Slam on the CDJ: The Best DJ Sets of February, 2024

Michael McKinney goes long about some of the best DJ sets from the past month – featuring billdifferen, DJ Python, Good Block and more.
By    March 5, 2024

Image via Michael McKinney

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Sometimes, more is more. This month’s column is, to be blunt, quite long: February offered up a glut of quality sets, and plenty of them show DJs going deep, going for prolonged sessions rather than anything too quick. But why not? Sometimes, a set shows just how true the clichés can be. A DJ can, in fact, be a great storyteller, and a session that runs all night can conjure a tremendous range of emotions. Sometimes, all you need to do is lean back and let someone spin you a yarn.

Last March, the folks behind Ute, a new-school trance label based in Oslo, took that idea seriously, playing head-spinning dancefloor rollers for eighteen hours, keeping the party going long after their recorder ran out of batteries. Actress and Radical Softness took over Tresor for three hours each, showing off a range of techno, house, and sludged-up club stompers; essential Amsterdam DJ BSS went for five, grabbing shoulder-rolling grooves of a million different stripes. Donato Dozzy & Marco Shuttle offered up a vertiginous session of outré techno; Sydney’s Jörmungandr did a back-to-back with himself, splitting the difference between full-bore tech-trance and hands-up drum-and-bass; and billdifferen offered up a maddening deep dive into the sounds of funk mandelão.

Regal86, one of modern techno’s skyrocketing stars, went all night in Mexico City, shuttling between low-slung hip-hop, skull-cracking hardgroove, and plenty more; Good Block, over in Amsterdam, turned in a wistful and zonked-out session of dancehall and dub; and DJ Voices, a critical voice in the New York dance-music community, flooded Nowadays with futuristic club-night rollers and stories ripped straight from the headlines.

Not everyone’s got all night, though. Plenty of DJs went a bit shorter: Pontiac Streator and Mikey Enwright turned in their own takes on screwed-up pop records and left-field ambience, while phil in a maze tossed new-school dancehall and drum-and-bass into a black hole. DJ Python, a figure at the forefront of nu-reggaetón, turned in a rollicking session live from Dekmantel, while DJ Steeze offered a tongue-in-cheek ride through everything-goes bassline.

Eris Drew’s latest session is a characteristically jubilant survey of heart-in-throat deep house; Finn & thehouseofacidhouse’s Dismal House, by contrast, is exactly what it says on the tin. Parisian DJ Malkö dove deep into a pool of Ibizan chill-out records for his mix, and hanali built a mountain of tom drums. In what might be the wooziest sessions of the bunch, Brussels DJ Rick Shiver conjured a deep fog of left-field electronics and folk music, and Time Is Away offered up two meditations on lust, longing, and all-consuming desire.

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

Actress – RA Live / Radical Softness – RA Live

Back in November, Radical Softness and Actress took over the decks at Tresor, an iconic Berlin nightclub, showing off two different—but related—approaches to rocking a dancefloor. Actress’s best work takes familiar dance-music idioms and encases them in a thick layer of grit, sounding like decades-old detritus beamed in from the distant future. This retrofuturistic approach carried through for his RA Live set, which sees the DJ-producer vaulting from downtempo and ambient to dial-up house-music chuggers, scuffed-up new beat, acid-techno screamers, and barnstorming hardcore. Later in the night, the dearly missed Radical Softness (R.I.P.) zoomed in on the four-four euphoria of techno, triangulating a space between hefty club tools, acrobatic drum workouts, and out-and-out CDJ artillery. Once the kick drums hit—and there’s a substantial chunk without any at all—it’s all rollers from there on out; again and again, they find a way to keep things uptempo without turning exhausting. If Actress’s set is about bridging all sorts of seemingly disparate styles, then Radical Softness’s offering is about the boundless depths to be found within a particular sound.

billdifferen – A Mix

There’s a lot to be said for restraint, but sometimes, great dance music hits with all the subtlety of a brick to the jaw. In his writing, billdifferen focuses on Jersey club and baile funk—two sounds that work best when they’re firing on all cylinders. With A Mix, the DJ goes deep on the latter sound, zooming in on the stuff that’s lighting São Paulo (and, at this point, much of the international club-music world) ablaze. As ever with baile funk, it’s most enticing for its hyperspecificity: Each track features a manic MC going blow-for-blow with a busted synthesizer; it’s rare for there to be more than three sounds at any given time, but they’re all played at such intensity that it’s impossible to look away. As with previous sets, he goes long here, whipping through bass-blasted SoundCloud bootlegs and zero-kbps YouTube rips for over two hours, but the sheer variety on display keeps things electric throughout: Each successive track works as yet another rug-pull, whether that’s due to a particularly brazen sample flip, a synth line that sounds like it’s been filtered through a hundred DAW filters, or a drumline filled with air-raid sirens. Throughout A Mix, billdifferen runs an already raucous scene into the red, cooking up a set of everything-goes baile funk. This is strictly for the white-knucklers.

BSS – Closing De School

After eight years and countless nights out, De School closed its doors in January. The club, which opened in Amsterdam eight years ago, garnered a reputation as an exceptionally open space; there, DJs went wide and deep for an up-for-anything crowd. (In an interview last year, Simo Cell, a critical Parisian selector, shouted out the club, calling it a venue where “Every DJ tries to play very special sets.”) BSS—f.k.a. Beesmunt Soundsystem, a.k.a. Luigi Vittorio Jansen—clearly understood this. In early January, around two weeks before the club’s final show, Jansen took the decks to wrap up a night out. The session functions as an ode to the power of a great club night: He nestles out-and-out elation between the kick drums, scrambling genres, histories, and BPMs until any distinctions read as pedantic. By and large, he reaches for lighters-up anthems and shoulder-rolling grooves, but those ideas allow for plenty of variance: piano-house stompers, shuffle-and-skip garage, screw-faced dubstep, frigid alt-rock, whirlwinding breakbeats, piledriving techno, heart-on-sleeve hip-hop. Closing De School is a deftly mixed love letter to a critical club, packed with the everything-goes energy that made its dancefloors so essential.

DJ Python – Dekmantel Selectors 2023

In his work, DJ Python—a.k.a. Ridgewood’s Brian Piñeyro—takes dancefloor idioms and turns them on their head. His latest solo effort, 2020’s understated Mas Amable, triangulated a space between low-slung techno, barely-there house, and fuzzed-up reggaetón; last year, in one of last year’s finest one-twos, he teamed up with Ela Minus to explore gauzy ambience and breathy microhouse before tossing it to minimal-techno mastermind Ricardo Villalobos. Again and again, he takes club-night sounds and covers the amps in a thick blanket, turning in something that’s warm, playful, and a bit muffled.

When he’s behind the decks, though, he tears that thing right off. It’s not a dissimilar trick, all told. If his productions are about ephemeral synthesizers and drums bathed in morning dew, his DJ sets are about volleys of nails and club-night firestarters: In each case, it’s dembow and techno sent askew; the skeleton is the same, even if the skin has a wildly different texture. Dekmantel Selectors 2023 is an archetypical example of his wilder side: dembow-donk flips of Usher, Lil Jon & Ludacris; quick-and-messy breakbeats; left-of-left-field IDM; skull-cracking techno; rickety dancehall, and anything else bound to turn a club night inside out. Modern dembow is wildly exciting in part because of its everything-goes approach; a solid enough drum pattern can bridge just about anything. On Dekmantel Selectors 2023, Piñeyro demonstrates that in spades, vaulting between umpteen styles with aplomb.

DJ Steeze – Offmenut 14th Birthday Set

One of the best things about high-BPM dance music is that it’s a bit silly. That’s not true all of the time, of course, but if you crank the tempo high enough, odds are you’ll run into something that’ll make you burst out in involuntary laughter: a well-placed Amen break, a billion-ton synth line, or maybe a turn-of-the-century nu-metal anthem. If you’re looking for stuff that treads the line between deadly serious and tongue-in-cheek, it’s harder to do better than Off Me Nut, a critical Sheffield label that peddles in nu-school rave nostalgia: Vintage drum breaks piled atop chopped-and-garbled pop-radio classics, rough-and-ready bassline and donk and breaks stretching towards unabashed euphoria.

DJ Steeze spends Offmenut 14th Birthday Set doing much of the same thing, building an avalanche of everything-goes dance music that only grows in intensity as it runs on. Here, it’s old-school happy hardcore that wouldn’t sound out of place in ‘92; there, it’s a screeching-breakbeat Fred Durst flip; elsewhere still, it’s—Queen? Windows-XP errors? Ariana Grande? Sure, why not? On Offmenut 14th Birthday Set, DJ Steeze taps into the kitchen-sink mania that underpins so much great and goofy dance music, stuffing the amps with “Bang!” flags along the way.

DJ Voices – New Year’s Nonstop

Dance music has always been political. Any supposed borders between nightclubs and the “real world” are false at best and delusional at worst; economic, moral, and social realities are not put on pause by a well-calibrated drum machine. When DJ Voices—a.k.a. Brooklyn’s Kristin Malossi—grabbed the Nowadays decks on the final day of 2023, she opened with a reminder of this. She first reached for a chorus of voices: “The more people that don’t talk about what’s happening in Gaza, the more dangerous it becomes for those that are speaking out,” repeated a million times, voices talking over each other until a trickle becomes a torrent. It’s a provocative way to open a set, and her next selection—Muslimgauze’s steamrolling “2​-​6. Miyazawa”—only underlines her point: History does not stop for a well-placed blend. Often, a great DJ set crumples timelines and crosses histories, turning the dancefloor to a deeply disorienting space for a few hours. Here, Malossi pins her craft to the present moment, anchoring it to a genocide happening on the other side of the globe and refusing to look away.

Throughout New Year’s Nonstop, Malossi walks a remarkably thin tightrope, lending of-the-moment club tools a newfound urgency as she threads between livewire breaks, piledriving dabke, text-to-speech calls to action, and skull-cracking dubstep. It’s not a quick set, per se, but it is energetic, powered by polyrhythmic drums, joyful-noise synthesizers, and head-spinning blends. It’s a masterfully assembled session, but that almost seems besides the point. Here, Malossi is simultaneously showing off her skills behind the decks and saying we ought to be looking elsewhere. Here, she takes supposedly “apolitical” ideas around dancefloors and shows just how falsely they ring; with each blend, she offers a direct reminder that art, community, and politics are inextricable from each other.

Donato Dozzy & Marco Shuttle – Terraforma Grand Finale

It turns out you don’t need all that much for a great groove. This is hardly a new idea, of course; entire musical legacies, from twentieth-century minimalism to ultra-minimal techno, are built upon repeating motifs into infinity. Donato Dozzy & Marcho Shuttle—two essential names in elliptical and liturgical techno—understand this. On Terraforma Grand Finale, a four-hour back-to-back that could have gone on for thrice as long, they mix slowly and deliberately, stacking drums atop each other in a delirious game of Jenga. It’s rarely “minimal” in the just-a-kick-drum sense of the term, but it’s unerringly precise: It’s the sound of snares, hi-hats, and kicks chasing each other in ever tightening circles; to listen to Grand Finale is to hear two masterful craftsmen tightening a vice. The set is stacked with variations on this theme: rickety electro workouts, whirlwinding hand-drums, fourth-world ambience layered atop piledriving kick drums. (The set has so many polyrhythmic hand-drum cuts that they serve as a kind of throughline; their warmer tones act as a wonderful counterpoint to all the deep-space bass.) Eventually, the set heats up, delving into faster and louder sounds, but it never quite dips into full-on peak-time mania; even at their speediest, Dozzy and Shuttle are exacting in their hunt for delirium. Here, each passing kick drum inches the dancefloor ever closer to a black hole.

Eris Drew – Mystery of the Motherbeat Part 2

In an interview with Resident Advisor in 2017, the Eris Drew put it simply: “The records I play for people today, a lot of them were my medicine.” House and breakbeats, in Drew’s universe, are the music of healing, regeneration, and self-discovery. So it is with Mystery of the Motherbeat Part 2. The set—a sequel to a 2018 mix of the same name—drapes house, breakbeats, and vintage rave tools in a mixture of sunlight and stardust, every kick drum and pointillistic keyboard line stretching towards the sky. It’s cannily mixed: Drew jumps back and forth between the ‘90s and now with ease, blurring the lines between shuffle-and-skip UK garage, trance-inflected house cuts, and piano-house stompers without so much as a scuffed blend. It’s a set that shows a quiet kind of mastery: There aren’t any obvious anthems or rubbernecking transitions to be found here. Instead, it’s all about a slow and steady blast of sunlight—sustaining a mood rather than flipping the table. Mystery of the Motherbeat Part 2 shows one of the Midwest’s most remarkable DJs deep in her element, chasing out-and-out euphoria.

Finn & thehouseofacidhouse – Dismal House

Happy Valentine’s Day. When’s the last time you cried?

House music can be a joyous and life-affirming thing, but not so fast: It can be much more than that, too. Finn, a house-music don and dancefloor firestarter hailing from Manchester, has made his name off of dance music that pulls at the heartstrings as readily as it plasters grins on faces; his music is frequently cheeky, but it’s just as often a bit downcast. With Dismal House, Finn and fellow Manchester DJ thehouseofacidhouse focus on the latter half of that equation, turning in eighty minutes of feel-bad house music. There’s plenty of shoulder-rolling grooves here, packed with crisp hi-hats, crunchy synth textures, and tongue-in-cheek horn solos, but every bit of jubilee is offset with some sort of dour undertone.particularly dour synth texture or a crying-in-the-club vocal performance. Finn’s half is slow and low; here, he opts for plenty of cuts that sound like they’ve got half the drums muted, leaving plenty of room for vocalists to cry over a kick drum; flip the tape over and you’ll find something that leans a bit closer to the FM-static of lo-fi house and worn-down tape rips. House music has long promised elation, and Dismal House finds its way there, too, eventually. Every cloud may have a silver lining, but here, Finn and thehouseofacidhouse argue that the opposite is true, too. It’s to their credit that they can’t help but find a bit of sunlight amongst all the gray.

Good Block – Cornerstore During Service #18

When they’re performing at listening bars or restaurants, DJs have to strike a delicate balance: How do you keep things interesting without peacocking too aggressively? At Bar Part Time, a wine bar in San Francisco, the answer often seems to be a steady and slightly muffled pulse; there, DJs pair rare groove, deep house, and Latin jazz with Pinots and Syrahs. Over at murmur, a listening bar in Amsterdam, it’s a bit more kitchen-sink, with DJs grabbing drill, dembow, and dancehall, but also twentieth-century minimalism and curdled classical music. These two spaces present two ends of the spectrum for listening bars: Do you nurture a quiet groove or push the decks to the forefront?

In late January, London-based DJ Good Block grabbed the mixers at Cornerstore, another Amsterdam restaurant, and found a middle ground. They spend the bulk of the set’s three-or-so hours zoomed in on zoned-out dancehall, making plenty of time for left turns along the way: rickety synthpop, lo-fi R&B, and zero-gravity drum workouts. But each off-ramp leads back to the main road; again and again, Good Block returns to off-kilter and muted dancehall and lover’s rock, whether that’s zonked-out Prince and Phil Collins covers, yearnful balladry, or dubbed-out reggae records that feel decades old. Cornerstore During Service #18 presents a fully formed vision of listening-bar DJing. It’s joyous and carefully mixed, packed with slow-and-low burners and calibrated for a memorable evening.

hanali – Dorohedoro, Gorge, World and the Hole

GORGE.IN, a critical club-music label based in Tokyo, is primarily responsible for pushing its titular genre: Gorge. The style is both maddeningly inclusive and aesthetically specific; it is, by and large, quick-and-precise club music inspired by mountaineering, with stampeding tom drums and cragged rhythms that echo the contours of a rough rock face. In order to file your song under the Gorge Public License, you must follow a few rules: ‘Use toms’; ‘call it gorge’; and ‘Don’t call it art’. This gives the style strict aesthetic boundaries without pinning it to a particular approach; it is perhaps closer to a sonic ideology than a set of sounds. (GORGE OUT “HERE” 2022, a remarkable compilation from a few years back, underlined the label’s sheer range: its forty-five tracks include polyrhythmic hard-drum, almost-gabber, lo-bit techno, vertiginous juke, among a hundred other sounds.)

On Dorohedoro, Gorge, World and the Hole, hanali—a long-time affiliate of the label—goes all in on the everything-goes nature of the Gorge Public License, summoning a car crash of tom drums that frequently sounds like five separate marching bands playing at once. In the set’s most audacious moment, hanali takes George Jukemura’s “Panty”—an earth-cracking pile-up of low tom smacks, breakbeats, and roiling kick drums—and drops Clipse’s “Grindin’” on top. There’s no BPM interplay here; outside of a shared focus on screw-faced mania, the song’s moods, styles, and approaches couldn’t be further apart. Here, and elsewhere on the set, hanali doesn’t so much blend between tracks as smash styles together, crashing tracks into each other with a neck-snapping intensity. “Gorge” can, for all intents and purposes, be anything at all; here, the producer pushes that ethos to the brink. It’s thrilling, disorienting, and highly realized: In other words, it’s a perfect encapsulation of an unclassifiable style.

Jörmungandr & Eastern Distributor – Live @ Minutiae

The premise of Live @ Minutiae is a bit cheeky. Daniel Jakobsson is an exciting figure in Sydney’s rave circuit; as Eastern Distributor, he pushes pitch-black and athletic drum-and-bass at a dizzying pace. In January 2024, early in the morning, he took the Minutiae stage for a back-to-back set with Jörmungandr—a.k.a. Jakobsson’s other alias. His output as Jörmungandr veers closer to the tech-trance that’s been dominating Australia’s club scene for the past few years. Live @ Minutiae, then, is a meeting of the mind(s) and a bridging of two different stylistic universes. It helps that they’re not that far apart: No matter the alias, his music is quick, precise, and hefty, with drums that move like an incoming hailstorm; an acidic synth line or a bit of yawning ambience isn’t going to do much to change that. Live @ Minutiae is held together by this singular focus on rippling percussion. In two hours, he weaves together peak-time techno, barely-there drum-and-bass, and rip-roaring trance cuts, turning the dancefloor a shade darker even as he cranks on the heat.

Malkö – Mix of the Week #519: Balearic Waves

The cover gives away the game. Before the listener gets the opportunity to press play, Balearic Waves shows the image of a cream-colored two-seater marooned in a hotel pool. It’s sun-soaked, a bit lonely, a bit nostalgic, and a bit surreal. In other words, it’s a neat encapsulation of the music inside. On Balearic Waves, Paris’s Malkö goes deep on downcast downtempo, lovelorn R&B, and tunes for Ibizan chill-out rooms, turning in an hour of tearjerkers in the process. The throughlines are simple: each tune tugs at the heartstrings, and there’s plenty of slow-and-low grooves to go around: elegiac string sections and slapped basses, rickety synth lines and tastefully brushed snares, woozy MIDI-brass leads, barely-there drum machines, and odes to love gone bad. The session is playful one moment and mournful the next; at its best, it is both. With Balearic Waves, Malkö takes sepia-tinged balladry and Technicolor emotions and wraps them around each other until they’re indistinguishable from each other.

phil in a maze – Unsound Podcast 100

phil in a maze has been in this column a few times now, and each time, it’s been for the same carefully executed trick: Catapulting dancehall into deep space until it’s a speck on the horizon. It’s not like the style needed much help with that—a great dembow rhythm, deployed well enough, can evoke just about anything—but the Prague DJ has quietly emerged as one of the sound’s preeminent futurists. With Unsound Podcast 100, he pulls off the same move yet again, working in plenty of twists along the way. Here, he focuses on two familiar idioms, wrapping the white-hot sounds of drum-and-bass around dancehall rhythms until the two are virtually inextricable from each other. Once he’s locked in, he slides between tempi and moods with ease: light-speed vocal chops tossed atop equally speedy drum lines, half-time sort-of-dubstep, zonked-out synth workouts crashed into hair-raising drum breaks. It’s a thrilling hour that feels half that thanks to phil in a maze’s quick mixing; no matter how many tracks he’s got queued up, it always feels like he’s threading the line between three or four different rhythmic ideas and traditions. Here, as is so often the case, he takes well-worn idioms and rockets them into the future.

Pontiac Streator – Live @ Paral·lel Festival / Mikey Enwright – FR094

In the past few years, 3XL has emerged as a critical hub for new-school ambient music by pushing against that very idea. Any proper survey of the label-slash-crew-slash-scene is dizzyingly wide in scope: a quick dig reveals chopped-and-garbled choral music, left-field illbient, unsettling ambient-dub, no-shit nu-metal, and brain-scrambling IDM. Its artists adopt new aliases and form new groups at a staggering rate, appearing uncomfortable with lingering in any particular aesthetic for too long. Even in this context, though, Pontiac Streator—a 3XL affiliate—appears chameleonic. The DJ-producer has been in this column for UK garage and bassline, rip-roaring drum-and-bass, and screwed-up ambient and pop music; and his Select Works series presents a kaleidoscopic survey of deep-space sound collagery. It’s hard to guess where he’s going next at any given time, but it’s sure to be fully realized and a bit uncanny.

With Live @ Paral·lel Festival, he offers another variation on a theme, exploring the worlds of sludged-up pop music and outré electronics. He conjures a deep and murky atmosphere here, with each twist of a knob deepening the blur. From there, he dredges up acapellas and spoken-word samples, coating human voices in digital detritus and turning the familiar a bit unsettling in the process. In theory and practice, this recalls Ben Bondy’s critical Live at False Peak 03/05, but it also recalls early-2010s PC-music trickery and DJ Screw’s syrup-drenched wizardry. The result here, as with so many of those progenitors, is quietly remarkable, a zero-gravity tangling of nostalgia and disorientation. Live @ Paral·lel Festival shows Pontiac Streator Paulstretching pop radio until it is nearly illegible, laying its heartstrings bare atop a bed of fog.

If you’re looking for something with a bit more anchoring it, though, just grab a flight to Massachusetts. On FR094, the Cambridge ambient-pop provocateur pulls off a trick not too dissimilar to Pontiac Streator’s live set: Here, Enwright grabs pop-radio gems and dips them in a vat of smoke. The silhouettes are still legible: Chief Keef surrounded by dreamlike ambient-trance synthesizers, Selena Gomez emerging from a lucid dream and fronting an ambient-dembow group; Rihanna surrounded by a beam of sunlight and barely-there breakbeats. Near the end of the session, Enwright pulls out some straight-up acoustic-guitar folk music, and it’s so direct that it feels like you’ve come up for air after being submerged for an hour. The session is disorienting, gentle, and plaintive; it takes the yearning that stretches across so much pop radio and casts it into the unknown.

Regal86 – All Night Long @YuYu

In the past few years, Regal86—a prodigious hardgroove producer, endlessly playful DJ, and automobile enthusiast hailing from Monterrey—has been making a name for himself in dance-music circles. But in the past year or so, he really hit the gas, flooding his Bandcamp with billion-track releases, landing an RA feature, and turning in all sorts of critical long-form techno-et-cetera DJ mixes. With his latest, a set recorded live from Mexico City, a star of modern techno folds all sorts of dancefloor idioms between the kick drums: windows-down G-funk, vintage Amen-break melters, zoned-out dub techno, no-holds-barred blasts of acid, screw-face Memphis rap. The set goes long, and it gives him plenty of space to stretch out, slowly building the session and trusting the floor to follow rather than going straight into peak-time tunes. But the core—hardgroove techno, with four-four kicks held against whirlwinding drum lines—remains, and he slings it with the best of them. All Night Long @YuYu plays like a coronation for a modern star of a decades-old tradition; he goes wide and deep here and works the floor to a frenzy along the way.

Rick Shiver – inis:eto

Eighty minutes into inis:eto, a pair of voices emerge. It sounds like a conversation between a child and their father. The child asks their father: Was her mom happy? The father waffles. “That was a different time, then. People didn’t think so much, ‘Am I happy?’ They did their jobs; they lived their lives; they raised their families.” Right when it sounds like he’s about to answer, sheets of noise wash over the whole thing like a dense fog, swallowing his voice and turning the whole thing a bit more mournful and a bit more delirious.

Dream logic is a funny thing, and capturing it is tricky: How do you box in something that, almost by definition, pushes against the constraints of this plane? On inis:eto, Rick Shiver taps into this porous approach, conjuring a head-spinning session of zonked-out dub, left-field ambience, and astral-plane electronics. Impressively, the set rarely feels contrived, or like Shiver is building trapdoors for their own sake: Instead, it’s filled with left turns and rug-pulls that, in context, make their own kind of sense. Here, rickety synth workouts (Lo-fi indie? Proto-IDM?) lead nicely into ritualistic drumming, which may as well be paired with deep-space synth gurgles; elsewhere, there’s an extended section in which Shiver casts a single keyboard into the abyss, listening for the way its tones bounce against the walls below. It’s a minor miracle that the session works at all, given how deeply it resists obvious borders. But it’s that very approach—a sound that oozes and melts into something new at any given moment—that holds it together.

Time Is Away – Fresh Figs / Speak Low

Fresh Figs is about all sorts of things—Homespun electronics, folk music pulled from umpteen traditions, tangled histories. But, more than any of that, it is about excess: About the pursuit of too much, the difference between a meal and an overflowing plate. Again and again throughout the session, Time Is Away return to food and gluttony; a narrator speaks of mortadella, melons, corn, figs. The music underneath varies in emotional timbre, moving from serene duets for piano and cello to downcast drone, fourth-world ambience to deep-sigh glockenspiel soli. But, critically, it slowly curdles: Just as their narrator’s hunger turns to gluttony, the feelings held within their instruments curdle, too, slowly letting in feelings of unease and discomfort. Fresh Figs is undeniably beautiful, stretching across histories and traditions with ease, but it is also disorienting and a bit unsettling, blurring the line between enjoyment and lust, quiet joy and insatiability.

Speak Low, by contrast, shows Time Is Away at a slightly more abstracted level. The tape takes its title from a song of the same name. “Speak Low” has been recorded umpteen times: The piece comes halfway through One Touch of Venus, a 1943 musical that ran on Broadway for nearly two years. The recording they opt for here sounds closer to ‘20s jazz, though: smoky, lushly orchestrated, blanketed in the fuzz of still-budding recording technology. It’s a fitting selection for the tape; it feels both of this world and slightly outside of it, a document of longing beamed in from another time. Throughout Speak Low, Time Is Away stretch this idea into all sorts of forms: Fingerpicked folk records encased in vinyl crackle; tightly harmonized proto-tango; sun-soaked progressive rock; in the process, they choreograph a careful dance, moving between grace and longing until any distinction between the two becomes moot.

Ute – Outsider 2023

Once you’ve found your way towards euphoria, why leave? Trance—an oft-derided dancefloor sound defined by endless synth arpeggios and four-four kicks—has been promising infinities for a few decades now, and not without merit. Many of the genre’s finest tracks hinge on a glacial pacing (never mind the BPM), piling synth lines on top of acidic synth lines until the whole thing stretches towards the sky. On Outsider 2023, the folks behind critical trance label Ute went deep on the stuff, honoring its long-form tendencies by spinning it for eighteen hours straight. (After about fifteen hours, their recorder finally ran out of power.) In doing so, they walk an especially thin tightrope: Given their genre of choice, they want to keep things hypnotic, but fifteen hours of anything can wear a bit thin. In between the million kick drums, they find all sorts of microscopic tweaks: here, it’s the squelches of acid techno; there, it’s half-lucid dream-scape synthetics; a million tracks in, there’s even a flash of honest-to-God breakbeats. But those variations, ultimately, are besides the point. Outsider 2023 is about the out-and-out elation that comes with enough well-laid kick drums; it’s about the dream state that accompanies a too-long night out if everything hits just right. On Outsider 2023, Ute capture that feeling and stretch it out for as long as they can manage.

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