Slam on the CDJ: The Best DJ Sets of February 2021

As we pass the one-year mark of quarantine dance parties, Slam on the CDJ returns with new sets from Ben Bondy, Significant Other, and more.
By    March 11, 2021

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Michael McKinney is about to spend his next stimulus check on analog mixing boards.

Look on just about any set on SoundCloud and you’ll see the sentiment repeated time and time again: people miss the club. Plenty of mixes from last month offered at-home remedies for that, all slamming rhythms and joyously locked-in grooves. Andrea’s set for Resident Advisor threads the line between breakbeat, bass, techno, house, and anything that falls between the cracks; Maara did something similar, but with plenty of throwback rave cuts thrown in. James Bangura showed off the high-speed genre-bending that’s flooding the tri-state area; elsewhere, Nicolas Lutz shared a hypnotic and thrilling eleven-hour set of shapeshifting techno, electro, and breaks.

Not everything on the site is so straight-ahead, though. Significant Other concocted a fog of hushed ambience for Experiences Ltd.; Sentre did something similar in their mix for A Strangely Isolated Place, but tugged at heartstrings along the way. Time Is Away assembled countless folk-music traditions into an exploration of intimacy. Pavel Milyakov and Abby Sundborn both mixed frigid and otherworldly tones, but the selectors worked with radically different palates. Milyakov used lo-fi techno and ambient music; Sundborn worked with creaking strings, brass, and piles of percussion. 

Here are some of the best DJ sets February had to offer.

Abby Sundborn – At Home #13

On At Home #13, Melbourne’s Abby Sundborn digs into chamber music’s glacial side, creating a mix that captures both shimmering beauty and the terror of scale. Sundborn blends with remarkable patience here, befitting music that moves only a few notes at a time. Much of the mix focuses on slow-motion strings and tumbling percussion; the former forms an icy foundation while the latter provides subtle agitations. Every now and again, the silence ruptures into cacophony, a riotous blend of wailing guitars, sputtering horns, and rattling miscellany; at its peaks, the mix seems on the verge of careening out of control. But then the rapture dies down, the air stills, and the chill returns to the earth.

Andrea – RA.767

One of the most thrilling parts about Ritorno, Andrea’s debut LP, was how fluently the Italian producer moved between dance-music idioms, blending breakbeats with drum-and-bass, dubstep, techno, and ambient music with striking finesse. RA.767, released less than a year later, could be considered something of a companion piece: here, he pulls off the same trick but stretches things out a bit, giving his influences room to breathe even as he cartwheels between tracks. Here, Andrea takes breakbeat and pulls it in countless directions; he tosses in acidic techno, frantic emcees, hints of UK garage, space-borne dubstep, and plenty more. It’s both an impressive flex—Andrea blends a million shades of club music here—and a contagiously playful hour of kitchen-sink dance music.

Ben Bondy – XLR8R 684

On his XLR8R podcast, Ben Bondy takes his typical sound—a kind of blissed-out ambient-dub—and sweetens it further. The slithering and skittering textures remain, but, this time, he weaves them between lovesick IDM and joyous, low-slung grooves. It’s a winning combination: loose and relaxed but held together by a clear emotional core, both otherworldly and close to the chest. The power of this combination, and range of his selections, are perhaps best demonstrated a few tracks in, where Bondy moves between Metamatics’s emotive click-skitter IDM to Aso Kikuchi’s shimmering glitch and Picnic’s lush ambiance. It’s the kind of slow-motion growth that typifies XLR8R 684, which molts into innumerable forms as it stretches towards the sun.

Happa – Crucified MegaMix

The cover—a tongue-in-cheek Photoshop of Justin Timberlake’s Justified—gives away the game. Throughout Crucified, Happa digs through pop-culture artifacts from the first decade of the 2000s, flipping between voices that permeated conversations and airwaves: Barack Obama, Rihanna, Michael Jackson, Soula Boy. It’s a playful and, at times, confounding listen, with radio commentary interrupting grooves and familiar touchstones getting warped into unfamiliar shapes. Missy Elliott’s “Pass That Dutch,” already a bit left-of-center in its original state, finds new life thanks to storming percussion; elsewhere, Timbaland’s “Give It to Me” gets scrambled up, pitched down, and paired with garbled drums. The whole mix works like this: on Crucified, Happa holds up a funhouse mirror to a distant era of pop music.

Jake Muir – Motion Cast Vol. 67

While the genre contains plenty of action—heists, chases, duels—western movies often harbor a sense of loneliness, or at least solemnity. For his Motion Cast entry, Jake Muir creates a monument to the tumbleweed-and-wind mythology of that short-lived frontier. Given nearly two hours, he laces slow-motion drones with spaghetti-western guitar lines, ominous ambiance, and late-night field recordings. Even at its busiest, the mix is permeated with solitude: guitars and synthesizers that recall the rising sun in their shimmering tones, or almost-drone-metal that gives way to the sound of rustling branches and little else. Motion Cast Vol. 67 is an ode to wide open spaces and sweltering heat; it is elegiac, haunting, and beautiful.

James Bangura – Earful Of

Spend enough time digging through dance records on Bandcamp and you’re bound to find James Bangura’s name. He’s part of an ascendant class of boundary-averse techno-etc producers based in the tri-state area (see also: the entire HAUS of ALTR crew), all of whom leap between styles but keep their MPCs aimed squarely at the dancefloor. His mix for Earful of Wax offers as good a summation as any: it’s got the exacting precision of footwork, the manic energy of jungle, the riotous energy of hardcore, the unfettered joy of great house music, and plenty of punchy techno kicks bubbling underneath. Bangura doesn’t so much move between these lines as tangle them all together, creating a percussive pile-up that reveals new forms at a white-hot pace.

Lil Mofo – Crack Mix 5

It’s hardly a secret, but it’s worth saying straight: UK garage, with its stutter-stepping snares and bubbly synthesizers, makes for excellent pop music. Look no further than Lil Mofo’s mix for Crack Gallery (or the entirety of NUKG) for proof. This is a garage mix defined as much by its inspired vocal selections as its ebullient percussion: a ‘90s pop edits with a sprinkle of shuffle and swing, rap from both sides of the Atlantic with slick basslines piled on top, and garage classics familiar to genre heads. On Crack Mix 5, Lil Mofo shows off the most radio-ready and effervescent sides of UK garage; the result is predictably jubilant.

Maara – MDC.259

For her Melbourne Deepcast entry, Montréal’s Maara put together a set ready to turn the kitchen tiles to a dancefloor, blending heartwarming trance, nostalgia-drenched rave cuts, and icy techno into a steamrolling eighty-two minutes. She pulls off all sorts of showstopping blends here—in one particularly inspired stretch, she moves from pointillistic trance to ethereal breakbeats and alien dubstep rollers—but her mixing is never flashy for its own sake. Instead, it’s in the service of a joyous and snowballing love letter to the club. As the weather starts to turn warmer and the days a bit longer, MDC.259 is a perfectly fitting rave-up.

Malvern Brume – Beneath My Toes, I Can See the Worms Writhe

Somewhere near the middle of his mix for c-, Malvern Brume—née Rory Salter—executes a remarkable blend: he moves from found-sound percussion to elliptical guitars and, finally, to skittering breakbeat, with little more the deep chug of unidentifiable machinery linking them. This section illuminates the core principles driving Beneath My Toes, I Can See the Worms Writhe: outré mixing, sounds that pull from field recordings and club idioms in equal measure, and a wholehearted dedication to erasing borders between genres, moods, and styles. The rest of the mix is just as impressive, toeing the line between the uncomfortably intimate and playful: overheard conversations collapse into slick drum programming; individual tones are stretched and questioned until they dissolve into a thousand pieces.

Martyn Bootyspoon – 40 Love (That’s the Game)

As Martyn Bootyspoon, Jason Voltaire makes floor-focused and tongue-in-cheek dance music; its unfettered sexuality is both a bit slapstick and completely sincere. It’s hardly surprising, then, when he describes 40 Love (That’s the Game) as a “thirst quencher”: it’s two hours of playful and sexed-up dance music, mixed loose and with a bit of a wink. Voltaire jumps between tracks with abandon, occasionally offering radio-emcee commentary between transitions (“Omar-S walked so I could run,” he says before pulling up the Detroit DJ’s “I’ll Do It Again!”). He nominally splits the mix into three different parts, but it’s tough to name a clear delineation (beyond, perhaps, a slightly more downtempo turn in the last twenty minutes). Here, Voltaire shows off his take on club music: pan-genre, sexually charged, and tilted towards the heart-throbs on the dancefloor.

Nicolas Lutz – All Night at Phonotheque (Part 1 / Part 2)

In Nicolas Lutz’s latest broadcast from Phonotheque—the Montevideo club that the DJ calls home—he shows off the breadth and depth of his collection. Lutz is ostensibly a techno selector, and there’s plenty of that here: loopy and minimal, full of taut rhythms that could run into infinity without a hitch. But the most exciting part about All Night at Phonotheque is how many styles those kicks latch on to; during the session, he slides garbled breakbeat, slamming almost-hardcore, a bit of garage, spacious ambience, and innumerable other styles between the cracks. Lutz keeps this up for nearly eleven hours, but it doesn’t feel nearly that long: it’s a breeze thanks to sharp mixing, varied selections, and ever deepening grooves. All Night at Phonotheque is yet another example of Lutz’s encyclopedic knowledge of dance music.

Pavel Milyakov – Constant Xpire

It takes a full eight minutes for the drums to kick in on Constant Xpire, and when they do, they’re hardly there at all: a barely audible hiss-patter, somehow drowned out by a similarly quiet synthesizer. Milyakov spends the duration of the mix exploring frigid and alien tones that the listener has to lean in to pick up: techno broadcast from a few light-years away, busted-speaker ambient music, and plenty of forms in between. When, right at the end, Milyakov finally turns up the volume, it feels like accelerating to the speed of light and crashing into the sun.

Pontiac Streator – DnB Explosion

Sometimes, it’s all in the title. DnB Explosion is forty-five minutes of roughneck drum-and-bass, all surging drums and chopped-up breaks and serrated basslines, and it’s an unabated thrill throughout. Pontiac Streator blends all sorts of styles of the sound here—there’s a bit of Experiences Ltd.’s trademark unsettled dub-ambience in a few spots, several minutes of strikingly minimal tracks, and more than a few white-hot hardcore numbers. But no matter the specifics, Streator never lets off the gas; the manic pile-ups only get more exciting as the mix goes on. On DnB Explosion, Streator shows off the energy, range, and sheer verve of so much of the best drum-and-bass.

Sentre – isolatedmix 108

On their isolatedmix, Sentre explore the power of hushed tones. The set opens with the shimmering synthesizers and downcast poetry of Lord of the Isles’s “Inheritance,” a track which might be understood as a tonal core for the following seventy minutes. At their sparest, the duo mix classical minimalism and distant field recordings, all shot through with a kind of serene beauty. Whenever their selections get more crowded, the emotional timbre remains: pointillistic synthesizers stretching towards something greater, white-hot noise flying towards the sun until it fades away and leaves a glimmering trail behind. Sentre jump between styles and sounds here with remarkable deftness, wearing their hearts on their sleeves the whole time.

Significant Other – Drifting in the Third Person

Over the course of the past few years, Brooklyn’s Significant Other has established themselves as a preeminent selector: their mixes are both deep and wide, running the gamut from hardcore to ambient and back again. They make a natural fit for Experiences Ltd., then: the label tends towards the more stilled end of the spectrum, but rewards omnivorousness above all else. (For an example of this scope, see Pontiac Streator’s mix on this list.) Drifting in the Third Person is a mix of slow, languid, and shimmering electronics; it moves between chilled ambient music, hushed folk, and walls of noise with disarming ease. A few detours into almost-techno and space-borne synthesizers serve to underline the form the rest of the mix takes: a slowly shapeshifting fog, a mass of downtrodden ambience that nevertheless reveals plenty of beauty along the way.

Shift K3Y – Diplo and Friends

The most alluring part of big-tent house music might be its no-nonsense approach to elation: squarely placed kicks, well-timed drops, and a well-chosen guest vocalist are more than enough to flip the room upside down. On his mix for Diplo and Friends, Shift K3Y leans hard into this idea, blending an hour of bass house, gut punches, and starry-eyed melodies. It’s a jubilant and often raucous session, moving from heart-on-sleeve vocal house to bass-blasted almost-garage and back again. There’s a few outliers—a hint of grime here, a bass-and-brass cut there—but once that communal elation kicks in, nothing knocks it loose.

Tammo Hesselink – Animix Twenty Eight

Animix Twenty Eight is ostensibly rooted in minimal-techno traditions, which makes sense; Tammo Hesselink has a rich history with the genre. In practice, though, it goes much wider than that foundation, offering the producer a chance to stretch into more tumultuous territories. What starts as austere hiss-click ambience quickly begins to contort, turning into cheeky almost-house, throbbing dubstep-inflected numbers, and sludgy breakbeats. Hesselink maintains the pulse throughout, keeping the dancefloor locked in without sacrificing outré selections. Over the course of two hours, Hesselink collapses techno idioms onto themselves, pulls them down all sorts of blind alleys, and reveals a chameleonic form of dance music in the process.

Time Is Away – Ballads

The liner notes for Ballads contain a meditation on distance, intimacy, and patience. The writing fits: the mix is both elusive and startlingly intimate, a private dance where neither partner knows all the steps. Nominally, it’s an exploration of ballads, but in practice, it stretches them into more abstract territories. Closeness can be an act of love, yes, but it can also expose cracks in facades; low tempi and spare instrumentation can encourage patience, but it can also lead to slowly creeping horrors. Ballads balances these ideas—the pains and sorrows of intimacy, the power of shared secrets—with striking acuity, tying untold decades, continents, languages, and histories into a collection of folk music that is beautiful, disorienting, and filled with myriad whispers.

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