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

Slam on the CDJ returns with new (socially distanced) dance floor fillers from Mister Water Wet, Conducta, and more.
By    September 3, 2020

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Michael McKinney uses finesse when he’s digging in the crates.

Summer’s winding to a close, and dancefloors are starting to, slowly, reopen: in newly demarcated clubs, in tightly packed “plague raves.” It continues to be a surreal and disorienting time for dance music, given how tough it is to travel, perform, or test out material. It’s fitting then, that many of this month’s best sets move away from that setting entirely.

Toma Kami, connoisseur of whirlwind hard drum and bass-music workouts, turned in a mix of surreal ambiance and otherworldly atmospheres. CCL, Chris SSG, and Matthew Kent helped to finish Blowing Up the Workshop in style: they offered soundtracks for scrapbooking, sunrises, and late-night drives. Two back-to-backs featured DJs leaning into their strengths: Melbourne’s Bayu & Moopie blended a masterful hour of heart-on-sleeve IDM; Montréal’s IRL & Choozey concocted an uncanny and flickering sound-collage of a mix. Lyra Pramuk, best known for her a capella vocal experiments, selected an eerie and beautiful hour that pushes against the borders of folk music.

There’s still plenty for the ravers, though. Kiwi Rekords’s Condcuta and Dr Banana’s Sandy put together two killer mixes of 2-step and UK garage, whether vintage or freshly pressed. Jossy Mitsu showed off her unpredictable mixing and encyclopedic knowledge of rave sounds in her Dekmantel entry. object blue did something similar for her Essential Mix, but leaned heavily into abrasive, slamming, and hypermodern club tools. Tzusing’s Resident Advisor entry blends white-hot techno, busted rap bootlegs, and industrial clanging into a confounding and utterly thrilling ninety minutes.

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

Bayu & Moopie – GhostlyCast #89: Kindly Written Words

Bayu and Moopie have slowly established themselves as two of Melbourne’s finest selectors. The pair have seemingly bottomless crates, especially when it comes to yesteryear’s indie pop or dust-covered IDM. On their mix for Ghostly, the pair lean into the latter category, assembling an hour of quiet and plainspoken electronic music whose drums hit more like fluttering heartbeats. Even at its most driving—the high-velocity breakbeat of Mint’s “Phonogam”—the set foregrounds shimmering melodies and a stilled serenity. It closes with a remarkable fusion of the duo’s collections; it’s indie rock turned into a lullaby with the aid of a pattering drum machine and a few synthesizers. The Miwon remix of Pia Fraus’s “No Need for Sanity” ends with a quiet plea: “Take my hand / and see the world like I see.” Kindly Written Words serves as a beautiful invitation.

Blowing Up the Workshop – Blowing Up the Workshop 111

After eight years of operation, Blowing Up the Workshop is shutting down. The series offered equal space to up-and-comers, well-known figures, and virtual unknowns. Whether due to reputation, curatorial intent, or both, the series boasts plenty of releases that haven’t been quite replicated since: Galcher Lustwerk’s late-night hip-house breakthrough, Beatrice Dillon’s “mix of bees [and] inspirational drumming,” Wordcolour’s starkly beautiful pile-up of film samples and hushed ambiance.

It’s fitting, then, that the series concluded with seven sets that trace wholly distinct sounds. Lcp, label head at re:st, assembled a pitch-black blend of ambient music and creeping drum and bass. Sandy, over at London’s Dr Banana, offered up a scene survey stuffed with bass-heavy 2-step, jacking garage cuts, and plenty of firestarters. London’s Akash put together a deeply personal half-hour of lushly orchestrated Indian pop music, all soaring string sections and tightly held vocals.

Elsewhere, Chris SSG and SL Comms leaned into world-building ambiance, albeit of two radically different kinds. Chris SSG’s mix is three hours of synthetic washes fit for the sunrise. The brief bits that stir from that mood—downcast rock, film-clip dialogue, hints of horror-flick eeriness—serve to underline the serenity when it reappears. SL Comms’s piece, on the other hand, is ambient music for gritted teeth. The mix balances blisteringly heavy electronics with scurrying ambiance; the resultant vertigo is both exhilarating and hard to shake.

The Berlin-based CCL is best known for their dance-heavy mixing (when they were last featured here, it was for just that), so it’s fitting that their Workshop entry eschews that entirely. Here, they jump between styles—languid dreamscaping, mechanical and icy footwork, aching chamber music—without so much as a blink, crafting a scrapbook of tracks whose seams make it all the more compelling. Finally, the Workshop’s creator and curator, Matthew Kent, added his own work to the pile. It’s a fitting addition. Exploratory but tightly curated, the set prioritizes a quietly nerve-wracking atmosphere above all else: vocal samples loop into infinity alongside glitched-out drum and bass, reverb-soaked snares trace pointillistic patterns, and synthetic choirs give way to thick and murky ambiance.

None of these mixes are demonstrative of the series as a whole, but that’s an unfair ask. The fact that they come this close is impressive: each is assembled with striking clarity, and many sound like they couldn’t have come from anyone else. They are uniformly wide-ranging and aesthetically sharp, filled with left-of-center selections and top-notch mixing. It’s hard to think of a better way to close up shop.

Conducta – Kiwi Direkt

Conducta took the world of UK garage by storm last year, and he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. As the head of Kiwi Rekords, he’s responsible for pushing “NUKG”—a new-school strain of garage that, more than often than not, sweetens the genre even further with joyous melodies, instantly recognizable samples, and ebullient drums. Kiwi Direkt, released without warning during a London heatwave, makes good on the label’s streak with another hour of sun-kissed remixes and unreleased belters. Here, Conducta shows just how wide his vision of garage gets: bass-blasted rap edits, spacious drum workouts, wobbling basslines, stutter-stepping synthesizers. UK garage’s newest crop of producers didn’t need another coronation, necessarily—Conducta has offered up several already—but this one, suited for both finger-gun raving and windows-down drives, is the selector’s most contagious celebration yet.

Grand River – Dekmantel Podcast 294

As Grand River, Aimée Portioli trades in languid synthesizers and elliptical melodies. Her compositions, indebted to classical minimalism and experimental electronic music, tunnel deep into grooves and find new crevices along the way. Her entry for Dekmantel’s podcast series is perfectly in character, then: slowly unspooling melodies, blurry ambience, and Reichian minimalism. Portioli leans into quieter sounds here, blending preternaturally stilled electronics with glistening percussion and ephemeral orchestration. Snippets of conversation deepen the mood, underlining the hushed intimacy that runs through the mix. Dekmantel Podcast 294 is tough to pin down—it slips through the fingers far too easily for that—but its quiet pulse and understated elegance lingers long after.

IRL & Choozey – Enough is More Than a File

Enough is More Than a File starts as a discordant buzz. Two men, two stories, one in each channel, voices running against each other. It’s a fitting start to the set; here, IRL and Choozey jump between sounds like flipping between channels on a busted radio. Sounds flit in and out of focus, sometimes lingering before slowly disintegrating and sometimes disappearing after just a moment. The two DJs hover in this limbo until it develops its own sort of dream logic. By the time a groove shows up and sticks—“Walk on By,” likely performed by Dionne Warwick—it’s caked in glitched-up vocal samples and churning ambient-music sludge. The set eventually moves into more straightforward territories, with an extended new-wave jam session and, later, shimmering and beautiful and unsettled ambient music. But Enough Is More Than a File never loses that disorienting energy. It’s all the better for it. Throughout the set, IRL and Choozey slowly assemble an entirely new world with a flickering luminescence and an indelible power.

Jossy Mitsu – Dekmantel Podcast 293

On her solo sets and as part of 6 Figure Gang, Jossy Mitsu combines an encyclopedic knowledge of old-school rave records with an insider’s perspective on modern UK club sounds. Dekmantel Podcast 293 may be her cleanest synthesis yet. Once she gets going, Mitsu goes on a tear, blending piles of high-energy club tracks into a storming seventy minutes. Furiously busy percussion can link a wide range of styles, it turns out: hard drum, acidic pop edits, blistering breakbeats, bass-heavy rave-ups, clanging dubstep. Just about every track seems engineered to go off in a club, and her mixing keeps the energy hot without exhausting thanks to sly stylistic leaps. On Dekmantel Podcast 293, Mitsu digs deep into her collection and sets the amps on fire.

Kia – Truancy Volume 268

Drum and bass can be a roaring, suffocating thing, with rhythms surging to fill up every last part of a measure. It can also be quiet and nocturnal, though, with simmering drums and plenty of synthetic ambiance. Truancy Volume 268 shows off a prime example of the latter. For the set, Melbourne’s Kia plays it slow and low, using pattering drums and slow-motion synthesizers to make a bleary-eyed vision of drum and bass. This relatively minimalistic approach becomes the most obvious about a third of the way in, where she throws some straight-up ambient music into the mix. When the drums ripple back in, it’s not so much a left hook as a muffled jolt. She holds onto this unusually quiet energy for the rest of the mix, chasing the blurred ambience and stuttering percussion down all sorts of darkened alleys. Critically, the lights never come on.

KMRU – RA.740

For his Resident Advisor mix, KMRU moves with a celestial grace, blending pitch-black ambient and drone into a shapeshifting mass. The mood is often chilled, but never staid. His selections, all seamlessly blended, move between styles without locking into any specific grooves: mellow, electric, unnerving, joyous. It’s the textures that make it work so effectively: the shared churn between high-pitched clouds of strings and subterranean bass, the frantic scribbling linking noise experiments to blackened ambient. It’s these stylistic and textural leaps that make the session so immersive. As KMRU erects bridges between the cracks, an entirely new landscape begins to emerge.

Kore – Motion Cast Vol. 55

In Kore’s entry for Motion Ward’s podcast series, the Montreal DJ takes microscopic sounds and zooms in until they fill the frame. At first, she plays it slow, blending outré ambiance, submerged spoken word, and spare almost-folk into a beguiling fog. As the tone deepens, though, she unsettles it further: Actress’s no-BPM sludge, choral walls of sound from The Future Sounds of London, freaked-out drone-glitch from Echium. At points, the set is blissed-out new-age; a few minutes later, it’s darkened and anxious. Kore finds the emotional center between supposedly disparate sounds on her Motion Cast. Nearly every piece here hints towards something much larger on the horizon, and that accompanying sense of quiet awe, or terror, or yearning. Even the smallest moment can engulf if offered enough time.

Lyra Pramuk – Fact Mix 770

For her mix for Fact Magazine, Lyra Pramuk honed in on a singular focus. The mix exclusively features “folk music,” whatever that entails, as sung by women. That leaves plenty of room to play, though: there’s Tsehaytu Beraki’s Eritrean guitar-and-voice dance music, Linda Perhacs’s quietly psychedelic envelopments, and Nina Simone’s crushingly spare blues. The selections do have a persistent and uneasy link, though: nearly every arrangement here is quiet and slow, with wide-open arrangements that allow for plenty of space between notes. As Pramuk moves between decades, languages, and moods, the recordings amass an uncanny sort of power, with the accumulated emptiness turning to a sort of gnawing longing that persists even through the more upbeat moments. Pramuk balances plainspoken beauty and understated unease with remarkable finesse on Fact Mix 770, underlining the joy and pain that ties together decades of folk recordings.

Mister Water Wet – Long Train Ride Home

With Long Train Ride Home, Mister Water Wet continues the path they laid with 2019’s Bought the Farm: a spooked-out fusion of jazz, dub, and ambient, with smudged synthesizers accompanying loping and barely present grooves. While that album tumbled those influences together into a slowly mutating blur, Long Train Ride Home’s seams are more immediately apparent: it’s sonic scrapbooking, not sound collaging, with mood taking priority over precise tonality. The bulk of the set is quiet and stilled ambient, all humming drones and half-muted percussion. At points, Mister Water Wet moves into more uncharted territories: deep-sea emptiness and pinging sonar equipment, clanging percussion and alien synthesizers, simmering nu-jazz with bustling drum kits. But the set always returns to its contemplative and hazy center, its emotive alleyways all snaking back to the beginning. 

object blue – Essential Mix

Ever since she appeared on London’s club circuit in 2018, object blue has been one of the UK’s most exciting left-field club-music curators. On her Essential Mix debut for BBC Radio 1, she shows off those chops with two hours of adventurous selections, slowly moving from smeared ambience to screaming hardcore and back again. Over the course of two hours, she slides between innumerable UK dance histories: 2-step, techno, breakbeats, gabber, and dubstep, genre-bending club tools that don’t have a name yet. She mixes this tough-on-paper range of styles with impressive dexterity, too: as she moves into messier and hotter selections, her blends only get more precise and playful. By keeping her focus on killer rhythms and storming dancefloor tracks, object blue crumples all countless timelines into something wholly new and magnetic.

Toma Kami – New Age Soaked

New Age Soaked, Toma Kami’s mix for Kansas City ambient-and-experimental hub c-, opens with a few sharply plucked strings. Kami leaves those tones to hang in the air, letting their reverberations fill the room. As the set goes on, the atmosphere thickens and turns more surreal: women whisper over ominous machinery-drone; choir pews melt into piles of garbled voices and percussion; snares bang alongside abyssal synthesizers and empty space. Kami’s control over atmosphere is impressive, allowing him to work a striking range of tones into the fold: slurred breakbeats that move between half-time and full tilt, half-overheard snippets of conversations, sun-kissed ambient. New Age Soaked exists in liminal states: never fully ambient but not quite dancefloor-ready, filled with both alien unfamiliarity and unfiltered intimacy.

Tzusing – RA.741

If you want a quick picture of how wide-ranging and playful China’s modern club scene is, you could do a lot worse than the first few minutes of Tzusing’s recent mix for Resident Advisor. What initially appears to be a slow-motion drone turns out to be “Empire State of Mind” played at a crawl; once that fades out, it’s straight into some white-knuckle techno, all hissing and clanging machinery on top of surging bass. The rest of the set plays out accordingly: one part high-energy industrial-din dance music, one part delightfully odd edits. He mixes fast and hot here: wild-eyed electro, apocalyptic rap edits, and impossibly heavy gqom are all fair game. As he picks up steam behind the decks, Tzusing only moves more fluidly, slamming a huge range of jagged and weighty sounds into an increasingly unpredictable ninety minutes.

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