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

Featuring brand new sets from Akanbi, Boo Lean, Woody92 and others, Michael McKinney delivers the latest instalment of Slam on the CDJ.
By    June 3, 2024

Image via Michael McKinney

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Part of the joy of digging into DJ sets is opening yourself up to surprise. Selecting is about curation, so it should follow that some of the best names bring a highly particular approach: Drawing out unexpected stories, zig-zagging between aesthetics, and re-imagining existing idioms in a new light. Plenty of great DJs did just that in May, tunneling ever deeper and finding surprising territories under the surface.

Up top, we’ve got A Happy Return and André Pahl, both of whom approached their mixes in a sonic-collagery kind of way, sculpting universes out of barely-there folk musics and weirdo rock records. In their latest NTS session, column fixtures Time Is Away dug deep into modern classical, drone, and spoken-word intimacies, and in the eleventh installation of his Zikzak mix series, Baltimore selector tarotplane dug deep into the worlds of new age, fourth-world ambience, and dreamy jazz. Cashu, Introspekt, and Nick León turned in scorching podcasts for Dekmantel, exploring kitchen-sink dancefloor tools, “tech-garage,” and humid drum workouts, respectively. Joe Delon took a low-key approach to CDJ brain-benders, flipping between styles so carefully that you’d be forgiven for missing his acrobatics entirely; Akanbi did something similar, working through three hours of lucid-dream club sounds. Kilbourne and Woody92, on the other hand, did something more particular, offering up tough-as-nails techno sessions.

Speaking of everything-goes sets, Special Guest DJ—As cheeky a selector as their handle suggests—Dug up two hours of his wildest tools for Animalia. DJ Voices turned in two wild-eyed sets: One a party-starting back-to-back with CCL, the other a confrontational and stomach-churning goodbye. Living Gatlato, d.silvestre, and DJ Anderson do Paraíso outlined the sheer range of Brazilian funk, while King Softy, D-Grade, and Amelia Holt did something similar with wigged-out downtempo and trip-hop. Miami’s El Gusano cooked up an hour of wiggly and thoroughly alien dembow tools, and Mexico’s DJ Sueño went a bit more straight-ahead with a session of cumbia and reggaetón tracks. Ehua went long on joyful-noise percussion tracks, and T.Williams’s set for Resident Advisor sees the London selector thumbing through his seemingly bottomless bag of UK dance music. Lastly, Boo Lean and Avalon Emerson both went deep, albeit in quite differing directions: The former on shuffle-and-sass UK garage, the latter on a thousand different flavors of retro-leaning floor-fillers.

A Happy Return – Untitled / André Pahl – Somewhere #16

One of the joys of DJ sets is that they can arrive in just about any form. A great mix could be a collection of histories carefully stitched together, a miles-deep genre exploration, a sweat-soaked stack of vinyl, a sepia-tinged scrapbook. Here, we’ve got two of the latter: These are mixes defined less by any obvious sonic parallels than well-worn and patiently built aesthetics, all home-spun sort-of-folk music that spirals into delightfully oddball territories.

With Untitled, the latest mix from the remarkable Tabi Tapes series, the U.K.’s A Happy Return pulled together a collection of roughly recorded folk musics, prizing a homespun feel over all else, piling on the lo-fi fuzz until it turns to a kind of blanket: Richly textured and comfortable, with plenty of grooves to burrow between. Here, it’s wild-eyed arpeggios from an acoustic guitar—Or is that a hammer-dulcimer? Elsewhere, it’s no-fi ambient music for flute and Mellotron; scan again, and you’re liable to find shimmering almost-gamelan, neo-Western ambience, or wordless balladry suitable for a star-filled night. The mix changes forms often enough that any specific contours melt away; the approach, not the aesthetic, seems to be the point here. With Untitled, A Happy Return outline a tremendous range of brittle and deeply felt folk musics, moving between them with grace and a preternatural calm.

If you’re looking for something a bit more unsettled, though, look no further than André Pahl’s Somewhere #16. With this session, recorded for the critical new-school sort-of-electronics label Somewhere Press, Pahl shakes the snowglobe a bit, taking the slow-motion worldbuilding often found in ambient music and scattering it across umpteen styles. As with the session from A Happy Return, the central logic here is a bit tricky to pin down; here, Pahl shuffles genres, decades, and approaches with ease, prioritizing bleary-eyed ambience and disheveled world-building over anything so obvious. (That’s not to say the blends aren’t clean here, mind: Just that they don’t feel like they’re the focus, either.) As a result, Somewhere #16 is thrillingly chameleonic, slipping between styles in a way that seems neither unnatural nor self-conscious: Why shouldn’t proto-Krautrock experimentalism sit next to shimmering tabla-ambient, or dimly lit progressive-electronic records brush against medieval new-age, or drone metal crash into windswept folk songs? Somewhere Press #16 is full of quiet confrontations like these: It is a dream-logic approach to the decks taken to a delirious extreme.

Akanbi – Weird Science

It’s worth disclosing up top that Weird Science is more or less personal catnip. The NYC party describes itself as a home for “Strange, Weird, Obscure. Dance and Non-Dance” music; it gives DJs space to go long, wide, and—of course—weird. It’s clear that they take it seriously: Just a few months back, this column highlighted two sessions by Yibing and Vladimir Ivkovic, both of which showed the dance-music dons looking towards frayed-edge alt-rock and sleazy downtempo. Weird Science could be a place for left-field drum-and-bass or who-knows sound-design club tools, but it rarely is: Go further afield, and then further still, and you’ll start to encroach on their territory. The party is stronger for it.

Akanbi, a selector who’s built a name on freewheeling sets, miles-deep crates, and an uncompromisingly generous approach to dancefloor, fits right in: Even in his more straight-ahead sets, he’s liable to take a hard left on a moment’s notice, drawing straight lines where other DJs might feel the need to make a dozen pit stops along the way. Anything, his work seems to argue, can be dance music. Weird Science, then, is this approach taken to an extreme. To grab a few examples of a million: Forty-five minutes in, he’s found a space between juke, east Asian folk music, Orange Milk experimentalism, and your phone blowing up; fifteen minutes later, he queues up a bit of rickety MIDI-funk electro, with rubbery drum machines and start-stop snare rolls; jump just a bit forward and it’s—Warped-vinyl funk records? Downtempo that imagines Ibiza as part of the Everglades? Ambient-dub afrobeat? Sure—Why not? On Weird Science, Akanbi pulls off the impossible a million times, conjuring a deep smog behind the decks and transporting the dancefloor somewhere delirious.

Avalon Emerson – All Night Long in London

It’s hardly a secret at this point: If you hand the reins, and a bit of trust, to Avalon Emerson, she’s going to take you somewhere wholly unexpected. She showed as much last year with & the Charm, an LP that showed the nominally house & techno DJ veering deep into sun-baked indietronica, sand-encrusted downtempo, and Balearic dream-pop. Taken on its own, it’s a left turn, but it’s really not that unexpected—Emerson has built her career upon canny side-steps and genre alchemy; she’s no stranger to turning a peak-time set inside out with a carefully-placed glitter bomb. On All Night Long in London—perhaps her finest since 2019’s Live at Mutek Mexico, which ought to be in the conversation for the strongest dancefloor sessions of the twenty-first century—Emerson gets the chance to go deep and wide, commandeering the decks for a hair over five hours. Fortunately, she doesn’t waste a second, cooking up a slow-burn opening set and gradually working up to peak-time stompers, delivering an entire club night in miniature in the process. Broadly speaking, Emerson leans retro here, reaching for piano-house slammers, slippery acid techno, pleasantly chunky tech-house, rip-roaring breakbeats, jangly rock-and-roll, dreamy synthpop, and countless other idioms. (If it sounds like it could be pulled from a dust-covered dance-music collection, Emerson clearly knows it inside out.) With All Night Long in London, Avalon Emerson takes a record store’s worth of tunes and builds a steamroller, every blend landing with a wink.

Boo Lean – SORRYMIX30: Live at Bossa Nova Civic Club

The appeal of SORRYMIX30 is simple: Sometimes, you need a dancefloor set with swagger, swing, and sass to spare. Here, the New York DJ goes deep on UK garage and its surrounding constellations of styles, bobbing and weaving between carefully-calibrated NUKG, screwface grime records, bass-heavy R&B retoolings, and just about anything else liable to keep the dancefloor floating. Again and again, they return to sun-kissed drum programming and heartrending vocal tracks, finding a million forms of lighters-up elation along the way. Boo Lean, smartly, chooses to stay out of the way of their selections, mixing long and letting their tracks play out, giving any MCs plenty of room to stretch out and letting the grooves get ever deeper. The result is a mix that feels like a single long-form groove even as it slips between moods and styles: It turns out it’s just a quick skip from Baltimore to Bristol, and the right drum break can crack open entire histories. SORRYMIX30 is a long-form celebration of shoulder-rolling UKG, every new track mixed with aplomb and every new synth stab packed with an unmissable joy.

Cashu – Dekmantel Podcast 465 / Introspekt – Dekmantel Podcast 466 / Nick León – Dekmantel Podcast 467

In a recent Instagram post, Cashu expressed a bit of uncertainty: “[It’s] so difficult to do a podcast without a crowd around. I have a huge block.” If Dekmantel Podcast 465 is any indication, though, she needn’t have worried. Here, the São Paulo selector spends an hour and change doing backflips in the booth, finding common threads between all sorts of percussive club tracks: steamrolling sort-of-techno, heavyweight Brazilian funk, million-limbed tom-drum workouts, and anything else liable to set the amps ablaze. Never mind the specifics, though: The real star of the show here is Cashu’s sheer athleticism. Throughout the session, she finds threads and pulls at them until they reveal something entirely new, re-stitching musical histories at a staggering clip. The distance between screw-face dubstep and trap-EDM machinery is just a few BPM, after all, and there’s even less separating elliptical batida records from no-nonsense four-four techno tools. Who knew? On paper, Dekmantel Selectors 465 reads a bit muddled, but DJing doesn’t happen there. In practice, it’s playful, club-ready, and muscular; here, Cashu summons a whirlwind of contemporary dance music the world over.

That said: Why let São Paulo have all the fun? Introspekt, a critical name in new-school UKG and dubstep, has been making all sorts of joyful noise for a while now. With Dekmantel Podcast 466, the NYC-via-LA producer shows off her winning formula yet again: Finger-gun breakbeats, hair-raising bass, sweltering dubstep breakdowns, and nonstop energy. (She’s described the set as “tech-garage,” and it’s as neat a summation as any.) The resulting session is, impressively, both playful and deadly serious, splitting the difference between heads-down club tools and left-field should-be anthems. In one particularly electrifying chunk, Introspekt pulls up a bit of zero-gravity dubstep and tosses some wild-eyed Brazilian funk into the mix, only to turn things inside out moments later by queueing up some zippy UK garage underneath it all. In just a few minutes there, Introspekt stitches together histories and traditions with surgical precision, finding a fine line between heady and playful without an ounce of peacocking. Most impressive of all? Dekmantel Podcast 466 is filled with moments like that.

In a recent interview conducted by yours truly, Jonny From Space, a Miami DJ and electronic-music producer who learned to produce under León, summarized his city’s sound: “It’s sexy, and hot, and humid. But with a lot of bass. We want to feel that shit!” If Dekmantel Podcast 467 is any indication, Nick León, a critical figure from the same city, seems to agree. His turn behind the Dekmantel decks is nervy, energetic, and a real head-spinner. Filled with hyper-precise dembow tools, muggy synth workouts, and drum tracks that bounce off the walls, it’s both a neat encapsulation of the Miami sound and a celebration of everything-goes club music. Scan through and you’ll find a million shades of the stuff: Bass-blasted tom-drum stompers, chopped-and-scattered Baltimore club, light-speed dembow-techno, MIDI-preset piñatas, steamrolling raptor house. But León doesn’t just hold it together here—He thrives, bobbing and weaving between all these drum breaks until naming any particular moment feels like an exercise in pedantry. Sexy, hot, humid, and lots of low-end? Check, check, check, and check.

CCL & DJ Voices – Live From Dimensions 23’ / DJ Voices – Nowadays Nonstop

It’s worth saying it straight. CCL & DJ Voices are two of the finest selectors on the planet, and for similar reasons: Their crates run deep and wide, and they both throw a mean curveball. (Voices’s SoundCloud bio reads “Energy and drama over genre,” but it could just as readily apply to CCL, too.) Any session from them—let alone a back-to-back—ought to be appointment listening for anyone clued into the chameleonic end of new-school club music. Last year, they teamed up for two hours at Croatia’s Dimensions festival, and it’s as white-hot and wild-eyed as you’d expect: Dial-up electro twisters, body-slam house belters, stomach-churning walls of bass, white-knuckled ragga records, skin-scorching acid-dubstep, and just about anything else liable to get bodies moving. Most indelible about this set is how physical it is—No matter how far CCL and DJ Voices venture into the left-of-left field, they keep tossing dancefloor bombs and daring dancers to keep up. If you’re willing to take them up on that challenge, they make it more than worth your while: Live From Dimensions is a veritable gold mine of billion-limbed dance music, each track more daring than the last.

Half a year later, DJ Voices grabbed the decks solo for a very different kind of session. In the past several months, her sets have taken on a newfound intensity by looking towards the other side of the globe. In her residency at Nowadays—which seems to be coming to a close—she has taken to fusing characteristically outré dance music with no-bullshit text-to-speech recitations ripped from her city’s paper. Dance music is built, in part, on mythologies of escapism and new worlds; with Nowadays Nonstop, she shows the other side of that facade, encouraging ravers to interrogate their relationship with nightclubs and genocide along the way. That’s not to say it’s a thesis with music underneath, of course It’s to Voices’s credit that this thing is three hours of dancefloor gas, filled to the brim with chest-rattling subs, shuffle-and-skip drum lines, and screaming keyboard workouts. But, all the while, as she rockets between techno, breaks, dubstep, and who-knows electronics, DJ Voices is keeping one eye on the dancefloor: After the lights go up, she seems to ask, where are you focusing your attention? What kind of world are you working to create?

Ehua – ITPS105

London-via-Pisa selector Ehua has built her reputation on the back of rough-and-tumble percussion tools; in her work, she weaves drums around each other until it’s hard to tell where one rhythm starts and the other one ends. It’s a canny trick—Her work is situated around mood and approach, not genre or tradition, which lets her vault between styles without losing the thread. ITPS105, her latest offering, is a clear-headed demonstration of this ethos: Situated somewhere between turn-of-the-century dubstep, new-school techno, and circa-2034 hard-drum, it’s outright electrifying, showing the sheer range that’s possible when a DJ commits to polyrhythmic drum musics. Scan through the mix and it’ll feel like a minor miracle that it all holds together: There’s heads-down hardgroove shufflers and deep-house diva-stompers; there’s steamrolling R&B flips and minimal-techno tomfoolery; there’s DEEP MEDi-meets-Detroit dubstep rollers and head-knocking hardcore. On ITPS105, Ehua strings tightropes between a million visions of dance music and starts doing backflips.

El Gusano – Boiler Room x HUGO: Miami / DJ Sueño – The Mix 015

El Gusano, a.k.a. Miami cult figure Pablo Arrangoiz, has spent the past several years stuffing his own Rolodex. You can practically set your watch to him unveiling a new alias or collaboration, which run the gamut of wigged-out dance-music idioms: deep-fried dembow, digital-detritus techno, stutter-stepping sound-design, bare-knuckled bass music. (In case you’re not familiar with El Gusano, what about—To pull a few names of many—(╭ರ_•́), Señor Faxwater, Crespi Drum Syndicate, King Pleasers, or DJ Fitness?) In a recent barnstorming session recorded at a Miami Boiler Room event, he spends an hour shuffling through his own productions, showing off his uniquely cragged and alien approach to contemporary dembow-techno. At times, it’s all negative space, with little more than a screeching bass synth to keep things moving; elsewhere, it’s gut-twisting techno, each kick drum paired with some gnarled vocal sample; at a few points, the set sounds like a drum kit tumbling down an escalator. Boiler Room x HUGO: Miami shows an undersung mastermind of left-field dembow in peak form, launching the dancefloor into orbit with each smack on the bass drum.

If you’re looking for something a bit more grounded, though, just book a flight south of the border. Oswaldo Nava, who spins as DJ Sueño, is a vocal champion of cumbiatón, which is exactly what it sounds like: A fusion of cumbia and reggaetón that speeds up dembow rhythms and laces horn sections with gnarled basslines. To an extent, all dance music is folk music, but cumbiatón underlines that idea to frequently thrilling results. On The Mix 015, Nava shows off the power of cumbiatón in a quick-and-exacting mix, shuffling between just over forty tracks in just under sixty minutes, a pace that reads awfully hot on paper but plays elegantly thanks to Nava’s unerring focus on gritted-tooth dembow tools. The result is a revolving-door survey of rough-and-tumble cumbia and reggaetón sounds, with a seemingly endless line of MCs jockeying for position atop shape-shifting drum tracks. Throughout, Nava keeps things moving with clean and precise mixing, subtly sliding rhythms around and slipping in new textures to shift the mix’s sound without shaking up the feel too dramatically. It’s a winning approach: This is cumbiatón at its most exploratory, dynamic, and playful.

Kilbourne – Hammerhead 1 Year Closing Set / Woody92 – MNMT 420

Within minutes of hitting play on Hammerhead 1 Year Closing Set, it’ll be obvious if you can handle the next few hours. Kilbourne has built a career upon exploring the outer edges of hardcore techno; with every release, she seems to find a heavier—And stranger—Groove to latch on to. Her music, in other words, is about tunneling ever deeper into a highly specific rabbit hole; it just so happens that her style of choice is an absolute pressure-cooker of an approach, with screeching synthesizers ricocheting off ever-escalating walls of kick drums. With Hammerhead 1 Year Closing Set, Kilbourne pulls off this pitch-black chase-scene techno for nearly three hours, starting at a sprint and only accelerating from there. What follows is a who’s-who of contemporary hardcore that just so happens to be a masterclass in million-ton and deeply acrobatic techno, full of rug-pulls and amp-busting head-twisters. In modern techno sets, tectonic heft and light-speed BPMs are the norm, and, despite all that sweat, they often leave something to be desired. Not so here: Again and again on Hammerhead 1 Year Closing Set, a modern mastermind of hardcore relishes in the sheer power of a well-considered kick drum, taking a sledgehammer to her CDJs along the way.

Held next to Hammerhead, MNMT 420 reads as downright staid. Woody92 has made a name for himself on the back of his seemingly bottomless crates, stuffing them with spooked-out ambient music, black-hole techno tools, and a dense fog. So it is on his latest session, which sees the Dutch selector reaching conjuring head-spinning psychedelia out of driving kick drums and groaning electronics. In a way, it’s the other side of the coin presented by Hammerhead: meditative rather than tooth-gnashing; vertiginous and wide-open, not claustrophobic or oppressively heavy. But it shares the other session’s unceasing momentum, with a universe of zonked-out percussion tools skipping atop pitch-black ambient music. Here, Woody92 blurs the lines between scraped-metal synthesizers and factory-floor rhythms, stretching towards abyssal depths and while staring at the stars above.

King Softy / D-Grade – Mezzanine III / Amelia Holt – Knekelhuis # 113

The Mezzanine mix series is relatively young—The first batch came out barely four months ago. But the age belies the talent, and aesthetic clarity, of its organizers. Each release in the series offers a glimpse into a smoke-filled club night organized almost entirely around trip-hop. It’s a wise genre to reach for because it seems to exist in something of a liminal space: At once serene and unsettling, erotic and alien, its best stuff sounds like a carefully curated cassette, each selection calibrated for pitch-black roads to nowhere. Given the right selections and enough time, a clever enough selector can use it to outline entire worlds; here, King Softy and D-Grade used different approaches to sculpt remarkably similar forms.

King Softy’s session prizes barely-there ambience and drums filled with stardust, with lush synth pads promising a soft landing if the whole thing falls apart. Critically, it never does; instead, King Softy spends an hour exploring the outer edges of trip-hop and ambient music, finding something that is both spare and deeply felt along the way. There are after-images of other styles sprinkled throughout—A bit of featherweight drum-and-bass, hints of Ibizan downtempo, a few passages that suggest wind-swept Spaghetti-westerns—But King Softy holds it all together thanks to a uniform focus on head-trip electronics and delirious synth work. Two-thirds of the way in, they underline idea by taking their sharpest left turn of the set: They cue up a bit of deadly-serious narration, sounding like it’s pulled from an exposé film, about Shamu, a famed killer whale from SeaWorld who died five decades ago. Atop bleary-eyed drum breaks and sepia-tinged keyboards, King Softy takes a few minutes to outline a cycle of exploitation under capital, where everyone—Animals in captivity and the people who come to peer through the glass—Gets fleeced. It is surprising and moving, to be sure, but it also gets at the heart of the session: The line between alienation and intimacy is far blurrier than it may initially appear. On Mezzanine III, King Soft uses fuzzy electronics, muffled drum breaks, and fractured spoken word to conjure a blurred and barely-there sort of comfort.

If King Softy’s session is a warm—if gnarled—blanket, then D-Grade’s is roughly its mirror image: Rough and jagged, with carefully laid drum breaks lending the affairs only the slightest bit of sandpapering. Here, D-Grade looks towards scuzzy guitar riffs and a yawning sense of vertigo, each selection yearning for intimacy even as its roughshod textures push listeners away. The session is at its strongest when D-Grade leans into this push and pull. In a funny bit of synchronicity, this session hinges, in part, on a bit of spoken word that comes two-thirds of the way in. Here, D-Grade pulls up a bit of whispered narration—A true-crime story about duct tape, hushed motors, and evaporating from memories. Underneath, the soundtrack turns to aqueous ambience, sounding as foreign as an unmarked street; the effect is like a sudden plunge into the dark, making the previous hour—turgid and disorienting and bleary-eyed—Feel like a sun-baked chill-out session in comparison. It’s a striking turn, and when D-Grade returns to 5-a.m. downtempo, it’s the closest they get to warmth in an otherwise icy set.

Frigid electronics, of course, are hardly limited to parties named after Massive Attack albums. Near the top of the month, NYC mainstay Amelia Holt tapped into a similar vein as the Mezzanine releases, ultimately landing on something that’s sonically wider but just as precisely calibrated. Holt nails the space between familiarity and alienation here, tunneling deep into a world of early-morning electronics and muted percussion, grabbing from ambient-techno, trip-hop, muffled spoken word, and slow-mo drum-machine wigglers to craft something that is equal parts groggy and energizing. (Her grasp on atmosphere is strong enough that even an eleventh-hour excursion into bare-knuckled hip-hop only deepens the haze.) It’s a tricky mood to nail—too wigged-out for the opening set, too much molasses for the closer—But Holt pulls it off with ease.

Living Gatlato & d.silvestre – 04 May 2024 / DJ Anderson do Paraíso – The Mix 011

At its core, the appeal of Brazilian funk is simple: If you crank the distortion enough, you’ll feel like you can run through a brick wall. At this point, outlining the genre-as-umbrella feels a bit besides the point, but to give it a shot: This is hyper-minimal dance music played as loudly as possible, with just a few elements—A kick drum, some lo-bit (and likely uncleared) sample, an MC or ten—pushed into the red and dunked in an ocean of grit. It is acrobatic and hefty in equal measure; at its best, it is simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating.

Over on Living Gatlato’s can’t-miss NTS show, d.silvestre—One of the leading lights in contemporary funk, and also, not coincidentally, one of its most livewire experimentalists—Turned in an hour of funk that borders on power noise, all screaming drum machines, air-raid sirens, and carefully-chopped MCs. The few elements on display here are pushed so far past eleven that it’s easy to miss just how little is going on. About halfway through, d.silvestre pulls out a four-four kick, a synth that sounds like a digital harpsichord, and an ear-piercing whistle; it comes disorientingly close to northern European dance music before he cracks it all in half with a garbled choral sample. The whole session moves like this, with sounds splintering to reveal even tougher forms inside. This is a kind of maximal-minimalism taken to a logical extreme, every serrated synth line and industrial-din bass growl landing with a Devil-may-care glee.

If that’s a bit too heavyweight for you, though, book a flight to Belo Horizonte. DJ Anderson do Paraíso, one of the city’s finest funk producers, has been pushing a very different take on the style, one that prioritizes low-end creep over sucker-punch slammers: Funk miniero. This is music that splits the difference between neo-noirs and Lovecraftian hair-raisers, with haunted-house laughter echoing atop beats that sound like a chilly breeze. Anderson mixes quick here, pulling out thirty-three tracks in sixty-one minutes, but it hardly sounds like it thanks to his unyielding aesthetic focus: This is about funk as a bone-chilling thing, with found-sound percussion and blackened ambience clattering away underneath MCs; at its most striking, it forgoes a clear rhythmic pulse entirely. (It should follow that the occasional blasts of noise hit like windstorms by comparison.) This focus on bleary-eyed beats and greyscale aesthetics makes the whole thing feel a bit surreal, thoroughly disorienting, and utterly entrancing.

Joe Delon – That Side

Given the quick-and-heavy moment dance music is in right now, it’s worth taking a moment to breathe. Joe Delon, a critical DJ (and dance-music writer in his own right), understands this. With That Side, he spends three hours keeping the dancefloor at a simmer, moving from 100 BPM burners to a comparatively heart-racing 120, reaching for deep and delirious grooves throughout; the result is something both disorienting and playful, offering curious listeners and exploratory dancers plenty of space to stretch out. Early into the session, this means low-slung synth-pop and stardust disco records; later, it’s chuggy techno, rickety electro, brain-bending hip-hop, or just about anything else that crosses a few wires. As Delon heats up, he gets more audacious, folding umpteen histories and traditions into each other and making the whole thing sound natural. In one particularly hair-raising bit out of a million, he speeds up Cassie’s slinky electro-R&B number “Me & U” and slips it into a bit of pitched-down and stomach-churning new beat courtesy of Belgian rockers A Split-Second: These are two styles, approaches, and traditions that seem wholly unrelated to each other, but Delon finds a way to make them seem like obvious bedfellows. That Side is full of moments like this: Here, he imagines the DJ booth as a space for subtle, and extremely potent, psychedelia.

Special Guest DJ – ani/live Forty Six

Near the end of ani/live Forty Six, Special Guest DJ pulls off something remarkable. One moment, he’s playing some zero-gravity ambient-techno, all whirrs and rattles and hums; the next, he’s jumping into warp speed, pulling out some jagged and white-hot industrial rock music from Chainsaw Man, an anime featuring a main character with the titular power tools attached to his arms and neck. The images there—Both sonic and visual—Are of pointed contrasts, of materials and approaches running in direct opposition to each other. But, perhaps because of that, it works: Those very contrasts serve to elevate what makes each part remarkable.

Maybe this shouldn’t come as a surprise at all. Special Guest DJ runs 3XL, one of Berlin’s finest exporters of everything-goes electronics: Delirious nu-metal, hyper-technical IDM, fog-filled ambience, fourteenth-world experimentalism. Through webs of collaborations, one-offs, and aliases, he has dug into umpteen worlds of contemporary electronics. At times, it feels like he’s building his own universe. Throughout ani/live Forty Six, he takes all this slow-motion world-building and speeds it up, crashing through his encyclopedia of why-not club sounds: chopped-and-garbled techno-dubstep; gut-twisting tabla-breakbeat; who-knows bass cuts laid atop liturgical ambience; extraterrestrial 2-step. Just about every track here is accompanied by a rug-pull of one kind or another—It’s a remarkable that the set is coherent at all given all the jukes and left turns he pulls from behind the decks. At its best, ani/live sounds like a soundtrack for a chase scene with shifting walls and false floors; it is a high-speed dancefloor set that operates with an unshakable dream logic.

T.Williams – RA.935

T.Williams’s debut LP says it straight. Raves of Future Past, released just a few months ago, is the London DJ-producer’s first LP, but he’s been making dance music for over two decades. His music does what U.K. dance music does best: It takes well-worn club sounds and idioms and catapults them into the future, blurring the line between 1994 and 2024 in the process. This sort of dance-music historiography is hardly new, but it’s always a thrill to see a professional in action. It should come as little surprise, then, that RA.935—Nearly ninety minutes of that approach from an undersung U.K. dance-music don—Is top-shelf stuff. He’s pulling from a million corners of his world here, making an implicit argument that attitude and panache, not BPM or genre touchstones, are the key thing: This is UK funky, jungle, grime, broken beat, deep house, dubstep, nu-jazz, and about a million other styles, a million drums and synths and snarling MCs snowballed into each other until the whole thing’s turned to a veritable avalanche of histories.

tarotplane – Zikzak 11: Sounds Unseen – Contemporary Music From Europe & Beyond 1980 to 1994

In a blog post that accompanies Zikzak 11, tarotplane—a Baltimore-based crate-digger and self-described genre obsessive—lays out his approach to the mix simply: “This is my personal ECM.” He’s not saying that the mix encapsulates that label’s sound high-fidelity and far-reaching approach to jazz, exactly; instead, he points towards its full name, highlighting the “C” in “Edition of Contemporary Music.” In his write-up, tarotplane makes a compelling case that, thirty years on, his selections are contemporary to plenty of spots familiar to Discogs divers: public records, RVNG Intl., Unseen Worlds. As if to egg on those same explorers, his tracklist is populated with timestamps and links to the releases his selections come from.

But: Set aside all the liner notes for a moment and just hit play. With Zikzak 11, tarotplane conjures a world of that is as expansive as it is colorful, reaching across the decades and gathering up a loose scene of kaleidoscopic jazz, deftly spun folk music, and technicolor ambience, each note played more carefully than the last. It is a quiet but expansive sound, full of lush orchestration and bleary-eyed ambience. Here, he’s reaching for slow-mo downtempo records, all metronomic drum machines and MIDI synthesizers bouncing atop; a few minutes later, it’s pile-ups of chugging brass sections, marching-band drum lines, and tumbleweeds rolling underfoot; elsewhere, it could be barely-there new-age flute riffs or walls of chimes and bells. No matter the specifics, though, it’s all held together by a gossamer thread: This is all music that feels expansive and a bit delirious, each selection stretching an infinite horizon for just a moment longer.

Time Is Away – Candlewick

In their ten years on NTS, Time Is Away have made a practice of studying the specifics of time and place: Rural Italy, Charles Jencks’s post-modern architecture, 1900s Berlin, the London Docklands. In that work, however, lies an interesting contradiction: For all that sonic cartography, their collagery can feel a bit placeless. Like so many of their mixes, the set pairs spoken word with bleary ambient and folk records; here, in both word and sound, the London duo concern themselves with sounds, and scenes, becoming something else, or changing as soon as they become known. The narrator spends the first half-hour of the session in transit, and forty minutes in, the titular “candlewick” is revealed to be a fabric—A quiet sleight-of-hand in a session filled with such moments. Along the way, they select tracks that fall between traditions and approaches: They take Michel Portal’s “Margaret Hums…,” a bit of haunted folk music, and unsettle it further by looping it and placing it atop liturgical ambience, all choral vocals that sound like ripples in a fabric; they blur the line between droning modern-classical records and bad-dream glitch. Candlewick is about slipping from one state to the next; in its most striking moments, it is as transient as its title. It feels as though it could get snuffed out by an errant breeze, but when it comes to a close, its feeling—Disorienting, blurry, and a bit illusory—Hangs in the air like a heavy layer of smoke.

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