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Been a while since the last event-recap post, hasn’t it? Although I’d heard about Dark Dimension’s comeback earlier in the year, I was expecting a smaller/low-key affair for starters – not a bit of it though, as even without any guest DJs from outside Japan this was up there with the very best of Dark Dimension’s subculture mashups. LOFT turned out to be a brilliant venue too, which is always a nice surprise when these live houses are used for electronic events. The main speakers were a bit too enthusiastic on the top end, but the main floor was decently sized and gave enough room for both the ravers and industrial dancers in attendance.

The crowd was genuinely impressive, as every subculture represented made the effort to turn out in force. For most of my time there I was catching up with old Romancer ravers, and I recognised plenty of people from my travels through other gothic and industrial events. The second ‘chaotic’ floor lineup was perfectly judged and seemed to work as an escape option for the goths when things got too energetic in the main room.

Obviously I was mainly there for Guld’s set, but arrived just in time to catch most of Suke’s dark psy live PA. I’ll never cease to be amazed how people outside of a typical dark psy event will still go all out to dance to such fast, repetitive tunes with very few breakdowns – maybe it’s another quirk of the scenes here, but seeing even the goths and steampunks giving it a go was a surprise. Talking of steampunk, right after Suke was an excellent, atmospheric fashion show by kennycreation (who also played the backing tracks). Like something from Tokyo Decadance, this was probably the moment when I realised what a grand job the DD crew had done of bringing together such a disparate crowd. The last set before Guld was Chika with her hard techno – it might be the easiest of all the harder genres to mix, but that makes the selection extra important. She structured the set very well for the audience, lightening things up here and there but keeping it mostly dark and hard.

Guld’s set was superb, opening up with his Candyman remix. The first drop after the intro set off all the Romancer ravers at once, and if you squinted a little you might even have convinced yourself that you were back in Studio Cube in 2008. The rest of the set was heavy on Hase and ThermalForce (see the first video up above) and some old and new tracks that perfectly matched the atmosphere for this event. There was another fashion show early in Guld’s set, this time from the cyberpunk brand D/3, which is well worth checking out if you’re not familar.

Of course the big highlight for me was hearing Cyhyraeth in a club setting for the first time – Guld and I were (again) complaining recently how hard it is to get a chance to play NRG/freeform to fans of other darker scenes, despite the fact that they invariably enjoy it, and here was my track getting the perfect chance to do just that. I didn’t do a great job of showing the size of the crowd in my video (there are others floating around online that give you a better idea), but there was a spectacular response as it was (surprisingly) mixed in from One Immortal. In the most literal sense it felt like being in a dream as I looked around, seeing the Romancer ravers react to the ‘you’re supposed to dance to this part’ sections exactly as I’d hoped. Obviously I’ve nothing but thanks for Guld for playing the track, and it was biggest kick in the inspiration I’ve ever felt. In fact I was working away on another track in the month leading up the event, but shockingly couldn’t get it finished in time.

Sisen followed Guld with one of the harder sets I’ve ever heard from him, along with the usual stellar stage presence. I dredged up some energy for some more dancing, before heading out to navigate the post-apocalyptic scenes of early-morning Kabukicho. Talking to organiser Akira during the event it sounded like the plan is for Dark Dimension to put on at least another event this year, and the only shame is that it probably won’t be a very regular thing. The crowds are there to support it though, so perhaps it’ll be sooner than we expect…

Long-time Horsers might spot the influences in Decion’s Louhi, but it stands on its own as one of the strongest NRG tracks I’ve heard for a long time. This one manages the tricky feat of sounding rough and gritty despite the super-clean production, and that atmospheric breakdown is doing all the right things. Bonus atmosphere points for the mythological theme – this version on Decion’s SoundCloud has some useful info that makes the track a more rewarding listen (and has given me the kick I needed to revisit the Kalevala). Anyway, keep this one favourited, so as not to miss the summer release date.

Here’s a set that certainly hasn’t found the number of listeners it deserves, one that should be of interest of anyone and everyone still checking TYFTH. Last year was the 10th anniversary of Betwixt’s passing, and Shimo put together a fantastic tribute set alongside Sphaera – I won’t blow their cover, but they’re also a long time friend of TYFTH and one of the scene’s best for complex, well-planned sets.

With Shimo involved it’s no surprise that this hour absolutely rockets through the bpms, starting with an inspired combo of schranzy industrial tracks. I’ve tried and failed to put this kind of thing together in the past, and Piropiro to Enter the Void is as good a sequence of Betwixt mixing you’ll hear anywhere. That’s unfortunately followed by an example of the weaker aspect of the set – two or three transitions that have too many clashing melodies for me to enjoy. The move into Eternity Has Passed isn’t the worst offender, mind, and on the whole they can probably be put down to the DJs swapping in and taking on an unexpected melodic track.

Don’t let that put you off though, as there are some spectacular moments in here. Personal favourites are Tankobu to Point of No Return, and Tout est Bien into al Megiddo, as well as a tracklist that takes in a lot of Betwixt’s styles over the years. You’ll notice a few less common tracks and remasters too, so this’ll be an educational listen for many Betwixt fans.

This was obviously a special project, but I really hope we’ll see some more recorded sets from Shimo and a comeback of sorts from Sphaera. Both are, for me, just about at the top of the freeform DJing tree, both in terms of mixing and track selection. With plenty of newcomers on the scene these days it’s more important than ever to keep Japanese/Finnish freeform in touch with its roots, after all.

I discovered them late, but even so it’s long overdue to give woof’s series of twitch events a mention. Titled WOOFYPARTY, they were streamed every month or so last year, and the sixth edition featured an excellent comeback set from Raqhow. Talk about tailoring your set to the audience – think of a freeform track with an anime or game connection and it probably appears at some stage. From Operation Stardust to Mezame, they’re all here and brilliantly mixed. I never would have thought that they could work back to back in this way, and as the final (and only freeform) set of the event it was perfectly judged.

The rest of the event covered all kinds of genres in woofyparty style, including a great Byproduct set that I’d also recommend. Keep an eye on woof’s Twitch channel in case of another event though, as the chat was very lively in the last recording and joining the live version would be a fun time.

If you’re as much of an Exemia fan as me you’ll already know that he was signed up by NGDEV to work on Gunvein’s OST. I was definitely planning to give the soundtrack a mention anyway, but for full disclosure I was kindly gifted a promo copy by Exemia around the time of release. It seems the ‘freeform loving shmup fan’ demographic is marginally bigger than I expected, and for us especially this was one of the most interesting releases of 2022.

Like Gunvein itself, the OST has plenty of late-era Cave atmosphere to it, but (unsurprisingly) a much more authentic hardcore feel to most of the tracks. One of the drawbacks from a freefrom DJ’s perspective is the short running time – you’d need some nimble mixing to get many of these into a set. That’s obviously not the main goal here though, and the variety is what makes this a fine listen even unmixed.

There’s more drum and bass here than I was expecting, but if anything less guitar – this is a very DoDonPachi inspired game, after all. No surprise that Exemia absolutely nails the stage 1 theme, with enough of a shmup feel to start things off followed by full freeform in the second half. Another favourite for me is Exhaled Haven, both a superb boss theme and a track that would easily fit into an Exemia freeform set. An extra mention too for the chilled ending track with its lovely drums and chirpy main lead.

Lately I’ve been back to trying to 1cc Guwange among others (I’ll take talk of that to Mastodon, not here) so I haven’t yet given Gunvein the time it deserves. With the reception it’s had so far and the best OST since Blue Revolver (or GG Aleste 3 if we’re including non-freeform) it’ll likely be worth the wait.

Let’s start the year off with a few things that I should have mentioned at the end of last one. The first is thanks to Shimo again, and an older set that some will have heard already. I somehow totally missed it at the time though, and it’s a very pleasant surprise to see the level of back catalogue that Risa/Rinergy has been building up over the past year or so.

If you’ve been paying attention recently then you’re already familiar with the excellent Ordeal, released late last year on Khaosnet Civilization 3, but it doesn’t even find a place in this promo set. Impressively there are a fair few tracks here that match its Nomic-esque emotional melodies, and a couple that get as close to Nomic’s style as anyone has managed for a long time. There’s also a pleasing preference for filtery leads – I’ve long thought they can improve even the most unispired freeform melody, so when they’re used with Ri-energy level of composition we’re really talking.

Overall it’s a nice combination, as those filtered melodies have something of a Substanced/Hyphen feel while the piano and swelling strings steer things in more of a Nomic direction. This is also a brilliantly constructed set with (a couple of exceptions aside) some quality transitions that are as good as you’ll hear in an artist set/live PA affair. While the final Substanced remixes aren’t my thing at all they’re a good example of how Ri-energy’s production range stretches a lot further than the excellent but pretty consistent style we’ve heard for the previous 50 minutes.

Obviously a recommended set then, and if ever CODEX is to make a reappearance Ri-energy gets my vote for a Live PA slot on the lineup – I’d love to hear a set like this in a club setting.

The fresh take on the classics that we’re getting from the newer DJs has definitely been one of the highlights of the last year or so, chiefly from Asukarai Matsuri. This Alek tribute is as good as you’d expect and if (like me) it’s been a while since you heard a full set of his tracks it’ll be just the dose of inspiration you need to finish off the year.

Asukarai Matsuri does a fine job here of deciding when to keep things in key and when to work out another way through a transition, with the first three or four tracks being a good example. Dryad Machine is the (slightly abrupt?) cue for things to head in more melodic direction, with some excellent selection choices. The Lagash – Mohicans transition is superb, but the later Superstition – Man Eaten is even better and probably one of the best Alek combinations I’ve ever heard. Although I would have moved Caballo to earlier in the set to keep things as dark as possible, that’s really nitpicking what’s a high quality tracklist. The finale of Firecloud into Xochitlan is such a good combination of ferocity and depth, plus a last airing of the all-important sample, of course.

I’d rank this as the best Alek-only set I’ve heard so far (his own live PAs are in a different category, for me) and the thoughtful mixing makes it a must listen for veterans as much as newcomers.

Gopher alert! Anyone old enough to have caught my last twitch stream will remember Sherkel’s Concealed being the big surprise in the NRG section of the set, and it’s happily included in this excellent four track bandcamp release. The long, atmospheric breakdown means it should be used with care in a tracklist, but if I was still doing the ‘top 3 tracks’ roundups at the end of the year, it would most definitely make my list (even if I happened to ‘do a GULD’ and put Cyhyraeth in there too).

Although Concealed is my favourite track of the release, you’ll also find some of Sherkel’s finest hybrid freeform-NRG to date. Vampire Hunter is a superb mashup of filtered riffs that absolutely captures the ‘strangeness’ I’ve talked about before in some Finnish and Japanese tracks. If anything Lunar Typhoon is even more driving, upping the rapid melodies alongside some (slightly) less heavy filtering.

Hamehorinezumi no Yoru is fairly sedate by comparison, but another fine Einhander-influenced NRG track. There are some lovely, unusual touches in both the melodies and percussion here, though the hugely atmospheric outro is possibly my favourite section.

Kontraption of Death very highly recommended, and is a free release on Sherkel’s bandcamp.

 

It’s looking like the scene has woken up a bit again, led by this recent, big release from Artificial World. A first glance had me thinking this was very much on the melodic side and I wouldn’t find much that suited TYFTH, but I’m glad I paid more attention as there’s all sorts happening here, from the expected UK-influences to more ferocious high bpm sounds, via a couple of impressive deeper sounding tracks that have a Nomic feel to them.

It’s the latter that really caught my ear, chief among them Ikura’s Breathe Out. It’s such a fine line for me these days between a Nomic-style emotional track and the moment when the melodies go that bit too UK-happy, but this track keeps the balance about right, with the melancholy breakdowns a highlight. Ri-energy’s Ordeal is in a similar vein, with repetitive melodies and a great atmosphere, even stepping things up a couple of levels for the final, beautiful breakdown. My first couple of listens have me a concerned for the lack of weight in the kick and bass, but I’ll be keeping this one in mind for sure.

The rest of the ‘slower’ freeform has some very well produced material, my favourites of which would definitely be Hypersonic and Lamia, while polaritia’s track is the high bpm highlight for me. A mention for the chirpy A Little Bit Adventure, I quite enjoy this sort of electro-y freeform now and then. Believe or not I can imagine GULD really liking the breakdown – it hits the sweet spot now and then between uplifting and melancholy that he would occasionally fit into a set.

There’s lots more going on obviously, so check this release out for yourself and show it some support. I probably should have mentioned earlier how great it is to see some new/unfamilar names on the tracklist, as well as the pleasing combo of old and new styles. Very recommended.