Slam on the CDJ: The Best DJ Sets of April 2020

Slam on the CDJ returns with new sets from DJ Paul, Nicolas Jaar, and more.
By    May 4, 2020

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Michael McKinney has a Scrooge McDuck vault full of vinyl records. He doesn’t swim in them.

At least from outside appearances, it looks like many DJs are starting to adapt to doing all their gigs online. In a way, it’s an exciting time to be a fan of the format: online festivals have exploded in popularity, DJs have been hosting impromptu sets on Twitch, and it’s easier than ever to get rips of performances. Livestreaming has also turned out to be a democratizer of sorts; anyone with a phone, a pair of decks, or a laptop can start recording on a moment’s notice. The market, in other words, is flooding, which is fantastic. There are more mixes, more people trying DJing, and more guides on how to get started online.

Perhaps as a result of venues flattening out, the conversation about what club music can, or “should,” sound like has been rekindled and relitigated yet again. This is nothing new, of course, but global pandemics have a way of reframing things. Once clubs reopen, should there be a BPM cap to keep the dancefloor from accelerating existing anxieties? Should DJs stick to high-velocity whirlwinds? Should sets get weirder, whatever that means? There’s no clear answer to these questions, of course—and there shouldn’t be—but their persistence speaks to the number of meanings that “club music” can carry in the first place.

Several of April’s best mixes, fittingly, offer wildly different visions of dance music. BFTT’s take fuses breakbeats, bass, and alien electronics, while TSVI throws turbulent hard-drum percussion on top of post-dubstep bass grinders. Esposito and Rupture both turned in versions of drum and bass, but they couldn’t be further apart: the former is shot through with white-knuckle tension, while the latter is a wide-ranging celebration of the scene’s evolution. 

DJ Paul showed off his knowledge of, and role in, hip-hop history on Instagram; on Twitch, Nicolás Jaar moved from spacious solo piano to energetic Brazilian folk music and groovy almost-dub. Robin & Murder Club, live from Minecraft, spent twenty minutes setting all corners of pop music on fire, while Trent & Dama spent twenty-four hours simmering a stew of disco, house and garage simmer for their last set at Berlin’s Griessmuehle.

Here are some of the best DJ mixes April had to offer.

anz – DISCWOMAN 91 x anz

Manchester’s anz opens her DISCWOMAN set with a thrown gauntlet. “E-Vapor-8” bottles the manic energy of hardcore breakbeat. Pummeling and roiling drum kits, stabs of synthetic strings, and a rude acid bassline add up to an unstable and unbeatable club track. The rest of the set maintains the energy while folding all sorts of sounds into the mix: discordant and squelchy acid techno, jubilant R&B-via-UKG, skittering big-room trap drops, slamming Afrobeats. Despite slipping between so many genres, anz never loses the pulse. She said that the mix captures moments of introspection, moodiness, anxiety, and energy, but also “these sweeping moments of optimism for when we can all come together again”. DISCWOMAN 91—with its ebbs and flows, seamless genre blends, and moments of sun-kissed joy—makes it easy to be optimistic about the restorative power of a great drum break.

BFTT – intimacy in breaks

At its best, breakbeat is filled with nervous energy. Its kinetic drums pull in every direction at once, threatening to pull tracks apart at their seams. On their mix for c-, BFTT taps into that crackling tension and crafts a playful and turbulent hour that never stops moving. Steamrolling breakbeats make up a sizable percentage of the foundation, but the heaps of modern bass music, post-Rustie club weirdness, souped-up and contorted acapellas, and grinding synthesizers keep the set from staying in one spot for long.

Brava – SYSTEM Mix 011


On concept alone, Boiler Room’s SYSTEM mix series is exciting. Rather than sticking to a scene, it jumps from continent to continent, highlighting how many forms club music takes across the world. Madrid’s Brava hosts the eleventh entry in the series, and it’s a thrilling crash course through perreo. The vibrant dance-and-genre-and-scene is shot through with the pulse of dembow, which, fittingly, fuels the mix. It never grows old, though. The breadth of selections underline just how widespread this stuff is, Brava’s mixing is deft and playful and just rapid-fire enough, and the tones—while always geared towards the dancefloor—change up plenty throughout, moving from purring bass-driven numbers to basically-footwork drumming to airy pop cuts. The set works as a deeply detailed roadmap of one of the most exciting strands of modern dance music. But that, true as it may be, risks overthinking it: just get out there and move.

Danielle – RA Live – 07.03.20

Hearing Danielle, one of the UK’s finest working DJs, warm up a room serves as a reminder of just how strong her sense of mixing is. Given she opened the night on this recording, she creates a mood from scratch. It’s foreboding, anxious, and filled with an icy beauty. Space-bound synthesizers fill the first twenty minutes, with escape hatches creaking open and revealing squiggling electronics. She takes the tempo up to a sub-110 creep to introduce a pulse, and, tone set, slowly takes off. Acidic electro, skittering bass music, whirring and unidentifiable percussion, pummeling and off-kilter industrial techno: once Danielle gets going, it seems like she’ll mix just about anything as long as it’s zonked-out, alien, and slamming.

DJ Bus Replacement Service – FACT Mix 755

It’s tough to think of a more complete encapsulation of DJ Bus Replacement Service’s ethos than playing Monty Python on top of storming club music. The Worcestershire selector’s FACT mix is the kind of concoction that only she could have come up with: consistently off-kilter, disarming, and pounding; here, novelty Coronavirus raps share space with high-energy acid techno and Eurovision deep cuts. Every edit here is pitched to perfection, with the strangest of combinations—late-’80s pop elegance into new-age Russian hard-house edits, anyone?—making a twisted kind of sense. The best DJ Bus Replacement Service mixes seem to be a tug-of-war between “incorrect music” and impeccable technical ability. Here, that tension turns into something hilarious, surprising, and jubilant.

DJ Fingerblast – Hard Dance 053

In hardbass, one of the great Russian hardcore exports, everything hits like a cartoon mallet. The tempo can always go up a few notches, the samples can always get a bit weirder, and the bass kicks can get a bit harder. DJ Fingerblast understands this. His Hard Dance entry is all about the more ridiculous sides of the scene, and he plays into it with a winking joy without ever feeling like he’s punching down. Instead, he’s testing just how absurd he can make this stuff. He tosses all sorts of pop-culture artifacts into a blender and uses slamming bass kicks to level them all out; in this universe, The Rolling Stones, LMFAO, and Captain Jack are the same band. Hard Dance 053 is a loving send-up, a piledriving set of hardbass, and a masterclass in a very particular form of dance music.

DJ Paul – IG Live 4/19/2020 (Part One, Part Two)

Since beat battles lit up the internet a few weeks ago, seeing a hip-hop legend hunched over the decks on Instagram isn’t that unusual at this point. But the thing that’s made DJ Paul’s weekly broadcast great isn’t just his ear for beats or his production credits: it’s for how he ties together timelines, coasts, and scenes, effortlessly stringing throughlines that might have been left implied otherwise. Here, Paul makes a full-throated argument for just how tightly rap’s history and geography can be knit. He mixes Playboi Carti into Three 6 Mafia, blends Project Pat with DaBaby and Trillville, and plays countless bass-blasted deep-south deep cuts. DJ Paul is a masterful producer, of course. Here, he again proves himself a deeply knowledgeable historian.

DJ Python & DJ Voices – 08 April 2020


In a recent interview with Pitchfork, DJ Python said that great DJ sets make the listener “feel like you’re finding out a really deep secret—it’s like a curtain being pulled back and showing you what the truth is.” That ethos came through in his back-to-back with Brooklyn’s DJ Voices. It’s tough to pin down what each selector is going for, but there’s joy in picking at the seams as the set unfurls. The visceral thrills of house and techno of all strains fill the mix, with textures changing from acidic to spare to dreamy and back again. But the pair finds time to mix in garbled pop music, whirling breaks, about fifteen minutes of deep-sigh ambient, and some kind of post-Soundcloud rap in there too, for good measure. After two hours, it’s not entirely clear what’s behind that curtain DJ Python spoke of, but the shifting outlines are transfixing enough.

Esposito – REEF Prefix Pt. 2


On REEF Prefix Pt. 2, Berlin’s Esposito puts together something to fit the cover. This is turgid and blackened drum and bass, every drum break soundtracking a thousand chase scenes. If his mixing ever lets up, it’s for eerie and unsettling depth-charge drops. Not long after, the reverberations unsettle the waters and set everything into frenetic motion again. These oscillations between barely contained calm and blood-in-water tension power the mix, filling with a sense of impending danger and pitch-black claustrophobia. Breaks can be life-affirming and sun-filled things; here, Esposito reminds the listener that they carry just as much capacity for menace and feral motion.

Nicolás Jaar – april16.19.00GMT

Nicolás Jaar is a curious kind of star in electronic music. His music is often filled with a dreamlike emptiness, with pianos and synthesizers and unidentifiable samples forming blankets of fog. His most recent mix, broadcast on a cascading backdrop of Ableton windows, Google image searches, and blinking text boxes, leans into that inscrutability. It’s a slow-motion blur of choral music, swirling keyboards, disembodied speeches from the United Nations, grooving dub, all mixed in a way that comes to make a sort of sense. It’s a beguiling pile-up of tracks linked by tone rather than genre: the mix slowly unspools without revealing itself, every track bringing up more questions than it answers. As with many of Jaar’s best works, following that trail of clues—no matter how circuitous or uneven that path appears—is a rewarding journey in itself.

Robin & Murder Club – @@@ Nethermeant

As digital concerts take off because of the Coronavirus and ever-bigger bands play for virtual crowds, festivals in Minecraft are only going to get bigger. But, despite their recent growth in popularity, they’ve been around for a bit: starting with Coalchella in 2018, Open Pit has been organizing hyper-online events that put relative unknowns next to much bigger names. One of the best sets from Nether Meant is a twenty-minute back-to-back of slamming dance music that treats genres like Silly Putty. The highlight might be a Baltimore club chop-up of American Football’s “Never Meant,” but Dylan Brady’s big-tent edit of Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” and the gabber-infected remix of Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” aren’t far behind. Like with the best Minecraft sets, this is an everything-at-once, meme-stuffed, and hard-as-hell car-crash rave-up.

Rupture – RA.725

Rupture has quickly become one of the most vital voices in London’s drum and bass scene, and not without good reason. In a recent Resident Advisor interview, Fabio—one of the driving forces behind the scene in the first place, a veteran of jungle, and a killer DJ in his own right—called the club “amazing, because they’re trying to bring it back to the original vibe when you can just go in there and do what you want.” That anarchic spirit carries through Mantra and Double O’s set for the publication. The mixing is seamlessly tight, which is all the more impressive given the range of styles they slip between: robotic and acidic breaks, playful jungle, old-school deejay homages, and about a hundred others. RA.725 proves, yet again, the vitality of London’s high-speed selectors.

Trent & Dama – The Last Cocktail d’Amore @ Griessmuehle

Cocktail d’Amore, over the course of a decade or so, garnered a reputation as one of Berlin’s most fantastical parties. Griessmuehle, the club that hosted Cocktail, was forced to shut down when an Austrian real estate company purchased the land and started construction on office buildings. Not long after, Trent—who, alongside Dama, was one of the party’s resident DJs—posted a recording of the party’s final hours. The pair started DJing on Saturday night. They were supposed to go for twelve hours, already a marathon stretch. They ended up playing for twenty-four. The mix is flush with melancholy and joy in equal measure, stuffed with remixes and flips of touchstone cuts without coming off as too obvious. The set stays at a sub-120-BPM simmer (it was recorded in the Cosmic Hole, a room with strict tempo guidelines), making its pulse, somehow, never exhaust. Here, the duo largely mixes funky house music, garage, and disco; other modes of dance music, of course, work their way into the mix. By the time they’re finally done saying goodbye to this iteration of Cocktail, it sounds like they’re just getting warmed up.

TSVI – no window in my room, i need air

As TSVI, Guglielmo Barzacchini has made a fruitful DJ career out of mining post-everything UK dance sounds: dubstep, hard drum, breaks, techno. Even within such a broad stylistic framework, no window in my room, i need air hits like a gut punch. The set is anchored by throbbing slabs of bass, with skittering and hyperactive drums dancing on top. At points, it’s disarmingly beautiful, with snares and kicks conceding space to snaking melodies pulled from Arabic songbooks; elsewhere, TSVI sends the mix into overdrive with a few layers of static or wailing noise. At its most claustrophobic and panicked, the mix’s title can read like a desperate plea. But at the end, when the synthesizers turn to a drifting blur and the drums settle on an ambient-house patter, it reminds how much a bit of air can cool the room. no window is fueled by that supposed contrast—chaotic and settled, queasy and deliberate and beautiful.

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