Michael McKinney absorbs more music in a week than most do in an entire calendar year.
For better and worse, temperatures are starting to tick back up. The song of the summer may be an open question, but in June, plenty of DJs offered up possible soundtracks. DJ Canada and boxofbox both dug up time capsules from the ‘90s, finding plenty of flamboyant and euphoric dancefloor fillers: Canada put together a hi-NRG session of chunky disco and soaring trance selections, while boxofbox grabbed six hours of hip-house, disco, soul, and new jack swing. Sally C looked to the ‘90s, too, blending jubilant house and techno in a rollicking set for Resident Advisor. Cora, mixing live from Chengdu, put together a white-hot session of hard trance and techno; elsewhere, Leipzig’s Windy looked across oceans in a breezy mix of Brazilian soul and bossa nova.
It’s not all blue skies, though. Several DJs offered groggy and uneasy mixes befitting too-hot evenings. The always-exciting Ghost Phone tossed countless summer radio anthems into a thick haze, making something both confounding and primed for the club; DJ Wawa assembled an hour of lonely and languid tracks pulled from video-game soundtracks. aa sudd conjured a set of eerie and unsettling ambience; Giulia went even further askew with a jagged mix of serrated percussion and bone-chilling synthesizers. Ripatti turned in an hour of cluttered and wild-eyed footwork, making “badass dance music” that’s as much a dare as a promise. Regardless of the temperature you’re looking for, there’s something to be savored here.
Here are some of the best DJ sets June had to offer.
aa sudd – Faultlines E22
As both aa sudd and Vector Trancer, Sören Re traces the spaces between trance, ambient, and techno, creating something that feels wholly new in the process. (It’s no surprise that their work has wound up on Mirror Zone, a modern lodestar of alien electronics—more on that later.) On Faultlines E22, the German producer leans into the unsettling sides of their sound: synthesizers whirring and pinging into the distance, million-limbed kick drums skittering in the dark, unidentifiable electronics hissing and wailing in the background. The eerie ambience never quite leaves, but it does get more complicated. Over time, aa sudd slowly injects the mix with a dose of hair-raising chase-scene energy. The drums grow more urgent, the drums threatening to crack earth; the keyboards turn turgid and acidic; the whole thing drowns in static and fuzz and slowly settling paranoia. Faultlines E22 is a spine-tingling set of futuristic sound design gone awry.
boxofbox – FSORRYMIX10: Sorry 2 Go – Party Pack Vol. 1 – 4
Sometimes, it doesn’t matter if a story is true. Sorry 2 Go, if Sorry Records is to be believed, is a recording from the last night at a short-lived late-’80s nightclub with a TV and projector that cost “less than $200K, more than The Ritz’s.” It’s too perfect to be true and too bizarre to be a fabrication. That sort of magical realism runs through Sorry 2 Go, which charts the intersections between breathless house, early-’90s hip-hop, bubbly disco, and slicked-up new jack swing over a hundred-plus tracks. It’s both heartsick and heartfelt, with an unending rolodex of lovesick singers and sun-kissed joy emanating from each snare hit. boxofbox favors rolling grooves and hooky vocals here, jumping between genre classics and dollar-bin gems with ease. Sorry 2 Go is a time capsule stuffed with confetti and mixed to perfection.
Cora – HNYPOT 384: Cora’s 日出银河 Mix
HNYPOT 384 opens with a whisper: a slow wash of synthesizers, lush and gracious at once, hints towards a cosmic scope. Given a few minutes, it slowly comes into focus, growing larger until it fills the frame entirely. By the time a narrator brings up space travel, Cora’s already taken off. For the next two hours, the Chengdu DJ explores the deepest realms of trance and techno, linking pitch-black grooves and dancefloor scorchers with an unyielding four-on-the-floor thump. It’s all delivered with requisite precision—a single off-center blend could disrupt the hypnosis—but Cora’s selections are impressively wide-ranging. Along the way, she finds room for screaming acid, scuffled minimalism, white-hot almost-gabber, elliptical vocal trance, and skyscraping electronics of all stripes. It makes sense the set was recorded live: HNYPOT 384 plays like a love letter to club stormers.
DJ Canada – 300% N.R.G.
Between its Technicolor cover and to-the-point title, 300% N.R.G. makes no bones about what it’s going for. The mix, originally recorded in 1996 but recently dug up from the archives, is both tongue-in-cheek and delightfully straightforward. Throughout, DJ Canada takes a seemingly endless stream of classic dancefloor heaters—Bee Gees! Berri! Lionel Richie!—and gives them a hi-NRG polish. The combination is both sensible and surprising, with old favorites getting radically recontextualized thanks to a heap of euro-house synths and a few shuffling drum kits. Highlights abound: the piledriving Eurobeat of Clock’s “Everybody,” the soaring trance synths and house-diva vocals of 2 Brothers on the 4th Floor’s “Fly,” a sexed-up disco cut with slamming piano and a souped-up horn section. For 300% N.R.G., DJ Canada found a sweet spot between the magnetic chug of the most well-loved D.D.R. cuts and the buoyant energy of great disco. It’s playful, effortlessly effervescent, and dated in all the best ways.
DJ Wawa – Wawa’s Arcade Vol. 2
Wawa’s Arcade Vol. 2, the first entry in a new mix series from Eto Ano, is most striking for its less tangible aspects: a heavy fog, a missed connection, something missing. Its tracks, all pulled from video game soundtracks, recall quiet exploration and the solitude found in so many early NES titles. Due to the nature of its source material, the mix is shot through with a sort of nostalgia, even if these tunes land on fresh ears; the low-bit synthesizers and MIDI orchestras link them firmly to another era of digital composition. Much of the set is dedicated to that sort of wistful atmosphere, with shimmering melodies unfurling over slow-motion ambience and laid-back percussion, but Wawa throws in plenty of left turns: a one-minute Silent Hill guitar burner stretched out to seven times its original length, a dip into disheveled dub suitable for extraterrestrial cutscenes. At once lonesome and expansive, Wawa’s Arcade is a fitting soundtrack for a hobby centered around collective imagination.
downstairs J – Juanita’s Mix 047
basement, etc…, the debut LP from Brooklyn’s downstairs J, is both brief and kaleidoscopic. In just seven tracks, the producer threads breakbeat, dub, house, and trip hop together, creating a series of elliptical and zonked-out grooves along the way. Their Juanita’s Mix works in similar territories, but with the pressure turned way down. basement is most thrilling when it threatens to boil over; Juanita’s finds power in negative space and stillness. In about an hour, downstairs J spans the distances between spacious ambience, creeping dub, and scurried IDM, throwing in a few blissed-out drum-and-bass heaters for good measure. On paper, it’s packed with audacious blends—slurred drum workouts into dream-pop ambience, cozy electro into slow-motion dub—but they’re all wholly logical in the moment thanks to downstairs J’s patient and deliberate touch.
Experimental Housewife – RA.783
While speaking to Resident Advisor about her latest mix, Evelyn Marie Malinowski pointed out the “transformative power of diverse dance music,” saying that it’s a good idea for DJs to “step into that power and push [themselves] to make beautiful things happen.” On RA.783, she leans into the wigged-out corners of dance music, blending trippy techno that’s introspective one moment and raucous the next. The set opens with a series of muffled house and techno thumpers suggesting a club night heard through another wall or a set of headphones, but that can’t last long. Malinowski’s critical and musical theories are built around tearing down walls: elsewhere in that interview, she says the mix is intended to “advocate for diversity and anti-racism through genre noncompliance.” So it should come as little surprise that the rest of the set functions as a gradual dissolution of that barrier. Any hushed tones start to fall away, replaced by bigger and bigger sounds as she works towards the kind of jubilee brought on by peak-time club sessions. This slow-and-steady growth is facilitated thanks to truly seamless mixing; her alchemy is continuous and nearly invisible, with selections shapeshifting until Toni Morrison and LSDXOXO and Fred P. all make sense next to each other. Transformative, indeed.
Ghost Phone – Untitled 909 Podcast 075
A quick look through Ghost Phone’s SoundCloud reveals a wholly singular sound. Each of their releases is built upon heartsick R&B, hip-hop, and pop, but the samples are dipped in a thick sludge and reimagined as early-morning club tracks. The result is both straight-ahead and deeply odd, playful and sensual to the point of being disorienting. On Untitled 909 Podcast 075, Ghost Phone leans into this blend of the uncanny and wholly familiar, turning in a bleary mix suited for 2 a.m. dancefloors and 5 a.m. drives. A pitched-down edit of Kehlani’s “As I Am” sets the tone: intimacy rendered a bit off-kilter, with glistening synthesizers and slippery hi-hats offering just enough rhythm underneath. In the upside-down world of Ghost Phone, “Dior” is reimagined as a lullaby, “W.A.P.”’s hi-def sheen is scuffed up with lo-fi synthesizers, and “Get it On Tonite” gets the Sheffield treatment with a pitched-up melody and gargantuan bass. Untitled 909 Podcast 075 is Ghost Phone at its best: a bit too lucid for Screw tapes and a bit too outré for pop radio, full of late-night sensuality and a mind-bending smog.
Giulia – Manifestation 1.20
The art for the Manifestation mix series is uniformly striking. Each is full of rich colors, with deep lines and clear motion that suggests a rough but careful approach. This is no accident; for each new mix, Manifestation Exchange asks a DJ to respond to a piece of visual art with their own sonic accompaniment. Giulia—a full-time sculpture student—worked with a black-and-grey crag of an image whose uneven lines recall harshly chiseled stone. It should come as no surprise, then, that Manifestation 1.20 is dark and full of sharp angles. Giulia follows that muse wherever it takes them: in just the first ten minutes, they move from teeth-chattering psychological-horror ambience to shuddering heart-in-throat noise and a selection of drums that land like distant explosions. Even the most club-appropriate selections here are covered in a thick layer of dust. Cypha’s “embræ” seems to move in three tempi at once, with a slithering drum machine acting as an unreliable lead; Makeda’s “Basstrap” scatters whispered vocals atop broken-machinery sirens; even the gnarled dubstep of Biome’s“Offshore” somehow feels ancient. Giulia proves to be a slippery and aesthetically uncompromising DJ throughout Manifestation 1.20; no matter how many styles they thread together, the emotional and sonic textures never lighten up. Much like its accompanying artwork, the mix is a dimly lit blur that only grows richer with time.
Jake Muir – ITPS066
The most exciting thing about Jake Muir’s sets is their specificity. The Berlin DJ specializes in ambient and experimental electronics, but his mixes shy away from the wide-open clichés so often found in that format. Instead, he leans into temporal and sonic landmarks: his recent mix for Motion Ward, for example, is ambient music steeped in the history of spaghetti-western stories and soundtracks. On ITPS066, mixed for Munich’s always-exciting Ilian Tape, he looks skyward. Much of the set is dedicated to hushed and minimal percussion, whether in the form of clanging bells, reverberating gongs, or a few clattering wind chimes. With material so delicate, Muir employs such a careful hand as to render individual tracks moot: the set plays like a two-hour haze of rustled and brushed metal. It’s a bit spooky, a bit serene, and utterly cosmic. ITPS066 is witchy ambient of the highest order; here, again, Muir has proven himself to be a master at conjuring worlds.
MARRØN – RA.786
MARRØN may be best known for Eerste Communie, a techno party he co-founded that focuses on showcasing the “purest form of techno”: impeccable sound systems and deep grooves, chugging into the early hours of the morning. On RA.786, the Amsterdam DJ shows the power of the party’s sound, crafting an hour of slippery and speedy techno. Anchoring himself to a foundation of metronomic kick drums, MARRØN complicates and deepens the grooves with a seemingly unending range of synthesizer workouts, moving from loopy and playful to deep and dark with the flick of a knob. It’s a compelling vision for what techno can sound like, straddling the line between heady and club-ready without sacrificing either. RA.786 is dance music for Theseus’s ship: an ever-changing series of rhythms wrapped around an impossibly solid core.
Ripatti – RA.785
Sasu Ripatti has built an unimpeachable career by shapeshifting. As Luomo, he made impossibly deep house and R&B tracks; as Vladislav Delay, he has explored groggy dub, corrosive glitch, and maximum-impact industrial; and he has dug into tech-house minimalism under a few other guises. In that context, the music he makes under his birth name may be the most unusual: starting with Ripatti01 in 2013, he has dedicated that alias to cluster-bombing the dancefloor, filtering the icy minimalism of footwork through a shattered lens. RA.785, along with Fun Is Not a Straight Line, his first LP under the name, makes that earlier work look downright straightforward: this is polyphonous and omnirhythmic footwork, full of jagged vocal samples and percussion locked in a rapid-fire stutter. (Rather than genre classics from DJ Rashad or RP Boo, the most instructive comparison might be Giant Claw’s internet-addled post-everything MIDI symphonies.) The vocals, pilfered from R&B and hip-hop radio, continually mutate, accelerating to light speed or descending into incomprehensible muck. But they offer a more reliable foundation than the drums, which are so cluttered that it often sounds like Ripatti left multiple Ableton sessions running simultaneously. On RA.785, Ripatti amplifies footwork’s most bizarre and mechanistic tendencies until they are impossible to ignore. It’s yet another fascinating excursion from one of electronic music’s most vital minds.
Sally C – RA.784
Sally C wears her influences on her sleeve. Speaking with Resident Advisor, she went deep on her love for dance music released between 1988 and 1998, saying that she’s always “chasing” the sounds from that era. It follows that she’s built her sound around that style, grabbing what she calls “chunkers”—techno and house stompers with jacking drums and fleet-footed rhythms—and setting the amps on fire. She’s a canny enough DJ with deep enough crates to keep this approach exciting, and RA.784, like so many of her sets, is stuffed with barnstorming techno, ebullient house, and a contagious joy. After cutting right into the action with a sped-up “Odd World,” Rebecca B’s just-released breakbeat-house shuffler, she turns the clock back with “Move Your Body,” a mid-’90s Euro-house siren song courtesy of Xpansions 95: chunky trance synths, soaring strings, and an unending call to the dancefloor. For the next two hours, Sally C makes good on the promise, dropping ‘90s bomb after ‘90s-indebted bomb. She moves in all sorts of unexpected directions: a healthy dose of golden-age hip-house, a splash of extraterrestrial trance synthesizers, a particularly inspired blend of riotous Detroit techno and dreamy breakbeat. If she really is “stuck in the ‘90s,” as she posited to Resident Advisor, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Spekki Webu – Dekmantel Podcast 337
Spekki Webu, the mastermind behind Delft’s always-exciting Mirror Zone, has made his name on an expansive vision of trance. His sound is both lurid and precise, making room for bleary ambience and turgid percussion. It’s fitting, then, that he waits nearly forty minutes on Dekmantel Podcast 337 to introduce any kicks at all. The opening half of the mix is all slow-motion synthetics, with unknowable percussion rattling into empty space; it is at once disorienting and oddly beautiful. This uneasy energy only intensifies once he starts to work in dancefloor cuts; even the most frantic drum programming is balanced out with alien gurgles and chilly ambience. He keeps this balancing act up for nearly an hour, moving between black-hole dancefloor styles with an icy precision. Spekki Webu wrote that the set is intended as a “journey to your inner self” that might shuttle listeners through the astral plane. Dekmantel Podcast 337 fits the bill perfectly; it is transportive and thoroughly otherworldly, full of tones that linger long after the beats melt away.
Sunju Hargun – Animix Thirty Six
One of the most appealing parts of trance music is its transportive power: at its best, the genre acts as a soundtrack for total escapism into previously unimagined worlds. Sunju Hargun understands this. On Animix Thirty Six, the Thai producer and DJ blends an hour of downcast and pointillistic electronics, slowly spanning the space between ambient and trance to hypnotic effect. The latter genre’s signature pulse runs through much of the set, but its emotive core is closer to the hushed intimacy of ambient house than the skyscraping power of Ibiza synthesizers; sometimes, the drums drop out entirely, leaving a thick haze of synthesizers hanging in the air. Hargun toes the line between disorienting minimalism and deeply felt grooves, connecting a million swirling keyboards with a similarly shifting palette of elliptical drum programming; the resultant blur is both disorienting and wholly engrossing.
Windy – KANNMIX 43
KANNMIX 43 begins in medias res: someone, perhaps digging through a record shop, says he’s looking for “Brazilian soul” and “very light, gay bossa nova.” The music underneath him is kind enough to oblige, with a flurry of lightly tapped percussion and thrumming guitars. “Looks good,” he says. Windy, a DJ from Leipzig, clearly has crates upon crates of this stuff. His mix for KANN plays like a lovingly curated mixtape of Brazilian folk musics, full of joyous and lovelorn selections that stretch against any conceptions of “bossa nova” or “soul” set out at the start. Windy moves from lush silver-screen string sections to deep grooves that straddle the line between disco, soul, and bossa nova; there’s oceanside Moog jam sessions and richly harmonized samba. At one point, the mix veers into spindly and serene bossa nova, only to get upended by a slick horn section and jump into jangly guitars. Regardless of the specific tones, though, the selections on KANNMIX are bound by a shared depth of feeling: a yearning for something greater, whether that’s as simple as the collective elation of a great groove or the profound joy of requited love. It’s hard to ask for a better encapsulation of “Brazilian soul” than this.