Image via Michael McKinney
Michael McKinney understands the cultural importance of Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci.”
In October, DJs countered the incoming chill by heating things up. Michigan’s DJ FLP turned a steamrolling session of modern footwork selections, and drum-and-bass veteran Goldie went deep on the history of the genre in a set for Resident Advisor. Brooklyn mainstay Simisea dug into the off-kilter sound of modern NYC dancefloors, and Facta & K-Lone rocketed between 2-step, dubstep, garage, and all sorts of woozy UK idioms. Physical Therapy burrowed deep into the shoulder-rolling sounds of speed garage, and The Carry Nation turned in four hours of house, techno, and disco belters. Vancouver’s AIDA, meanwhile, dug into the sounds of ‘90s progressive house in a set of long-form grooves.
Diskonnected, a quiet techno mastermind from Taipei, showed off a recent all-night set that underlines his patient and deliberate mixing style; Takumi Inamoto did something similar, but with an early-morning session filled with sun-kissed trance records. Batida kingpin DJ Danifox explored the quieter side of his polyrhythmic blurs; Purelink, in a lethal one-two, looked towards gauzy ambient music and zero-gravity club tunes. Germany’s Aa Sudd stretched a tightrope between alien ambience and broken-machinery techno in his latest session; Chris SSG did something similar, but with an eye towards early-morning ambience and heartbeat-style kick drums. Maria Somerville and Mike Midnight went quieter still, with a pair of sets that blur the lines between drone, dub, and breakbeats.
Here are some of the best DJ sets October had to offer.
Aa Sudd, a.k.a. Sören Re, has carved out a highly particular niche in electronic music. The German producer-DJ’s sound takes blackened ambience, horror-flick trance, and dimly lit techno, finding their intersection and chasing them down blind alleys. In retrospect, it was only a matter of time before Re found himself on Monument, a critical outpost for off-kilter and miles-deep techno. MNMT 388 is a bit of a re-entrenchment for Re, who spends the session leaning into the style he’s built for himself. Fortunately, that vision is more or less singular: it’s groggy and vertiginous, full of waterlogged kick drums and otherworldly synthesizers. It takes a full ten minutes for any legible percussion to land here, and when it does, it sounds like it’s encrusted in static, any obvious contours smudged and rendered illegible. Re spends the remaining hour-plus digging into deep-space electronics, moving from slow-motion tech-trance to bone-crunching kick-drum workouts, slowly cranking up the BPM without sacrificing the alien power that he started out with. Over the course of MNMT 388, Aa Sudd cracks open an airlock and fills the room with uncanny-valley techno and black-hole club music.
The most telling bit about RA.907 arrives before the set even begins. In just under two hours, AIDA grabs twenty-two records, affording plenty of time for each track to play out. It’s playful but not flashy, prioritizing long-form grooves over rubbernecking transitions. This stretched-out approach is fitting, given she spends the bulk of RA.907 digging into the progressive house of the ‘90s. This is music about a steady reach towards elation, with each kick drum and acidic synth line pushing dancers ever deeper into a sort of trance. Don’t mistake a patient hand for drooping energy levels, though: this is dance music as sleek and playful as anything out there, with plenty of surprises tucked in to jolt any would-be ravers. Cozy Concept’s “Keep It Going Now” finds a comfortable middle ground between progressive house and hip-house belters, and Piece of Mind’s “A Piece of Mind” is a piano-house stomper reimagined for a Rhodes and a rough-and-ready drum kit; Pop Out & Play “Share It With the Class (Rozzo Mix)” could easily be mistaken for a trance-compilation deep cut, and D.O.P.’s “Get Out on This Dancefloor” marries acid techno and wigged-out house-music experimentalism with the best of them. Never mind the specifics, though: each selection on RA.907 underlines the timelessness of ‘90s progressive house, constructing a tower of synthesizers and stretching towards infinity.
Since its foundation in 2015, UNTER has become a New York techno institution: playful and serious at once, with a no-nonsense approach to full-on club-night hysteria. Earlier this year, though, they announced they’d be closing their doors. In a fittingly cheeky and heartfelt letter on their site, they announced their final series of dates. “RuPaulogies!”
The last date on that list—October 28, 2023—has come and gone, but UNTER’s legacy lives on. For now, turn to The Carry Nation’s latest offering. R.I.P. UNTER Closing Set is the last DJ set played on the party’s decks, and it’s just the kind of jubilant and exploratory techno that the party championed all along. Here, The Carry Nation go long, turning in nearly four hours of the stuff, going wide and deep, sprinting headlong down umpteen blind alleys. It’s full of rug-pulls and big swings, with BPMs and energies switching on a dime: acidic latin-house into lighters-up Beyoncé balladry; feverish disco into slow-and-low coldwave; house records that come disorientingly close to big-tent EDM and old-school synthpop. It’s the sound of one New York institution crashing into another, with every ensuing spark making the air just a bit brighter.
Even though it only lasted for four and a half years and closed up shop over a decade ago, mnml ssgs has had an undeniably long tail. The mix series sat comfortably between the worlds of ambient, minimal techno, and old-school progressive electronics, offering a space for DJs to move a bit slower than usual. If you spend enough time looking through the low-BPM corners of soundcloud, you’re bound to run into someone featured in the series: Donato Dozzy, Regis, Steffi, Finn Johannsen. Much like the dearly departed c- and Blowing Up the Workshop mix series, it conjured a black hole and invited artists into its pull.
Chris SSG, one of the series’s founders, has carried that spirit forward for the past decade. It’s fitting that he’s got the honors for Monument’s latest mix series (see above): if you’re looking for something that moves between deep-listening techno and barely-there ambient, he’s sure to find top-shelf material. The series, per the liner notes, is based around “the ever-present nature of waves.” Monument Waves 001 moves with the patience, and steadiness, of its titular phenomena, with muffled techno and blissed-out ambience trading places and overlapping so many times that any distinction becomes moot. It’s three hours of barely-there kind-of dance music that often gestures towards the head-trippers but would surely sound killer on a solid soundsystem; it’s grand and intimate and disorienting at once. It’s the sound of a minimal-techno mastermind slowing down and stretching out.
Diskonnected is one of the world’s strongest techno DJs, but you’d be forgiven for not knowing about him at all. The Taipei resident has a hefty CV and a low profile: he curates Smoke Machine, a critical podcast and record label, holds a spot at 宀 in Hong Kong, and keeps his mouth shut. Any online mix from the DJ, then, is a cause for celebration: they don’t come around often, and he moves on the decks with a veteran’s touch. Fortunately, RA.904 makes up for lost time: it runs for nearly six hours, spanning the course of an all-night session recorded at 宀 in March of this year. In an accompanying interview with RA, Diskonnected describes his nights there as “bliss,” and his joy comes through in the session, which moves from heads-down downtempo to whip-cracking techno with ease. It’s mixed so carefully that highlighting any particular bit feels beside the point. (If you had to pick one, though, keep your ears peeled for the hurled javelin: a Donna Summer acid-house blend five hours in.) It’s a canny and surprising set filled with hard left turns and rubbernecking blends; it’s ambient, and electro, and techno, and disco, and house, and trance, and a thousand other things. But, more than any of that, it’s a slow build: it’s about the way that genres and histories and beats pile up into something that feels entirely new, about the way that the thousandth kick drum lands as compared to the third.
One of the joys of batida, the fast-paced and rickety dance music pumping out of Portuguese sound systems, is its wild-eyed energy. At its most manic, the genre rivals anything in the hardcore continuum, with hand drums, claps, and flutes turning to an avalanche in the right amplifier. But the genre is more than that; as with any style, it offers plenty of space for experimentation if you’re willing to dive in. DJ Danifox’s take on the style takes the genre and mellows it out, turning everything down a notch without cutting down on the propulsive to-and-fro of its drum programming; the effect is not unlike hearing a great club night a few buildings over. Fact Mix 928 underlines the quiet power of this approach. Here, Danifox offers up 24 unreleased tracks, almost all of which he had a hand in producing. You can hear his fingerprints throughout: this is subtle and borderline minimal dance music, replete with just-so guitar licks, clattering percussion pulled from the sounds of zouk and tarraxinha, and a tasteful restraint. Slowly, Danifox outlines his own sound-world here, piling up polyrhythmic grooves and shuddering percussion sections until it reaches a whisper-quiet peak-time energy.
It takes under thirty seconds for Layers 004 to kick into gear. Black Rave Culture’s “Moroccan Mist” starts out quietly, with a few synths echoing into the dark, but then the kick drums land and the speedometer starts to rocket. The track sits at the intersection of footwork and techno, and it’s both fleet-footed and a bit idiosyncratic: in other words, exactly DJ FLP’s comfort zone. With Layers 004, the Michigan DJ-producer leans hard into footwork’s bracing tempi and mile-a-minute drum programming, turning in an hour of breakneck dance music in the process. After “Moroccan Mist,” FLP turns in left hook after gut punch: a juked-up Brandy & Monica edit courtesy of Slowrolla, DJ Paypal’s barely-lucid Golden-age Hollywood footwork flips, gut-churning Amen reimaginings from Montréal’s Slick Shoota. The whole thing’s mixed at an appropriately quick pace for a 160-BPM set—FLP runs through 35 tracks in 60 minutes—but everything’s held together by a uniform focus on precise drum breaks and chopped-up vocals. Even though it’s (likely) not a live recording, the session nevertheless brings to mind images of a proper footwork party, with whirlwinds of sneakers and increasingly wild drum breaks egging them on.
Facta & K-LONE, the duo behind Wisdom Teeth and killer DJs in their own right, have built their own universe within the context of UK club music. Their sound toes the line between home listening and peak-time; it is propulsive and woozy, slamming and a bit delirious. They’ve been spending the past few years digging ever further into this niche, and their long-tail approach has paid off: at this point, nobody else in the UK sounds quite like them. With RA.908, they pull off what might be their deepest—and wiggliest—offering yet. It’s carefully plotted without coming off as too staid, and it’s playful but rarely outright rambunctious. They pull in all sorts of critical names in contemporary UK club music, but through deliberate mixing and slow-and-steady pacing, they blur continents, decades, and oceans. They save the neatest encapsulation of their sound for the end. After two hours of feather-duster dubstep, shuffle-and-slide two-step, and zonked-out synth jams, they spend the last few minutes riding out the deep-space groove of K-LONE’s edit of DJ Slugo’s “Get Down 4 Real.” It’s joyous and spaced-out at once, with quick-and-precise jungle-ish drums underpinning a synth line that sounds pulled straight out of a bit of REM sleep. It’s a fitting end to a session built around that split: a mood that’s neither too laid-back nor too rough-and-ready, drum machines that work equally well at 2 a.m. and 2 p.m., and umpteen of-the-moment dancefloor wigglers with plenty of skip in their step.
On one level, the appeal of drum-and-bass is purely elemental. Fleet-footed drums, laid just so, on top of a raucous low-end, makes for a pretty potent bit of alchemy. It’s physical and minimal at once, with every element contributing to an unrelenting forward motion. Play it long enough, though, and an entirely different element opens up: lay enough drum breaks in a row and it can turn to a veritable whirlpool, every snare and low-end growl only deepening the pull of the next. Goldie, of all people, understands this. At this point, he’s drum-and-bass royalty—he’s been around long enough to see the births and obituaries for entire sub-genres of the style. On RA.905, he goes deep on his crates of drum breaks, turning in two hours of the stuff. That may seem like a hefty length, but it goes by in a flash: he’s outlining entire histories at 160 BPM, jumping between styles and approaches without so much as a scuffed blend. Here, he’s working with quick-and-loose jazzed-up Amen breaks; there, it’s tectonic-plate bass growls and white-hot snare drums; elsewhere still, it’s chase-scene synth-breaks jams. RA.905 is a history lesson that grabs you by the scruff of your neck.
Sometimes, the joy of a great DJ set lies in its ability to slow things down a notch: sequence tracks in just the right way and you might offer up a bit of time dilation. NTS’s Early Bird shows are especially good at this. Despite the rotating cast of DJs, the ethos seems to be consistent; it’s meditative music that would work well with a cup of coffee and a sunrise. During her latest turn on the decks, Maria Somerville dug deep into dimly lit ambient and folk music, soundtracking the sound of a changing season in the process. Twenty minutes in, she grabs ML Buch’s “Flame Shards Goo,” a dream-pop number built around lucid-dream lyricism and guitar chords echoing into the open sky; forty minutes later, she’s playing Kali Malone’s The Sacrificial Code, a monolith of liturgical minimalism. It’s an hour of music that encourages slowing down, spreading out, and breathing in.
Mike Midnight, a critical selector from Perth, has a track record of dreamy dance music; his material sounds like a half-remembered club night. Fittingly, he grabbed the show’s second hour, leaning hard into the blissed-out ends of his crates. Here, he takes the slowest bits of Somerville’s ambient-music selections, cracking them open and slowly folding beats back in. At first, the session lies somewhere between Purelink-style ambient-dub and dubbed-up dream-pop. As it runs on, he slowly ups the tempo without disturbing the subdued energy, working in muffled breakbeats and brain-bending glitch records. It’s a slow-burning set that would work well with a long morning or a very late night, soundtracking that bit where the sun and moon share the horizon.
Given how low-slung Purelink’s style is, there’s a kind of humor in how quickly they’ve rocketed in the Chicago dance-music scene. Their style takes circa-’90s ambient-dub and minimal-techno idioms, wrapping them in modern production techniques and throwing in plenty of genre-averse blends. The result is quietly remarkable; it is neither neither wholly vintage nor entirely new. On The Wednesday Alternative Mix, the Chicago trio show off the low-slung side: this is an hour of barely-there ambient-dub and dream-pop; it is a universe of whispers and barely-there rabbit holes. Early on, this takes the form of rattling and clattering ambient music, all shimmering synthesizers and rustling snare drums; later, it’s slow-and-low ambient-dub records. There’s a few left turns—a bit of spoken-word here, some breakbeats there, a shot of fuzzed-up rock records elsewhere still—but, by and large, the set stays in this mellowed-out and thoroughly zonked state of mind, to consistently winning results. Even though the set sits at a relatively tight sixty minutes, each selection threatens to spiral off into infinity.
Later that week, behind the decks at New York institution The Lot Radio, they turned things up a notch. Here, they more or less pick up where they left off with the Wednesday Alternative Mix: dubwise kind-of-ambient techno. This time, though, rather than stretching out into fourth-world ambience, they crank up the pressure by dropping into a series of dancefloor-ready left hooks: rickety house records, clatter-and-bang techno, shuffle-and-skip breakbeats, and jubilant IDM rollers that threaten to turn the whole studio inside out. Here, Purelink tweak just a few things on their sound and end up somewhere radically different. Out-there club sounds and deep-space ambient-dub aren’t that far apart, it turns out. Taken as a pair, the sets underline just how deep, and wide, Purelink’s crates run: from a great night out to a slow day in and everywhere in between.
When Physical Therapy—a.k.a. Daniel Fisher—was last in this column, it was for September’s Car Culture Remissions Vol. 4, a long-form love letter to plainspoken intimacy and old-school soft rock. It’s one of this year’s best sessions, full stop, but it’s a highly particular kind of sound. Fortunately, in Fisher’s world, if you want something wildly different, just wait a few weeks. Live From Nowadays is a sun-blasted hour of speed garage; it’s a celebration of the power of muscular drum breaks and well-placed vocal hooks. Highlights abound: DBX’s four-by-four garage Snap! Flip, Wideboys’s shoulder-rolling saxophone-funk, the blood-boiling bassline of D’n’D’s “Diamond Rings.” (That those land as a one-two-three punch underlines the range and depth of Fisher’s genre knowledge: these are three aesthetically different, but nevertheless thematically congruous, approaches to UKG.) Live From Nowadays is packed with bits like this. Throughout the hour, Fisher vaults between all sorts of strains of quick-and-taut garage belters, stuffing the amps with confetti along the way.
Simisea, a.k.a. Brooklyn selector Brandon Sánchez, has been making noise in an already crowded scene for a while. In 2020, he co-founded SLINK alongside a trio of similarly-minded club-night firestarters rrao, K Wata, and Enayet. Simisea, and SLINK, have struck upon a remarkable approach to club music: both heads-down and aimed straight at the body, crossing oceans, decades, and light-years at once. On a recent broadcast from NTS Radio, Simisea expands upon this sound, moving from deep-space drum workouts to peak-time barnstormers in a taut sixty minutes. He opens the session with Valentino Mora’s “Yant Suea,” a zero-oxygen bit of haunted-house ambient-sort-of-techno, and he spends the rest of the session slowly cracking open the window, making space for extra air, drums, and muscle. It’s not long before the session turns to the kind of fleet-footed hard-drum workouts that SLINK specializes in, with piles of screeching post-post-dubstep crashing into whip-crack drum stompers. New York techno, right now, is precise, a bit disorienting, and thoroughly muscular, and you’ve got, in no small part, the SLINK crew to thank for that. Here, Simisea underlines his crew’s role in the sound of his city.
Sometimes, all you need is a well-laid kick drum. Takumi Inamoto, a critical trance & techno DJ from Nagoya, Japan, understands this. With ani/live Thirty, Inamoto offers up three hours of carefully slotted four-to-the-floor dancefloor bombs, turning in something that’s equally suited for the late-night crowd as the head-trippers. The set ran from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m., a fitting time slot: early on, Inamoto focuses on heads-down club tools, and as the session runs on, things open up just a bit. At first, that means a series of acidic tech-trance rollers and amp-busting minimal techno: the opening hour or so is dance music as an act of reductionism, with everything but the bare essentials stripped away. Slowly, Inamoto adds things back in, until they’re in full-on prog-tech territory right as the sun would be rising. Taken as a whole, ani/live Thirty presents a vision of minimal techno and trance that finds a kind of beauty in austerity. In its stripped-down rhythms and relentless machine-funk, it is simultaneously stoic and playful.