglers’ “Waiting for the Meninblack.” It’s a deeply disorienting few minutes, and it’s indicative of Autechre’s ethos: an approach to experimental music that blurs boundaries until they have dissipated entirely.
At this point, CCL is a column mainstay, and with good reason. The Berlin selector is equal parts incisive and thoughtful in their sets, which take a dream-logic approach to the dancefloor. Even when they’re in peak-time mode, they’re unafraid to jackknife straight into the unknown, trusting dancers to follow. It’s a risky strategy, but it frequently pays off; CCL’s profile has risen even as their mixes have grown stranger, hairier, more difficult to pin down. With PURE Guest.040, the DJ shows off their chops yet again, diving deep into their crates and coming out with seventy-odd minutes of oddball dancefloor selections. Highlights abound: an early-session transition from stutter-stepping dubstep into some screw-faced grime records; a shot of reverb-drenched acid and disorienting BPM play near the midpoint; an amp-flattening bootleg of Drowning Pool that crashes into equally weighty avant-techno minimalism. PURE Guest.040 is filled with these sorts of blends, but, thanks to sheer craft behind the decks, the zigs and zags never come off as forced or overly disorienting. It’s a neat encapsulation of CCL’s style behind the decks: equal parts playful, off-kilter, and painstakingly measured.
Kristin Malossi, a.k.a. New York’s DJ Voices, has slowly built up a reputation as one of the city’s most critical selectors. As a booker at Ridgewood’s Nowadays, she’s charged with keeping her ear to the ground on contemporary electronic music, and when she’s behind the decks, you can tell she takes that work seriously. Transmissions From Planet Groovy 001 catches the DJ in rare form, rocketing between styles even as she maintains a steady groove throughout. Here, she’s working with riotous dubstep tools and screw-faced techno; elsewhere, it might be chunky deep-house records or ebullient two-step. The whole thing’s got a clear eye towards the UK, but it’s also deeply of a piece with modern New York mixing: focused less on genre than on sheer vim, prioritizing acrobatics over stone-faced studiousness. Critically, she keeps things light and playful throughout, offering up an endlessly modulating groove suited for the shoulder-rollers and umpteen deep cuts sure to keep any crate-diggers busy for the foreseeable future.
SORRYMIX24 opens with a thrown gauntlet. Adina Howard’s “Freak Like Me” is an essential piece of mid-’90s R&B: whirring G-funk synths, lyrics that split the difference between late-night hedonism and sun-kissed love, a slow-and-low groove holding it all together. So, of course, Escaflowne & fleet.dreams open their live set by doubling the tempo and throwing a delirious bassline underneath the whole thing, turning it into a breathless 2-step shuffler along the way. The whole set moves with this energy—each segue comes with an implied ”why not” and grins so big that you can practically hear them. This should come as little surprise; it is a back-to-back session, after all, and it’s hard not to hear the DJs pushing each other into ever stranger territories, moving towards wilder and deeper grooves the whole time.
The result is a session of increasingly manic house-etc. music, stuff that takes pounding four-to-the-floor rhythms to decidedly oddball territories: jacking piano-house and breakneck breakbeats; tracks that find the middle ground between bassline and hip-house and sun-kissed trance; light-speed rap bootlegs that crumple timelines into something that sounds entirely new. (Hearing Skrillex & Missy Elliot crashed into bracing baile funk and souled-up footwork will do that kind of thing.) Taken as a whole, SORRYMIX24 feels like a love letter to anything-goes club music, with two critical DJs scrambling their USBs in search for club-music euphoria.
Since its foundation in 2020, YCO has been presenting a wildly exciting future for UK club music: a vision of clubs as a space for future-forward electronics of all stripes, with a particular bent towards high-speed breaks, million-ton bass bombs, and tongue-in-cheek drum programming. A YCO release is rarely precisely a jungle record, nor quite techno, nor exactly UK bass, but it is frequently a triangulation thereof. This style—playful and precise, mindful of genre histories but not beholden to them—makes georg-i a neat fit on the label. (His debut on YCO, 2021’s YCO002, remains a stalwart example of what makes the label great.) With Fact Mix 914, the Bristol DJ leans hard into tough-and-messy dance music, scattering Amen breaks and roughshod kicks atop a seemingly endless range of bass-busting synthesizers. It’s both a veritable who’s-who of modern breaks and techno—Toma Kami, Skee Mask, Metrist, Lurka, Piezo—and a breathless race through ever-increasing BPMs, with each new kick drum only upping the energy as he moves from stomach-churning techno to light-speed junglisms and back.
If you’re looking to get a masterclass in house music, you could do a lot worse than digging into Masters at Work’s discography. The New York duo, made up of Louie Vega and Kenny Dope, is responsible for plenty of seminal work in the style, and their discography predates countless modern house-music wizards. With Crack Mix 500, they prove their chops yet again. The set, recorded live in 2017, is a joyous and rough-edged celebration of house; it demonstrates an encyclopedic knowledge of the stuff but never comes off as stodgy or overly studied. About one-quarter of the way through, they pull off an instructive blend: they toss Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” on top of a jacking hand-drum house, and then pull the rug out by taking what sounds an awful lot like the iconic synth line from Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”—only to never deploy the track, instead laying some deep-space spoken-word on top as they stretch the groove into infinity. Crack Mix 500 is stuffed with left hooks like this, where Masters at Work take deep-set grooves and stretch them into parts unknown.
In an interview with Crack in 2020, Angus Finlayson, a.k.a. Minor Science, put it simply: “My two really important clubbing experiences when I started going out in London were dubstep and Bang Face.” The latter, an infamous weekender devoted to kitchen-sink DJing, ever-increasing tempi, and anything-goes attitudes, is a veritable mecca for hard dance, that subculture of dance music dedicated to pushing things just a bit further—faster, messier, sillier, tougher. In mixes and productions alike, Finlayson has been leaning ever further in that direction, to consistently winning results. (His latest track, the breakbeat-rave whirlwind “Workahol,” is in contention for club-music song of the summer.) In his set for 2023’s Bang Face Weekender, Finlayson dials in on dancefloor mania, turning in a maddening hour of quick and wild-eyed edits. STIPE N CO, a project affiliated with the producer (Finlayson cheekily claims to be their “reluctant mentor”), makes a handful of tone-setting appearances: breakneck bootlegs of Linkin Park, Evanescence, and Rihanna make it clear this is a set for the tongue-in-cheek crowd even as they move things into thoroughly manic territories. Slowly, he moves from fleet-footed breaks to mammoth techno, breakcore, and gabber: stuff that hits like an eighteen-wheeler and moves twice as fast.
By comparison, [Insert Gore]’s session looks downright straightforward. The Bristol DJ, who DJ’d the same stage that night, focused on blazing-fast breakbeats for their session, rocketing between chopped-and-scattered drum breaks while cranking on the volume. Breakcore can come off as a bit impenetrable, for both better and worse; its torrential drums can leave the listener little to grab on to if they move too quickly. On that front, [Insert Gore] wisely offers a variety of footholds: a riotous flip of 50 Cent’s “In da Club,” which fuses his lyrics with garbled kicks and blistering snare-drum chops; a shot of dark-ambient breaks that treats David Attenborough’s narration as world’s-end monologuing; and some honest-to-god nu-metal near the end, which underlines just how closely breakcore mirrors turn-of-the-century rock music. In the set, [Insert Gore] walks a fine tightrope indeed, imagining a version of breakcore that is approachable without losing any of its full-speed-ahead charm.
Nicolas Lutz has, over the years, built up a fearsome reputation. He’s nominally a techno selector, but in practice, his sets run much wider than that: electro, techno, and breaks, all tossed into the mix and left at a simmer. Recorded at Houghton, a live recording from a festival he played last year, acts as yet another act of coronation: it’s a long-form set of techno idioms that dives into all sorts of uncharted territories and emerges all the better for it. There’s plenty of ragged breakbeats and kick drums here, to be sure, but the more interesting stuff is when it goes a bit sideways: an extended foray into space-age acid around the middle third, a break into free-jazz drumming and dubbed-up breaks near the middle, or an eye-popping bit where he digs into spindly minimalism, chasing a few simple keyboard loops down umpteen blind alleys. Recorded at Houghton is simple on paper—a rock-solid groove stretched out for three hours—but, in practice, it’s downright labyrinthine, a universe of off-kilter drum fills and hypnotic synth lines that suggest entire worlds.
In the interview that accompanies Truancy Volume 309, Ron Like Hell reveals that they used to be a painter. It makes sense. The Brooklyn DJ’s sets are colorful and playful, with genres and sounds bleeding into each other, like they’re constantly rethinking a watercolor. On Truancy Volume 309, Ron Like Hell looks for neon hues, turning in a two-hour romp through warehouse-rave energies. In the New York stalwart’s words, “it’s dirty and fun […] the best kind of fun.” Early on, that comes in the form of wigged-out belters that slip between the cracks of genre and style: tripped-out electro-funk courtesy of D. Yaroslav’s “Moonrise Sunrise,” Jauzas the Shining’s squiggly acid workouts, Luca Durán & BADSISTA’s mind-bending techno. (That’s just the first ten minutes.) From there, they work towards increasingly bright and psychedelic tones, upping the energy and cranking the bass even as they threaten to turn the dancefloor inside out. The set is characteristically outré without coming off as an exercise in peacocking; it is left-field in the pursuit of sheer dancefloor euphoria; it’s filled with treats for the rubberneckers and ravers alike.
Intonal Festival, April 2023 opens a bit ominously: the synth echoes of Anthony Rother’s “Star Cluster” sound like radar pinging into the depths, and the chopped-up sound that comes back on the other end sounds disconcertingly close to a human voice. It’s both alien and a bit too familiar, setting the tone for a set that takes blood-pumping rave music and casts it at Dutch angles, setting everything askew lest anyone get too comfortable. This idea serves as a solid foundation, offering Solid Blake plenty of space to move into uncharted territories even as she pushes against expectation with each blend: Holoe’s “Screwface” is a crystalline example of brain-bending breakbeats & two-step, but hearing her drop it into the bass-blasted breaks experimentalism of Gamma Intel’s “Little Mirror Man” transforms each track entirely, and anyone confident enough to mix Amor Satyr’s trance-baile into Mr. Ho’s acid-techno wigglers is worth keeping a close eye on. By the time the set’s wrapped up, she’s vaulted between a million different shades of techno and hardcore-adjacent club tracks, stretching connective tissues to a breaking point and folding entire styles in on themselves.