Michael McKinney absorbs more music in a week than most do in an entire calendar year.
The best DJ sets, more often than not, offer a window into another world: a hyper-focused trip through a genre or scene’s history, a single producer’s idea of the future, or something entirely different. In July, plenty of DJs opened up peepholes to the past, and the results were both beguiling and thrilling.
Overmono, whose productions have made them staples of the UK club circuit, dug into the history of dance music in London; Tano, mixing from Brooklyn, focused on the same continuum but with a decidedly modernist bent. Mantra, a veteran of London’s drum-and-bass scene, showed off her chops in a set for fabric. Conducta cooked up another killer mix of new-school UK garage; DJ Crisps put together a cheeky set full of 2-step and breaks. Opheliaxz showed off the potential range of “bass music,” while Nebula dug deep into rolling and pitch-black jungle heaters. Kampire put together an hour of rapturous Afro-house, gqom, and rap; Wonja, mixing for Pittsburgh’s Honcho, piled up a mountain of sun-kissed house.
Other DJs looked a bit more inward, though. Gi Gi went long for their set, blending three hours of gauzy and striking jazz, ambient, and rock music; ambient mastermind Malibu turned hard-trance rave-ups into translucent soundscapes. quest?onmarq’s Fact mix is stuffed with their own productions and bootlegs, ensuring that their wild-eyed vision of anything-goes hardcore is as relentless as it is tongue-in-cheek, and Jlin’s post-everything footwork mix for The Metropolitan Museum of Art is another storming and hypnotic dance-music deconstruction in a career full of them.
Here are some of the best DJ sets July had to offer.
Balmat DJs – HOCast #71
“Balmat,” in Catalan, translates to “empty” or “void.” It’s also the name of a freshly minted label from Albert Salinas (a.k.a. Wooky) and Philip Sherburne, who propose a reorientation, writing that “we prefer to think of it in terms of possibility: a space waiting to be filled.” On HOCast #71, the duo give this idea form, using hushed ambience and gossamer electronics to summon a slowly rolling fog. The mix takes on all sorts of forms—spacious electroacoustic experiments, undulating walls of static, warm and muffled IDM—but Salinas and Sherburne deploy such a careful touch that any genre distinctions become an exercise in pedantry. Instead of any particular track, the real star of HOCast #71 is its unhurried grace. Here, the steady heartbeat of drum machines, the quiet hum of choral music, and murky ambience all turn to a beguiling blur. If Balmat is about a “space waiting to be filled,” then the duo’s mix shows their preferred approach to that process: patient, serene, and enveloping.
Conducta – Kiwi Boost
At this point, Conducta needs no introduction. The London DJ’s own productions, packed with shuffle-and-swing drums, hooky vocals, and crisp synthesizers, showcase a bright vision of UK garage. His mixes, though, are more joyous still: he reliably packs them with genre mainstays and relative unknowns, showing just how deep the modern garage scene runs. Kiwi Boost, the latest mix released on his essential Kiwi Rekords, mines the same vein to predictably playful results. (Just check the cover.) He’s only got one production on the mix, the relatively slow-burning G-funk-via-London “Inside,” which opens the mix; from there, he shows off the breadth of the scene he’s so deep in. Ollie Rant & Reek0’s “Chronicle,” a raging garage-rap number, makes for an early highlight; later, The Phat Controlla’s “You’re Mine” looks towards the rowdy and rubbery sounds of bassline. Bassboy’s “Estoy feliz” makes hay out of chopped-up vocals and a slippery drum kit, recalling both Bristol and Baltimore; Warwick’s “How Cold Is it Outside” offers an eleventh-hour dose of suitably chilly almost-dubstep before it slips into blissed-out breaks revivalism. Conducta’s mixes, historically, have functioned as genre reports, scene celebrations, and no-frills party-starters; Kiwi Boost, thankfully, is no different.
DJ Crisps – Untitled 909 Podcast 077
Sometimes, all you need is a good break. For their entry in Untitled 909’s mix series, Rotterdam’s DJ Crisps reaches into their crates of funky UK garage and bubbling breaks, crafting an ebullient and cheeky session of windows-down dance music. This much is clear from the start; the set kicks off with a few electric-piano stabs and a shuffling drum kit, all latent energy waiting to burst open. Within a minute, it’s off to the races: a smooth vocal rounds out the track, filling out the cracks and setting the tone for the rest of the set. Crisps spends the next hour playing with the idioms of UK garage and 2-step, finding space for unexpectedly plaintive soul samples, sugar-sweet NUKG synths, a bit of serpentine and minimal bassline, and even a brief dip into souped-up dancehall bootlegs. If any of these seem like stretches, DJ Crisps makes them click with panache, folding everything under a blanket of sizzle-and-snap percussion. Untitled 909 Podcast 077 is rhythmically propulsive, playful, and stuffed with a radiant joy; in other words, it’s a pitch-perfect breaks set.
DJ Earl Grey – CIV
In an interview with Melbourne Deepcast last year, DJ Earl Grey—née Nik Thorup— touched on the kaleidoscopic emotions within dance music: “I’ve been really attracted to how [drum-and-bass] maintains so much energy while still being introspective and beautiful […] Whether you’re feeling sexy or sad, fragile or fun you might find that this music helps you along.” He taps into that same curiosity and generosity for CIV, recorded live at bleus. The set stretches in two directions at once, with intimate vocal snippets gesturing towards deep listening and off-kilter drums dragging listeners to the dancefloor. It opens with a healthy heaping of lazy-afternoon house music, but it’s not long before Thorup takes trippy breakbeats and uses them as a soundtrack for drugged-out storytelling. From there, he moves in all sorts of unpredictable ways: skip-and-stutter bassline, mutant hard-drum workouts, and breaks that only get sunnier and more welcoming as the night goes on. CIV is further evidence that Thorup is equally concerned with moving hearts and feet.
Gi Gi – Animix Forty One
When Gi Gi was last featured in this column, it was for an hour of enveloping and smoggy ambience, all hushed tones and blurred synthesizers and wholly invisible transitions. They pull off a similar trick on their Animix entry, but with a bit more space: here, the Austin-based producer sprawls out, blending “longer-form tracks” of seven minutes or more into a lushly detailed fog. The longer selections offer plenty of space to get drawn in, whether through cosmic jazz, late-night trumpet solos, or Reichian minimalism, and Gi Gi’s a canny enough DJ to charge the stilled air with just enough electricity to keep things interesting. Sometimes, that comes through quietly adventurous blends, like a moment forty minutes in where drawn-out saxophone notes get blanketed in shuffling drum kits and ambient-dub synthesizer washes. Other times, it comes from the selections themselves: a passing cloud of marimbas and tubular bells, a bit of slow-motion spaghetti-western rock, tightly harmonized vocals floating above a few fuzzy synthesizers. Gi Gi described Animix Forty One as a “patient wander” of a mix; thanks to their eye for quiet beauties, it’s a walk well worth taking.
Jlin – Sonic Cloisters 02
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website describes their Sonic Cloisters series as a way for electronic musicians to be “freed from the confines of the dance floor [and] interact with the Cloisters’ collection, architecture, and environment.” Taken through that lens, Jlin makes for a perfect performer. Her LPs have taken footwork in all sorts of tantalizing directions: horror-score electronics, everything-at-once drum tornadoes, and staged dance performances. Those productions show a vision of footwork that’s polyphonous and white-hot, more concerned with layering a million rhythms atop each other than giving dancers a clear way in. So why not have her perform to an empty stage, surrounded by art that’s as ancient as her sampled drums often sound? Sonic Cloisters 02 shows the power of her maximalist and disorienting take on the genre. After a brief opening of breezy pan-flutes and marimbas, she works shuddering drums into the mix, their icy tones cutting through any sense of calm. And then, yet again, she drops footwork down a gnarled rabbit hole: flurries of clicks and snaps, whirring near-atonal synthesizers, and rapid-fire vocal chops. She occasionally works in more terrestrial forms—R&B samples, soaring orchestras, elegiac voices—but twists them into barely recognizable shapes, underlining just how alien her selections are. Jlin is one of the most vital names in contemporary electronics, and Sonic Cloisters 02 offers countless reasons why.
Kampire – B.A.D.mix 003
B.A.D.mix 003 opens with a telling blend. She grabs Dladla Mshunqisi’s “Goliath”—a stuttering and propulsive gqom track destined for dancefloors—and puts an edit of BŪJIN’s “Sghuba yaadt scholar,” a text-to-speech spoken-word house track, on top: “what do we talk about when we talk about Blackness?” The Kampala-based DJ and Nyege Nyege affiliate has staked her career on an unapologetically Black vision of dance music, and the rest of the tracklist bears this out. For fifty-odd minutes, she jumps between all sorts of contemporary African club tracks, whether that’s heaving gqom or shimmering Afro-house or slippery kuduro selections. It’s an exhilarating set that never turns exhausting, thanks to quick mixing, an unending rolodex of emcees, and drums that just won’t sit still. In one particularly inspired run, she moves from the blistering minimalism of MC Nauan, DJ Felipe Original, and DJ Wallace NK’s barely-there “Hi huu en vou te meter o Piru” to Escaflowne’s Groove Armada-sampling house-breakbeat stomper “I See You Baby,” drawing lines between oceans and traditions in the process. B.A.D.mix 003 is full of this kind of creative and deliberate mixing; throughout, Kampire shows just how deep and rich the African club scene is.
Malibu – Fact Mix 817
Inasmuch as modern ambient music has stars, Malibu is near the top of the heap. Since 2016, she’s led United in Flames, a quietly stunning radio show that’s featured a huge number of names worth watching: Dark0, Skee Mask, Julianna Barwick. In the process, she’s honed in on a spacious and elegant mix of drone, ambient, and barely-present trance selections. It should come as little surprise, then, that Fact Mix 817 never rises above a whisper. The tracklist, taken at face value, has a few red herrings—trance classics like Push’s “Strange World” and 4 Strings’s “Day Time” suggest an uncharacteristically high-energy session, and Evian Christ’s “Ultra” is more fit for strobe-blasted dancefloors than a smog-filled ambient set. But, in practice, these tracks are rendered wholly unrecognizable; in Malibu’s hands, they’re slowed to a crawl and rendered nearly intangible, their synthesizer blasts subsumed by a wall of smoke. The artists sampled, in other words, are nearly beside the point: thanks to Malibu’s canny editing and patient curation, Fact Mix 817 is yet another deep sigh in an oeuvre full of them.
Mantra – fabric Resident Mix
Since its founding in the mid-2000s, Rupture has become one of London’s most vital drum-and-bass hotspots. This isn’t without reason: it takes in just about every fold of the scene, ranging from well-worn ’90s touchstones to modern as-of-yet unknowns. (This all-inclusive and history-conscious approach, along with killer mixing, is why they previously landed on this column.) Mantra co-runs the party, so it would only follow suit that her mix for fabric hits the same notes. Over the course of an hour, she throws in a head-spinning number of drum-and-bass permutations: rough and rowdy, slick and soulful, riotous and bass-blasted, elliptical and alien. The breaks move so fast that it’s tough to tell when one track bleeds into the next; it’s less a selection of tunes than it is an ever-changing whirlwind of snare drums. In that way, it’s a neat bottling of what makes Rupture so essential. Here, Mantra breaks down entire histories and timelines of drum-and-bass, blending several decades into a seamless mix of full-throttle bass and steamrolling percussion.
Mor Elian – Truancy Volume 280
Mor Elian, in both her productions and mixes, has made her name by pushing a groggy and jagged vision of techno. She’s got her eye on dancefloors, to be sure, but any would-be ravers ought to expect smoke machines and alien intrusions alongside the kick drums. Her mix for Truants captures this extraterrestrial energy to a tee: here, she selects a who’s-who of outré club producers, piling cragged grooves and slippery synthesizers on top of each other until she’s concocted an entire world of the stuff. There’s a strong enough foundation to make this work as pure body music, but any straight-ahead rhythms are paired with head-twisting accompaniment of some sort. This takes on all sorts of thrilling forms: acidic techno with a locust-swarm high-end, half-time hollowed-out electro, or broken-beat techno that jettisons kick drums entirely. Truancy Volume 280 is both a thoroughly baffling selection of hypermodern club tracks and, somehow, the kind of stuff that would make for a great night out.
Nebula – U//D Mix
It starts as a light patter. Five minutes into Nebula’s mix for Upstairs//Downstairs, the first drums start to creep in: ticking hi-hats, skittering tri-toms. Atop a backdrop of dreamy synth pads, it might as well have been grabbed from a mid-’90s IDM compilation. It’s both pleasant and a little unsettling: there’s a coiled energy in that introduction, like the DJs are waiting to burst into motion but haven’t quite found the moment. It takes a full ten minutes for them to really get going, but when they do, the sixteenth U//D edition suddenly turns pitch black. Any gestures towards quiet ambience give way to gritted teeth; the drums turn to shuddering and twisted jungle rhythms; the bass turns to a series of grinding tectonic plates. From there, Nebula blend bass-blasted hardcore like they’re directing a slasher flick, with white-knuckle tempos and a disquieting low-end that could soundtrack a thousand chase scenes. They stay in this mode for forty-odd minutes, always finding ways to ratchet up the intensity: a bit of too-spare programming here, a blast of acidic synthesizers there. When they finally decide to let a crack of sunlight in, turning down the bass and tossing in a twinkling high-end, it feels like a revelation. It’s also a testament to their worldbuilding: for their U//D Mix, the duo take just a few ideas—white-hot breaks and cavernous basslines—and conjure a black hole.
Opheliaxz – HNYPOT 386: Opheliaxz’ Venus Rising Mix / Animix Forty
“Bass music” is a term so nebulous as to be outright meaningless, but its implicit promise keeps it compelling nevertheless: dance music built around steamrolling basslines and tempos typically north of 160 BPM is likely to be hot no matter what you call it. For her Animix, Philadelphia’s Opheliaxz wrote that she “wanted to showcase bass textured music in a different context,” and that idea checks out; Animix Forty is both rollicking and sly, with dubwise basslines rubbing shoulders with junglist drums and dreamy synthesizers. Opheliaxz never settles down here, spending the entire set jumbling up genre idioms with a contagious glee; it’s a subversive, playful, and wildly inventive blend of low-end dance sounds. For her HNYPOT entry, she pulls off a similar trick but ups the tempo a bit, leaning into dubstep grinders and boiled-over percussion tracks. She still finds plenty of space for play within the tighter palette, though, sneaking some almost-garage drums, hypermodern hard-drum melters, and menacing bass-blasted half-time cuts alongside the seemingly endless selection of buzzsaw synthesizers. Taken as a pair, the sets serve as a testament to the power and play housed within bass-forward dance music, no matter the name.
Overmono – fabric Presents
The liner notes for Overmono’s fabric Presents entry makes their vantage point pretty clear: they wanted to bottle up the energy of south London. That makes sense; the duo, both together and individually, have made music informed by UK dance music legends with such aplomb that they’ve become touchstones in their own right. The joy in fabric Presents, then, comes from watching how they pull off a love letter to the city they’ve become so closely tied to. They start things off with their own “So U Kno,” a 2-step roller of their own creation, but it’s not long before they start looking backwards, grabbing Milanese’s storming early-’00s techno-etc. “Billy Holgram” and laying it underneath Foremost Poet’s eerie spoken-word “MoonRaker.” From there, they put together a rave of the sort that helped make fabric a fixture in London, fusing blistering breakbeat to skyscraping techno, all rip-roaring drum kits and anthemic synth lines. It’s all mixed with an impressive finesse: Overmono favor high-attitude cuts with chunky melodies or overflowing percussion sections, but everything clicks anyways, the rhythms always on the move but never clashing. Along the way, they flit between any number of UK dance-music idioms: there’s a bit of skeletal dubstep, plenty of 2-step, a healthy pile of melodic techno, and heaps of breaks, all stirred to a frenzy and blended into something that feels both historically minded and entirely new. Overmono’s ties to London are as strong as ever; on fabric Presents, they show off the stuff that makes the city so vital.
quest?onmarq – Fact Mix 818
You’d be forgiven for thinking that quest?onmarq’s mix for Fact magazine would be wildly incoherent: the set spans just an hour, but it moves from Jeff Mills to Sunn O))), from Burial to The Cranberries, from Korn to Cardi B to DJ Rashad. But that sort of eclecticism is par for the course for quest?onmarc, a genre-smashing DJ whose kitchen-sink style has made them a staple of New York’s club scene. On Fact Mix 818, they hold everything together with slamming kick drums, turning in a wild-eyed rave-up that doubles as an audacious pile of blends. Even the most nominally unusual bits make a kind of sense here: their Burial bootlegs extract the nocturnal swing of his productions but soup it up with storming percussion, an eleventh-hour Rashad drop just adds to the mania of quest?onmarq’s Cardi B pandemic-chatter flip, and the queasy piano from Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones, Pt. II” is rendered all the more disorienting next to Alaska’s hardcore breaks. quest?onmarq’s best music is both omnivorous and crazed, filtering a thousand styles into entirely an entirely different context; Fact Mix 818 is as great an example as any.
Tano – d o w n 2 e a r t h 27
Over the past year and a half, down2earth has revealed itself to be a truly unpredictable mix series: a quick scroll through their SoundCloud page reveals New York house sessions, extraterrestrial club tools, serene ambience, and jazzy electro. Tano’s session fits perfectly, then. On d o w n 2 e a r t h 27, the Brooklyn DJ & producer offers up a survey of the past ten years of UK club tracks, moving from chilled-out hip-house before dipping into Night Slugs-esque negative-space techno, Nguzunguzu-esque wide-open tarraxinha, breakbeat flips of Masters at Work classics, and cluttered hard drum selections, before finally closing the session out on a lo-fi house-breakbeat number that sounds like it’s been recorded on busted equipment. It’s a truly unpredictable set of styles that never comes off as idiosyncratic for its own sake; here, Tano grabs a decade of club-music stormers and jumbles them together to riotous effect.
TSVI – Dekmantel Podcast 340
Since its founding in 2015, Nervous Horizon has been one of London’s most exciting club-music labels; their catalogue works as who’s-who of hypermodern club tools, showcasing the million possible intersections between dubstep, bubbling, hard drum, techno, and UK funky. It should come as little surprise, then, that TSVI, a.k.a. Guglielmo Barzacchini—a Nervous Horizon co-founder—has a similarly wild-eyed discography. On Dekmantel Podcast 340, the omnivorous producer shows off just how wide his range goes: he moves from turgid dub selections to frenetic tri-tom workouts, from shuddering broken-machinery percussion tracks to acid-flecked almost-techno, from walls of garbled hardcore synths to hyperactive singeli. More impressively, he manages to take these seemingly disconnected styles and link them together with a veteran’s elegance; over the course of ninety minutes, what starts as a trek through ankle-deep mud gradually turns rapid-fire, disorienting, and gnarly. Dekmantel Podcast 340 is a wild-eyed encapsulation of TSVI’s—and Nervous Horizon’s—lane: a veritable tour de force of kitchen-sink club sounds and manic dancefloor rattlers.
Twin System – CNCMIX018
Sometimes, the joy in a great mix comes from hearing it take off. Lewi Boome and Uncle Bill seem to understand this intimately; Twin System, their London-based club night, has been heating up the city since 2019. On CNCMIX018, they harness that potential to fascinating effect. It starts with an ambient warm-up before slipping into an extended run of zonked-out broken-beat rhythms: a fittingly alien bass-grinder edit of Missy Elliott’s “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” mucked-up breakbeat, the hair-raising hiss-patter almost-techno of Konduku’s “Şekersin.” In retrospect, though, it all feels like a carefully paced intro. In the second half of the hour, they up the intensity on the uneasy club-night crawl. Languid ambience is out, replaced with blisteringly heavy hardcore rhythms; they turn down the tempo on Max Rewak & Rouge’s “$8.08,” flipping it into a horror-score rap cut; and the drum-workout cuts seem to triple in tempo. On CNCMIX018, Boome and Bill show that their eyes for creative blends don’t stop at their venue.
Wonja – Honcho Podcast Series 100
Oakland’s Wonja has a reputation as something of a DJ’s DJ. She cut her teeth making themed mixes in high school, zooming on styles as disparate as italo disco and gamelan selections, and that intensely deep curatorial streak informs her modern sets, too. That’s not to paint her practice as a purely conceptual affair, though. Her sets are packed with raucous blends for the rubberneckers and plenty of nigh-unheard dancefloor gems; look no further than Honcho Podcast Series 100 for proof. She opens the affair with Keith Nunnally’s “Freedom (Underground Dub Mix),” a shuffling house number that wouldn’t sound out of place on a T4T LUV NRG tape, and then proceeds to deepen the rapture with plenty of heaters: MK’s soaring and effervescent garage-house cut “Somebody New (Club Mix),” the party-starting drum workout of Juliet Roberts’s “Another Place, Another Day, Another Time (Remember Me Dub),” and seemingly bottomless crates of vocal-house crooners. It’s the kind of house mixing that fits both blue skies and moonlit raves. Wonja has a long history of specific and deep selections; here, she pulls it off again, reveling in sun-kissed dance music fitting the season.