I’d say not to get too excited about this (it is a 7 year old album, after all), but In Praise of Shadows finally being available on a platform where you don’t need PayPal could be a big deal for some. Especially so for the Japan crew, which is who this is really aimed at. Since setting up the Booth shop I’ve opened it to non-Japanese orders too, so give it a look if the PayPal thing was what held you back in the past.
I was listening through the soundcloud previews again while I did all the intial Booth admin and (as biased as I am) it really is one of the all-time best compilations, isn’t it? Anyway, check out the Booth shop if you couldn’t support the release the first time around.
Belated notice if you missed it that Ri-nergy’s FutureProof EP released during summer. Alert Horsers will have heard both tracks in Ri-nergy’s excellent promo set, making this by far the best freeform release of the year so far.
All the tips of the hat to FutureProof – recent bursts of activity from FINRG aside, for me it’s quietly become one of best places to look for consistently quality NRG and freeform. There’ll be more mixing from me in November, so I’m planning to give both of these some play in sets and/or streams asap.
It’s not every day (or even every year, come to think of it) that we see a full album release that’s of TYFTH interest, so a recommendation from Sherkel to check out CBR and Shihen’s First Impact was very welcome. Don’t go in expecting freeform only, though – the topic list on the archive page lists everything but, as it’s very much on the Hardcore Syndrome/Hardcore Tano*C side of hardcore. That means we get everything from early 2000s happy J-Core to speedcore, along with some wonderful, Betwixt-influenced tracks. If that sounds up your alley, you’re not going to find a better album this year than the 12 tracks collected here.
Shihen’s Lost Planet is the first of the early tracks that could find its way into a freeform set (particularly one on the uplifting side) and I’m a big fan of the acid work and lead sounds. BeyondX is a much lighter hardcore track that somehow sounds to me like it might have a melancholy freeform track hiding inside, but it’s probably the second half of the release where we find more to perk up the ears of the typical Horser. Cloudburst is a brilliant high bpm track, heavy on the Betwixt influences despite (or because of?) being all over the place in terms of genre, while Disaster Foretold is as freeform as the album gets. Sounding at times like pre-freeform Betwixt mashed up with his later style, it’s a very impressive (and very fast) track. Shihen’s Aegaeon is my favourite track on the album – a lovely, weighty 5 minutes of NRG-ish freeform with some especially excellent work on the intro and break.
Overall it’s a superbly produced, high quality album, with more than enough freeform-adjacent sounds to come highly recommended. You can check out all the tracks via the slightly temperamental player on the release page, and download the album itself in full.
Over the past year or so I’ve (as usual, to be honest) been listening to my own mixes if I’m in the mood for some NRG or freeform, and three in particular have had the most play – the FINRG Podcast set, my tribute to Exemia, and the last twitch stream from the start of last year. I took elements from each of these with the goal to raise Dark NRG a level or two above the pretty good Hardcore for Life , an NRG set I’m quite happy with, but don’t listen to often.
The other inspiration was Proteus’ old NRG sets, so I aimed for a dark, industrial atmosphere in this one that looked to other genres for some of the tracks. Originally that meant me tinkering with tracks like Waldhaus’ Blood on Fire remix, but the challenge was finding something that matched the NRG atmosphere and added some heaviness at the right moments. That’s where the FINRG Podcast influence also comes in, as the second half of that set is still the blueprint for what my sets should sound like – dark, strange, and with some deeper psychedelic elements to them. With all those things in mind the set ended up using plenty of Proteus’ own tracks, with one hard techno track as a transition and the deeper finale of Louhi and Synchronicity. I’m especially happy with the progression from the weighty opening Proteus sounds to the increase in pace with the NRG and then into the section that’s probably got most of a freeform feel – more on that in a minute.
I still listen to the Exemia set often – it’s definitely one of my most inspired, with some of the best transitions I’ve ever managed. Here I tried to recreate the drive of the set, particularly in the way that transitions would avoid the ‘stop-start’ style of introducing new tracks with a breakdown. It’s something I used to do too much but have tried to improve recently and am very happy with how it went for Dark NRG. Gangstah into Knock Out is one of my favourite examples, and it gets bonus points for smoothly using two tracks in different keys. The vocal samples work well together, and the extra power of Knock Out increases the pace and leads nicely into the freeformy-NRG part of the set. Another good one is Rock N Rave into Heavy Fusion, the final step into the freeformy-NRG section.
Cyrez’ recently released Malicious was a late addition, matching up perfectly with the tricky Heavy Fusion. The Resurrection remix had been floating around the same part of the tracklist during planning, so it made sense to add it here. Tears Are Not Obedient was another late selection – I had found another in-key escape route from Resurrection, but it took the atmosphere in a direction I didn’t like. I left the set alone for a while to think about it, and eventually came up with the simple-but-effective Gus and Jorg track as the answer. Truth be told I was running out of enthusiasm for the set by then, and repurposed an In Praise of Shadows mix to follow up. There could well be some better options out there, and it’s probably weakest part of the set to my ears. Get Fire! and Louhi really work well together though, so maybe it’ll grow on me.
So that’s the set – very pleased with it even if it didn’t justify a full year(!) of planning. It has some strong moments that I like going back to, and there were lots of unused transitions that’ll be appearing in the freeform-only mix that’s in the works these days.
Thinking about Guld’s Dark Dimension set again the other day (which started with his Candyman remix), I realised I never mentioned Lab4’s own update from earlier this year. I much prefer the rough, ferocious style of Guld’s version but this is still a good rework with some nice changes to the structure. Incidentally, it’s well worth a dig through Hard Trance Europe’s back catalogue, as along with this and Cyrez’s Resurrection remix there are a few other Lab4 remixes and rereleases of some older tracks.
Quite literally one from the archives here – thanks to Shihen I was reminded of this classic Beezee and Alderz set from 11 years ago and realised that some newer Horsers might never have heard it before. Unsurprisingly I was all over it at the time but the set is no longer on soundcloud. Thankfully Beezee has kept it archived (along with some other quality mixes) on hearthis – I can’t see a way to embed stuff from there, mind, so head this way to check out the set instead.
My thoughts at the time still stand, but listening in 2023 it really feels like an ‘end of an era’ kind of set, when the original Finnish/Japanese atmospheres were getting harder and harder to find. Much later than this and sets would often lose it completely, but Beezee and Alderz have hit the sweet spot here of newer (for the time) tracks that still have enough of the older spirit to sit alongside the anthems.
Big thanks again to Shihen for the reminder, and to Alderz for help in tracking the set down.
Father Time gave me another slap in the face recently when I realised Melancholia’s last soundcloud set was eight(!) years ago. Almost as surprising is that nobody else has since come close to his hyperactive, genre-mashing brand of freeform/hardcore mixing, so it’s a genuine treat to hear him back at it. There’s no real point of comparison, but those who enjoy Shimo’s current mixing style are at least headed in the right direction. In short, it’s best not to worry too much about the tracklist – tracks appear so briefly and/or mashed up with others that you’ll likely be readjusting to a new tune before you realise it.
Saying that, the opening ticks all the TYFTH boxes with a very strong Betwixt/Guld start. It’s fitting that Aryx and Alek Szahala’s Byrgius is the centrepiece for one of the smoothest segments of the set (just listen to that inspired mix into Stargazer), but another of Melancholia’s strengths is knowing when to get through a transition without mixing in key when the flow of the set needs it. He balances the two approaches almost perfectly, meaning you never know quite what to expect from one section to another. This set also keeps up the tradition of throwing plenty of extra samples into the mix – some of the UK freeform-esque monologues in the longer breakdowns are very similar to past sets and do a fine job of giving the set even more of a distinctive identity, but you might be caught off guard by the extremely wholesome appearances here and there of Melancholia himself.
There’s plenty more that could be said, but I’m sure you get the idea. Whether you’re more of a listener or DJ, this is another inspired, superbly mixed celebration of hardcore by Melancholia, and comes as highly recommended as any set this year.
Anyone pining for emotional pianos and filtery leads has to check out Ri-nergy’s second promo set, as they don’t get any better than this in the current freeform scene. It’s also time to stop the Nomic comparisons now that Ri-nergy has developed such a strong style of his own – taking plenty from the master himself of course, but sounding very ‘modern Japanese freeform’ in the best possible way. There are lots here that I’ve already had in mind for a set, and others that I’ll be checking out asap, thanks to an extremely useful tracklist with links to various compilations.
The mix itself has a few more uncomfy moments in transition than the first promo set, but they don’t stick around for too long. As always, it’s a lot easier to forgive them in an artist set, and it does avoid the other tedious extreme of trundling though the DJ-friendly intro and outro section of every track. The tracks themselves are superb, with some genuinely standout emotional moments that match anything we’ve heard in the last decade. I’ve even noticed Ri-nergy’s releases popping up in the occasional UK freeform set, so he’s probably doing more than anyone right now to nudge both listers and DJs back towards the sounds of the golden era. A special mention too for Ende’s wonderful visuals that accompany the YT version of the set – I hope we see more of this in the future.
I’ve plenty more sets to mention, so stay tuned, and there’ll be at least one new one from me pretty soon – more about that on Mastodon.
Would ‘PVC’ be the answer if most Horsers were challenged to name their favourite Eryk Orpheus track? It’s still mine – hardly a surprise as it’s the only UK freeform track I’ve ever played in a club – but Eryk’s psy-influenced modern style has plenty going for it, too. This inspired remix of This Place Is A Shelter comes pretty close to merging the two, and shows that his ear for a melancholy breakdown sample is as sharp as ever.
As often these days I find myself wishing that the post-breakdown lead had some more Finnish/Japanese ‘rawness’ to it, but it’d be silly to criticise a UK freeform track for sounding the way it was intended. I’d love to hear this one in a Transcend-style ‘intelligent UK freeform set’ someday – as much as I enjoy it I’m not sure it’ll fit into any of mine for a while.
Jumping to the front of the TYFTH posting queue is this EP of unreleased, remastered Cyrez tracks from around 2005. Hope is the only one (I think) I’ve heard before, and while it’s firmly on the hard trance side of Cyrez’s style the other two are the kind of aggressive NRG that he’s always been so good at. Malicious in particular is absolutely fantastic, sounding like an Epyx & Cyrez track if early 2000s Proteus joined in for a collaboration. The tracks all more than hold their own when mixed with more recent productions, and the remaining grittier, older sounds are for me what make them so good. They’re available on Cyrez’s Engrams of Cyrez bandcamp, so make sure to show all the support to one of the best releases of the year so far.