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If you’re dedicated enough of a Horser to still be visiting these realms this is already old news, but either way it’s about time to mention that my first official release, Cyhyraeth,  is appearing on FINRG today. Although it probably sounds laughable to all those artists with dozens of releases to their names, for this long-time non-producing DJ a release on FINRG has to be up there in the top 3 career highlights. Not only that, mind – Cyhyraeth is release 001 of FINRG Legacy, the new home for freeform that continues the lineage of the original Finnish sound. One of the nicest responses I’ve had to the track was ‘It makes me feel the darkness of the 2000s,’ and that was exactly what I was going for. I’m not in a position to put together another In Praise of Shadows right now, so this track was an attempt to point back to those incredible early atmospheres, for all the freeform newcomers who didn’t experience them in the mid-2000s (or the veterans who have since forgotten them – which seems like a sizeable crowd too).

It won’t be much of a surprise to learn that I’ve been working on various incarnations of this track and others for years, especially given my approach to mix planning. It’s in the last year or two, though, that I decided to really take the production side more seriously. The rule was to finish at least one original track before working on any remixes, and so here we are.

I wonder how many other DJs can relate to this, but after years of playing most of the genre’s all-time greatest tracks, it’s been unbelievably intimidating to try something of my own. After plenty of wrestling with this, I finally came up with three requirements for anything new before it would go public:

  • Would I play this track in a set of my own?
  • Would it make me dance?
  • Would it fit into a mid-2000s FINRG set?

Cyhyraeth is far from a perfect track of course, but eventually I got to a point of ‘Yes’ in answer to all of those. Happily it also felt that I was forming a bit more of a distinctive style while working through those questions, even if the ‘pale imitation of Alek’ aspect might always be there somewhere. Something I brought back from my mid-late 90s FastTracker days was to decide on the title first, as that always used to be super important in building an identity and atmosphere for the track (even in the odd breakbeat stuff I used to make back then). Cyhyraeth wouldn’t sound anything like this if I hadn’t kept that fairly disturbing Welsh myth in mind while putting it together.

There’s a lot of Goa influence too, which you’ll especially hear in the full version. It makes it harder to mix than some freeform tracks, but that was also intentional. Working a lot with Exemia’s tracks (or past Goa sets) reminded me of the obvious – mixing challenging tracks makes you a better DJ, no question.

Anyway, I’m very grateful for the positive/constructive feedback I’ve had on this track and I’ll be taking it all into the next one. Who knows when/if that’ll appear, but clearing this hurdle was a massive step that bodes pretty well. Final, massive thanks to Robin Petras for his wizardry on the mastering and solid gold feedback/advice throughout. After his incredible work on the compilation I was quick to get in touch with him this time, and somehow he outdid himself once again.

Thanks to Shimotsukei I saw this Tano*C stream recording for the first time the other day, including a rare video of a whole Betwixt & Between set (starting here). No live PA this time though, instead he’s mixing mainstream hardcore. He would often say that he preferred PAs because he didn’t know how to DJ, but he had some mixing experience by this stage and it’s a good effort.

Truth be told it’s hard to watch this without getting a bit emotional, especially considering the timing. Hopefully there are a few other sets/event videos floating around that I’ve missed up until now.

A quick post here for anyone else who might have missed this fine release last year from FutureProof Sounds. Known of course for their freeform, here FPS have come up with an excellent Decion/Alchemiist combo around the 155bpm mark.

Decion’s track is on the harder end of the style he has become known for since, and (super clean modern production aside) would have fitted right into the Hybridize lineup back in the day with its bright melody/nasty synth combos. A great track – for a hard dance set with some psy elements, this could be just the thing.

Alchemiist continues to keep up my interest in the traditional style of Hard NRG, which is almost universally disppointing when I hear it from other producers. I wouldn’t put Bombing Run up there with the very best of his older NRG, but it’s a solid track, again with some impressive production.

Right, it’s time to indulge me again while I talk about my recent sets, one that took a lot of work but overall turned out much better than I could have hoped. It was (mostly) a lot of fun to put together, but quite apart from that it was very satisfying to combine a few techniques that I’ve been working on over the past years.

Putting the time in to learn Exemia’s tracks has given me a massive appreciation for his creativity and musical skill, and that’s not only when it comes to freeform. Have a wander through his bandcamp and you’ll find plenty of quality industrial, a fabulous synthwave album that must have been the precursor to all this, and a hard, goa-industrial album from 2012 that I’m definitely going to be using in the future.

No suprise that the initial inspiration came from Exemia’s release of the Retribution album earlier in the year. It’s an incredible collection of tracks and is immediately up there as one of the strongest freeform albums ever, in my view. I absolutely can’t resist the stronger emphasis on synthwave/synthform in the older releases either, which got me thinking seriously about how to combine them into one set. I’ll happily admit that I wasn’t as familiar with some of the tracks as I should have been, so the first job was to have a massive folder of Exemia tracks on rotation whenever doing tasks around TYFTH Towers. If a track jumped out at me I’d make a note of the name with  a couple of comments, and after doing that for a while I had a good selection of must-plays-if-possible.

The next step was to work out some transitions using those early favourites. Although there were a couple that sadly weren’t useable, Exemia has thankfully worked in a few similar keys throughout his albums. As always, that made a good starting point to begin building up a few sections in usual style. The freeform DJ staple of switching things up suddenly to escape from a transition wasn’t usually going to be an option here though, and once I realised the potential of working with multiple melodies together and numerous tracks in the same key, hand-waving away some dodgy transitions in between sounded like a terrible idea (and made the set itself sound terrible, too).

Instead a lot of effort went into harmonically mixing the set when it suited, Defend the Bass into Lone Wolf maybe being the most successful. The former’s breakdown has some unusual chords that give you some mixing leeway – until close to the final version of the set I was mixing that part with the basses switched and thought I had some clashing keys going on with Lone Wolf, but it was mostly down to that breakdown and its unusual sounds.

That’s not to say it was smooth sailing from that point, as yet more time was spent changing up the order of tracks within sections or experimenting with different harmonic options to keep the flow of the set right. Boombox Squad was almost the set opener, but as it’s got a slightly different style it worked better as a way to switch things up towards the end. Besides that, Digital Blizzard – When the sun sets is one of my favourite combinations, so I was happy to settle on that. Even the Lone Wolf to Revenge of the Vampire section that some might know from my b2b with Shimotsukei was reordered many times before going back to the orginal. What I was trying to do in the older set (smoothly mix two tracks at their busiest sections as if it’s a normal intro-outro transition) is almost impossible without an extra hand, so here I did something similar to the Lagash – Psychokinesis transition in the FINRG Podcast, being careful of the bass in both tracks and mixing almost completely with the faders rather than the EQ. It’s not 100% there in either transition, but a pretty good effort.

The other important ordering consideration was something mentioned early in the post – as much as I love Retribution’s sound, those older, emotional synthy tracks should be just as central to an Exemia set. Finding the balance was important, so the Retribution material was used to add some extra power and drive when it felt right. To that end, fairly small sections of some tracks were used either to keep the pace up or briefly add a breakdown to the set. So many of the transitions are unlike those I’d usually do in a freeform set that it was an enjoyable challenge to keep things moving smoothly.

It’s been a while since we had some chaotic behind the scenes notes, so here we go:

 

This was the point at which the set was being more concretely ordered, but there was so much going on that I had to make some extra notes to remind me about cue points and starting times. I had this paper to hand while mixing the Twitch stream, but had recreated the DJ booth atmosphere a bit too authentically and couldn’t really see it. It went ok on the whole though, and thankfully things were pretty much committed to memory by the time of the rerecording.

The hope was that this is a set that encourages multiple listens – tracks this good definitely deserve the effort I put in, and hopefully it does them justice. If it inspires everyone to check out more of Exemia’s music (and maybe even mixing it themselves) then that’s mission accomplished.

Time for a much delayed look at Sherkel’s latest production mix, a highly recommended set for anyone looking for some Romancer-style NRG. That’s not to say it relies completely on Sherkel’s amazing ability to capture the sound of Einhander though, as the set has plenty of more creative melodies and some high quality remix work.

To my ears this is without doubt the strongest set from Sherkel so far, and the best example yet of the sound he has been forming over the past few years. All three of the original tracks are excellent in different ways – Coincide is perhaps most similar to previous work, with plenty of energy and an excellent breakdown, while Rising Waves has one of the most distinctive, oddly calming atmospheres I’ve heard for a long time. 死人花 (Shibitohana) is a fitting set finisher, with its quality, hectic melodies and another inspired breakdown.

Talking of inspiration, you can feel it in full force for the Surendrajit remix, adding more NRG style to the track and (pleasingly) not replicating Betwixt’s structure completely. Instead this is a proper remix, gophering deep into Sherkel’s style in the second half with some lovely updated melodies and impressive synth work. Short Circuit is the other remix (one I had to look up) and is equally well-handled. Sherkel’s done well to spot the NRG potential in this one but also managed the difficult part, putting together a catchy, powerful track that will appeal whether you’re familiar with the original or not. The Sherkely synths filtering around the sampled vocals are especially great.

To reiterate, then, this is impressive work and genuinely a set that would have gone down well at either Romancer or CODEX. Hopefully there’s more on the way for next year?

All systems go for the second attempt at TYFTH Live 008, a year and a half later. I’ve been testing out all the necessaries this week, and a final secret test stream a few minutes ago (only a quick sound test) was the final check needed. The main event’ll be starting at 19:30 JST, with a few minutes for sound checking before that.

Tomorrow’s stream will be an Exemia-only freeform set, something I’ve been cryptically referencing on Mastodon for a while now. It’s been lots of fun but a big challenge to put this one together, with tricky transitions all over the place. It’ll be recorded and uploaded as and when (or rerecorded if there are any disasters), but  all are welcome to stop by the usual place for the live version!

For a while now I’ve been meaning to highlight Rinne Tensei as one of the best tracks of the year, so here it is alongside a very recent release.

polaritia’s track might have been missed by some, as it was hiding in the middle of a downtempo/electro-heavy release on Artificial World called Regenerate one’s own world. Even by Artifical World standards it’s full of diverse, leftfield tracks, so extra credit to polaritia for showing that you reach the same emotions at freeform bpm. His track touches on the UK freeform-meets-gentle-FINRG style that’s pretty much the default mode for Japanese releases these days, but the Nomic-influenced side of his production ensures there’s a lot more to it than that. Nomic aside, he’s definitely become one of the best producers in the scene at taking on these emotional piano breakdowns.

U-F SEQUENCER’s track is also on the melodic side, albeit with that trademark UFS crazed synth work here and there. It’d need some gymnastics to get this into one of my sets, but I’m a big fan after a couple of listens. Really nice work on the second half of the track, with even some echoes of late-era Betwixt here and there. Free download on this one, by the way.

A couple of weeks ago I uploaded this Cogi set to YouTube and was meaning to add it here too, partly in the hope of getting some help with the tracklist. This is pretty vintage stuff, probably recorded sometime around 2008-10 and rescued from an old CDR. YouTube’s copyright claims came in handy for once, flagging up a few tracks to get things started – aside from Ultraworld 5 I wouldn’t be able to put a name to any others.

The set itself is excellent, showing of Cogi’s aggressive-with-the-melancholy set construction style and some really nice transitions. An absolutely recommended listen if you haven’t already, and although it isn’t up on SoundCloud there’s a download link for the set in the video description.

TYFTH has been in cryostasis for a year or so, and truth be told I haven’t been listening to much freeform either. The chronic lack of new releases was part of the reason, but Exemia’s Retribution almost made up for this all by itself. Freeform album of 2021 without a doubt, and his strongest  so far, which is saying something.

The balance is spot on here, with some real weight to the kick/bass alongside some complex melodies. They’ve always been an Exemia strong suit, but this time I can also hear an occasional Qygen influence (maybe something from the Blue Revolver days?) that works excellently. The creativity on show here’s pretty incredible, from nastier work like Cultist Killer to the beautiful almost-finale When the sun sets.

Make sure to show some support if you haven’t already – even with signs of the scene waking up a little, it really needs more artists of Exemeia’s level to keep it going.