Michael McKinney is gonna guest DJ his local voting polling station.
Summer is winding down, and the air is turning crisper. Several of September’s best sets reflect that shift, whether through deeper and slower grooves or more languid rhythms. Instant Peterson put together eighty minutes of loping percussion and blurry synthesizers equally suited for evening walks and early-morning drives; elsewhere, Sarah Davachi blended chilled folk and rock music in her mix for Crack. JS and Matthew McDermott joined forces on Dublab radio for a two-hour set that’s both beautiful and playful, going from Cocteau Twins to The Gerogerigegege. Anuraag’s contribution explores a million shades of ambient music, creating an ever evolving tumble of tones befitting the seasonal flux.
It’s not all so quiet or low-key, though. 33EMYBW and Griffit Vigo both turned in production mixes highlighting their singular styles: the former, hypermodern “limb dance,” the latter, pitch-black and razor-sharp gqom. Bianca Oblivion offered a tour de force of perreo and funk carioca; Tim Reaper did the same, but with a laser-sharp focus on jungle old and new. Ikonika dug deep into the propulsive grooves of amapiano, and quest?onmarc put out a guns-blazing set of kitchen-sink hardcore.
Here are some of the best DJ mixes September had to offer.
33EMYBW – Dekmantel Podcast 298
For her entry in Dekmantel’s podcast series, 33EMYBW takes what’s normally a bit of a risky play—an all-originals mix, recorded live—and makes it seem preordained. It helps that her style is utterly singular in modern club music. Dekmantel Podcast 298 is populated with the same skittering drums and unnervingly modern synthesizer design that made her last record (2019’s Arthropods) so transfixing. Put enough of her productions back to back and an alien logic starts to emerge, one based on broken-machinery rhythms and a top-end that won’t stop burrowing, buzzing, and clanging. 33EMYBW twists these strings into a wide number of forms—bleary ambient, nu-footwork, hyperfast kuduro—but that should hardly come as a surprise when she’s working with such volatile and unpredictable elements.
Anuraag – LXXX
On LXXX, Melbourne’s Anuraag digs deep into “background music,” turning it over and finding new facets with each rotation. In the process, he slowly stretches into a wide range of tones and timbres: clear-sky new-age glistenings, fragmented spoken word, immense sheets of noise, orchestral minimalism, space-age chrome-and-sunburst synthesizers. He links eighty minutes of selections under an utterly stilled atmosphere; taken as a whole, the mix changes imperceptibly slowly. Zoom in, though, and he pulls off some remarkable shifts: anguished grime interludes into Japanese new-age; hushed ambient into sputtering drum kits and walls of static. LXXX never definitively answers what “background music” can, or should, look like. Instead, it accomplishes something much more impressive: a synthesis that shows innumerable forms wrapped into one.
Avalon Emerson – DJ-Kicks
With sets like last year’s Live at Mutek Mexico and 2018’s Essential Mix, Avalon Emerson has cultivated a reputation as a playful and sly DJ who never loses sight of her grooves. Her latest mix, this time for the long-running DJ-Kicks series, underlines her strengths while showing exciting possibilities for her sound. The bookends, a Magnetic Fields cover and her own remix of Austra’s dreamy synth-pop belter “Anywayz,” highlight the melodic turns and playful rhythms that make up the bulk of the set. It’s defined by ebullient and deep-set grooves rather than genre lines, although its surprising blends feel just as intuitive in retrospect. Spaghetti-western techno melt into pitched-down breakbeats, which give way to ricocheting vocal-driven numbers; jump forward a bit, and it’s lopsided deep house, jagged mid-’00s dance-punk, and skyscraping synthesizers. DJ-Kicks is a showcase for how easily Emerson can twist a groove around shifting sonics. Even more impressively, she does it all with a wink.
Bianca Oblivion – Sweetdrops #103
Bianca Oblivion has been on a meteoric rise lately, and with good reason. Sweetdrops #103 offers an easy summation: in both her blends and her own productions, she works with an amp-busting style of perreo but isn’t afraid to jump into other histories or dance floors. The mix is packed to the brim with screaming blends: “WAP” turned into a horn-blasted club stormer, liturgical choral numbers flipped into manic rap, sub-rattling trap slammed into drums pulled straight from Principe. But, more than any particular track, the mix’s steamrolling energy is fueled by the syncopated and compulsively danceable rhythms of modern Latin American club music: funk carioca, shades of dembow, and anything that gets bodies moving. This is party music designed to be as incendiary, playful, and to-the-point as possible. By those metrics, Sweetdrops #103 succeeds with flying colors.
Finn – RA.746
It may seem played out, but the line about house music saving lives has a point. Pitch the synthesizers just right and the strobes start to shoot sunlight instead. On RA.746, Finn leans fully into the sunburst side of house music, cooking up an hour of pumping grooves, ebullient keyboards, and killer blends. He’s a savvy DJ, threading a number of UK dance music histories into something that sounds like a memorable night out: bleep techno, breaks, garage, piano-slam anthems, and plenty of chunky house music for good measure. His mixing is slick and playful throughout; again and again, he isolates individual elements—a fat bass tone, a vocal loop, a jittery organ—and flips it on its head by changing up the surroundings. RA.746 is impressive on several fronts at once: it’s a quiet flex of his DJing technique, a joyous pile-up of innumerable scenes, and an hour of life-affirming dance music.
Griffit Vigo – XLR8R 660
As part of Gqom Oh!, the label most responsible for pushing Durban’s dance music to global levels, Griffit Vigo has long been one to watch. (Nan Kolè, Gqom Oh!’s A&R, calls him a “legendary figure” in gqom.) XLR8R 660 is the DJ’s latest broadcast, and it acts as a mission statement of sorts: after a brief opening (DJEFF & Black Motion’s anthemic and propulsive house cut “Don’t Let Me Go”), he dives deep into the corrugated and pitch-black style of gqom he’s been pushing for years. Since he almost exclusively uses his own productions here, he’s afforded even more acute control over the atmosphere. Once he gets going and cuts the lights, XLR8R 660 is dark, spare, and heavy. Even at its busiest, it’s often just a few drums, abyssal bass, and clipped vocal samples played into infinity. That works to Vigo’s benefit; his greatest strength as a producer is knowing where to stop. On XLR8R 660—all stark composition, icy sound design, and unrelentingly heavy minimalism—Vigo shows just how powerful gqom can be.
Ikonika – Worldwide FM Mix: International Tribe
On her International Tribe mix for Worldwide FM, Ikonika dives into amapiano, a style of house music that’s been bursting out of South Africa for much of the past decade. Things start off bright with some sunkissed vocal cuts and playful guitar lines, and Ikonika lingers in that mood for much of the rest of the set: high-energy and propulsive house music is the order of the hour, all pumping kicks and charismatic emcees and radio-ready rhythms. She complicates things eventually with a few gqom-inflected tracks before moving into some slamming house and EBM. Given how late it comes in the mix, the sudden drop in temperature should surprise, but Ikonika is a savvy enough DJ to make it seem natural. On International Tribe, the omnivorous DJ shows yet another side of her taste; the result, as expected, is an hour of dancefloor bombs.
Instant Peterson – Bleached Confetti
Bleached Confetti opens with a telling blend: after a few minutes of droning synth pads and static-drums (think loop-finding-jazz-records), a dust-covered and hard-headed rap sample drops in on top. It’s not raucous enough to disturb the track’s late-night energy, but it does establish Instant Peterson as a sly selector, willing to pull from across genres in service of a broader tone. The joy in Bleached Confetti comes from that combination—it’s slow-burn ING and seemingly built for 2AM drives, but its groove is less of a drone than a slowly moving collage. The mix slowly moves from late-night ambient to chilled-out hip-hop, scuffed breakbeats, quietly pumping techno, and heart-on-sleeve IDM; squint, and you might hear a bit of trance in there too. The effect is akin to an auditory matryoshka doll: the form may change in scale, tone, and colour, but the essence never leaves..
James Barlow – Sunny Mix for a Sunny Day
Sunny Mix for a Sunny Day lives up to its name. After an opening of birdsong and hushed drum rolls, James Barlow jumps between a wide range of styles while keeping the mood light, optimistic, and breezy. The specifics vary: there’s the sun-kissed and lovesick disco of Fruit’s “Spring,” Jorge Ben’s lushly harmonized and orchestrated MPB, and some warped Afro-funk courtesy of Sonny Okosun and Goren Anderssen. But everything here is shot through with a joy, love, and sense of play that can’t help but shine through. As James Barlow tosses quarter after quarter into his jukebox, the sunlight gets a little brighter, the air a little clearer, and the world a little more vibrant.
Karen Gwyer – Crack Mix 378
On Crack Mix 378, Karen Gwyer sculpts with sludge. That’s nothing unusual for her; a quick look through her productions reveals a waterlogged vision of techno, with synthesizers sounding more like sonar equipment than club-tool spines. Her mix for Crack, at first, looks entirely different: she largely jettisons the murky kicks and looming synthesizers in favor of innumerable strings, pattering percussion and hissing ambiance. Her tools may have molted, but her tones have not; this set is all Mariana-trench depths and pitch-black sonics. Sometimes, that means ethereal and creeping chamber music. Elsewhere, it’s shimmering post-rock or an elliptical guitar, moving slowly and seeming to only gain in heft with each repetition. Any explicitly “electronic” music that shows up is just as bleary, with shuffling percussion threatening to overtake the groove. Gwyer, it seems, is a tonal alchemist regardless of form. In its spare construction and creaking ambiance, Crack Mix 378 holds a strange and flickering power.
Leja Hazer + m50 + DJ Pigeon + Thomas xu – @ etc 2020.08.28
One of the joys of a good back-to-back—or, in this case, a good back-to-back-to-back-to-back—comes in the contrast. A few great DJs can underline their commonalities and dig into the stuff they know, and there’s beauty in that. But they can also show just how differently they play, using their selections to show how different their lanes can be. A recent broadcast on etc radio sees four DJs going deep into the second approach, to consistently winning results. Leja Hazer, up first, trades in scuzzy, low-slung house and late-night breakbeats; the resultant hour works both as an opener and as a satisfyingly blurred hour of dance idioms. m50 deepens the mood further with pitch-black acid techno and swirling techno selections, eventually letting a ray of sunlight in with a bit of ambient-techno experimentation. DJ Pigeon and Thomas Xu offer the high-strung counterpoint to the lower-key first half, then. Pigeon is the more unpredictable of the two, blending nightcore jazz-pop, sweltering breaks, and innumerable dismantlings of late-’10s pop radio. Xu isn’t far behind, though: he offers up an hour of euphoric breakbeat-pop, slamming hardcore selections, pumping deep house, and furious jazz fusion.
Matthew McDermott w/ JS – Interior Space (09.11.20)
When introducing JS’s guest spot on his radio show, Interior Space, Matthew McDermott put it simply: “for this mix, he’s focused on beautiful songs.” That assessment holds. The Motion Ward boss’s segment is quiet, plaintive, and deeply felt: lush vocals, swirling synth pads, and hushed reverence. Whenever he raises the volume, he does so without shifting the mood—the elliptical motion of ssaliva’s “God Room” finds a kind of beauty through weight and repetition, and the later excursions into dream pop only deepen the trance. Matthew McDermott broadens the tone, offering something closer to a lovingly curated mixtape: scuffed field recordings, glacial organ solos, clattering and joyous Burmese pop music. Perhaps contrary to expectations, the two sets work wonderfully together. JS sets a rock-solid foundation of blissed-out tones, and McDermott builds on top in gleefully unpredictable ways.
Sarah Davachi – Fact Mix 775 / Sunday Mix
Sarah Davachi’s work unfurls with the speed, and scale, of tectonic plates. It turns out her mixes function on similar terms: in her mix for Fact Magazine, she tapped into that slow-motion grandeur for a stunning hour of modern classical and folk music that seems to hang in the air. The approach defies both specific timelines and specific methods of timekeeping. A jumbled organ, frantically circling a few notes, stretches into infinity; elsewhere, Icelandic folk music flits past and gives way to uncanny-valley classical. Her mix for Crack trades in the eerie ambiance for a decidedly autumnal atmosphere. It’s all spindly rock and folk-tinged pop music, filled with skyscraping peaks (Yes’s “Sweetness” makes for an early-set climax; David Bowie’s titanic “Wild Is the Wind” follows soon after). Regardless of the set in question, though, Davachi’s key strengths—patient mixing and a tightly controlled atmosphere—shine through.
Tim Reaper – Truancy Volume 269
Tim Reaper has become something of a jungle don, and on Truancy Volume 269, he shows why. It’s a white-hot ride through the fast-but-precise side of hardcore—jungle, drum and bass—that jumps between eras, moods, and timelines with admirable dexterity. The snares and kicks form a connective tissue, roaring and swelling without so much as a missed note or wayward blur. Reaper’s specificity is his greatest strength here; by only mixing rough-and-tumble dance music, he keeps the set hurtling forward with a contagious sense of play. As he stacks screaming jungle on top of manic bass hits on top of rip-roaring snares, the energy levels bleed into the red and keep rising. That’s how it ought to go: this is a love letter to the junglists, after all.
quest?onmarc – Hard Dance 073
In retrospect, quest?onmarc is a clear fit for Boiler Room’s Hard Dance series. The producer’s tracks, made up of serrated synthesizers and industrial-strength drum programming, forgo lighting up dancefloors in favor of straight-up carpet bombing. That’s all true on Hard Dance 073, which starts heavy and messy and only gets more unstable as it progresses. This is largely thanks to a kitchen-sink approach to hardcore: there’s mutated hard trance, corrosive acid techno, full-throttle gabber, amped-up industrial metal, and about a dozen other styles thrown in for good measure. Hardcore will never die, or at least that’s the mantra. This set offers a peek into why: dangerously heavy slabs of bass, amp-busting snares, and titanic synth lines make for a potent combination. With Hard Dance 073, quest?onmarc serves up a fistful of popped eyes and gritted teeth.