Image via Michael McKinney
Michael McKinney understands the cultural importance of Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci.”
In July, the best DJ sets outlined entire worlds. Critical New York selector K Wata dug into their crates and found spine-tingling dub, techno, and breaks; elsewhere, Bruce turned in a three-plus-hour session that went from spaced-out ambience to blood-curdling hardcore and back again. On the NTS airwaves, Dactylian and Palo Santo Discos showed off the history and evolution of baile funk, and DJ K infused the sound with a gnawing horror. Blood of Aza traced a line of confrontational club tracks, casting umpteen sounds into a vat of noise, and the PC Music crew put together a characteristically sentimental send-off to the label. DJ Tarba, mixing from France, took deep-space dub records to heady and hardcore places in a mix for Boiler Room.
Montana & DJ Earl Grey, beaming in live from Perth, turned in three hours of shoulder-rolling house and disco. Moopie, over in Melbourne, explored loopy house and techno in a session for Truants. Soju turned in a session of gutbusting hardcore bootlegs, and Olof Dreijer drew lines from Robyn to sweat-drenched hard-drum workouts. Peach, a low-key and essential selector from London, worked with high-energy house and breaks in a session at Lente Kabinet 2023, while Brussels’s Clara! looked towards low-slung reggaetón and dub records. If you’re looking for something that’s a bit more manic, though, Identified Patient and OKO DJ have you covered: the former rocketed between dubstep, breaks, and finger-gun hardcore, while the latter found equal space for funked-up nu-metal, delirious baile funk, and rough-and-ready jungle.
Here are some of the best DJ sets July had to offer.
Blood of Aza – SF.MIX.39
Dance music is back—right? Since Beyoncé’s Renaissance catapulted onto the charts last year, the popular narrative around dance music has grown knottier, and the mainstream embrace of Jersey club sounds has only made things more complex. But the truth, or at least one truth, is fairly straightforward: club music has always lived in the interstitials and the underground; it can create entire universes that live in the range of a few amplifiers, giving ravers entry into somewhere bracingly new and radically accepting. “Club music,” inasmuch as it is one thing, never went anywhere. But, sometimes, it needs a bit of a course correction: a reclamation, a disorientation. GHE20G0TH1K, the bygone New-York club night that emerged in the light of the 2008 financial crisis, is one such jolt; the work of Big Gay Idiot DJ, f.k.a. Total Freedom, who would sometimes stop DJing whenever anyone danced, is another.
Blood of Aza, a DJ based in the United Kingdom, seems steeped in this tradition. Their work is littered with apocalyptic signposting—walls of noise and industrial-din drum blasts, with pitch-black artwork to match. But their music is, fundamentally, dance music, and much of their digital footprint is devoted to bootlegs: taking Nicki and Ariana and Beyoncé and casting them into a sea of digital detritus. (In their confrontational approach and clear reverence for pop music, their work recalls the work of PC Music—but more on that later.) SF.MIX.39 distills this approach to a blood-boiling sixty minutes, with forty-five tracks feeling like twice that. Throughout, Blood of Aza mixes their way into an ever-increasing level of delirium, crashing rap bootlegs into billion-ton dubstep and screw-faced noise-drill. It’s thoroughly exhausting, but in a way that feels deliberate: a reminder that dance music can be ugly and full-throttle and populist and so much more, all at once.
Bruce – Live From Brooklyn
Bruce is something of a trickster. The Manchester DJ & producer, née Larry McCarthy, has a storied history of rug-pulls: put him behind the decks and there’s no telling what you’re going to get. His everything-goes approach to DJing is, nominally, a bit risky; if you blend enough genres and styles together the whole thing might turn to a bit of a sludge. But he keeps a keen ear when blending, drawing razor-thin throughlines across miles-wide stylistic chasms, turning in something reliably revelatory in the process. On Live From Brooklyn, McCarthy’s latest club-night missile, he stretches out, scrambling his USBs for over three hours of late-night psychedelia. This extended run-time allows for plenty of blind-alley exploration; it’s a saunter, not a sprint. So it should come as little surprise that the first hour is devoted to weirdo ambience and outré electronics: scrambled 8-bit synthesizers, haunted folk balladry, screeching walls of noise. Eventually, McCarthy finds a few drums and latches on; for the next two hours, he slowly cranks up the heat, moving from slow-motion dub records to bass-heavy R&B, from speedy techno to skull-cracking dubstep, from Thomas the Tank Engine to screwed-up junglisms. It’s a masterfully crafted session that eschews genre and stylistic lines with such grace and dexterity that it’s tough to notice it being done at all.
Dactylian and Palo Santo Discos – Baile: Funk From the Hills Pt 3 / DJ K – 12th July 2023
It’s hardly a novel take at this point, but baile funk is some of the most exciting dance music around. The style originated as an offshoot of Miami bass, but it’s since turned into something radically different: skeletal rhythms cranked into the red. It’s taken over “avant”-club spaces in the past few years, and its rise shows no sign of stopping. It makes sense: it’s both hypnotic and amp-busting, all roughshod rhythms working each other into a frenzy. (In this sense, baile funk slots into a long line of club sounds that blend rhythmic minimalism and sonic maximalism: think gqom, Detroit techno, and even some digital dancehall.) On the latest installment of Funk From the Hills, Dactylian and Palo Santo Discos dig into the sound’s history and million futures, showing off the sheer power of a few well-placed drums and a Rolodex of emcees. The result is a quiet revelation: barely-there percussion spiraling into infinity and melting speakers in the process.
DJ K has different plans, though. The Brazilian producer, days before releasing his heart-stopping debut LP PANICO NO SUBMUNDO on Nyege Nyege Tapes, took over the NTS airwaves for an hour of unreleased productions. His vision takes the already-messy and loud sound of baile funk and twists it up, cranking up the bass and blasting the room with fog machines; compared with many of his peers, this stuff is downright Gothic. His material is defined by “tuin,” a high-pitched screech that’s intended to intensify the effects of lança perfume, a widely used drug in funk circles. If paired together, tuin offers what ravers call “sonic hallucinations.” 12th July 2023 is, accordingly, deeply psychedelic and a bit maddening; it sounds like a trip gone wrong, replete with eardrum-shattering bass, busted-speaker synthesizers, and air-raid sirens. It’s an apocalyptic reimagining of an already white-hot scene, and it points towards just how many directions baile funk is yet to go. 12th July 2023 is a hurled gauntlet from one of the genre’s critical producers.
DJ Tarba – SYSTEM Mix 096
It’s no secret that dub makes for great dance music. Just trace the styles it’s intimately connected to: to pick a few, there’s dubstep, drum and bass, techno, and dancehall. Strike a Posse, a label based in France, understands this. Their catalog is devoted to the million offshoots of dub, but also to slightly off-kilter iterations of the original thing, too. On SYSTEM Mix 096, Strike a Posse’s head honcho digs deep into the sound that makes the label tick, leaning into heady and psychedelic bassbin music. It’s frequently coated in a thick layer of smog and reverb, but anything goes as long as it’s thoroughly tripped-out: stutter-stepping garage from Mosca, half-time dubstep-grime courtesy of Panix & Ranking Dan, ODDKUT’s bass-grinder kind-of-trap. (In its range and dedication to gristly low-end cuts, the session recalls V.I.V.E.K’s masterful RA.879, another exploration of the long tail of dub.) By the end, DJ Tarba’s moved from spectral dub to gnarled hardcore, underlining the reach of dub and deep-space bass without losing the rhythmic disarray that underpins the whole thing. SYSTEM Mix 096 pulls off a tricky balance, managing to be both gut-twistingly heavy and vertiginous at once.
K Wata – Dripping 2023
When K Wata took over the decks at Dripping at 5 a.m., they were in a bit of a pickle: cops had just shut down the main stage because of noise complaints, so they had to turn things down. How do you dial things back without losing too much club-night elation? If Dripping 2023 is any indication, the answer is pretty straightforward: look towards slow and slippery bass cuts. In retrospect, this should come as little surprise; left-field low-end is the M.O. at SLINK, the club night and label that K Wata co-founded in New York. But here, it’s closer to dub than techno, all blissed-out and heady rhythms which, ever so slowly, coalesce into something you’re more likely to hear at a SLINK night. Ten minutes in, K Wata drops Rhythm & Sound’s broken-heart dub classic “Best Friend,” only to drop it into a bit of zero-gravity dubstep, a synthesizer echoing into infinity atop a heart-in-throat bass kick. The blend is a bit disorienting and deeply psychedelic, gesturing towards all sorts of timelines and blending them with a heavy enough low-end. That serves as a neat throughline for Dripping 2023, which takes dimly-lit dancefloor energy and catapults it into the stars.
Montana & DJ Earl Grey – ONOMix 009
There’s a joy in hearing DJs establish a groove right from the jump. The first track on ONOMIX 009, Jump Source’s “All My Love Is “Free”,” is a joyous and sepia-toned take on house music: a kick drum that sounds like it’s beamed in from a house party thirty years ago with smeared synths to match. The track is both nostalgic and propulsive, which makes for a fitting start to Montana & DJ Earl Grey’s session: it’s three hours of this stuff, all sun-baked grooves, funked-up rhythm sections, and sprawled-out house jams. Even if the energy, approach, and BPM rarely change, they keep things moving by swapping out the details: there’s sprightly piano-house stompers, nu-jazz marimba workouts, dial-up kind-of-electro, hi-energy hi-NRG, a splash of acid and the occasional jolt of hip-house. It’s a downright jubilant session filled with playful and head-nodding grooves, each new track sounding like a blast of sunlight and landing like a confetti-stuffed timed capsule.
Moopie – Truancy Volume 314
It’s cliche to call DJs storytellers at this point, but it’s also tough to think of someone more deserving of the title than Moopie. The Australian DJ heads up A Colourful Storm, a critical Melbourne label with a wide-ranging catalog: timeline-scrambling balladry next to bleary-eyed ambient-pop, spindly folk alongside hair-raising electro-jazz. The only throughline is a focus on intimacy, with the particulars changing each time. Moopie’s sets work in a similar manner: the sonic specifics vary from session to session, but each track will be deeply felt and meticulously placed.
With Truancy Volume 314, he looks towards minimal and groovy techno and house records, focusing on just-enough grooves with plenty of skip in their step. This focus on machine-funk minimalism acts as a solid throughline, allowing him plenty of space to stretch out: woozy acid courtesy of Miles Mercer, rickety electro from North Phase and Maher Daniel, and zero-gravity ambient-techno experimentalism via Aleksi Perälä. Truancy Volume 314 is stuffed with dimly lit and quietly outré rhythms. Moopie tells many stories in his work, but here, he’s focused on something a bit more wordless.
Soju – .-+DREAM HORIZON 001+-.
In a post announcing DREAM HORIZON 001, Los Angeles-based DJ Soju said that the mix was part of a series dedicated to music that keeps them moving. Even without that context, you could infer as much from the tracklist, which is almost entirely composed of pulse-raising techno, breaks, and hard dance—to put it simply, this is stuff for warehouses, not headphones. Soju blends quick and clean here, prizing white-knuckle bootlegging over all else: in the first five minutes alone, there’s a 160-BPM flip of Overmono’s new-school breaks anthem “So U Kno,” a screw-face bass edit that crashes Autechre into Baby Keem’s “Durag Activity,” and a light-speed grime-breaks reworking of “Topper Top” bootleg played even faster. Soju keeps the kitchen-sink energy up for the rest of the set, chasing it into increasingly delirious territories. It’s manic right up to the point of exhaustion, but Soju keeps things from getting too tiring with canny blends and a sharp eye towards energy, preventing things from ever getting too hard, fast, or one-note. It’s no wonder this stuff keeps them moving—DREAM HORIZON 001 scans like hard dance reimagined as a strictly UK proposition.
Olof Dreijer – 17 July 2023
Olof Dreijer may be best known for his work as one half of acidic electronic-music duo The Knife, but he’s got plenty of bona fides besides that. For one: he’s a mean DJ. 17 July 2023 is case in point—a jacking and kaleidoscopic two hours that uses house music as a jumping-off point towards infinities. If the set has a clear throughline, it’s Dreijer’s sheer aplomb behind the decks; he’s liable to pull a U-turn at any moment as soon as he finds something energetic enough, and he’s a crafty enough mixer to pull it off. So, of course he finds his way from Rosalía to scuffed-up hard-drum workouts, and of course he locates the intersections between baile funk and deep-house belters, and of course he works his way from Beyoncé to mile-a-minute hip-house: if it’s liable to drench the dancefloor in sweat, it’s fair game. 17 July 2023 is packed with these kinds of moves; it’s a polyrhythmic blur that never settles down, packed with high-energy club tracks that focus on sheer vim, scrambling any attempts to locate a geographic, sonic, or temporal center.
PC Music – 10
Ten years after their launching, PC Music is shifting gears. The record label reimagined pop music as an Andy Warhol installation, each brushstroke both loving and a bit too in on the joke. The label’s earliest output was pop music, but it was something deeply alien, too; it was surreal and playful and delirious all at once. Since then, the label’s luminaries and collaborators have reshaped the sound of contemporary music umpteen times: SOPHIE’s plasticine minimalism; A. G. Cook’s hyper-synthetic bubblegum; Danny L Harle’s hard-dance utopias; Charli XCX’s outsider-pop explorations; Caroline Polachek’s mind-bending pop records. PC Music hawked energy drinks and brain-melting psychedelia because they took all kinds of commercialism and expression seriously; they lifted approaches and idioms from Beethoven, Autechre, and the Backstreet Boys, giving a million musical histories a neon-pink coat of paint. The approach, as audacious as it was, worked. SOPHIE soundtracked a McDonald’s ad and Charli XCX landed her first number one record. In many ways, PC Music has become the air that pop music breathes. PC Music does not have to exist in the same way any more, because they are no longer outsiders. They won.
So: now what?
10, released to accompany the label’s announcement, looks towards the future even as it is steeped in the collective’s past. It follows in the label’s tradition of mini-mixes, with ten different names allowed ten minutes each. The medium fits the message: if you don’t have much time, you can’t waste time building up to something; you have to already be there. Punctuality, maximalism, and aesthetic commitment are the name of the game. The usual crowd is here, alongside a few newer faces: in order, it’s got A. G. Cook, EASYFUN, Ö, GRRL, Kane West, umru, Datalord, caro♡, BOPPLES, and Dux Content. So far, so good. But something’s a bit different here: many of the sets work with nostalgia in a way that PC Music hasn’t in the past, either reworking old material or simply recycling former sonic ideas. It’s by no means problematic to do so, especially given PC Music was, for better or worse, a singular proposition when they first started. But it is unusual for a label so focused on the future, and it suggests a bit of reflection from a collective that’s been, at least nominally, focused squarely on the future.
Set all that aside for a moment, though. 10 is a remarkable series of miniature DJ sets, outlining countless visions for what pop music could look like, whether that’s the future today or the future ten years ago. It’s nostalgic and futuristic at once, rocketing between MIDI-orchestra AI symphonies (Ö), manic video-game bootlegging (GRRL), skittering kind-of-footwork (Kane West), trance-indebted vocal cuts (A. G. Cook), and umpteen other sounds. It’s kaleidoscopic and hard to follow and a bit incoherent, but that feels like the point; it’s both a survey of a nascent scene and a retrospective on a highly particular moment in pop music’s history. If this were a mere victory lap, it would be far less interesting but no less unearned; instead, it’s yet another vision for the future for a label that never stopped reimagining it.
Peach / Clara! / Identified Patient / OKO DJ – Lente Kabinet Festival 2023
Between last year’s archive and the 2023 offerings, Lente Kabinet—a spring festival hosted by Amsterdam’s Dekmantel crew—is looking like a can’t-miss gathering if you’re down for some outdoor raving. If you’ve got sixty hours to spare, this year’s archive is well worth your time, but a few names act as early standouts. London’s Peach turned in a critical session of house and techno, keeping the energy high without cranking things too far into the red. It’s the kind of four-to-the-floor session that feels like it could have come out at any point in the past twenty years, and it’s stronger for it: just great blends and even greater grooves, no peacocking in sight. Clara!, on the other hand, does something a bit less expected: while the Spanish-Dutch DJ is best known for her reggaetón mixes, here, she waits nearly half an hour to bring in any hefty percussion, opting instead for ambient-dub whooshes and barely-there IDM. Gradually, she works her way towards dancehall and reggaetón burners, but much of the set is disarmingly skeletal; by the end, it sounds like Clara! is levitating a few inches off the ground. It serves as a remarkable twist on an already magnetic sound.
If you’re looking for something a bit wilder, though, look no further than Identified Patient’s offering. In a whirlwind session behind the decks, the Dutch DJ vaults between umpteen styles of rave music: hardcore breaks and bassline, acid techno and ragga jungle, gqom and electro, and who-knows-how-many more. It’s stuffed with remarkable blends and moments that sound like wormholes into entire worlds: Tessela’s “Hackney Parrot” tossed atop some earth-cracking gqom; a bit of Miami-bass electro-rap that takes Missy Elliott’s “Lick Shots” and plays it at octuple speed; walls of bass held up against chopped-and-stuttered mahraganat. It’s a tour de force of million-genre mixing, with each blend feeling even more audacious than the last.
In her set, OKO DJ takes that everything-at-once approach and goes wider still, looking from disheveled indie rock to vintage acid techno and full-bore thrash metal. It’s the kind of set that ought to land as a minor miracle, but OKO DJ is a veteran of confrontational blends, and the intersections of rock and electronic music are hardly unexplored. With her Lente Kabinet offering, she tilts that approach towards the dancefloor, establishing a groove only to disrupt it, again and again. In perhaps the boldest move of the session, she takes a bit of fleet-footed trance and jump-cuts to million-kick nu-metal and baile funk at the same time, crashing three different decades, histories, and sonic traditions into something that, perhaps despite itself, works perfectly. The session is filled with that energy: manic but utterly clear-eyed, with any ideas around genre thrown out the window in favor of inspiring a full-on dancefloor fervor.