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We’ve already talked plenty about Blood from the Sky, Alek’s superb new dark freeform track, but surprisingly it isn’t releasing on FINRG after all. Instead it’s available for free on Alek’s own SoundCloud, which as a track of the year contender makes this a massive treat. If you haven’t already, support Alek instead by picking up 5396 miles and/or Ten Thousand Homeworlds from his bandcamp. Maybe even with a little extra added to cover Blood from the Sky?

It would be slightly odd if you’re here and haven’t heard anything about last weekend’s TYFTH Live, but here’s one last mention for completeness. I mastodonned during planning about how much fun I was having putting this one together – I’m holding back a lot of tracks for an upcoming FINRG set, and the restrictions made for a few unusual selections and new combinations.

I won’t give one of my long mix-constructing rambles this time, but Ordeal into Killer Loop would probably be somewhere in my all-time top 10 transitions, I’m immensely proud of it. The Aquanox melody with Ordeal’s bass and pads absolutely sounds like something new – I knew I was onto something when it gave me goosebumps the first time mixing it.

Other than that the set’ll probably get some listens for the Hellfire remix, which I found on an old hard drive about a month ago. I enjoy the sequence from there to the end, as things get darker and there are some other nice combos I haven’t tried before.

Now’s also a nice time to say another big thanks to everyone who showed up to listen, from the hardcore Horsers to the new listeners via Shimo’s raid. In big part thanks to the good response, I was hit by some inspiration and almost managed to put together another streamable freeform set for this weekend(!), but it’s not quite there and will have to wait for next month instead. Stay tuned, as (unusually) there’s plenty in the works at the moment.

It’s no secret that I’ve been pushing for more carefully constructed freeform sets since the very early days – ten years(!) or so ago we had a fine crop of DJs who worked wonders with what was being released, but mixes of that quality have been pretty thin on the ground lately. Asukarai Matsuri to the rescue, then, with a set of older tracks that instantly belongs among the all-time greats.

Normally when I give a mix the spotlight around here I pick out a few highlight transitions, but the standard is so high for this one that it’s almost impossible to choose. Veterans will look at the tracklist and probably have something of an idea of what to expect – melancholy melodies with some pacy filters to keep the energy up – but I guarantee that some of the combinations will catch you by surprise. Old Proteus favourite El Orfanato used as a follow-up to Byrgius is one, The Last Breath into Geneva another.

It’s the overall atmosphere of the set that’s the biggest achievement for me though, as it finds and then explores the common ground between a pretty wide range of artists. From Nomic’s melancholy to Aryx’s uplifting sound, via Epyx and Cyrez or Substanced’s agressive synths, it really does make something new with these ingredients. Many freeform DJs (myself included) have struggled to handle that kind of variety in the past, but this is an almost perfect attempt. Deimos is the one track that doesn’t slot in as smoothly, but that’s a common problem when using Alek’s tracks and it’s back to business as usual with the excellent transition to Fairytale. The fine tradition of unpronounceable freeform track names continues here too, with Nirotiy’s impressive 沉渊低语 ending the set on a forward-looking note.

I can’t imagine I’ll be recommending many more sets as highly as this for the rest of year, so I urge you both to check it out and share it with any and all who might be interested

We already know that the Chinese scene has the best up-and-coming DJs in freeform, but this utterly great track from Nirotiy shows that they could have the production side covered soon, too. It takes a brave soul to remix one of Alek’s tracks, especially when done by ear with no midi files to lean on – Nirotiy has done a superb job of recreating Iron Squid’s psychedelic melodies, as well as referencing the original track with some wonderful, growling synths. Even the new approach to the structure hits the spot, while the breakdown feels fresh in this new setting. A textbook example on how to update an anthem, in other words, making it the first contender for track of the year.

I was supposed to put this post online a couple of weeks ago, but Alek was adding so much new material to his SoundCloud that I couldn’t keep up. Things have calmed down again now, so here’s a roundup of some of the wonderful stuff he’s been working on recently.

Toisto is a lovely update to a tracker(?)/demoscene track, even if I’m not familiar with the original and had no luck with a search. The Boulder Dash theme, on the other hand, is an absolute classic and has been a favourite of mine for over 30 years. Here Alek’s gone for a trance remix, perhaps wisely as the theme is so good that you can quite happily loop it for 4 or 5 minutes without getting bored. Might we hear these tracks in another back to back set with Byproduct in the not-too-distant future?

Before we get on to the harder side it was a Paocala track from earlier this year that gave me hope for if/when Alek made a freeform comeback. 5396 Miles (at the top of this post) is a beautiful, downtempo soundtrack-esque piece that finds Alek right back in that emotional, otherwordly place where he’s always made his best music. Dare I say, I think it’s the best he’s written for years, and channelling that (back) into freeform would raise the bar, just as he did 20 years ago.

The first of the harder tracks is a collab with Decion, and an excellent hard trance/dance track that nicely combines the two styles. It’s only 150bpm, mind, and very much in the Decion style of ‘very hard trance’ rather than NRG, making it tough to get into a weightier Hard NRG set. Find the right tracks to surround it though, and this could be the uplifting centrepiece with an atmosphere that not many will match.

Origami Hearts is at freeform speed for sure, and even flirts with some of the depth of 5396 Miles with its spectacular opening. That gives way for some oldskool ravey sounds and a lead that almost has me imagining it’s an Alek-Substanced collab. It’s a fantastic, unusual track – though I’ll admit I was really hoping for some FINRG filtering to join the hoovers for a while in the middle section.

I won’t link the next one here, but it could be the most exciting (upcoming) freeform release from Alek in a long time. Blood from the Sky is a dark freeform track of the sort that I wasn’t sure we’d ever see again – aggressive, atmospheric, and progressive. The opening half of the track is spectacular and even Re-form-esque at times with the voice samples and jittery snare rolls, but it’s post-drop where the leads get darker and more complex, and the track really takes off. The use of some samples from the FINRG Hard era is a nice nod to the history that flows through this tune, but there are plenty of modern production touches that make it an evolution in the best way. Absolutely superb work from Alek – if you’re looking for a preview then apparently there’s one on Facebook, but I’d recommend joining the FINRG discord if you haven’t already, where he added a full-length version last month.

As if that wasn’t enough, a remastered version of Voices of Babylon also appeared on Alek’s SoundCloud a week or so ago. Earlier this year Guld and I were sitting in an izakaya listening to the original together, trying to decide whether it’s the best Alek’s ever done – personally it’s still in my top 3 freeform tracks, and very possibly at number 1. This remaster cleans up the track, giving it a brighter feel that definitely benefits some of the leads. The grittiness of the original master is something I really love though, and I still prefer the older kick. In my case I’ll be keeping both versions to hand, as depending on the atmosphere of the set and the surrounding tracks they’ll both have their place. Scandalously it hasn’t been shared by the main FINRG account yet (thinking of going rogue and doing it myself) and so it might not have reached the audience it should have. Spread the word then, as one of the all-time greats has had an update, and there must be some who weren’t in the scene the first time around.

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.