Image via Michael McKinney
Michael McKinney understands the cultural importance of Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci.”
Sometimes, all you need is a skull-cracking kick drum. Several DJs leaned into the hard-and-fast side of club music in March, to uniformly winning results. Teya Logos and Parrish Smith both looked to gritted-teeth ecstasy, twisting techno, metal, and industrial-din electronics into exhilarating shapes. hellotones, a critical figure in modern cumbia DJing, dunked folk music in a vat of molasses and bled things into the red. 40ozluv turned in a maddening survey of trance and hardstyle deconstructions; elsewhere, L.A. hardcore legends Baseck and Flapjack dug into old-school gabber and techno. Living Gatlato, broadcasting from London, continued their hunt for new-school baile funk; over in Los Angeles, Biana Oblivion showed off her selections of club-bomb bootlegs in a wild-eyed Boiler Room performance. Simo Cell and Toumba, two critical post-everything selectors with an eye towards the UK, opted for full-body tumult in their Dekmantel podcast entries.
If you’re more interested in (slightly) calmer fare, there’s plenty of heat there, too. BLCK MAMBA and STATE OFFF, in a mix for Brussels’s Kiosk Radio, showed just how far gqom has spread since its explosion; DJ Lag, a godfather of the style, turned in two firestarting sessions that underlined its Durban roots. Ikonika, in a set for Mixmag, looked towards its stylistic descendants, turning in a blazing hour-plus of amapiano, cruise, and kwaito. A few selectors turned towards varying permutations of dubstep: Brooklyn powerhouse livwutang showed off the head-spinning and trippier end of the style, while Bristol veterans Kahn & Neek focused on its more menacing corners. Como Se DJ and Mor Elian, meanwhile, took low-end club sounds and gave them a bit of a wink. Even the ambient selectors got in on the fun: Tokyo new-age experimentalists Salamanda turned in a heel-turn of a set for Crack, turning their gaze towards dubstep, grime, and gut-rattling bass. The SLINK label heads went deep, building a cornucopia of dancefloor styles over the course of one long night out.
Rounding out the selection is the lowest-key stuff. PLO Man and Hashman Deejay offered up a selection of starry-eyed and playful house and techno, egging each other into increasingly elliptical territories. The NTS crew offered up a survey of Byzantine choral music, finding a kind of skyscraping ecstasy in the process. Jake Muir, a critical name in new-school ambient-music, went deep on skin-crawling electronics in a live set for Dripping, Nelly & Yopo pulled off a similar trick but offered a bit more sunlight in a long-form back-to-back at murmur. Behind the same decks a few weeks earlier, DJ Sundae, Loma Doom & Vladimir Ivković went wide, moving from bleary ambience to cinematic rock records and scuffed-up house.
Here are some of the best DJ sets March had to offer.
40ozLuv – Hard Dance 183
Spend enough time in the world of hard-and-fast dance music—five minutes, say—and you’re bound to run into a heavyweight bootleg. Hard dance communities have built entire universes around this approach, taking pop-radio hits and cult smashes and turning them into dancefloor steamrollers. At its worst, it’s a lazy and irony-drenched way to bring familiar sounds into the club, but the best stuff is downright thrilling and often subversive. It also makes for a sound that’s always on the go, swallowing up new sounds as fast as its producers can make new SoundCloud accounts.
With Hard Dance 183, 40ozLuv offers a crash course in anything-goes hard dance music, leaning into hardcore’s twin traditions of breakneck speeds and cheeky retoolings. In their universe, Lil Uzi Vert is a hardbass MC, Lil Peep and Huey worked in Jersey clubs, and early-2010s Rebecca Black is a product of the hyperpop she’s inspired since “Friday.” The whole thing is tongue-in-cheek from the top, but, critically, it rarely descends into internet-addled clownery; instead, every outlandish blend and each why-not flip only deepens the set’s devilish energy. 40ozLuv cannily opts for a wide range of sounds, keeping things dynamic rather than merely loud and fast: in one particularly impressive bit, they toss Limp Bizkit into the blender alongside air-raid guitars and white-hot breakbeats, only to bring the whole thing even further into the red with an earth-cracking “Satisfaction” bootleg, tectonic-plate bass and screeching synthesizers thrown in for good measure. Throughout Hard Dance 183, 40ozLuv opts for an id-first kind of joy, celebrating a million varieties of hardcore dance music in the process.
Baseck & DJ Flapjack – Boiler Room LA: Warp Mode
Bianca Oblivion – Boiler Room LA: Warp Mode
If hard dance is about the pursuit of sheer heft, gabber might be its platonic ideal. The techno mutation, which started in the Netherlands in the early ‘90s, is fast, tough, and to the point: steamrolling kick drums, played so loud that they form their own melody, paired with rough-and-tumble percussion and almost nothing else. There can be more—Golden-age rave-music signifiers abound, like pitched-up Amen breaks and light-speed vocal samples—but, fundamentally, this is stuff for driving sledgehammers into the dancefloor. Done poorly, it’s one-note and a bit exhausting, but if it’s done well enough it’s exhilarating in a way that little else can touch. With Boiler Room LA: Warp Mode, Baseck and DJ Flapjack—two L.A. legends whose reputations rest almost entirely on hardcore dance music—show just how riveting this stuff can be. Here, they turn in a suitably sweaty back-to-back, rocketing between a thousand slabs of old-school gabber tracks and setting their amps alight in the process. Critically, they balance sheer weight with startling dynamism, reaching for quick-and-hefty hardcore that has a bit of swing in its step: free-jazz freetekno, light-speed happy hardcore, and a seemingly bottomless collection of heavyweight techno. (Their emphasis on live scratching, which keeps things from getting too settled, only adds to the madness.) Hardcore, as the saying goes, will never die, and this is the kind of set that makes that ring true.
Bianca Oblivion has been making waves in recent years thanks to her globetrotting approach to club-music bombs, and for her turn behind the Warp Mode decks, she moves faster than ever. There’s an indicative blend in the first few minutes, when she takes a hard-drum Bollywood bootleg and crashes it into a “Baile Funk / Jersey” edit of Nancy Ajram’s Arabic-pop number “Ya Tabtab Wa Dalla.” This sort of cross-cultural dialogue—jumping from Newark to Bristol to São Paulo to Mumbai—is central to Oblivion’s work, but just as central is a much simpler proposition: keep the club moving. For the rest of her Warp Mode performance, she does just that, grabbing club edits at a maddening clip, making for a session that won’t stop accelerating. (Ultimately, she ends up grabbing over sixty tracks: not exactly unheard of for an hour-long mix, but still a bit of a sprint.) Highlights abound: a stretch of light-speed breaks that moves from Oblivion’s own cuts to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Basement Jaxx; billion-ton flips of SOPHIE and Alice Deejay and Lil Uzi Vert; an eleventh-hour car-crash of Rosalia, French Montana, and critical new-school junglist Dev/Null. The session is built around rubbernecking and pointed recontextualization; Oblivion slams traditions into each other until they seem inseparable. In her hands, a whole range of styles and histories are melded into one, every drum break pushing towards the same sweat-drenched joy.
BLCK MAMBA & STATE OFFF – Kiosk Radio
DJ Lag – XLR8R 790 / Bleep Mix #258
Gqom is no longer a strictly local affair. The sound, which emerged from taxis and clubs in South Africa, now lights up clubs around the world. Its stylistic cousins are both infiltrating the pop charts and capturing the ears of the underground. Its explosion should hardly come as a surprise. The genre is striking in its austerity; it is a hyper-minimal style of dance music that prizes sheer physicality above all else. Listening to it, as grime pioneer Kode9 once said, sounds like “being suspended over the gravitational field of a black hole”: seemingly unending beats pulsating with a pitch-black intensity, all bracing kick drums and clattering snares and an unmistakable menace. In their session for Brussels club-music institution Kiosk Radio, BLCK MAMBA and STATE OFFF—hailing from Belgium and Amsterdam, respectively—dug deep into the sound, finding an intersection between gqom, grime, and amapiano. There’s a veritable rolodex of MCs here, and each new vocalist matches the high-octane energy brought by the production: heaving kicks, bone-crunching snares, and MCs locked in an unending sparring match. It’s a thrilling and playful session of low-end heaters, taking the characteristically dark sounds of Durban and injecting them with riotous energy.
DJ Lag is one of the genre’s biggest names—his debut LP, released after years of EPs and singles, is titled Meeting With the King, and not without reason. One of many reasons he’s kept his crown for so long is simple: he’s dexterous, willing and able to push at what gqom can sound like without compromising his style in the process. With XLR8R 790 and Bleep Mix #258, the Durban pioneer underlines just how versatile the sound can be: jubilant one moment and informed by a gut-churning weight the next, every drum loop and corrugated slab of bass stretching into infinity. His XLR8R submission is built largely off of his own productions, which showcase what Lag calls a “new style” of gqom: somehow simultaneously heavier and more vertiginous than his previous work, all long-form drum tracks stalking in circles. Bleep is a family affair by comparison, pulling in all sorts of Durban street heaters: trunk-rattling bass from FunkTone, floor-filling hip-hop from Worst Behavior, and, of course, plenty of Lag’s own dancefloor fuel. Gqom may no longer be a strictly local thing, but if you want to hear where it’s going, head to the source.
Como Se DJ – Animix One Hundred & Twenty One
Como Se DJ may be based in Brooklyn, but he may as well be broadcasting from the other side of the Atlantic. Throughout Animix One Hundred & Twenty One, he explores the moody and dank corners of dubstep, using no-grav electronics as a launching pad to parts unknown. Early on, this takes the form of mechanical sound design, gusts of air blowing through blown-out assembly lines: patient world-building, one drum beat at a time. (In a telling moment early on, Como Se DJ opts for a bit of barely-there dubstep-ambience pulled from Scuba’s Triangulation—a dubstep record aimed purely at headphones if there ever was one.) Over time, though, he starts to flesh that world out, populating its nooks and crannies with increasingly surreal scenes: chase-scene drum-and-bass, clattering techno-reggaetón, sludged-up rap, scraped-metal UK bass. On paper, it ought to be incoherent, but it’s all held together thanks to Como Se DJ’s iron grip on atmosphere—everything here is thoroughly zonked-out, allowing him the freedom to slide between umpteen tempi and styles. No matter the mode it’s in, Animix One Hundred & Twenty One is prime material for the head-trippers and the club lifers alike: woozy and driving, playful and outré and delightfully disorienting.
DJ Sundae, Loma Doom & Vladimir Ivković – murmur / Nelly & Yopo – murmur
Listening bars are hardly a new phenomenon. The idea—something like a coffeehouse with hi-fi equipment, prioritizing listening over conversation—has been around for nearly seven decades now. There’s something revelatory about the idea, though, which might explain their slow creep across the globe: from New York’s public records to London’s brilliant corners, there’s plenty of demand for music venues that allow listeners and selectors alike to stretch out, breathe deeply, and quiet down. murmur, a listening bar located in Amsterdam, started posting recordings on their SoundCloud page early into this year. In doing so, it’s turned into a quietly critical destination, offering hours of exploratory music mixed by contemporary selectors.
For their turn behind the decks, DJ Sundae, Loma Doom & Vladimir Ivković conjured a haze of slow-motion psychedelia, sun-blasted rock records, and left-field electronics: bleary ambient music, spooked-out spoken word, late-night noir-jazz. As the set goes on, they go both higher and lower, moving from dark ambient to spine-tingling minimalism and from sun-kissed jazz to exploding-sun rock records. It’s a study in contrasts that works thanks to an exploratory spirit and clever blending; you can practically hear the smiles behind the decks as the CDJs change hands. Nelly & Yopo, on the other hand, turned in something a bit eerier. Early on, they’re working with familiar material, selecting spaced-out ambience and world-weary jazz that wouldn’t sound out of place on the session from a few weeks earlier. But where the other murmur session slowly builds, this one slowly unravels, taking the world-building possibilities inherent in electronic music and creating an entire universe of half-filled silhouettes: creaking ambience, scraped-metal synth experiments, rickety kind-of-house music, field recordings ripped from their context and turned a bit alien. Each approach—painstaking and steady construction on one hand, a slow burn until it’s just ashes on the other—houses a kind of beauty, offering umpteen rewards to any listener willing to slow down a bit.
hellotones – SYSTEM Mix 089
Part of the thrill of modern Latin electronic music lies in how explicitly it reckons with histories. hellotones understands this. The Bronx DJ’s mixes are rooted in the sounds of cumbia sonidera, a style of cumbia that coats folk music in molasses. But there’s plenty of gestures towards the future, too: weirdo electronics and aggressive blends abound, as well as plenty of DatPiff-era DJ drops for good measure. No matter the vintage of his selections, hellotones is keen to keep listeners on their heels. On SYSTEM Mix 089, hellotones pushes ever further into messy electronics, stretching the chug of cumbia sonidera into thoroughly disorienting territories. (Not like it needs any help—played loud enough, the percussion on these tracks could snap a CDJ in half.)
As much as any particular genre, this set is defined by its sheer weight, all slow-motion percussion and mud-encrusted horn sections. Halfway through, hellotones takes this approach to its logical conclusion, throwing some heavyweight hardcore and neck-snapping EDM-trap into the mix, turning the whole thing into a warehouse rave for a few elated minutes. It’s a potent recontextualization of everything that came before, underlining its sheer weight even as it brings a nightmarish energy to the table. SYSTEM Mix 089 is filled with tricks like this; throughout the session, hellotones covers folk music in digital detritus and rockets it into the future.
Ikonika – In Session
At one point, amapiano was best understood as a sun-baked and laid-back take on house music, full of slow-rolling kick drums and bubbly synthesizers. In recent years, though, the style has started blaring from soundsystems the world over, moving from its home turf in Durban and shifting in all sorts of exciting ways. So, naturally, some things have changed in translation: depending on where you look, you’ll find stuff that brings it into the orbits of techno, dubstep, kwaito, gqom, or UK funky. For her In Session offering, Ikonika—a London-based producer, DJ, and amapiano devotee—taps into the scene’s current underground, showing just how wide it’s stretched. She starts things off in familiar territory for amapiano heads, all sun-baked melodies and thumping kicks, but it’s not long before things get a bit tougher. As the set runs on, Ikonika slowly cranks up the BPM, eventually reaching a full boil thanks to chest-rattling gqom and firestarting R&B remixes. That she makes it sound wholly natural is no accident: there’s not much in the way of genre acrobatics here, simply a miles-deep understanding of what makes one of Africa’s most exciting dance-music scenes tick. If In Session is any indication, it’s only going to get more exciting as it grows.
Jake Muir – Live at Dripping
In an interview earlier this year, ambient-music mastermind Jake Muir said that if he weren’t a producer or DJ, he’d most likely work in mixology. On its face, the connection makes sense; in his work, Muir blends all sorts of seemingly disparate elements into something altogether new. But that overlooks the more liminal aspects of a Muir set. His music is all about the intangible, the barely there, the stuff that’s halfway vanished before it even arrives; his work is something closer to alchemy. With Live at Dripping, he doubles down on that magic realism for a session of folk-horror ambience and astral-plane beauty. Here, he leans into frigid and staticky electronics, mixing slowly and dangling his selections over cavernous silence. This is music that sounds like staring deep into the night sky: dumbstruck awe and gnawing terror intertwined, each deepening the other as they blur together. There’s a certain beauty to the scaped-metal synthesizers, gut-churning drone and rattling bells; if held against a sufficiently grim backdrop, choral music might as well soundtrack a horror flick. Throughout Live at Dripping, Muir deepens these dichotomies until they double back on each other and dissolve entirely, finding a queasy, spine-tingling kind of beauty in the process.
Kahn & Neek – TRTD Mix 009
Kahn & Neek are dubstep royalty at this point. The pair have been representing Bristol’s club circuit for over a decade now, pushing a particularly dark strain of an already murky sound: slow-and-low bass tracks, with a low-end that sounds like a dimly lit alleyway. If TRTD Mix 009 is any indication, they’ve got no intention of turning on the lights. Their iron-fisted approach to aesthetics is hardly a surprise, but it’s a thrill nonetheless. Kahn & Neek have devoted their musical careers to skin-crawling UK electronics, and you can hear their mastery with each blend. Their latest session is a tight and menacing sixty minutes defined by their trademark snarl, all world’s-end dubstep and bracing grime selections. Sure, there are a few nominal left turns, like the shot of no-mo dub twenty minutes in, but even its brightest corners are deeply unsettling. Most of the set feeds off of a queasy balance of tempi and moods: quick-and-precise hi-hats and droning synthesizers, streetwise koans laid atop broken-down drum kits and abyssal basslines. Kahn & Neek have made a career off the back of this kind of unease, and on TRTD Mix 009, they thrive on it, tying an unstoppable forward motion to an unshakable vertigo.
Living Gatlato – 11th March 2023
A quick dig through Living Gatlato’s SoundCloud page reveals a DJ with a remarkably consistent aesthetic. Nearly all of their sets are rooted in the fast-and-messy sound of baile funk, the speaker-shattering style of club music that’s been blowing up São Paulo. (The other style you’ll see pop up, East-coast club-rap and drill, has similar bones: sheer weight as a way of putting bodies on the dancefloor.) With 11th March 2023, their latest show on NTS, Gatlato dives into the club-focused ends of baile funk, finding in an hour of frenzied rhythms in the process: broken-speaker bass drops with a murderer’s row of MCs breathing fire on top.
The whole thing’s an exercise in barely controlled chaos, with storming drums and serrated synthesizers running laps around each other and pushing each other into the red. There’s plenty of variety to be found in the noise, though. In just an hour, the show blazes through all sorts of million-ton madness: scraped-metal synthesizers and screaming snares; skeletal drill and earth-shattering walls of noise; and plenty of tongue-in-cheek bootlegging, whether that’s grime chart-toppers, late-aughts rock cuts, or video-game soundtrack flips. With 11th March 2023, Living Gatlato takes the mania of contemporary Brazilian electronic music and stretches it across the globe.
livwutang – Juanita’s Mix 085
In the Q&A that accompanies Juanita’s Mix 085, livwutang describes herself as an “aspiring multi-hyphenate.” It’s an apt label. Her taste runs both wide and deep—she regularly shows as much in her mixes, connecting umpteen forms of dance music with a careful ear and plenty of panache. If there’s a throughline to her style, it’s in her well-honed aesthetic control; even her wildest blends come off as deliberate leaps rather than peacocking for their own sake. Typically, though, she’ll stick to a few styles per set, digging into the nooks and crannies of her crates rather than just skimming through.
Juanita’s Mix 085 sees her reprising her role as a dub & dubstep firebrand, cooking up a session of blunted dubstep and slow-motion club heaters. Early on, this means off-kilter kind-of-broken-beat that evades downbeats entirely, but move elsewhere and it’s all manner of head-spinners: zonked-out low-end tracks courtesy of Truth, sludged-up southern-rap dubstep fusions from Dalek One, zero-gravity wobblers from Pinch, and all manner of molasses-drenched dubstep experimentalism. It’s yet another demonstration of just how deep her crates run: Juanita’s Mix 085 is a wide-ranging exploration of a very particular kind of dubstep and its adjacent styles, moving patiently enough to work for home listening but with enough heft to detonate a dancefloor.
Mor Elian – 68˚
In her productions and mixes alike, Mor Elian flirts with the uncanny. Her music is aimed squarely at the dancefloor, but it’s frequently deeply weird, too; any straight-ahead grooves are sure to be accompanied by a blast of deep-space ambience or head-twisting synth work. It’s a clever approach: any great More Elian session pulls ravers deep into wigged-out territories while keeping their feet moving. With 68˚, she pulls off a slight reorientation, taking her astral-plane techno and cranking up the bass a bit. The result is a club-night melter guided by a foreign logic.
It’s fundamentally rooted in the sounds of techno and bass cuts, but there’s plenty of range to be found there: fleet-footed acid and vertiginous tech-trance, elliptical breakbeat-minimalism and scuffed-up kind-of dubstep, storming UK dembow and rickety electro. Mor Elian maintains strong form through all the genre acrobatics, pulling off umpteen rubbernecking blends with aplomb, sliding between all sorts of heavyweight UK club tools in the process. Mor Elian has been taking club music to head-trip territories for quite some time now; here, she brings it crashing back down to earth without losing any of that alien energy.
The power of ancient religious music is hardly a secret. Put enough voices together, it says, and you just might find God. The folks behind NTS’s Guide To series offered up a primer of the stuff, assembling an hour of offerings and arias. It opens simply: a single mezzo-soprano stretching towards the heavens, a choir offering tightly coiled harmonies at a whisper. But it’s not long before the selections have jumped across borders, traditions, and centuries; this session is less about one specific mode or history than it is about an indelible ache for something greater. It is about the abyssal groan of Gregorian chant, the skyscraping arias of Byzantine music, the deep-space drone of processional music, and the way that voices that swirl around and pile atop each other. In its kaleidoscopic scope and slow-motion pace, it is also quietly revelatory; given enough time, these endless choirs and accrued stories achieve a glacial kind of psychedelia. The NTS Guide dives down the endless compositional well of liturgical music, finding a swirl of histories, traditions, and infinities along the way.
Parrish Smith – RA.874
Reference “hardcore” music often enough, and you’re bound to run into a problem of nomenclature: depending on the audience in question, the term can refer to, say, the techno-punk of Atari Teenage Riot, the nail-biting post-everything electronics of Tzusing, or Ophidian’s skull-cracking gabber. It’s no coincidence that each of those artists show up on Parrish Smith’s mix for Resident Advisor: the Dutch DJ-producer has built his career on the intersections of various “hardcore” sounds. (On Light, Cruel & Vain, Smith’s latest LP, he pulls off the impressive trick of synthesizing nu-metal, trip-hop, and techno.) It’s put Smith in a league of his own; very few names in contemporary club music are as deeply, and obviously, engaged in rock and metal.
RA.874 is a characteristically confrontational mix from a deeply iconoclastic musician, blurring the lines between techno and rock records until they collapse entirely. The throughline, as in much of Smith’s work, is a focus on piledriving energy and an undeniable weight, but more impressive than that is just how elegantly he fuses styles: again and again, he melts blast beats into breakbeats, slams livewire electronics into frenetic guitar riffs, and blends synth-punk anarchism with black-tee club debauchery. For all the gut-punch techno and hair-raising rock tracks on here, Smith moves with a surprising elegance; every transition lands, and it never sounds like he’s peacocking. Instead, Smith is showing off a well-honed and wildly original sound, taking the hardcore continuum and tossing it into a mosh pit.
PLO Man & Hashman Deejay – Dreaming 020
PLO Man and Hashman Deejay have both built their careers upon deep grooves. Their music sits somewhere between the machine-funk of techno and the warped joy of outré house: long-form grooves all the way down, kick drums stretching into eternity even as their surroundings bend and molt. Their music is bound by a shared interest in quiet psychedelia, too—at their most spacious, work from either musician can feel like dance music half-remembered, with little else filling in the blanks. Given all their affinities, it should come as little surprise that they’re prolific collaborators. Each seems to understand their partner’s sensibilities; listening to them go back-to-back, you can hear them urging each other into ever deeper rhythms.
Dreaming 020, an excerpt from a live performance in Osaka, shows the pair in peak-time mode, reaching into their crates and finding a seemingly endless range of house and techno tools: acidic, chunky, and plenty unusual. As with so much of this stuff, the devil’s in the details: the stutters in a chopped-and-looped vocal sample being cut just so; the way a TB-303 and hand-drum run laps around each other, speeding the mix along in the process; or a mid-session demonstration of panning wizardry, which turns a funky house track into something downright disorienting. Throughout the session, PLO Man and Hashman Deejay take a patient approach to dancefloor tools, keeping the party going as they twist their records into Möbius strips.
Salamanda – Crack Mix 493
Since the 2019 release of their debut EP, Our Lair, Salamanda have built up an enviable catalog of contemporary ambient music. Their music fuses field recordings, folk music, and techno into something that feels altogether new, a slow-rolling mass of drums and birdsong that won’t stop changing its hue. But don’t let their laid-back approach fool you. They’ve got their eyes trained towards the dancefloor, too. (Last year’s Ashbalkum Remixes, which handed their latest LP to a trio of contemporary dance-music experimentalists, should have been a clear giveaway.) With Crack Mix 493, the Seoul-based duo cut to the chase, turning in an hour of bass-heavy stompers.
The session starts with a blur of new-age sound-design, all clicks and clatters and whistles, sounding like something that wouldn’t be out of place on their own productions. But then they pull off something remarkable, speeding it up and slowly teasing a kick-drum pattern out from underneath. From there, it’s off to the races: Salamanda spend the rest of the session working in wigged-out peak-time mode, tracing lines between clattering techno, shoulder-rolling dubstep, scraped-metal club tools, and all sorts of contemporary club-music head-spinners. It may not mirror Salamanda’s typical approach, but Crack Mix 493 shows that the duo know how to light up a dancefloor with the best of them.
Simo Cell – Dekmantel Podcast 422 / Toumba – Dekmantel Podcast 424
By this point, Simo Cell—a.k.a. Parisian selector and producer Simon Aussel—has earned his reputation as an omnivorous selector many times over. That’s not without reason: when he’s behind the decks, Aussel takes the border-vaulting approach that defines the modern dance music landscape and pushes it as far as it can go, launching between umpteen styles at a breathless pace. With Dekmantel Podcast 422, he turns his gaze towards bass-blasted club tracks, prizing madcap energy above all else. That much is clear from the start: the session opens with a blur of polyrhythmic percussion, each synth blast laid off-beat just so and each bass kick engineered for maximum impact, and then Aussel cuts the tempo in half for a sudden shift into kind-of grime and slo-mo techno. The session is filled with these rubbernecking blends, with each U-turn only furthering the mayhem. On its face, this kind of mixing—energy first, everything else last—is dangerous; the difference between a high-speed drive and a car crash is razor-thin. But Aussel is a veteran of this stuff, and he ducks and weaves with the best of them: here, he finds the connective tissue between hair-raising acid-breaks and blissed-out ambience, screw-faced 2-step and chopped-up East-coast club, busted-trunk trap and elliptical techno. Throughout all these genre gymnastics, Aussel keeps raising the stakes; each selection is a bit tougher, wilder, and quicker than the last.
Aussel doesn’t have a monopoly on high-wire blends, of course. Toumba, a producer from Amman who wears his love for UK club music on his sleeve, has made waves with a series of club-weapon EPs: last year, he was on the critical new-school electronics hub All Centre, and earlier this year, he made his debut in the vaunted halls of Hessle Audio. His music is most impressive for its cultural crosstalk. He seems to take plenty of joy in twisting up genre and idiom, lifting motifs from Jordanian folk music and Ammanian rap only to twist them around all sorts of club-music styles: golden-age dubstep basslines, the heft of modern dembow, and broken-beat psychedelia. With Dekmantel Podcast 424, Toumba leans into the mania implied by such a range, blending all sorts of contemporary dancefloor sounds in the process. The result is predictably playful, a breakneck ninety minutes characterized by a wild-eyed energy. Early on, that means lurching low-end dubstep tools and scrambled dabke records; look elsewhere, and you’ll find noise-encrusted Beyoncé retoolings, white-hot hard-drum, chase-scene techno, skip-and-stutter footwork, and all manner of UK-indebted sounds that elude easy categorization. Impressively, even the most audacious blends go down easy: in a mid-session highlight, Toumba takes a mid-’10s Migos record and tosses it atop blazing hand-drums, only to slide into creeped-out horrorcore and screaming breaks courtesy of clipping. and Slikback. Either set is animated by this sort of anything-goes glee. Here, Simo Cell and Toumba show the million ways that contemporary dance music refracts and splinters, throwing a pair of gauntlets in the process.
SLINK – All Night @ Nowadays
SLINK is relatively new—the label was established late into 2020—but, even with just a few releases to its name, it’s become a vital outpost for new-school New York dance music. This is due entirely to the work of Simisea, rrao, K Wata, and Enayet, the quartet that serves as the brains and creative force behind the label. Spend enough time looking through New York’s club nights and you’re bound to find them, or at least someone playing their stuff out during peak time. In an all-night session at Nowadays, they stepped up to the plate for a blistering back-to-back-to-back-to-back, working each other into increasingly manic territories for nearly eight hours. They start out with slow-and-low ambient, dub, and raga records, but it’s not long before they kick things into high gear, the drums moving to a gallop and the energy following suit.
From there, the quartet open the floodgates and all sorts of styles spill out: gut-twisting techno, woodwind-laced juke, light-speed hard-drum, spine-tingling spoken word, steamrolling east-coast club. Anything goes, in other words, as long as it’s way out in left field. In one particularly instructive blend, they grab Rhythm & Sound’s “Best Friend,” a heartbroken and skeletal dub record, and slowly twist it into something unrecognizable, folding in a bit of slow-motion dubstep before throwing a blast of R&B-drill on top of that. All Night @ Nowadays is filled with moments like this, offering plenty of fodder for the rubberneckers in the process. But the whole thing’s so aesthetically tight that it holds together anyways; each selection deepens something about what came before even as it threatens to go off the rails. By the time the whole thing wraps up, SLINK have blasted between countless corners of modern dance music, and, somehow, it sounds like they’re just getting started.
Teya Logos – Hard Dance 185
Teya Logos’s “Fuck the West” is a tidal wave of hardcore dance music: confrontational and anti-imperial sound collagery, all earth-shattering walls of noise and middle fingers. It’s sneakily exploratory, too; in just a few minutes, it finds an intersection between gabber, ballroom, and old-school hardcore sounds. It’s a fitting start to Hard Dance 185, which sees Logos pulling off a similar trick with a wider palette. White-knuckle electronics are still the order of the hour—this kind of music feels loud, no matter the volume it’s played at.
But Logos complicates matters beyond sheer weight, folding in all sorts of sounds that deepen the delirium even as they push it into unexpected territories. In a mid-session highlight, she takes Olivia Rodrido’s “good 4 u” and crushes it with the help of club-noise magician Slikback; after that, she grabs scarlxrd’s “HEART ATTACK” and stuffs its trap-metal drums. This kind of blend, where Logos bridges styles in pursuit of a skull-cracking intensity, is the rule here, not the exception. Across the mix, they move between amp-busting hardcore, acidic punk rock, serrated noise, and plenty of other sounds in between. Hard Dance 185 is wildly exploratory and deeply playful, careening between countless styles of hardcore without losing its unrelenting weight.