Image via Michael McKinney
Michael McKinney understands the cultural importance of Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci.”
Lay a drum break just right and you can set the club ablaze. Plenty of mixes from February tapped into this idea, leaning into the power of a well-timed dancefloor bomb. DJ Voices and T.Wan, two critical Brooklyn selectors at the intersection of breaks, bass, and techno, each turned in a pair of raucous live sets, while Oakland’s Wonja pulled off a similar trick during a show in the borough. On the other end of the globe in Melbourne, DJ Henning and LOIF explored wiggly dubstep and alien IDM, offering two bottom-heavy sessions in the process. Ghost Phone’s Sean Kelly dug deep into his USBs for an hour of R&B bootlegging, blurring the lines between Atlanta and the UK in the process, and K-Lone and Facta offered up a hazy image of Ibiza rave-ups and come-downs. If you’re looking for club-music dadaism, Lolina (f.k.a. Inga Copeland) turned runway soundtracks inside out for a heady set for c-. There’s plenty for the adrenaline chasers, too: wall-of-noise baile funk from DJ Ramon Sucesso, steamrolling hardcore from Van Boom, and kitchen-sink juke collagery from Ploy.
It’s not all quite so manic, though. Bextaism & Silky Jazz, in their set for bleus, stretched ambient music into thoroughly disconcerting territories; elsewhere, Katatonic Silentio turned it deeply alien. In a session for a particularly adventurous listening bar, DJ Almelo and Girish ping-ponged between weirdo house and gauzy ambient music; Fenna Fiction & Maud, for their turn behind the decks, reached for spine-tingling sonics and cranked the smoke machines. Montana went long as well, showing off her encyclopedic knowledge of house, soul, and disco records; elsewhere, she paired up with Mike Midnight for a set of outer-space dub. Milch dug deep into weirdo synthpop and transatlantic radio hits in a lovesick and optimistic set for Bar Part Time. Kalyani and Time Is Away went further afield, each showing radically different visions of “classical music”: Kalyani dug into compositions from across the aboriginal diaspora, dusting off entire histories, while Time Is Away practiced a kind of historiography, blending 12th-century texts with liturgical choral music and eerie drones.
Here are some of the best DJ sets February had to offer.
Bextaism & Silky Jazz – CLXIII
Ambient music is, by its very nature, a bit nebulous. It can be sparse or densely textured, sepia-tinged or bone-chilling, joyous or unsettling or a purely blank canvas. Often, the best stuff is all of this at once. With CLXIII, Bextaism & Silky Jazz show off the depth of their ambient crates, moving from mechanical elegies to sun-kissed dub records and back again. Over the course of eighty-odd minutes, they blend all sorts of styles with an ease and quietude that belies the variety therein, folding styles into each other again and again. Turn to one spot, and you’ll find spooked-out spoken word; move elsewhere, and it’s jangly dream-pop, whisper-quiet breakbeat, or slow-motion modern classical. In one particularly arresting segment, they take a bit of creaky, heaving ambience—synthesizers that sound like they’re on their last legs, a heavy heartbeat underneath—and make things stranger still, first with a keyboard that sounds like rippling water, and then with a blast of rattling snares and stomach-churning ambient-dub. On paper, it ought to fall flat due to sheer range; in practice, it comes off as utterly natural thanks to a shared queasiness. CLXIII is filled with moments like this. The set shows the power of quietude and gauzy sonics, using ambience, fuzzed-up rock, and eerie electronics as a jumping-off point towards disorientation.
DJ Almelo & Girish – Murmur
Fenna Fiction & Maud – Murmur
Sometimes, the joy of a great back-to-back session lies in its unpredictable nature: two DJs pushing each other into unforeseen territories, starting a trust fall that only ends when the amps turn off. Two sets recorded at murmur typify this anything-goes dynamic, taking the low-key atmosphere of a listening bar and complicating it with a seemingly endless range of styles. For their session, DJ Almelo & Girish weave between all sorts of left-field electronics: dial-tone kind-of-house, liturgical breakbeat, rickety electro-minimalism, blissed-out downtempo, downcast and dollar-bin R&B.
For their turn behind the decks, Fenna Fiction & Maud went for something a bit eerier, reaching into their crates and finding nothing but smog. In a mid-session highlight, they’re working with bleary organ-drone and ghostly arias; elsewhere, it’s piles of robotic voices suspended over thin air, barely-there techno, or R&B orchestrated by death-rattle synthesizers. Gradually, they work their way towards brightness; it’s a small wonder when an eleventh-hour blast of amapiano reads as wholly natural. Each session is a standout example of the power of long-form and collaborative mixing: if you give another person enough trust and time, there’s no telling where you’ll end up.
DJ Henning – Meltdown 38
Meltdown 38 opens with a bit of a feint. Claudia Brücken’s “Kiss Like Ether” is a blast of retro-futurist pop music, all rubbery synths and skyscraping choruses, and it sets the stage for a mix of old-school dollar-bin gems. But, after a few minutes, DJ Henning tosses a wrench into the works: a few blasts of screw-face bass shoot the mix a few decades forward in mere moments, marrying light-speed breaks to space-age pop records. This madcap approach proves to be instructive, though. DJ Henning spends the rest of the set rocketing between styles with abandon, stretching connective tissue to its breaking point. If there’s a sonic throughline, it’s in a near-uniform focus on the lower end: how else do you link vintage dub to wiggly techno and zonked-out trap records? But never mind the specifics. The greatest joy here is hearing how Henning threads them together, tugging at stray kick drums and snares until they unspool into entirely different—and joyously unpredictable—forms. Meltdown 38 is composed entirely of left hooks, tumbling seemingly disparate sounds and approaches into a wildly playful menagerie of dance-music styles.
DJ Ramon Sucesso – 15th February 2023
Funk carioca has been blowing up some of the most vibrant corners of SoundCloud for a few years now, and it’s not hard to see why. The style—alongside its rave-ready cousin, funk mandelão—seems primed for busted earphones and noise complaints. Every drum lands with the subtlety, and weight, of an incoming comet; sample chops abound, but they’re fast and messy and garbled, priming volume and mania above all else. DJ Ramon Sucesso understands this intimately, routinely leaning into the fast-and-loose aesthetic to winning results. (A brief scroll through his Twitter reveals seemingly endless videos of him at work, each bass drop accompanied by a Richter-scale screen shake.)
In a short-and-sweet session for NTS, the producer cracks the earth yet again. The set hones in on the maximal-minimalism that makes baile funk so energizing: it’s rarely doing more than a few things at once, but it’s bleeding into the red anyways. You can find this dynamic in all sorts of dance music—gqom, Detroit techno, bassline—but rarely do you hear a DJ, MC, and MPC in such close competition. Obvious blends are more or less out the window, as are clear track IDs; instead, this is all about forward momentum, sheer weight, and barely controlled chaos.
DJ Voices – ani/live 005: Nowadays Nonstop / @ Wrecked Studio
As DJ Voices, Kristin Malossi has earned a reputation as a fearless and playful selector. The Brooklyn DJ’s sets encapsulate the anything-goes energy that keeps New York vital. She typically works with fire starting club tools, but that umbrella covers a dizzying range: futuristic UK bass sounds and old-school house records, slicked-up techno and neon-blasted dubstep, shuffle-and-slam UK garage and sprightly drum-and-bass. Two of her recent sets, each recorded deep into a long night out, underline both her range and finesse. On ani/live 005, recorded at New York dance-music mecca Nowadays, she shuffles through her USBs at a staggering clip, using four-on-the-floor kicks to unite all sorts of dancefloor psychedelia: neck-snapping acid techno, iced-up dubstep-grime fusions, million-ton 2-step, hands-up trance, and anything else liable to make an early-morning dancefloor go off.
With Wrecked Studio, she turns her focus, ever so slightly, towards gut-punch techno. It’s a meaningful reorientation: where ani/live is slippery and sly, Wrecked is weighty and a bit rude. Here, Malossi explores the intersection of screw-face bass and turbocharged percussion workouts, drenching the amps in acid and sweat.
Ghost Phone – 20 February 2023
Halfway through 20 February 2023, Sean Kelly—the label boss behind Ghost Phone—pulls up a dubstep retooling of Tinahse’s “2 On”: chest-rattling percussion racing atop neon-coated basslines, the whole thing sounding like it could have come out of a vintage Benga session. But the matryoshka doll goes one level deeper. The track is actually built on “2On,” a label cut which dunked the original in a vat of syrup and dialed up the smoke machines. This kind of re-reconstruction is emblematic of Ghost Phone’s approach, which takes a decidedly UK-centric approach to the dance-music tradition of R&B bootlegging. Each of the label’s releases (six of which were recently released digitally for the first time) is a valuable example of the style, taking pop-radio cuts and turning them inside out with the help of a few well-placed Amen breaks. Critically, the project is borne of love: there’s no wink-nudge irony here, just a reverence for great songwriting and great soundsystems.
With 20 February 2023, Kelly dials in on that intersection yet again, threading the line between peak-time club mayhem and lovelorn R&B tunes. Ghost Phone’s catalog typically splits the difference between Screw and fleet-footed junglism; here, there’s an undeniable tilt towards the latter side, with all sorts of 160-BPM rhythms keeping things hot from the jump. Throughout, he constructs countless funhouse mirrors, offering up alternative histories and reimagining timelines: what if Nicki Minaj were an east-coast club MC? What if Ashanti was raised on 2-step and bassline? The result is a sweat-soaked predicated on what-ifs, an utterly joyous collision of dancefloor heaters, and a love letter to umpteen musical traditions.
K-Lone & Facta – 04 February 2023
As the twin heads behind Wisdom Teeth, Facta & K-Lone are responsible for pushing a quietly psychedelic vision of UK dance music. Their mixes lay that approach clear: lithe techno cuts show up next to rave-nostalgia revivalism, with plenty of oddball ambience mixed in for good measure. They don’t thumb their noses at genre, exactly, but they’re looking towards other north stars. Sometimes, that’s anything-goes club-music futurism; elsewhere, it’s misremembered and scuffed-up Baleaeric rhythms. On 04 February 2023, they find something between those two modes, shuffling from crowded dancefloors to empty beaches and back again; along the way, they tug at the quiet psychedelia built in to so much chilled-out dance music.
The set’s at its best when they’re leaning into that quiet queasiness: wiggly electronic experimentalism, left-of-center kind-of-techno, synthetic soundtracks for early-morning Ibiza epiphanies. Throughout, they keep the focus on off-kilter grooves, making sure that even the mix’s heftiest moments are a bit heady and giving its calmest bits plenty of swing. Early on, that means jazzed-up house and barely-there IDM; later, they’re stuffing their USBs with static-encrusted techno, brain-bending synthesizer experiments, and sunkissed 2-step balladry. The result is a set packed with U-turns and zig-zags, turning hushed dance music into something kaleidoscopic.
Kalyani – CLIV
Dylan Robinson’s Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies, considers the act of listening to music from both “Indigenous and settler colonial perspectives.” It focuses, in part, on the dialogue between those groups, featuring a number of case studies focusing on “Indigenous participation in classical music, musicals, and popular music.” Kalyani’s CLIV, which focuses on the music of First Nations Peoples, could be understood as something of a companion piece. (Robinson’s text inspired Kalyani to make this mix.) Their selections are nominally “classical music,” but even Kalyani’s notes recognize the porousness of such a distinction: it is simpler, perhaps, to say that much of this music is austere, instrumental, and filled with the weight of untold histories.
Here, digeridoos and roughly plucked strings look towards the stars; there, a pianist and cellist, alongside a chorus of birdsong, perform an elliptical elegy, slowly spiraling around each other; elsewhere still, a pair of vocalists cry out, voices cracking, over a bed of barely-there flutes and violins, each breath and bow stroke suggesting the ebb and flow of the tides. Much like Hungry Listening, it suggests a new way of approaching tradition, histories, and the intersections thereof. CLIV is confrontational in theory—in its thematic composition, in its slow-and-stark mixing—but purely cinematic in practice, highlighting musics that sit between universes or that have been nearly forgotten, looking towards the sky with a quiet grandeur.
Kasra V – Animix One Hundred & Nineteen
The central appeal of trance lies in the name. A kick drum, laid properly, can suggest infinity. Kasra Vaseghi understands this. The producer and DJ, born in Tehran but now based in London, has built a career on the backs of elliptical and ebullient rhythms. Pull up one of his clubbier sets and you’re liable to find an effervescent blend of house, techno, breaks, and trance; his selections seem driven less by genre than by a shared straining towards elation.
With Animix One Hundred & Nineteen, he leans into long-form escapism yet again, focusing on the hypnotic end of trance records in the process. It’s both playful and hefty, stuffed with funhouse synth lines and amp-busting snares, but, most of all, it’s relentless. Vesghi establishes a chug early on and holds tight, tweaking the melodies and textures atop a steady foundation of kick drums. The result is an hour of 120-BPM dancefloor bombs: acidic techno tools, sun-kissed garage, skyscraping progressive-house, and moody tech-house belters, and piles of vintage trance records, all united by an ever-present forward motion. The set shows heads-down club music at its most elemental—and, perhaps, its most transportive.
Katatonic Silentio – Fact Mix 894
Katatonic Silentio is based in Milan, but she may as well be beaming in from another plane. The producer’s music is frequently uncanny and a bit eerie; each note is held together with an alien logic, all gurgling synthetics and horror-flick percussion. It clearly moves in its own world, and each attempt at unraveling its rules results in more questions. Fortunately, it’s a fascinating place to visit. Fact Mix 894 is something of a guided tour: it roughly traces the contours of her latest record, Les chemins de l’inconnu, which tangled hair-raising ambience with slow-motion broken-beat rhythms.
Here, Silentio turns in an hour of gnarled ambience and deep-space club tracks, conjuring a stomach-churning chug along the way. Nothing is quite as it seems: the synthesizers move from astral-plane drone to million-limbed mania on a dime, and the drums threaten to disappear at any moment. This white-knuckle grip on atmosphere allows her all sorts of quietly audacious blends: bleary drone-techno into scuffed-up breakbeats, dusty drum loops laid atop vertiginous ambience, spine-tingling dub-techno rubbed against gut-punch bass cuts. Each slip and side-step only deepens the disorientation; each time Fact Mix 894 seems fully legible, Silentio dives down yet another wormhole.
LOIF – BSRMIX #136
About twenty minutes into BSRMIX #136, LOIF pulls off something remarkable. Up until then, the Australian DJ-producer had been working with stomach-churning ambience and techno rhythms, sticking to their wigged-out wheelhouse in the process. But then he drops, seemingly out of nowhere, into a zonked-out dub, all rattling snares and reverb-drenched vocals. It ought to come as whiplash, but it instead serves to underline the commonalities in his sound: it’s a bass-blasted haze that pulls from all sorts of soundsystem cultures, darting between oceans and timelines in the process. This cross-cultural conversation is furthered not long after, when he moves from dub to dubstep, any lanquidity jettisoned in favor of acidic synthesizers and full-throttle drum programming. The set is filled with moments like this: again and again, LOIF grabs a miles-deep club cut and, at the flick of a dial, turns things inside out without so much as a dropped kick. As the set runs on, he starts to speed up, eventually running the gamut from spaced-out ambience to screaming drum-and-bass and post-everything dubstep. But, critically, he never lets go of that initial disorientation. No matter the speed or volume, BRSMIX #136 is always shrouded in a thick layer of smog. It’s all the stronger for it: a masterclass in low-end disorientation that never stops shedding its skin.
Lolina – Nothing In This World Is Free
Nothing In This World Is Free, the latest mix from former Hype Williams member Lolina (f.k.a. Inga Copeland), feels more like a riddle than a premeditated musical composition. This should come as little surprise: in both her solo work and the work she made alongside Dean Blunt—a fellow provocateur in the British music scene—she poses dense questions and denies answers entirely. So it is on her latest set, which takes turn-of-the-century runway soundtracks and turns them into a dadaist sound collage. Rhythmically, it recalls the reliable chug of tech-house, but Lolina makes a point to undercut that consistency at every turn, changing tempi, moods, and sounds on a dime.
At its steadiest, she’s assembling grooves from the strangest of sources: clipped vocal samples crashing into swelling strings, microphone feedback chopped up just so, clattering metal locked in an endless loop. But Lolina takes care to destabilize the foundation as frequently as she can manage, turning rhythms inside out, dunking drums in fields of static, and jump-cutting to found-sound field recordings. The result is a thoroughly queasy session of almost-dance music, fueled by an intoxicating push-and-pull between disorder and cleanliness. Lolina has made her name several times over on Borghesian worldbuilding; here, she applies those skills to the club and turns it inside out.
Maryos Syawish – FHUO #81
Maryos Syawish is perhaps best known as one half of Sleep D, the Melbourne duo behind Butter Sessions. In that context, Syawish is a lethal selector in two directions at once: he’s got his ear to the ground because of his connections to the local scene, but he’s also got an encyclopedic knowledge of house and techno. Given that background, FHUO #81 might come as a bit of a surprise—this is a session of spiralling ambience and disheveled folk, with barely any kicks in sight. But it’s of a piece with Syawish’s work in another sense; this, just like with his rave-ready sessions, is predicated on miles-deep crates and patient world-building.
He sets the scene with a slow crawl of new-age ambience, all shimmering bells and gusts of wind, but it’s not long before he complicates the picture. In an early-session highlight, he summons clouds of piano and organ, each key landing like rainfall atop a bed of plucked celli; it, like much of the session, is quiet and disorienting in equal measure. Syawish digs deep into this intersection, with each selection leaning further into the extremes: blasts of noise held against spooked-out noir-folk, acoustic guitars stretching towards infinity only to get interrupted by haunted-house IDM-drone. With just a few instruments at a time, Syawish suggests a world of folk musics that is simultaneously claustrophobic and expansive, gossamer and ghostly.
Milch – B.P.T. Radio 063
“Dancing Class,” from Jane Siberry’s No Borders Here, is a quietly masterful bit of songwriting: its lyrics contain a thousand intimacies that gesture towards a deeper kind of love. In just a few lines, Siberry turns the inevitable impossible and the impossible tragic. But intimacies are no stranger to impossibility; each of Siberry’s stretched-out syllables reach for something else anyways. The piece, in tone if not in timbre, is something of a thrown gauntlet for B.P.T. Radio 063, which takes that yearning and stretches it across the airwaves. Here, heartaches transcend oceans, languages, and sonic stylings.
If you say it convincingly enough, the logic goes, anyone can understand you. The set is predominantly composed of rickety circa-’80s dollar-bin gems, but a quick scan reveals just how wide that umbrella stretches: French balladry for funked-up electric bass and vocals, laid-back lounge-lizard harmonics from the United States, anxious kind-of-krautrock from Germany, and an armload of tightly orchestrated synth-pop bombs. But, even with all that traveling, the set is defined by what’s just out of reach: the shock of something novel, the touch of a lover, the city lights as seen from a too-familiar apartment. Handled one way, this sense of impossibility could make the whole thing feel a bit grim, but Milch is too much of an optimist for that: this is an hour of music that understands the importance of reaching across that gap, stretching for the impossible until it’s turned manifest. Maybe Siberry found her dancing partner after all.
Montana – In the Basement
Montana & Mike Midnight – @ Co-Op
In a bit of writing for her In the Basement entry, Montana put her ethos simply: offering a space for people to focus on what brings them greatest happiness. This may be referring to Montana in particular, the crowd who first heard this set nearly two years ago, or both, but the effect is the same. In the Basement is a session of sun-kissed grooves and unabashed love songs, a selection of timeless oldies and dusty gems mixed with an obvious joy; it is both a space for reprieve and an opportunity for real-time Discogs dives. The set is rooted in the effervescent sounds of soul and disco, but Montana cannily stretches that timeline in two directions, throwing in a handful of laid-back jazz fusion, a mountain of deep house records, and even plenty of oddball rock B-sides. It should come as little surprise it all flows so well—these styles all draw from similar wells, and nearly every tune here is driven by an undeniable joie de vivre. By the time she finally reaches the end, nearly five hours deep, Montana has extended the sunset well past moonrise, holding a warm and nostalgia-drenched joy and channeling it through the amplifiers.
Australia’s nightlife is currently defined by chunky techno and trance tunes, but there’s always been an undercurrent of slow-mo electronica, too: a kind of blissed-out delirium that evokes the sound of skyscraping club tunes heard from miles away, each blast of bass worn down by the tides. @ Co-Op, a live set recorded by Montana and fellow Perth mainstay Mike Midnight in early February, is a fine example of this approach. Here, the selectors take a long-form approach to slow-and-slow electronics, moving from slow-motion dub to deep-space IDM and downtempo. As in many great tech-etc. mixes, the whole thing’s bound together by a focus on deep bass and unending grooves, but here, everything’s a bit more muffled. Again and again, they return to the strung-out sounds of vintage dub records, each one deepening the set’s hypnagogia. Slowly, they strap a rocket to those miles-deep basslines, finding all sorts of quietly joyous rhythms along the way: barely-there trip-hop, festival-trance turned all the way down, and ambient-techno balladry, and even a touch of golden-era hip-hop. As with In the Basement, @ Co-Op is aimed straight at the starry-eyed crowd, offering entire worlds to anyone willing to slow down a bit.
Ploy – CNCTS004
Ploy has been deaf in one ear for much of his life; it doesn’t impact him much at this point. Deaf Test, the record label he launched in 2021, is a nod to a mix he recorded after he was left fully dead for a few days; he recorded it purely by sight. That approach isn’t a constant in his catalog, but it is instructive; a great Ploy set is something you feel in your bones, all jagged waveforms and gut-punch bass. Live From Brooklyn, a document of his Club Night Club set in late 2021, is characteristically hefty, full of fast-and-precise rhythms from a wide range of contemporary club sounds.
Beyond that unifying focus on blistering percussion, anything goes: light-speed dembow bootlegs reminiscent of France’s finest reggaetón DJs, whirlwinding hard-drum records, serrated walls of noise, skeletal dancehall and footwork experimentalism that spirals into infinity. It’s a minor miracle that Ploy holds it all together, given he spends the whole thing sprinting between genres and idioms, but he mixes with such precision that even the most daring blends are utterly convincing. It’s no coincidence that one of the most audacious moments—when he takes a bit of brain-bending dubstep, gestures towards Paul Wall’s “Sittin’ Sidewayz,” and then jackknifes into some rough-and-ready baile funk—is also one of its strongest. This is a set aimed straight at the rubberneckers.
T.Wan – Live @ Research / @ Quantum Foam
On its face, T.Wan’s trick—triangulating the space between dubstep, techno, and breaks—isn’t that remarkable; you’re liable to hear someone trying it out at any club with a proper soundsystem. But T.Wan’s craft, and crates, run deeper than that: in her mixes, Tiffany Wan underlines the commonalities between decades of dancefloor sounds, using weighty and bass-driven tunes to open up wormholes and crumple timelines. Live @ Research and @ Quantum Foam, two live sets recorded on opposite ends of the United States, show just how well she’s honed her approach.
Live @ Research, pulled from a club night in Seattle, stretches across the Atlantic to winning effect: post-post-dubstep and storming breaks, scuffed-up hard-drum and piles of wigged-out techno, screaming snare-drum workouts and of-the-moment rap bootlegs. @ Quantum Foam, recorded in her new hometown in Brooklyn a few weeks earlier, makes Research look downright lethargic. If that set was prone to zig-zags and left turns, this one is a full-on sprint, built on white-hot grooves and speedy techno bombs. That’s not to say it’s straight-ahead, per se; T.Wan finds plenty of time to complicate things with plenty of hypermodern club tools. Each set shows a club-night wizard at the top of her game, showing that her crates are united not by genre, but by style: plenty playful and primed for peak time.
Time Is Away – Clio
Clio, according to Greek mythology, was born of Zeus and Mnemosyne: the god of the skies and the goddess of memory. She, fittingly, was the muse of history. This trio, as much as anything, could serve to describe the work of Time Is Away, a DJ duo whose work frequently muddles worlds, exploring the ways that history, slowly and incompletely, sheds itself of peoples and stories. Their music is meditative yet unnerving, confrontational but content to linger in the background; it finds an eye-watering awe in the grandest gestures and the gentlest touch. Clio, the latest episode of their long-running NTS residency, is built upon a 12th-century manuscript about the demise of art and the quiet terror of eroding histories; it references the muse by name.
It’s fitting, then, that Time Is Away soundtrack this writing with early religious music and skin-crawling ambience, finding the intersection of otherworldly beauty and grim desolation. Midway through the session, they pull up Lena Chamamyan’s “Ya Hali,” a piece that pairs sand-encrusted strings with one voice stretching out over the horizon. Soon after, they move forward a bit and stumble into the abyss, all reverb-drenched guitars and stomach-churning synthesizers. It’s a deeply disorienting moment, both sonically and contextually; it is the collision of cultures and histories made real. Clio tangles works from multiple millenia with a quiet ease, shuffling faded texts into piles of sheet music and finding a queasy middle ground between centuries, languages, and histories.
Van Boom – Fact Mix 896
It ought to be indicative when a set opens with a blast of foghorn bass, dial-up static, and a wall of kick drums. Kuwait’s Van Boom has been pushing a hard-and-dark strain of dance music since his debut in 2019, and Fact Mix 896 sees the producer delving ever deeper into the messiest ends of techno and broken-down club tools. He favors blisteringly quick rhythms throughout, conjuring a windstorm of drums and slowly ratcheting up the intensity—an impressive feat, given he’s already neck-deep in power-noise bootlegs by the second track.
The most common pitfall of this kind of fast-and-heavy mixing lies in running out of steam; if you hit hard enough for long enough, it can all turn a bit numbing. Van Boom cannily avoids that fate by keeping things unexpectedly playful: there’s a million kick drums and an even higher decibel count, yes, but there are also haunted-carnival melodies, a mid-session blast of symphonic metal, a fair bit of pummeling acid-trance hypnoticism, and a few shots of spooked-out almost-gabber for good measure. To put it simply, Fact Mix 896 is both kaleidoscopic and highly focused; it’s a wide-ranging survey of a hyper-specific form of dance music. But that’s perhaps an overcomplication: fundamentally, it’s about chasing a teeth-shattering intensity and getting swallowed up by bass.
Wonja – Nowadays Nonstop
Wonja, at this point, is both delightfully unpredictable and wholly reliable. Her sets are both highly curatorial and a bit oddball. There’s no telling on the specifics—sun-blasted deep house, psychedelic jazz records, ethereal ambience—but each of her best mixes is informed by a veteran’s sensibilities, taking seemingly disparate styles and tucking them into each other with an obvious reverence. On Nowadays Nonstop, recorded at an institution of New York’s modern club circuit, she’s working in peak-time mode, throwing umpteen drums at the walls and seeing what sticks. It’s delightfully messy, full of broken-down synthesizers, chest-rattling bass, and why-not blends.
It’s a bit of a disorienting listen on paper: jump forward a minute or two, and it’s likely Wonja’s catapulted into yet another realm. Here, it’s earth-shaking techno and chunky hard house; there, it’s dial-up electro and shuffle-and-swing UK garage; look elsewhere still, you’ll find dank grime retoolings and claustrophobic dubstep-breakbeat. None of this is a surprise, exactly; the only constants in Wonja’s sets are her encyclopedic knowledge and predilection towards left turns. But Nowadays Nonstop is notable for how rough-and-tumble the whole thing is; here, a remarkably talented DJ stares down the dancefloor, vaulting between a dizzying range of styles and soaking the decks in sweat.