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

Slam on the CDJ returns with the best DJ sets of the past month from Ana Roxanne, DJ Python, Baronhawk Poitier, Conducta and more.
By    June 15, 2021

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Michael McKinney absorbs more music in a week than most do in an entire calendar year.

As dancefloors start to slowly reopen, it’s worth remembering just how wildly their soundtracks can vary. Some of this month’s best mixes offered glimpses into the potential range of dance music. Jayda G and Baronhawk Poitier, mixing for DJ-Kicks and Honcho respectively, served up soaring, joyous, and history-packed disco and house mixes. Scratcha DVA, Desyn, and Conducta offered three radically different takes on UK club tunes: Scratcha DVA looked to South Africa and the serpentine grooves of UK funky for inspiration; Desyn dug into breakbeat, big beat, and slamming techno; and Conducta stuffed his decks with the sugar-rush sounds of modern UK garage and bassline.

Elsewhere still, Facta and K-Lone took a trip from Bristol to Ibiza, crafting a mix of hypnotic techno and trance befitting a beachside rave; DJ Bus Replacement Service put together a mix of rap that jumps from the United States to Serbia, Japan, and the depths of YouTube. LCY and Yen Tech both imagined alternative realities for their sets: LCY dreamt up the sound of a robot pirate radio station in a post-human future; Yen Tech put together a chilling radio play about disinformation, fascism, and fractured families.

The more downtempo mixes are just as varied, though. Ana Roxanne and DJ Python blurred Baroque classical compositions with left-field dancehall, 20th-century minimalism, and ambient; No Moon, mixing for Truants, put together a beguiling ambient set that never quite comes into focus. Brian Foote, mixing as Leech, conjured a cloud of whisper-quiet electronics; KMRU worked with similar intangibility, but his offering is shot through with a deep unease and quiet horror. IRL threaded detuned and destabilized electronics into hushed and alien forms; E. Fishpool’s Animix is comparatively close to home, an intimate almost-dance mix of ambient house, techno, and experimental electronics.

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

Ana Roxanne & DJ Python – Times Square Transmissions

Ana Roxanne’s music is most remarkable for her quiet but bold strokes: Because of a Flower, her 2020 LP, found the center between new-age ambience, pitch-black dream pop, and Baroque songwriting. For her turn on Times Square, alongside New York’s chameleonic DJ Python, she works with similar deftness. The set opens with a dive into Baroque and impressionistic composition. A characteristically crystalline and soaring Sergei Rachmaninoff piano concerto opens the mix, and the rough-and-tumble keys of Maurice Ravel’s “Jeux d’eau” follow soon after.

It takes a full thirty minutes for anything recognizably “electronic” to enter the mix, in the form of wordless and reverb-soaked vocals; Dntel’s “Fall in Love” only deepens the haze. From there, the mix moves into all sorts of quietly unusual territories: wide-open ambience, a Steve Reich sextet, and hall-of-mirrors minimalism. (The pair even make room for Ween’s slow-burn soul and Time Cow’s bugged-out dancehall.) It may seem like an unusual blend of styles, but the pieces are bound together by a shared spaciousness, whether it’s deep-sigh ambient, slow-motion dub, or gradually unfurling Erik Satie works. The result is a mix that’s both wide-ranging and aesthetically singular, collapsing centuries and traditions into something entirely new.

Baronhawk Poitier – Honcho Podcast Series 97

New World Generation’s “Curious Soul” is a tightly wound and effervescent example of soul songwriting. After a brief swell of cymbals, the song slowly builds: hi-hats suggesting an incoming train, lithe and playful vocals runs, and, suddenly, an explosion into a million colors, the backing vocalists harmonies hitting golden triads while the rhythm section whip themselves into a frenzy. Its joy comes through so plainly that it feels elemental; the band moves in lock-step and with total freedom. It is, in other words, a neat encapsulation of Baronhawk Poitier’s mixing. His mix for Honcho opens with nearly six minutes of “Curious Soul” before he pulls off an audacious blend, cutting the drums mid-riff and turning them into the stutter-step kicks that open up “Over the Edge,” a slow-burning house track by Secretsundaze. He spends the next 80 minutes blending house and soul with an unshakable verve, cartwheeling between skeletal Wham! edits, funked-up Ray Charles remixes, and a million shades of house music: metallic and storming one minute, slick and bubbly the next. By the time it closes, with the deep-house soul of House Gospel Choir’s “God Is Trying (Kaytronik Speak Dub)” and the soaring soul of Aretha Franklin’s “What a Fool Believes,” it’s hard not to buy into the ecstasy Poitier peddles. From the top on down, Honcho Podcast Series 97 is packed with the life-affirming joy that make house and soul so vital.

Conducta – Dekmantel Podcast 332

Ever since he blew up alongside AJ Tracey with 2019’s garage-rap anthem “Ladbroke Grove,” collaboration and communal joy have been central to Conducta’s ethos. He runs Kiwi Rekords, one of the UK’s most exciting hubs for new-school garage, and his mixes reliably showcase how wide the genre’s renaissance has spread. On Dekmantel Podcast 332, Conducta grabs thirty-plus records from the most ebullient corners of UK dance music and assembles a perennial block-party soundtrack. His trademark sound—sun-kissed stutter-stepping garage alongside a few cheeky edits of yesteryear’s pop hits—is in full force here, with plenty of the scene’s modern stars showing up along the way. But he flips the script in interesting ways, too, tossing in gnarled bassline closer to Sheffield than Bristol and working a bit of uncharacteristically chilly dubstep. Dekmantel Podcast 332 acts as yet another continuation of modern UK garage’s winning streak. No wonder it’s so joyous.

Desyn – Ghostcast 014

Ghostcast 014, recorded aboard Berlin’s Hoppetosse, is filled with the kind of livewire energy that one would expect from a memorable club night. After opening with a bit of spooked-out drum-and-bass, Desyn Masiello plunges deep into his crates and produces a steady stream of dancefloor bombs. Old-school rave-ups act as the set’s lifeblood; it’s a seemingly endless well of surging breaks, acidic synthesizers, and anonymous vocal samples beckoning any onlookers to get moving. (The diggers at MixesDB have a field day whenever a new Desyn mix surfaces; this is sure to keep them busy for a while.) Highlights abound: to grab a few, there’s a sweltering run of big beat halfway through that gives way to acidic and minimal techno, laid-back house that splits the difference between LA and Chicago, and off-kilter carnival breakbeat reminiscent of early Prodigy records. As clubs start to inch towards reopening, Ghostcast 014 is a great reminder of why they’ve been so dearly missed.

DJ Bus Replacement Service – Bars

DJ Bus Replacement Service has made a career on the back of “incorrect” selections and playful blends; her best mixes straddle the line between stand-up comedy and dancefloor fodder. Bars sets the joke up from the start. Any connotations of tongue-twisting wizardry are quickly upended by a 1996 comedy sketch about “Rap! The Musical,” a “celebration for the entire family” that “contains no rap music.” After that, everything she picks is hip-hop through-and-through, but the absurdist bent never lets up. The resultant hour is wildly varied: she moves from thrilling trap (“Teste Matte,” a spooked-out number by the nine-year-old 500Tony) to goofy politicking (“Lunar New Year Rap,” courtesy of Dan Kritenbrink, the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam) and downright bizarre storytelling (“Irrevocability,” a spelling-bee fever dream from comedy-rap veteran Zach Sherwin). DJ Bus Replacement Service said that the mix was inspired by Autechre’s hip-hop mixes, which reveal a foundation for the duo’s anything-goes electronics. On Bars, she pulls off a similar trick, mixing outré and outsider rap selections with a characteristic wink.

E. Fishpool – Animix Thirty Three

Emily Fishpool spends much of Animix Thirty Three conjuring another world, using thick clouds of electronics to triangulate the space between ambient, techno, and drone. The Australian artist has described their music as a method of “learning, unlearning, and (re)learning identity,” and the ebbs and flows of their entry echo this continual transition. The set—live and improvised, recorded over the course of two days—is both nebulous and graceful, moving with the glacial elegance of a rolling fog. Inscrutable as they may be, a few highlights appear: an extended run of ambient techno recalling the groggiest Giegling minimalism; chopped-and-scattered vocals appearing halfway through only to get subsumed by elliptical tri-toms; a blend of aquatic breakbeats and shimmering drone in the eleventh hour. Fishpool intended the set to “offer a specific capsule of time, mind, and space,” but the set’s found-object energy goes deeper than that: Animix Thirty Three is simultaneously intimate and unknowable, like Polaroids worn down by decades of dust.

Facta & K-Lone – Azure Ultra

The cover should be giveaway enough. It’s not hard to imagine Azure Ultra, the latest mix from Wisdom Teeth co-heads Facta and K-Lone, playing from a beachside boombox; its grooves are both bright and entrancing, recalling the trademark chug that first made Ibiza a global capital of dance music. Across the set, the Bristol-based pair roll through the kind of knotty rhythms and heads-down club tunes that fill floors worldwide, tapping into warped techno, hypnotic trance, and sci-fi minimalism along the way. Their selections are both mechanical and tropical, all pitch-perfect drum programming and sunny eccentricities: pattering tech-house with warbled synth solos; sweeping and elliptical and hypnotic xylophone-house; and garbled and chopped-up vocal house with marching-band snares underneath. Thanks to its slippery, playful, and ever deepening grooves, Azure Ultra is thoroughly transportive, offering a ticket to ravers and home listeners alike.

IRL – Seven Cups, Pink Moon

As IRL, Amanda Harvey has built up a curious oeuvre. She produces ambience equally suited for clenched teeth and open palms; it is both unsettled and patient, full of barely functioning synthesizers, yawning voids, and goosebumps. Seven Cups, Pink Moon works as both a continuation of this style and a notable left turn. Harvey’s selections are as queasy as ever, but she shifts scales here, zooming out from her typically spine-tingling intimacy. The opening minutes feature deep-sigh synthesizers and the breeze of passing asteroids; the rest of the set continues apace, with each new sound only deepening the murk. Throughout, Harvey digs deep into negative space and blackened ambience, threading detuned pianos, spaghetti-western guitars, and cryptic spoken word into striking and unusual forms. Much of her work as IRL concerns the liminal space between the corporeal and the otherworldly. On Seven Cups, Pink Moon, she treads that space yet again, looking to the stars the whole time.

Jayda G – DJ-Kicks

Listen via Bandcamp

After a long string of underground releases, Jayda G has become an undeniable star of house music. “Both of Us,” her piano-backed barnburner for a summer that never was, netted her a GRAMMY nomination; she’s been on the cover of MixMag twice; and now she’s landed on DJ-Kicks, a cultural institution for DJs now entering its 25th year. Her meteoric rise makes sense—her style, a nostalgic and deep take on house, is both of-the-moment and soulful, recalling the raucous energy and unbridled joy of a great night out. For her DJ-Kicks entry, she bottles that lightning yet again, mixing decades of dance music into a delightfully messy package.

It opens with an extended run of old-school funk and disco, all lovestruck lyrics, tight harmonies, and locked-in horn sections: an effervescent call to the dancefloor doubling as a love letter to some of her favorite sounds. She winds the clock forward as the mix progresses, collapsing the evolution of disco and early house records with a few sly blends. Suddenly, she’s dropping dancefloor bombs from her peers, like “Gardenia,” a soaring saxophone belter from lo-fi house originator DJ Boring, or FIT Siegel’s bubbly “Tonite (Detroit Mix).” On DJ-Kicks, Jayda G takes the idea of musical storytelling seriously, exploring the genealogy of house music and finding a kind of kaleidoscopic joy along the way.

KMRU – Groove Podcast 297

As KMRU, Joseph Kamaru stretches field recordings and slow-motion ambience until new worlds appear in the folds. (He was previously featured for that same alchemy.) He releases work at a furious clip, but he manages to find new angles and emotions with each new upload. His podcast for Groove is a prime example: here, he digs into scuzzy and disquieting ambient records, blending grit with liturgical beauty.

The opener, Kentaro Hayashi’s “Gargouille,” takes choral-music swells and scatters hissing electronics atop to disorienting effect; Asher Tuil’s “extensities 2” deepens the unease with distant wails of feedback and silence. As the mix progresses, it turns varying shades of black: heart-in-throat thuds alongside disembodied choirs; anonymous voices garbled and compressed beyond comprehension; whirlwinding woodwinds that collapse into a pile of shrieking electronics. On Groove Podcast 297, KMRU blends horror-flick ambience with an unsettling patience, balancing gothic beauty with gnawing terror.

LCY – Fact Mix 808

LCY bubbled up in 2017 as part of a new wave of 140-BPM aficionados in the UK; the producer’s work wove dubstep, jungle, breaks, and bass-blasted experiments into a sound that resisted easy compartmentalization. Recently, though, they’ve been stretching into parts unknown: Pulling Teeth, their most recent EP, explores the “post-human world” of a character made of “dog, human, and robotic matter.” Their mix for Fact reads like a companion piece of sorts. Both releases carry a scorched-earth futurism and deep unease, with tracks threatening to crack in half at any moment. (Fittingly, the closing piece from Pulling Teeth shows up within the set’s first two minutes.)

It opens with disquieting and desolate ambience, full of scraped metal and barely audible voices; bursts of noise threaten to turn the scene black before receding. LCY pulls off this balancing act for nearly half an hour, until the quietest moment—Chant Electronique’s alien industrial-folk—collapses into a pile of blown-out jungle. The rest of the mix is both white-hot and unpredictable, moving from disembodied choral selections to alien club tools and blistering hardcore. On Fact Mix 808, LCY slams bruised melancholy into alien mania with panache, hurling a gauntlet for post-everything club mixes in the process.

Leech – Motion Cast Vol. 72

Brian Foote already has an enviable CV—he manages Kranky, a monolith of American ambient and post-rock; he heads Peak Oil, a label whose releases span from mystifying techno to spectral ambience; his own productions show an encyclopedic knowledge of dance-music idioms. His recent run of mixes, then, is both a pleasant surprise and utterly predictable: Foote made his name on his curatorial instincts and ceaseless work ethic.

On Motion Cast Vol. 72, he leans into the beguiling side of ambient music, creating a chameleonic fog that wouldn’t sound out of place on his own outlets. For ninety minutes, he weaves all sorts of textures together into a unified whole: a whisper-quiet duet for rain and xylophone, scurrying insect-swarm electronics, shimmering ambience befitting a drawn-out sunset. He eventually works towards a climax with “An Invisible Ode,” a swirling wall of voices by Olivia Salvadori. But that, too, dissolves into the murk. With his latest mix, Foote intertwines cosmic grandeur with hushed intimacy.

No Moon – Truancy Volume 278

Truancy Volume 278 opens with a shot of pastoral futurism. Hiroshi Yoshimura’s “かわも” calls to mind two radically different landscapes at once: the gurgle of running water suggests sunlit trails and long days, but a tumble of pointillistic synthesizers sounds closer to deep-space drifts. This pairing proves to be instructive. Throughout his mix for Truants, Fred Shepherd—whose productions as No Moon typically slip between breakbeat, electro, and house, among other club-focused styles—leans into beguiling ambience, blurring the line between the extraterrestrial and intimate until any distinctions feel pedantic. This approach allows Shepherd remarkable flexibility.

At one point, he digs up Angophora’s “Scenes,” a loping ambient-Balearic house number fueled by elliptical drums and jangly guitars, only to drop into Dreamcycles’s unsettled spoken word on a moment’s notice. The most impressive synthesis of scales comes later, though. “Passing,” an elegiac meditation on climate change from Lord of the Isles and Ellen Renton, is both startlingly specific and wholly inaccessible. Renton’s poetry stretches towards generations she’s yet to see, apologizing for crises that have yet to appear; the strings, in their abyssal churn and slow-motion high-end, inspire both quiet awe and stomach-churning vertigo. The piece carries a charged intimacy, but it reckons with ideas too large to properly comprehend. Truancy Volume 278 lies somewhere between those scales, blending stardust and sweat into something entirely new.

Scratcha DVA – RA.779

Scratcha DVA is a veritable chameleon on the UK club circuit, with a catalog that stretches from UK funky into the far-flung corners of grime and hard drum; his lithe and playful approach to contemporary club music offered plenty of connective tissue. Sometime around the release of 2018’s DRMTRK, though, he planted his flag: since its release, the producer has pulled inspiration from the gqom flooding cell phones and minivans in South Africa, cooking up lean and hypnotic rhythms that jump between London and Durban with striking acuity. On his mix for Resident Advisor, he uses gqom as a launchpad, taking its icy minimalism and layering breezy amapiano, snarling grime MCs, and jubilant house on top. It’s a potent blend: in addition to showing off a greater range of sounds, he’s able to augment the terse power of gqom with comparatively quick-footed selections. Everything here is defined by remarkably smooth blends and pile driving rhythms, whether coming from slammed snares, a whirlwind of hand drums, or blasts of depth-charge bass. Scratcha DVA long ago established himself as a don of UK club music; on RA.779, he outlines yet another vision for the scene by looking to South Africa.

Yen Tech – Fact Mix 807

It only takes a minute for Fact Mix 807 to fracture. If the opening minute of Celyn June’s “Bidders Path (Possibility) / Distance All Singing” is ambience for celestial drift, then its sudden shift towards far more turgid forms is like falling into a black hole. It’s a fitting opening for the set, which takes a kaleidoscopic approach to documenting gargantuan systemic failures. The closest thing to a reliable narrator comes in Kevin, a ten-year-old child who runs from home after his mother gets sucked into QAnon conspiracy theories, but he is not alone; there are cameos from power-hungry police-academy trainees, YouTubers hoping to rile up their audience by “going for the jugular,” and co-conspirators hoping to create a neo-Darwinian utopia.

The rolling cast of characters offers the mix an anything-goes energy, which is only deepened by Yen Tech’s selections: pitch-black club cuts, like Slick Shoota’s deconstructed-footwork stormer “See Me Flex” and Hyph11E’s breakbeat pile-up “Get Out From Under,” give way to disorienting ambience and outré experimentation, like the hissing drone-jazz of Lucio Capece & Mika Vianio’s “Valontuo” or Heinz Holliger’s glacial choral compositions. (In its wide-ranging palette and post-dystopian outlook, Fact Mix 807 recalls Amnesia Scanner‘s own industrial radio play, released just before fascism’s creep back into the political mainstream accelerated to a sprint.)

After fifty minutes of far-right death spirals and startling collagery, the mix closes with RMR’s “Rascal,” the beguiling Rascal Flatts rework whose video stuffed with irreconcilable contrasts—Yves Saint Laurent and ski masks, heartfelt piano balladry and a half-dozen guns pointed at the camera—blew up soon after hitting YouTube. It’s difficult to imagine a more fitting way to end. RMR’s voice, clean and unadorned, acts as a sort of balm to the internet-addled detritus, but his wry anti-authoritarian gospel keeps things grounded in reality. It is both poignant and wholly illogical; of course it went viral. For Fact Mix 807, Yen Tech digs deep into the uncanny valleys of modern sociopolitics, creating an elegiac and disorienting homage to a world of rabbit holes.

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