Michael McKinney understands the cultural importance of Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci.”
After years of fits and starts, it’s starting to feel like live sets might be back. Whether recording in Berlin, Amsterdam, or Barcelona, some of June’s best sets came from dancefloors, not bedrooms or studios. Berlin’s Special Guest DJ and Perila hooked up as 2DEEP for a riotous four-hour session that runs from slippery dub to light-speed breakstep and storming dubstep; Toma Kami, broadcasting live from Brooklyn, touched on a similar range, putting his USBs in a blender along the way. Finn & OK Williams, both dancefloor veterans at this point, proved their chops with an anything-goes house-etc set in Manchester, while Ben Bondy and Pontiac Streator zoomed in on UK garage and bassline. Deadbeat & Sa Pa, two essential names in modern dub techno, turned two live sessions into one transfixing groove, and Philip Sherburne cooked up a quiet storm of tripped-out IDM and techno burners. boxofbox and CCL both worked fast and hot: boxofbox grabbed old-school techno and blazing breakbeats, while CCL rocketed between bass-grinder breakbeats, quick-and-messy bass tracks, and anything that bleeds into the red.
Not everything’s so drenched in sweat, though. ealing, beaming in from Sydney, turned in a zonked-out hour of rap cuts new and old, underscoring their psychedelia and sadness along the way, while nu-ambient mastermind Jake Muir looked towards carefully paced ambient music and vintage porn flicks for inspiration. Opheliaxz, whose sets normally tend towards bassbin hysteria, went a bit more austere for Motion Ward, cooking up a haze of trip-hop, sludgy rock, and bleary drones. Cairo upstart AHMED ALLA showed off the range of modern hardcore with a white-knuckled intensity, and French Polynesian crew TA’A_INO focused on deck, a local style that takes slow-motion dembow rhythms and aims them squarely at the dancefloor. Philadelphia’s DJ Crazy put together an all-originals hour for NTS Radio, offering a glimpse of an electric rap scene, and New Jersey outfit OSSX blurred together all sorts of East-Coast club stylings for a haymaker session.
Here are some of the best DJ sets June had to offer.
2DEEP – Live at Climate of Fear
3XL, the Berlin-based label run by Special Guest DJ, started out as a vital hub for modern ambient music, but if recent releases are any indication, it is turning into something else entirely. Recent releases have included mechanical dub-trap, straight-up nu-metal, and late-night spoken-word ambient-dub; and affiliated artists have been making explicit moves towards the dancefloor, whether that’s with thundering drum-and-bass or kitchen-sink dubstep. For Live at Climate of Fear, Special Guest DJ grabbed Perila, an artist best known for her intimate field recordings and gauzy ambient productions. But, as 2DEEP, the pair jump into entirely different territories. After a half-hour of slow-motion dub, blissed-out ambient music, and lethargic synth workouts, they crack the whole thing open with a few well-timed drum smacks, upping the tempo and gesturing towards all sorts of modern club-music idioms along the way. They spend the next three and a half hours making good on that promise, twisting between gnarled dubstep, riotous drum-and-bass, frenetic hard-drum, and all sorts of rapid-fire dancefloor psychedelics along the way. It’s yet another left turn from one of modern electronic music’s most defiantly unpredictable crews.
AHMED ALAA – JEROME Mixfile #908
Ask a dozen people what “hard dance” means and you’re bound to get a dozen answers, but that’s part of the fun. AHMED ALAA, a DJ based out of Cairo, works fast and loud, seeming less interested in genre particulars than in cultivating a manic energy. JEROME’s long-running mix series is essential in large part thanks to its madcap nature, which makes ALAA a natural fit. With JEROME Mixfile #908, the selector moves quickly with tracks that move even faster, grabbing a thousand shades of hardcore and making sparks fly in the process. There’s plenty of powerhouse techno here thanks to UK mainstays, but the mix complicates those rhythms in all sorts of ways: hard-drum steamrollers, almost-gabber kick-drum barrages, serrated and disorienting breakbeat tunes, a mid-session injection of acid and tech-trance pyrotechnics. It’s breathless and breathtaking in equal measure, offering an idea of just how varied and exciting modern hardcore can be.
Ben Bondy & Pontiac Streator – Gay Pride GIG Mix
When Ben Bondy and Pontiac Streator last linked up, in March’s Gig Set 1, it was something of a surprise: two chameleonic but nevertheless ambient-adjacent producers dug deep into their crates and pulled out white-knuckled drum-and-bass and dubstep. In the formal sense, Gay Pride GIG Mix is more of the same—the same names on the tin joining for another live set—but that’s where the similarities end. This time, Bondy and Pontiac Streator look towards the sun-kissed sounds of UK garage and bassline, turning in ninety minutes that would make any onlooker think they’d been hawking the styles for years. Early on, they move from a bit of blood-pumping bassline to a bit of late-’90s 2-step courtesy of Shanks & Bigfoot; not much later, they’ve rocketed twenty years into the future with the riotous dubstep-garage of Sully’s rework of DJ Zinc and Alicai Harley’s “Bubble.” This anything-goes aesthetic courses throughout the rest of the set; as it runs on, Bondy and Pontiac Streator get increasingly audacious, trusting their shuffle-and-skip drums to hold it all together. Their gambit works: Gay Pride GIG Mix is wild-eyed and playful in equal measure, stuffed with cheeky flips, feel-good drums, and an effervescent sense of joy.
boxofbox – Slingshot Festival
A solid enough kick drum might as well be a time machine. boxofbox showed as much with last year’s stellar Sorry 2 Go: Party Pack Vol. 1-4, which catapulted listeners to the heyday of new jack swing and souped-up house records. In their latest mix, captured live from Durham’s Slingshot Festival back in May, they turn that approach inside out. Slingshot Festival is a barrage of funky techno and boiled-over breakbeats, full of steamrolling rhythms delivered with a full-throttle intensity. boxofbox shows as much from the start: Groove Terminator & The Wheels of Steel’s “It’s On” moves from an air-raid opener to a thumping and playful four-to-the-floor, and Soul Odyssey’s “Rupture (Club Mix)” is acid-flecked techno suited for all-night rave-ups. From there, they get meaner and wilder, grabbing gritted-teeth warehouse tools and cooking up kick-drum windstorms blowing the whole thing wide open with an extended run of piano-house belters and old-school breakbeat played at the speed of light. It’s a deeply satisfying and thoroughly playful session of time-honored club-night idioms; tilt your head just right, and those amplifiers sound like the future.
CCL – CCL at Horst Arts & Music Festival 2022
The most exciting thing about CCL’s sets is their unpredictable nature: give the Berlin selector an hour and they’re as likely to reach for dubstep or dream pop. Their mixes are reliably electric, full of zig-zags and firestarting genre jumps, but they are consistently mixed gracefully and with ease; CCL seems to find the seams between styles, stitching them together in unusual but surprisingly natural ways. At their performance at Horst Arts & Music Festival, they pulled it off yet again. This time, though, it’s all a bit faster. In front of a crowd that gave the DJ a license to play “literally everything,” they reached for their bag of accelerationist dancefloor tools. Early into the session, this translates to speedy and acidic techno-breaks, but CCL stretches further afield from there. Not long after, anything goes: light-speed reggaetón, explosive ragga bootlegs, scorched-earth dubstep, sped-up garage classics, and anything else that runs hot and a bit messy. Like so many great live recordings, you can practically hear the sweat with every drumbeat.
Deadbeat & Sa Pa – RA.832
At this point, the magnetism of minimal techno is hardly novel; the stripped-back style has been going hot since the early ‘90s. But the sound, with its bare-bones aesthetics and elliptical rhythms, can still give plenty of thrills if given enough space to stretch out. Deadbeat & Sa Pa, two critical figures in the quieter corners of techno, show as much with RA.832, assembling nearly three hours of dubbed-up percussion. The set is actually a pair of live recordings strung together, but the livewire energy that comes with plenty of club nights is conspicuously absent. Instead, it’s a heady pile of slowly unspooling dancefloor sounds, equally fit for heads-down ravers and headphone purists. With an unerring patience, they ease into all sorts of delightfully queasy territories: Frenk Dublin’s slow-motion dub-reggae and SIT’s grogged-up techno, Masomenos’s metronomic polyrhythms and MMM’s funhouse minimalism. The particulars of the sounds are almost beside the point, though. Instead, RA.832 is all about a slowly mutating groove, with each dropped drum or looped synthesizer deepening the draw. It’s a masterclass in minimal techno from two of the genre’s essential stylists.
DJ Crazy – NTS Set 6/9/22
Club-rap is hardly a new thing, but it’s undergone something of a resurgence in the past twelve months. Rap listeners with their ears to the ground, like the good folks behind POTW’s own Rap-Up and the perennially-online music blog No Bells, are plenty familiar with this idea; they’ve been sounding the alarm on the stuff for quite some time now. In theory, it’s pretty simple: the speedy drums and frenetic chops of Jersey, Baltimore, and Philadelphia club idioms, all turned a bit more frantic with the addition of an MC on top. In practice, though, the best stuff can be downright exhilarating. For their NTS residency, No Bells grabbed DJ Crazy—architect of “Shake Dhat,” itself a minor sensation on Philadelphia’s rap circuit—to show off the style’s raw power with an all-originals session. DJ Crazy’s style synthesizes all sorts of East-Coast club sounds, making it both wide and hyper-regional; squint, and you can hear a trace of ghetto house or juke in the quick-hitting percussion. The MCs are, in turns, jubilant and rabid and playful, but they’re all clearly comfortable with the stuff, no matter how quick and messy the rhythms land. Crazy’s own radio chatter and spinbacks add to the livewire energy and turn the session into a celebration. For those in the know, NTS Set 6/9/22 is a thrilling session of forward-thinking rap and club staples; for those yet to catch up, DJ Crazy offers a window into an electrifying rap scene.
ealing – Decay Mix 016
From the start of Decay Mix 016, ealing makes their ethos clear. Their edit of Young Dolph’s “100 Shots” slows it to a crawl, drowning Dolph’s vocals in a sludgy low-end and keeping his larger-than-life wordplay from getting too lucid. ealing spends the remaining hour-plus underlining the dream logic of ambient music and hip-hop alike, blurring the two together until they melt into something entirely new. This approach is facilitated by some anything-goes blends: in the session’s most head-turning moment, ealing moves from lo-fi Kodak Black to a sun-bathed Huerco S. tune, only to crash a slo-mo Robyn acapella into Sickboyrari’s “Locked in Like Gang Ties” and 03 Greedo’s chest-rattling “Crimey.” It’s the sort of mixing that seems outlandish on paper, but in practice, ealing makes it all go down easy by making it all a bit otherworldly: voices chopped and tossed into vats of syrup; electronics pitched down until even their meanest rhythms are rendered a bit dreamlike. Decay Mix 016 lies somewhere between a screwtape and something far more ephemeral, pulling some of new-school hip-hop’s brightest lights into deeply outré territories.
Jake Muir – Bathhouse Blues Vol. 2
Ambient music is nominally a background affair, but plenty of it is anything but. Take Jake Muir’s recent releases as proof: in his hands, ambiance is a transportive force, evoking Death Valley or miles-deep caves with little more than a few slowly unfurling synthesizer tones. His best sets often trade in specificity, so Bathhouse Blues Vol. 2 comes as a bit of a shock: here, he outlines something purgatorial via slow-motion percussion and bleary ambiance. Occasionally, a burst of light shines through the morass, but even the brightest spots are a bit downtuned: here, the downcast psychedelia of Kelman Duran’s “FOREVA” lands like a shot in the arm. Muir gestures towards a few kinds of intimacy via dialogue sampled from vintage gay porn films, but they are often coated with glacial and distant electronics, rendering even the most welcoming lines a bit uneasy. Bathhouse Blues Vol. 2 is both foreboding and kaleidoscopic; here, Muir conjures a thick fog of ambience and hides shards of beauty in the murk.
OK Williams & Finn – B2B in Soup Basement
It’d be tough to find a more fitting pair than OK Williams and Finn. Each DJ has deep ties to London’s dance-music scene, and they share a similar approach: get bodies moving. OK Williams describes her style as “techno that makes you want to twerk on the dancefloor.” In his own words, Finn plays “positive rave music,” which, more often than not, has an “escapist and romantic streak.” The two hooked up for a late-night back-to-back session in Manchester hotspot Soup, and the recording makes good on the implicit promise. This is top-shelf club material, mixed rough and rowdy with an unmissable wink. Over the course of three and a half hours, the pair grab sounds from all across the UK. Bassline belters rub shoulders with hip-house and full-throttle garage cuts; US rap radio gets the UK funky treatment; and old-school grime crashes slamming breakbeat, chunky piano house, and firestarting dubstep. It’s a playful and life-affirming session from two of the UK’s top party-starters.
Opheliaxz – Motion Cast Vol. 83
Opheliaxz has earned a reputation as one of Philadelpia’s most reliable suppliers of kitchen-sink club tracks, and with good reason. Her mixes typically oscillate between 160-BPM dubstep rollers, hyperkinetic hard-drum, and zonked-out bass cuts, full of unpredictable blends and wild-eyed selections. This streak of left turns continues with Motion Cast Vol. 83, which marks one of her hardest pivots yet. Here, she’s traded in her synthesizers for guitars, halved the tempo, and dialed up the smoke machines. She parts the curtains to the sounds of Lovesliescrushing’s “Babysbreath,” which—accurately—portends a mix of slow-motion guitars and patient electronics. For the rest of the set, she jettisons dancefloor blasters in favor of new-school ambience, old-school rock, and fourth-world experimentalism: Brooklyn ambient mastermind Ben Bondy one moment, The Fertile Crescent or Grouper or Bowery Electric the next. Ophealixz has plenty of experience blending with speed, precision, and a bit of a wink; here, she cooks up a timeline-defying fog with a preternatural grace.
OSSX – RA.838
The tri-state area has long been a hub for club-music innovation, but that’s felt especially true for the past few years. Producers from the region are responsible for some truly essential modern dance music: Black Rave Culture’s techno-jungle-footwork stew, AceMo & MoMA Ready’s rough-and-ready techno and house, Kush Jones’ omnivorous and bass-forward club burners. Since their debut in 2019, New Jersey duo-turned-trio OSSX have rocketed onto an already crowded scene, but they’ve stood out thanks to their elbow-throwing production and their anything-goes stylings. On RA.838, they show off the range of their sound, blending neck-snapping breakbeats and East-Coast club sounds with stuff from across the Atlantic. The central motif, as is common in so much of OSSX’s work, is busybodied percussion and a wild-eyed energy; whether they’re grabbing jubilant UKG, storming breakbeats, or blistering Baltimore club, the trio never let off the gas.
Philip Sherburne – Primavera Sound 2022
Philip Sherburne, both as a DJ and as co-head of Balmat, is responsible for curating blissed-out head-trips. His selections tend towards ambient music, but they extend well beyond, too, venturing into golden-age IDM and space-age techno. With his latest mix, recorded live at Primavera Sound 2022, he swivels yet again, splitting the difference between tripped-up electronics and heads-down dancefloor material. Throughout, he jumbles up timelines and headspaces alike, shuffling all sorts of moods into a singular haze: downcast almost-trip-hop from Boards of Canada, acidic house courtesy of Mr. Fingers, Physical Therapy’s starry-eyed breakbeat, Purelink’s blissed-out ambient-dub. The thing tying all these sounds together is approach rather than sound, with a focus on subtle but ever-present grooves and dreamy synth lines. The approach works: thanks to its slow-burn intensity and deep-set rhythms, Primavera Sound 2022 is equally suited for locked-in raving and full-on astral projection.
TA’A_INO – Ori Deck Special
Like many scene-specific sounds, ori deck—a fusion of moombahton, reggaetón, and dubstep that’s taken over French Polynesia—evolved out of dance. Just look at the name: in Tahitian, “ori” means “dance,” and local legend contends that it emerged from a moombahton party on a deck in Papara’s Taharuu Beach. It first caught fire at a Polynesian club in 2012, where a one-off gig filled the dancefloor well over capacity. In the decade since, deck’s biggest DJs have become household names, and it has sprouted stylistic offshoots all its own. On their Ori Deck Special, TA’A_INO, a.k.a. QuinzeQuinze, a multidisciplinary art group stretching from Polynesia to Paris, show off the breadth of the style to winning results. It’s a hefty hour, full of deep basslines and 90-BPM dembow rhythms. Each drum hits with an earth-shaking intensity, and the accompanying MCs are equally tough. Ever-present polyrhythmic percussion makes the whole thing feel like it moves in two tempi at once, giving the weight a woozy edge. Ori Deck Special is a wildly exciting snapshot of French Polynesia’s dancefloors, managing the impressive feat of being both unquestionably heavy and pitch-perfect club fodder.
Toma Kami – CNC Live
As Toma Kami, Thomas Ward summons whirlwinds. His music sits somewhere between post-dubstep squigglers and manic hard-drum, pulling the best bits of both: the anything-goes sound of the former, the intensity of the latter. CNC Live bottles that ethos, if not that particular sonic palette. Throughout the session, Ward rockets between genres with abandon, folding upteen styles into a session of kitchen-sink club melters: light-speed perreo and blistering dubstep, new-school New-York junglism and early-aughts hip-hop, bass-blasted hard-drum and bracing dancehall. This sort of genre gymnastics can be a risky gambit—it’s easy for a set to lose its identity when it sheds its skin too many times—but Kami pulls it off thanks to a focus on high-energy and forward-thinking club sounds. CNC Live is unpredictable but never messy, studied without being staid; in other words, it’s a surgically precise study of a million dancefloor bombs.
Parris / Half Queen / DJ Python / Low Jack / Russell E. L. Butler / Suze Ijó / Skatebård / Coco María – Lente Kabinet Festival 2022
Since their foundation in 2007, Amsterdam-based label-festival-etc. Dekmantel has become a critical hub for modern dance music, with a roster that stretches from hometown trance heroes to techno and IDM producers from the opposite side of the world. (Their podcast series, which runs both deep and wide, is regularly featured on this column.) For the latest Lente Kabinet, a weekender rave hosted by the group, Dekmantel grabbed artists with a similarly sweeping approach. Even a quick glance at the lineup reveals a festival moving in a million different directions: Dutch bubbling don De Schuurmann, dancehall experimentalist Equiknoxx, deep-house mastermind Eris Drew, UK funky ambassadors Shannen SP and Scratcha DVA, turntable experimentalist DJ Marcelle, and plenty more. The names have little in common, but that’s half the fun: like so much of Dekmantel’s stuff, it’s a who’s-who of modern floor-fillers, bound by a shared devotion to their craft.
London-based selector Parris offered up a characteristically wide-ranging set, jumping between low-slung bass cuts, hard-drum stompers, left-field dembow, gnarled club-rap, and blistering jungle with striking acuity. Over the course of the session, he gradually turns up the heat; by the time the set gets into its final quarter, it’s snowballed into a frenzied pile-up of breakbeats and old-school hardcore rhythms. Half Queen pulled off a similar range, but with an underlying focus on the sounds of UK funky and dubstep. In just eighty minutes, she reimagined pop and rap radio in her image: amapiano Pinkpantherss and Three 6 Mafia, Jersey-club Beyoncé cuts, turbocharged Rosalía bootlegs fit for the 2-a.m. dancefloor, Maria Carey tossed atop breakbeat belters, and plenty more besides that. DJ Python, New York’s don of zonked-out reggaetón, opens with a zero-gravity Dido flip and never quite returns to earth. What follows is a marvel of new-school dembow, full of shimmering synthesizers, slippery and elliptical drum programming, unpredictable selections, and magnetic grooves.
Paris’s Low Jack showed off his own take on dembow-inflected sounds in his session. After starting with a bit of skeletal dancehall, his set rockets into all sorts of hefty territories: piledriving breakbeat, screw-face New-York rap, sludged-up grime, reggaetón played at a sprint. By the end, it’s moved into downright earth-shaking territories thanks to Low Jack’s globe-trotting hunt for bass. Russell E. L. Butler blurred together Detroit and Chicago for their set, turning in a raucous hour filled with techno, deep house, and flicks of garage; Suze Ijó and Skatebård went brighter still, looking towards bubbly house, confetti-stuffed disco, and chunky techno tunes for their selections. Coco María turned in a set of South American funk, bossa nova, and cumbia, snagging piles of voices and sun-baked grooves to put together an effervescent and breezy two-plus hours.
King Britt / object blue / DVS1 / Zora Jones – Radio 1 Presents: Resident Advisor
For their latest takeover of BBC Radio 1, Resident Advisor looked to artists that presented different takes on the intersection between electronic music and technology. Given how nebulous the theme was, it makes sense that they went wide, reaching for artists from all across contemporary dance music. King Britt inaugurated the series with a session that started with jubilant house and disco grooves before moving into slightly stranger territories: it turns out that the line from Chaka Khan to Babyfather and billy woods isn’t that long, at least in his hands. It’s a playful hour crammed full of off-kilter and joyous grooves. If Britt looked to the past, though, object blue did the opposite. With the help of A.I. filtering and USBs filled with hypermodern club tools, the London selector turned in a screaming set of garbled breakbeats, rough-and-ready techno, and neon-blasted dubstep.
Techno mainstay DVS1, beaming in from Minneapolis, turned in an hour of the stuff with a characteristically slick and pitch-black approach, blending old-school legends like Robert Hood and Oscar Mulero with all sorts of deep cuts that would only come from a lifetime of lighting up nightclubs. Zora Jones closed out the residency with a wild-eyed set of polyrhythmic dancefloor heaters: Jersey club crashed into gqom and UK funky, hard-drum hysterics piled atop rude techno cuts, white-hot baile funk elbowed out of the way by a bit of rapid-fire bérite club. Throughout the set, as in so much of her work, Jones takes countless corners of club sounds and tosses them into a kaleidoscope.