Image via Michael McKinney
Michael McKinney understands the cultural importance of Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci.”
Sometimes, more is more. In November, there was a glut of fantastic DJ sets: speedy and messy, slow and meditative, and plenty in between. Bake, a low-key maestro behind the decks in Glasgow, gave Resident Advisor a post-dubstep steamroller a decade in the making, and Ben UFO blasted between techno, dubstep, hard drum, and just about anything else in a long-form exploration of club sounds. Over in London, Scratchclart, the city’s resident gqom ambassador, dug deep into the tectonic-plate sounds of gqom, while Laksa showed off his collection of tightly wound dubstep, breaks, and grime for Truants. The folks behind critical Colombian record label TraTraTrax continued to push against any boundaries of what “Latin electronic” music can sound like, and Conducta & Tim Reaper offered up a blistering session of old-school breaks and jungle records.
On the other side of the globe, Los Angeles’s Maral dug into disorienting electronics, filling the NTS airwaves with sludged-up techno and ambience, and a vintage set from DJ Bobby Viteritti acts as a jubilant history lesson in disco and house mixing. James Holden spun three hours of blissed-out ambient and jazz for a festival with a strict ban on talking, and Woody92 explored the intersection between gritted-teeth ambience and endless minimal techno. Kia zoomed in on downtempo, trip-hop, and ambient music in an uncharacteristically moody session, and Rama stepped on the gas for a ninety-minute set of industrial-din dance music the world over.
Myles Mac & DJ Possum, two essential names in the Ibiza-adjacent world of chillout, explored wiggly techno and zonked-out IDM at 2023’s Sustain-Release; Maara, mixing from the same festival, soundtracked a pool party with head-spinning trance and techno. Kush Jones, AceMo, MoMA Ready, and DJ Swisha outlined what makes New York dance music so vital today in a six-hour offering from one of the city’s finest clubs, and Simisea turned in a raucous set of dembow, techno, and breaks from GROOVY GROOVY, one of the city’s hottest parties.
Objekt turned in two everything-goes dancefloor sessions, stitching connections across decades and oceans at a breathtaking pace, and Time Is Away devoted their latest broadcast to nothing less than poetry itself. Siga brought an overstuffed crate to Amsterdam’s murmur, digging into hushed folk music, contemporary R&B, and slow-burning jazz in the process. Lastly, a whole lot of different DJs brought their best to Honcho Campout, which has turned into something of a mecca queer dance-music: House and techno, ghettotech and boogie, funk and jazz, soul and dubstep, and heaps of communal joy.
Here are some of the best DJ sets November had to offer.
Nineteen minutes into RA.909, Bake cues up Karima F’s “FHP.” It’s the kind of post-post-dubstep that could only have come out after decades of twists and turns for the genre: it feels like it’s moving in three tempi at once, with a rickety drum machine acting as the foundation for a detuned synth line as it leaps from ear to ear. It’s both deeply out-there and fully in line with UK club-night traditions—a description which also nicely fits with the rest of the set. Bake is a veteran of Glasgow’s club circuit, and he moves like one on RA.909, moving between brand-new club-night steamrollers and vintage dancefloor bombs with ease. The set runs hot but maintains an unerring sense of play thanks to Bake’s predilection towards broken beats and oddball techno belters; nearly every track has a curveball or three built in. By the end of RA.909, Bake has created a veritable rolodex of post-dubstep dancefloor belters: This is a vision of peak-time dancefloor mania delivered with a wink.
Given this column has been going for over three years and highlighted over 700 DJ sets, it’s a bit surprising that Ben UFO—has only appeared in this column once. (That was with last year’s Issue 136 Cover Mix, where the London DJ teamed up with fellow Hessle Audio heads Pearson Sound & Pangaea.) But better late than never, right? On a purely technical level, he’s among the best in the business, and if you’re looking for new-school UK electronics, his crates are second to none. In April of last year, Berlin’s Climate of Fear hosted Ben UFO for a nearly five-hour set, and he underlined his sterling reputation yet again. The set is low-slung and trippy, full of disorienting dancefloor cuts and rug-pulls between tracks; Ben UFO’s style here, as ever, is playful and unpredictable but never turns to full-on peacocking. (He’s a remarkably quiet DJ in this regard: blends are almost never the point, but if you look back on a tracklist, you’ll find a spiderweb of histories and genres.) Rock-solid grooves form the foundation of Climate of Fear, but that can mean anything: reverb-drenched hard-drum, duets for a mouth harp and a black hole, two-step with plenty of skip in its step. (In one highlight of a million, he moves from slow-motion amapiano to wigged-out kind-of-dubstep, crossing oceans and decades in the process.) Climate of Fear is the sound of a master at work.
As far as the contemporary London dance-music scene goes, this back-to-back is a real unstoppable-force-immovable-object proposition: What happens when a don of new-school UK garage meets modern jungle’s kingpin? The easy—and correct, it turns out—answer is simple: Something great. Here, Conducta and Tim Reaper turn in a sweltering hour of Amen breaks and 160-BPM scorchers, digging deep in their crates and pulling up belter after belter. A few years ago, the set might have sounded a bit retro, thanks to its piles of MIDI pianos and dust-covered drum breaks, but Conducta and Tim Reaper have pushed these sounds so hard that they’ve vaulted right back into now. With Conducta’s Crib Edinburgh, the two demonstrate their mastery behind the decks: Again and again, they blend countless quick-and-hot drum machines with a rolodex of MCs, folding countless R&B refixes and white-hot drum breaks into each other for a blistering hour. Consider this a hurled gauntlet from two of London’s finest.
In an interview with disco-disco.com, disco & house don DJ Bobby Viteritti talked about delirium. He’d start a song from the middle and loop it back around to the start; it would “mess around with the crowd’s heads,” and they’d even “think it’s a remix.” That head-spinning quality comes through in spades in Live at the Palace, a newly remastered reel-to-reel mix that presumably ran all night forty years ago. At just over six hours, the session runs long, but it’s stuffed with enough high-energy (and hi-NRG) grooves that it hardly shows its length. As the first hour turns to the second and bleeds into the sixth, Viteritti pulls off a minor miracle: the tightly-wound grooves that open the session never give way. This is a joyous pile-up of vintage disco, house, and rock music that hits just as urgently four decades later. (In this sense, Live at the Palace recalls Trent & Dama’s momentous 24-hour set from Berlin queer-nightlife mainstay Cocktail d’Amore a few years back; consider this another branch on the family tree.) Live at the Palace is a celebration of confetti-blasted body music, each kick drum and nerved-up vocal performance offering a defiant and joyous kind of escapism.
It’s not every day you find a club night where ravers are encouraged to lie down, but it’s not every day you find a DJ like James Holden, either. Last year, the DJ played at Speckle in London. Entitled Dance or Dream, the recording offers plenty of space for both, although you may need a bit of imagination for the former. Here, he expands on the progressive-electronic sensibilities of his latest work, turning in three hours of transportive electronics, jazz records, and fourth-world minimalism. Thumping kicks are out in favor of noodling synthesizers, and it’s safe to expect blissed-out drones rather than breakbeats. The result takes the slow build of so much great twentieth-century minimalism and stretches it out ever further: piles of kind-of-ambient techno, a universe of new-age psychedelia, shimmering spiritual jazz, and anything that threatens to stretch into infinity. With Dance or Dream, James Holden reaches into his crates and finds nothing but clouds.
In recent years, Melbourne’s club-night scene has earned a reputation for tranced-out nostalgia and spaceborne techno; at its best, its sound is straight-up euphoric. This is in no small part thanks to Kia, a DJ who splits her time between Melbourne and Berlin. She is best known for her miles-deep techno sets, but that’s hardly her only zone: Spend enough time in her mixes and you’ll find hyper-precise drum-and-bass, dreamy ambience, and all sorts of other styles. On Juanita’s Mix 096, she looks elsewhere yet again. She described the set as “the musical embodiment of an infinite plane ride,” and that idea tracks: There’s an unending chug to the cuts here, with occasional bits of turbulence keeping things from being too steady throughout. Perhaps more than that, though, the set is defined by its slight melancholy: Even when Kia works with fleet-footed drum breaks, a few bleary-eyed synths turn the whole thing sepia-toned, and there’s plenty of downtempo cuts, full of muffled kicks and pads that land like a long hug in the chill-out room. Juanita’s Mix 096 is a long-form exploration of downcast electronics and yet another curveball from one of Berlin’s fiercest modern DJs.
New York dance music is on top of the world right now. If you’re looking for an explanation why, you could do a lot worse than the five proper nouns at the top of this blurb. Kush Jones, AceMo, MoMA Ready and DJ Swisha are all key figures behind the city’s house and techno scene; their crates, historical knowledge, and curiosity all run deep and wide. Their sets tend to run hot and playful, with each DJ egging each other on into ever gnarlier territories. At this point, they’re as much of an institution as Nowadays: A club night that plays host to a tremendous range of talent, with a crowd of ravers that’s up for just about anything. Put the club and the DJ quartet together and you’ve bottled lightning.
As much is immediately apparent on Nowadays, a recording from November that stretches out for six and a half hours. The length fits, though: When these four DJs hook up, you can practically feel the electricity in the room, and that devil-may-care attitude only grows as their sets run on. Give them enough time, it feels, and they could do anything. Nowadays shows them deep in their New-York dance-music bag, sprinting between pointillistic techno, muscular house records, piano-breakbeat whirlwinds, tongue-in-cheek juke cuts, barnstorming jungle, R&B classics, Baltimore club belters, and piles more. The genres in question are hardly the point, though: This is about forward momentum and communal joy. Nowadays is a celebration of the sheer vitality of one of the planet’s greatest club scenes, each drum break pushing ravers ever closer to the sun.
At the beginning of Truancy Volume 318, Laksa throws a gauntlet. Shawn Reynaldo, the writer behind the club-music newsletter First Floor, starts talking about folk music: “Is rave culture just a kind of folk art now? […] It’s not about pushing things forward any more; it’s become a set of traditions.” It’s a heady way to start a club set, but it’s by no means wrong—dance music has long prized its rituals, and it has built entire genres upon decades-old samples. Through that lens, consider Truancy Volume 318 a kind of survey of contemporary folk. It’s stuffed with still-unreleased tracks that nevertheless recall all sorts of dance-music traditions: Amen breaks coiled around zero-gravity dubstep basslines, speedy techno rhythms bolted to contemporary Brazilian funk, precisely-laid jungle breaks pinned up against grime and acid synthesizers. Throughout, Laksa leaps between these styles with a veteran’s grace, hitting a peak-time mania, opting for a hard left as often as possible, suggesting an entire universe if you give him the time. The result is a remarkable ninety minutes that feels like half that; it is a survey of modern club tools that sounds both futuristic and ancient at once. There may be nothing new under the sun, but any given gem contains countless refractions.
Trance, both recently and forever, has been undergoing a perpetual revival. Maara, a critical selector from Montréal, has been turning dance floors inside out with trance and techno for years now, and it’s not hard to see why: both genres are, often, playful and ebullient, promising euphoria via a thousand kick drums laid just so. With Sustain-Release Year 9, though, she goes a bit wider, reaching for anything liable to flip a dancefloor upside down. (Never mind that she’s soundtracking a pool party here.) The result is rollicking, joyous, and thoroughly raunchy, packed with piles of old-school techno, proggy breaks, and acid-drenched synthesizers. (The set’s tags, which include “#serving #cunt,” cut right to the session’s wink-and-grind atmosphere.) The set goes by in a blink thanks to Maara’s zippy mixing, which cuts between styles and timelines with ease; it’s a thoroughly energizing and sexed-up rave-up that sounds like it could have come out at any point between 1993 and 2023.
Maral, a.k.a. Los Angeles’s Maral Mahmoudi, has made a career out of tangling traditions, wrapping histories around each other until it’s unclear where one begins and another ends. Her style is both wide-ranging and singular; it moves from deep-space dub to fried-nerve industrial, hair-raising noise to centuries-old folk music. The thing uniting it all, from LP to EP to DJ set, is the strength of Maral’s world-building; this is music that shuts the windows and conjures a hallucinogenic fog. On a recent guest spot on smilegoth’s NTS Radio show, Mahmoudi pulls off her otherworldly blends yet again, creating one of her most disorienting offerings yet. Here, she spends an hour finding all sorts of genre-crossing headspinners: her “Sludge Edit” of Rhythm & Sound’s “King Version” takes barely-there ambient-dub and screws it up further, putting Iranian folk music on top; just a few minutes later, she’s working with Suzanne Ciani & Jonathan Fitoussi’s “Oceanium,” a glacier of progressive-electronic composition. The tracklist is filled with moments that ought to not work on paper; they’re simply too audacious, or weird, or avant-something. But, again and again, Mahmoudi cranks on the smoke machine, dimming the lights and deepening the disorientation.
Years ago, Myles Mac and DJ Possum hit oil, and they’ve not stopped drilling since. The Australian DJs have found a rare synergy, where it’s more or less impossible to discern who’s selecting what and each track only deepens the groove. At their best, it feels like their mixes—sun-baked and a bit mellow, sounding like an early morning in New York or a late night at Ibiza—could go on forever. Their latest broadcast, recorded live from New York’s Sustain-Release festival, shows the pair locking ever deeper into their style, spinning dancefloor floaters for a blissed-out two and a half hours. It’s a closing set, so you might expect something slamming, but it’s a bit more low-key than that. Throughout the session, they weave their way between all sorts of wiggly club sounds, throwing curveballs with a deft touch: barely-there acid techno, old-school progressive house, lighters-up downtempo, early-’90s hip-house, downcast trip-hop. With Sustain-Release 2023, Myles Mac and DJ Possum stuff the amplifiers with feathers, turning in something that’s low-key and hypnotic in equal measure.
Thomas Brinkmann’s “NRT” is a barrage of cluster-bomb chords. It sounds like what would happen if a black MIDI composer was charged with soundtracking a horror film. It’s not exactly dancefloor material—right? Not if you ask Objekt. Halfway into his set at Waking Life 2023—right when many DJs would try to reach some sort of climax—the Berlin DJ pulls out a prepared piano. He’s a canny enough selector to recognize a deep machine-funk groove in “NRT,” so of course it’d fit next to wigged-out industrial techno. His set at Waking Life 2023 is filled with these sorts of left hooks, moving from psychedelic hard-drum to cragged techno and deep-space dubstep before ending on a run of dubbed-up rock music. (This approach—an Evel Knievel routine pulled off with surgical precision—is Objekt’s M.O. at this point, and it makes his SoundCloud page appointment listening.) It’s a relatively low-key set for Objekt, who frequently moves in the heavier sides of bass-heavy club music, but that doesn’t take away from its transportive power. Over three hours, he pulls off a million zig-zags, stitching together umpteen traditions without so much as a missed seam.
If you’re looking for something heavier, though, look no further than FOLD, London. Here, he grabs heavy techno and casts it into a black hole, finding all sorts of zonked-out dancefloor burners in the process. It’s a weighty set, filled with tectonic-plate bass and gut-punch kicks, but it’s got a real sense of play to it, too, with shuffle-and-skip drums and several blends so bold that you can’t help but laugh. The set starts at a relatively quick 140-ish BPM, but by the end, it’s moved into full-on junglisms, with neck-snapping breaks ricocheting against post-post-dubstep bass snarls. It’s a remarkable set of peak-time kitchen-sink club music, pulled off with the kind of exacting technicality that only Objekt brings to the table. Taken as a pair, Waking Life 2023 and FOLD, London show one of Berlin’s finest purveyors of club-music psychedelia in top form, flipping two dancefloors inside out.
All that being said about Objekt, it’s not like he has a monopoly on all-at-once club music. Unsound Podcast 98, recorded live from Kraków in October, shows another Berlin DJ moving in similar ways but with even more heft. The mix runs ninety-odd minutes but feels half that thanks to its breakneck tempo and equally white-hot mixing. The drums are locked in a constant mutation here, moving from grime to gabber and back again with ease, threading all sorts of fast-and-messy dance music into something that reads cohesive perhaps despite itself. It’s a wildly high-energy set that doubles as a celebration of hardcore dance music the world over: Baltimore club classics and nu-weirdo east-coast hip hop, bass-grinder grime white-labels and speaker-busting dubstep. Given the sheer range on display, it’s a minor miracle that Unsound Podcast 98 never turns muddy or exhausting, but given Rama’s acrobatics behind the decks, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, either. This is rough-and-tumble club music at its most kaleidoscopic.
At this point, Scratchclart is something of an ambassador for South African dance music. The London-based DJ and electrifying radio host cut his teeth in the city’s grime circuit, and he’s spent the years since digging into the sounds of UK funky, amapiano, and gqom. Perhaps it’s personal bias, but he’s at his strongest when he’s working with the latter: he knows how to take the icy sounds of gqom—kicks, claps, and little else—and give it a skip in its step. (Hyperdub founder Kode9 once memorably described listening to the genre like “being suspended over the gravitational field of a black hole,” and the best gqom mixes take this to heart.) Throughout Special Guest Mix, the UK selector opts for a heavyweight minimalism, finding all sorts of menacing grooves along the way. The mix is both shockingly heavy and full of surprises: Afrotech R&B, tectonic-plate grinders, high-drama Afro-house. The set shows one of the UK’s finest selectors opening up his atlas yet again, connecting the heft of Durban’s dancefloors with the everything-goes attitude of his home base.
Part of the appeal of a long-form set is simple: If you give a talented DJ enough time behind the decks, they can erase the boundaries between universes. The curators behind murmur certainly understand this. The Dutch listening bar has played host to countless slow-and-low DJ sets, where the four-four kicks are jettisoned in favor of folk music, jazz, and anything else that makes the air seem a bit clearer. (The bar’s SoundCloud page has quietly become a critical landing spot for this stuff, boasting over three days of music that pushes downtempo mixing into new spaces.) Siga was last in this column for a firestarting set of Palestinian and Egyptian drill records, but this is hardly the space for that. How about some cool jazz, instead? Siga spends the six hours of Murmur flipping between styles, decades, and languages alike. They open the session with a series of lighter-than-air progressive-electronic cuts; if you tilt your head right, you might just hear the CDJs floating a few inches off the table. From there, it’s anything goes, albeit slowly: there’s an extended run of hard-bop belters with the free-jazz tumble of Kendrick Lamar’s “i” thrown in for good measure; there’s glances towards the contemporary R&B landscape courtesy of Brent Faiyiaz, Miguel, and The Weeknd; there’s a hefty sampling of Middle Eastern folk music and pop records. It’s the kind of wide range that only works with four CDJs or six hours; fortunately, Siga has (at least) one of those here. Murmur is a remarkably wide-ranging and playful set of kind-of-dance music kept at a simmer.
At this point, Simisea is dangerously close to becoming a column mainstay. The Brooklyn DJ has been pushing a playful and bass-heavy club sound for a few years now, but they’ve really caught fire recently: Every set they release seems just a bit hotter than the last. Transmissions From Planet Groovy 005, recorded live at NYC’s GROOVY GROOVY, is among their rowdiest yet—and it’s all the better for it. (GROOVY GROOVY’s tagline is telling: “If you’re sweating… you’re doing it right.”) Here, Simisea digs into the speedier end of their crates, finding all sorts of oddball rhythms to keep the dancefloor on its toes: blisteringly fast dembow and bass-grinder dubstep, cragged techno and broken-machinery pileups, rickety electro and jubilant house. As the set runs on, Simisea gets more daring, taking ever bigger leaps and landing them each time. (Stutter-stepping grime into gut-churning techno? Sure! Hand-drum whirlwinds into chopped-up folk music and steamrolling kick drums? Why not?) It’s everything-goes in the best way, full of blends that ought to fall apart on paper but only deepen the delirium on the dancefloor.
On the first pass, it all reads a bit on the nose. Time Is Away have spent ten years on NTS tangling histories, looking towards ancient folk traditions and modern electronics that nevertheless sound like they’re caked in dust. Their latest transmission looks towards Sappho, a lyric poet born in the 7th century BCE, deemed by Plato to be “the tenth muse.” The Mortal Muse is structured around her remaining work, a poem that has since long split into fragments. If Time Is Away’s music is about recombining histories and jumbling traditions, then this—a piece about poetry scattered and reimagined—is one of the plainest ways to state a modus operandi. That directness works to the set’s benefit; from the first moment to the last, the slow-motion tumble of guitars, organs, and synthesizers is lended centuries of weight. Time Is Away weave a recitation of Sappho’s writing through the mix, scattering its reassembled prose to the wind. They pull from all sorts of traditions here—barely-there ambience thanks to SIMONEL’s ”Colmena,” spine-tingling field recordings from Erik Kramer, fever-dream classical music courtesy of Miradasvacas. As with many of Time Is Away’s recent mixes, the piece sits somewhere between liturgical and meditative; it takes a hushed approach to grandeur. It doesn’t feel religious, exactly, but it wouldn’t sound out of place in a cathedral, either.
“Latin electronic”—the constellation of dance music made by people from the Latin American diaspora—has exploded in the last few years. Given it’s a scene rather than a sound, it’s tough to pin down any particulars, but, by and large, the most exciting stuff is quick, percussion-forward, and pan-genre; it operates in a space between raptor house, reggaetón, techno, and hard drum. TraTraTrax has only been around for a few years, but they have quickly established themselves as a critical name in Latin electronic music’s new wave: their discography works as a who’s-who of the scene. The names on their roster complicate and extend the idea of Latin electronics, pushing against any obvious narratives in favor of full-on dancefloor experimentalism.
TraTraTrax’s founders—Nyksan, DJ Lomalinda, and Verraco—have an encyclopedic knowledge of contemporary club music and a wide-ranging vision for its future. Fitting all that in the span of an hour would be a tall order indeed. So, on their latest mix for Crack, they go long, turning in nearly three hours of blood-boiling electronics. If anything links their selections together, it’s their unrelenting focus on peak-time dancefloor tools, but beyond that, anything goes: screw-face grime and broken-machinery riddim; barnstorming techno and amp-busting reggaetón; MIDI-house stompers and quick-and-dirty breakbeats; and about a million other styles that bleed into the red. It’s a joyous and devil-may-care session that pushes against genre, form, and narrative, positing that Latin electronic music can be anything at all.
If there’s one thing that ambient music and minimal techno have in common, it’s their shared tendency towards hypnosis. Stretch something out long enough—a kick drum pattern, a particularly moody synth—and it starts to sound like it could go on forever. Woody92 understands this. The Dutch DJ-producer has built his career upon long-form world-building, taking a slow-and-low approach to the decks and finding entire galaxies between the kick drums. On XLR8R 825, he digs deep into austere techno and deep-space ambience, massaging pitch-black beats until they turn to a strange kind of beauty. It opens with barely-there ambient music and discombobulating glitch; it takes over ten minutes for the drums to start. Even then, they’re muffled and a bit restrained: they’re a distant heartbeat, not anything aimed towards the dancefloor. The set slowly builds energy from there, but even at its most wild-eyed, XLR8R 825 is studiously reserved. This is techno and ambience at their most skin-crawling; it’s electronic music that gets into the folds of your brain and under your pores.
It’s like clockwork: Every summer, the good folks at Honcho throw a queer dance-music festival in the woods; early every fall, umpteen ravers wax poetic about how wonderful their weekend was; and early every winter, some of the year’s best DJ sets start appearing online. This year was no different. In recent weeks, sets from Honcho Campout 2023 have been filling up the collective’s SoundCloud page at the rate of six mixes a week. And, as usual, they’re killer.
Sterling Juan Diaz & SCAAARR, two critical New York selectors, showed off just how deep their knowledge of classic house and techno runs, racing between old-school belters and new-school global club sounds; Joyce Lim found a similar frenzy, bleeding into the red with a selection of breaks, dembow, and plenty of white-hot edits ripped from the airwaves. AK turned in one of the weekend’s raunchiest sets, ripping through east-coast club, ghettotech, and new-school trap; elsewhere, Jin & Juice was in close competition, with a three-hour session of dancehall, trap, and R&B firestarters. Kim Ann Foxman turned in an understated masterclass in old-school techno, house, and trance, leaning hard into the elation of a well-timed kick drum.
Brooklyn selector Lychee focused on zoned-out techno idioms in their session, burrowing their way from the Cocteau Twins to Donato Dozzy, Autechre, and—”Love Potion No. 9?” Will Automagic, a veteran of New York house music at this point, turned in a veritable history lesson, opening things up with an hour of deep-groove funk and soul records before opening the floor up with amapiano and piano-house stompers. Yibing found the common ground between deep-space electro, sludged-up synth-pop, and and rickety house records in a surprisingly downtempo offering, and Razrbark turned in what might be the trippiest set of the weekend, crashing new-school trip-hop into weirdo rock records and wiggly techno. Ali Berger, a selector who was last in these pages for a freestyle session, focused instead on funked-up R&B, lush soul records, proto-disco, and shoulder-rolling house records.