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

Slam on the CDJ returns with the best DJ sets of the past month from Caldera, Ase Manual, Flora Yin-Wong and more.
By    May 13, 2021

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The air is getting warmer and clubs are starting to reopen. For many of April’s best mixes, DJs leaned into optimistic and playful sounds, and who can blame them? Eris Drew has made her name by slinging joyous house and breaks, and her Daisychain podcast is perfectly fit for blue skies; Melbourne’s Hannah D put together a set of chugging and euphoric trance fit for festivals. Moving Still’s Fresh Kicks entry is a playful and off-the-wall hour of Asian and African hi-NRG; Sicaria Sound’s Mixtape Club tape is a globetrotting set of left-field dubstep and breaks. Crack Magazine and fabric both put on massive celebrations of club music: the former grabbed archival live sets from around the world, and the latter filmed many of London’s most exciting DJs across town.

If you’re not looking for a rave, though, there are plenty of highlights. Flora Yin-Wong’s mix for Resident Advisor tosses beguiling ambiance and slamming club tracks into a hall of mirrors; elsewhere, Map.ache assembled an intimate and hushed session of ambient-house selections. Gi Gi and KUČKA created slow-motion ambience to get lost in, while Livwutang made a surprising and left-field mix of dubby and disheveled club tracks. Time Is Away scrambled timelines for their mix, finding the common ground between disquieting folk and centuries-old religious music.

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

Ase Manual – Juanita’s Mix 043

Midway through Juanita’s Mix 043, Ase Manual pulls off a series of left hooks: Jersey club as heard through a wall turns into a blur of slammed drums and screamed vocals, which itself gives way to a chopped-and-scattered Future edit. At first glance, these selections may appear unrelated, but their anything-goes energy and piledriving rhythms provide plenty of connective tissue. The rest of the set works like this, too. Manual cartwheels between styles here, weaving dancehall-inflected UK garage, groggy house, rapturous Jersey club, and cacophonous rap into a somehow coherent fabric. That it works at all is impressive; its sheer joy, rhythmic power, and aesthetic singularity is a testament to Ase Manual’s prowess behind the decks.

Bell Towers & DJ PerksPositive Messages #66

Positive Messages #66 is, in a way, a sort of love letter. Bamboo Musik, the Melbourne club night where the mix was recorded, shut its doors in 2015. Positive Messages, recorded in 2010 and released exactly eleven years later, captures the party’s anything-goes and playful approach to clubbing. Bell Towers and DJ Perks lean into the melodic and deep sides of dance music here, blending slick house into jumpy new wave and soaring disco. Over the course of three hours, the DJs pull all sorts of tricks that would certainly have lit up the dancefloor: a slowed-down B-52’s drop, dial-tone house, chopped-up animal noises on top of laid-back guitar loops. It’s exactly the kind of ebullient, left-of-center, and floor-focused material that made Bamboo Musik so beloved. No wonder they’re still memorializing it.

Caldera – Animix Thirty One

It doesn’t take long for Animix Thirty One to take off: after a few minutes of hazy ambiance, a single buzzing synth-bass is enough to signal a trip to the stars. Caldera spends the following eighty minutes making good on that promise, blending abyssal bass, scurried breakbeats, and futuristic techno into a mix that splits the difference between old-school rave-ups and otherworldly sound design. That duality works to Caldera’s benefit: the thumping and whirring percussion underscores the woozy ambiance, suffusing Animix Thirty One with an unshakable vertigo. He stretches that queasy energy into all sorts of forms throughout the set, making for a mix equally suited for club nights and planetariums.

Eris Drew – Daisychain Podcast 170

Eris Drew, alongside her partner Octo Octa, has earned a healthy following thanks to her love of upbeat and life-affirming house records. Her mixing recalls ‘90s Chicago-house favorites, either consciously or otherwise, in her fleet-footed style and plainly optimistic selections. Her Daisychain entry, then, is more of the same and a slight left turn: her playful spirit and fastidious ear remain, but she’s slowed things down a bit and moved into more tripped-out territories. It’s a winning recalibration. It’s still packed with old-school delights sure to set the floor on fire, but they’d work just as well on a lazy afternoon. (It’s no coincidence that this was released on 4/20.) This combination leads to some inspired selections: dubbed-up breakbeat, slow-motion rap, sludgy house. Drew has set a high bar for herself; with Daisychain Podcast 170, she exceeds her own standard yet again.

Flora Yin-Wong – RA.777

On RA.777, Flora Yin-Wong takes the kind of palette she’s long painted in—a fusion of beguiling ambience and unidentifiable club sounds—and takes it to a logical extreme. Yin-Wong doesn’t so much blur those lines here as sharpen their differences, slamming tempi and moods into each other throughout. Scraped-metal ambience acts as a bizarrely effective intro for snarled Farsi rap; elsewhere, slamming hard trance melts into a cloud of murky synthesizers. No mood is too settled for Yin-Wong to upend it entirely, but there’s a kind of beauty—and terror—to be found in that instability. On RA.777, Flora Yin-Wong sends countless ruptures through her own designs, staring in awe as the foundations crumble.

Gi Gi – Theory Therapy 19

Lumino Pleco, the second LP by Austin-based ambient producer Gi Gi, is impressive on two separate levels: first, for its enveloping drones and hushed ambience; and second, for its structure. It is entirely composed of samples—the record’s liner notes mention Prince, Vangelis, Erykah Badu, and Miles Davis—but good luck finding them in the haze. Theory Therapy 19, their mix for Low End Theorists, feels like a continuation of that record, both in mood and approach. Their selections, ranging from ‘90s smog-techno to as-of-yet unreleased ambient blurs, are bound together by a shared interest in deep ambiance; this is music to get lost in, with glistening synthesizers and kick drums that sound more like heartbeats. Deepening the trance further is Gi Gi’s mixing, which renders the seams between selections wholly invisible. Theory Therapy 19 is deep-sigh ambience of the highest order, a dense fog that reveals new details the deeper one looks.

Hannah D – Animix Thirty

The trance revival continues unabated, and why not? Hannah D’s mix for Animalia nicely encapsulates what makes the style so compelling: slowly rolling basslines, ethereal synthesizers, and grooves deep enough to reorient the room’s center of gravity. She pulls a few sly tricks to keep any potential ravers on their toes, mixing ‘90s breakbeat selections, a pinch of UK garage, and plenty of acidic techno into the blur. It’s an impressive, and logical, synthesis: the rave-ready pianos and shuffling drums further the mix’s optimism, and squelching synthesizers pair nicely with its more subdued rhythms. Straining towards euphoria on the dancefloor is always commendable; reaching it and twisting it into new forms, as Hannah D does here, is even more impressive.

Jossy Mitsu – Impact

Speaking with Mixmag, Jossy Mitsu outlined her temporal relationship with club music: “in my mind it’s so tied to playing out … I’d normally hear something I love and could instantly put it into a folder knowing I’d have a chance to play it out in the next couple of weeks, but that hasn’t been possible.” Impact, then, might be best understood as her carving out that opportunity again: it’s a kitchen-sink pile-up of club tracks linked by a fast-and-loose energy rather than any particular genre or approach. Mitsu balances her grab-bag approach to selections with elegant mixing, blending squelching acid techno, wide-open footwork, and bass-heavy breakbeat without breaking a sweat. On Impact, Mitsu crumples several hardcore continuums into an ebullient, reverential, and relentlessly forward-thinking hour.

KUČKA – Bleep Mix #176

As KUČKA, Laura Jane Lowther makes mutant pop music, fusing post-everything club sounds with strikingly minimal arrangements. Her Bleep mix, then, arrives as a surprise: here, she trades her neon signage for watercolors, blending an hour of hazy ambience that moves with an understated elegance. The closest thing to a pulse arrives in the first half, in the form of the desolate techno-minimalism of Actress’s “Angels Pharmacy”; beyond that, it’s all skyward synthesizers, field recordings, and open air. In one standout sequence, she moves from Ana Roxanne’s “Suite pour l’invisible”—a cloud of breathy vocals, a patiently strummed guitar, and little else—to Space Afrika’s “oh baby,” whose pained tumble of spoken-word recordings and wails somehow deepen the set’s trance. This is demonstrative of the set as a whole: heart-on-sleeve and highly emotive ambiance, all blended with acuity.

Livwutang – Honcho Podcast Series 95

It’s no wonder that Livwutang has become a Seattle club-night mainstay. She mixes bubbly and propulsive dance music at a breakneck pace, as though she can’t stop thumbing through her record collection while behind the decks. The most exciting part about Honcho Podcast Series 95, then, is also the most surprising: here, she slows down and stretches out. Acidic synthesizers and rollicking drums are out; slow-motion rhythms and languid bass are in. This is an hour of wigged-out dub, glacial dubstep, and creeping techno—still club music, sure, but knocked off-center. Livwutang’s mixing reveals new sides to every selection: at one point, she stretches the laid-back ambience of Erykah Badu’s “Still in Love With You” until it turns into blurry house music; later, murky techno melts into a pile of shimmering breakbeats. Livwutang has long excelled at hot and playful mixing; here, she shows that her ear is just as sharp when she slows things down a bit.

Map.ache – What Does That Mix Is This

What Does That Mix Is This opens humbly. Chattering birds, a passing jet, and someone, close to the microphone: “Life is all about contradiction, and I don’t think anyone should ever forget that. That life is all about contradiction.” Then the synthesizers kick in, and their texture—soft and faintly familiar—amplifies the intimacy further. Map.ache spends much of the following hour in this mode, flipping back and forth between cozy electronics and snatches of conversation. Even the most percussive numbers here carry a lived-in warmth; even the most hard-edged speakers keep their language aspirational. Dance music dreaming of a better world is by no means new, but in framing that idea so explicitly—voices yearning for a more compassionate future atop a dreamlike haze—Map.ache creates a mix that, however briefly, makes it feel like that space has already arrived.

Moving Still – Fresh Kicks 152

Club music has always been a global thing, but popular understanding of it has not. That’s started to change in recent years, though. The music produced by Moving Still—née Jamal Sul—is as good of an example as any. His productions blend decades-old source material with modern club sounds; his discography is reverent without being cloying, play that avoids pastiche. On Fresh Kicks 152, Sul continues that approach, blending sounds between oceans and traditions with panache. The resultant set is unapologetically hi-NRG and refreshingly singular: pumping kicks, skyscraping melodies, and nigh-unidentifiable selections are the order of the hour. What initially look like left turns—hints of electro here, a bit of dabke there—instead help to reveal the fabric of his approach. Given a bit of time, Sul folds innumerable musical traditions into an ebullient ode to the dancefloor.

Sicaria Sound – Round the World Girls

When they were still radio DJs and geography students, Sicaria Sound created a project called “Round the World Girls.” Speaking to Mixtape Club, they said that the idea was to “travel across the globe through our DJ mixes, picking up producers … whose music was inspired by their environment or heritage and with a particular focus on non-’Western’ regions.” They only got one episode deep before being offered a regular show, but the return of Round the World Girls—one-off or otherwise—shows the duo diving back into their globe-spanning vision of 140-BPM music with aplomb. They somersault between genres throughout, to consistently thrilling results: early on, they draw a line between the spare baile funk of Sickflip’s “Gotta Be,” the shuddering post-gqom of Slikback’s “KOROSHIMASU,” and negative-space dubstep courtesy of Gantz’s “Unmistakable,” showcasing three radically different visions of club music tied together by a mammoth low-end and slamming rhythms. The following thirty minutes reinforce what the opening already made clear: on Round the World Girls, Sicaria Sound offer up a snarling set of dubstep, breaks, and international club tools that never lets off the gas.

Time Is Away – Wavering Forms 37

As Time Is Away, Jack Rollo and Elaine Tierney encase entire worlds in amber. They mix with a patience and grace that belies the intensity of their selections, which often prod at unvarnished emotions: full-throated a capella soul, haunted folk, and achingly lonely Baroque music. For their latest mix, the duo cite the “mind melting possibilities inherent in early religious music,” crafting an hour of disquieting and delicate music that, while not all explicitly religious, is uniformly fueled by a hushed and liturgical atmosphere. This aesthetic through line allows them to bridge all sorts of gaps, connecting countless centuries in the process; the gap between Seneca’s Medea and Joglaresa’s “La novia entre las flores”—between Greek tragedy and tightly harmonized fingerpicked folk music—turns out to be minute at best. On Wavering Forms 37, Rollo and Tierney craft an hour of disorienting, spare, and spine-tingling selections captured out of time.

Wonja – Dekmantel Podcast 328

Wonja has, over the years, earned herself a reputation as one of the West Coast’s most exciting selectors. Her willingness to blend just about anything, combined with a tightly honed ear for dancefloor gems, has resulted in a SoundCloud page stuffed with wildly unpredictable mixes. Her entry in Dekmantel’s podcast series is as solid an introduction as any. The opening few minutes alone show off her range: she moves from jazz psychedelia to elliptical ambience, which in turn shapeshifts into late-night dubstep. Wonja keeps this metamorphosis going for the next two hours; she goes on to dig into fuzzed-out space-rock, vintage breakbeat, million-limbed techno, and genre-agnostic club rhythms. Dekmantel Podcast 328, like Wonja’s best material, collapses countless styles into an outré and joyous session that won’t stop shedding its skin.

Acre & Szare / DJ Python / Ena / Monster / Ólta Karawane / Ouissam & Miya / Raumtester / Ribeka & Call Super / rRoxymore / Total FreedomCrack Mix 400

To celebrate the 400th edition of their flagship mix series, Crack Magazine released eighteen different sets bearing the name. Their commonalities go deeper than nomenclature, though: in the introduction to the miniseries, they wrote that it was intended as a “tribute to the dance floors that have been dearly missed.” Each set was recorded live, whether at La Cheetah in Glasgow or Cakeshop in Seoul, and each captures the rapturous energy of a great club night.

For their entry, Moscow’s Ólta Karawane dug into their crates and pulled out high-energy euphoria: neon-lit new beat, storming guitars, and bottomless grooves. Ouissam & Miya went long, serving up over five hours of jubilant house stuffed with slamming keyboards, low-slung percussion, and an exhaustible energy. Acre & Szare pushed each other into the deepest corners of their collections, jumping from ghetto house, gqom, and grime to roughshod techno, breaks, and hardcore; the only thing more impressive than the range is the ease of their blends.

Some of the selections struck a middle ground between familiar club idioms and the wholly unexpected. Berlin’s rRoxymore has earned a reputation as an unpredictable selector; on her set, she shows why. She spends her Crack mix leaping between livewire club sounds, blending off-kilter breakbeat, slamming techno, alien house, and a thousand left hooks. Ribeka and Call Super did something similar, but contorted their sounds into stranger shapes: turgid acid techno, busted-amp bass workouts, dreamy almost-ambience, and squirming breaks. Ena went deep into negative space, opting for white-knuckle tension of horror-flick drum-and-bass, ambient, and glitch; over the course of an hour, he conjures a slowly creeping malaise.

DJ Python, New York’s don of “deep reggaeton,” offered the opposite experience, turning in ninety minutes of alien dub, dembow, and techno in a joyously messy pile-up of globe-spanning club sounds. Total Freedom, one of the most compelling DJs on the planet, assembled a livewire set of his inimitable approach: decades of rap and R&B turned upside down and paired with hypermodern club tracks. Poznań’s Monster worked with a livewire energy, cramming rave-ready rap bootlegs, blistering Detroit techno, old-school breakbeat, and a thousand shades of hardcore into an hour of firestarters.

Dillinja & MC GQ / Djrum / Kode9 / LCY / Saoirse & Shanti Celeste / SHERELLE & Tim ReaperLondon Unlocked

fabric, one of London’s most iconic nightclubs, has been making plenty of noise even while their doors have been shuttered. The most recent example of that is London Unlocked, an effort to raise funds for Music Venue Trust (and, by extension, grassroots clubs throughout the city). It’s nominally quite simple: a series of DJ sets filmed in some of the city’s most revered spaces: Tower Bridge, the V&A, the London Coliseum, the Round Chapel. But each set is striking on several levels. These are spaces, more often than not, associated with storied cultural traditions; they are also most often packed to the brim with visitors. While it is a bit odd to see them so barren, there’s a kind of beauty in seeing DJs fill them back up with vital, and often undertold, musical histories.

The most obvious example of this happened in the London Coliseum. Dillinja, a drum-and-bass originator, brought his signature heft to the venue, mixing raging breaks and a surging low-end into a celebration of the cragged-but-precise sides of hardcore. MC GQ, another scene veteran, provided emcee work throughout, providing an ineffable electricity and making the heftiest drops hit a bit harder. SHERELLE and Tim Reaper followed, drawing a straight line from old-school stylings to the new scene. The pair start fast and push each other into ever more frenetic territory each time the decks change hands, offering up piles of screaming Amen breaks and white-hot footwork cuts along the way. They worked in plenty of other storied traditions, too: half-recognizable grime dubplates, sun-kissed breakbeat, and rave-up euphoria pulled straight out of the early ‘90s. In the Coliseum, Dillinja and MC GQ showed the inexhaustible power of a great break and an amped-up emcee; SHERELLE and Tim Reaper carried that torch into parts unknown.

Kode9, recording from a strobe-filled Round Chapel, showed off a different vision of 160-BPM dance music. His set is tongue-in-cheek and a bit off-kilter, but mixed with deadly precision; here, he takes the ice-cold rhythms of footwork and tosses them into a black hole. The opening, a blur of alien gurgles, skittering percussion, and cartoonish piano, sets the stage for an hour of uncanny-valley black-humor electronics. He proceeds to make good on that promise, dabbling in haunted-house MIDI symphonies, strangling synthesizers until they burst, and, along the way, turning fast-and-precise dance music inside out. LCY’s set traded in a similar kind of mania. For her time on Tower Bridge, she armed herself with bass-blasted dubstep, grimy breaks, storming jungle, and screaming techno. It’s hard not to get caught up in the momentum when watching her play; what starts hot and fast turns to natural-disaster dance music as its intensity bleeds into the red. By the time she finally lets off the gas—near the end, for but a moment—the pause underscores just how manic her selections got. And then, after a few seconds, she dives right back in.

For anyone looking for a more laid-back session, Saoirse & Shanti Celeste looked into a more relaxed strain of dance music. Their back-to-back session, recorded in a sun-filled gallery of the V&A, digs into the playful and joyous sides of house and techno. Each DJ mixes seamlessly throughout, and their chemistry is obvious from the jump—it’s more or less impossible to tell who’s up when without the aid of video. One of the joys of a great back-to-back is watching DJs lean into their shared strengths; here, Saoirse and Celeste reveal their control over deep and life-affirming grooves. Djrum managed a similar kind of acrobatics on the decks, but his alchemy couldn’t be more different. Across a breathless 45 minutes, he leapt between all sorts of hypermodern club sounds—shape-shifting IDM, pitch-black breakbeat, slow-motion dubstep—with remarkable fluidity, turning countless styles, tempi, and moods into an impermeable blur. Impressively, each left turn makes intuitive sense here: shuffle-and-swing UK garage might as well be hard drum, and an eleventh-hour jump into double-time madness scans as sensible in the moment. Taken as a pair—or as a sextet—these mixes show the range of sounds, styles, and histories that make London’s club scene so vital.

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