UK

If you’re missing NRG after all the freeform releases lately, take a look at this superb EP by B.R.K, released on Eryk Orpheus’ Intelli-trance label earlier this month.

It goes without saying that B.R.K’s composition has been top drawer from the very early days, and the production levels have steadily improved with each album release. Here though some mastering wizardry from Eryk Orpheus has definitely taken things up a step, with the whole release sounding like the cleanest of Lab4 productions.

It’s more NRG than hard trance, as you’d expect, but on the uplifting side when the melodies kick in. My favourite though is Rome Will Burn Down with its guitar-led breakdown (played by the man himself, I expect), bringing some deeper atmospheres to the usual B.R.K. formula.

Listening through the whole release makes you release how long it’s been since we’ve had something similar – make sure to show some support for this one.

Unprecedented scenes here, as a second TYFTH set goes online within a month (or so) of the last stream. I’ll soon be away again for a week, but signs are that there’ll be at least one more in March. Enormous thanks once again to everyone who joined the stream, it’s a genuine pleasure to share these tunes and catch up in the chat.

Special mention to Butterfly Effect,  sneaking its way into the set to become the first UK freeform track I’ve used for many years. The goa-style acid in the second half made it a contender for the stream’s psychedelic theme, and layering it above and below Man Eaten and Ancient Universe made for a good intro (and covered up some elements I wasn’t so keen on).

I was quite happy with the rest of the set considering how quickly I put it together – the Qygen section at the start is overly long because there were originally some other tracks in there that were cut at the last moment (plus they’re two of Qygen’s more enormous tracks, of course). Otherwise I’m pretty happy with how the set meanders around some freeform-adjacent genres but gets back on track for the final third.

One of the not-exactly-freeform tracks was Zoonoodle’s 国, which jambt0 corrected to during the stream. edit: Thanks to some Sherkel sleuthing it seem that 掴 is the right choice after all. Apologies to jmbt0! Isn’t it a great track, by the way? It’s long been in the running for the next FINRG set (and might still be), as it’s minimal enough to use with just about anything while having a dark atmosphere of its own.

Next time might be the hard techno set I’ve mentioned before, as I’m banking on that being easier to put together in haste. Nothing definite yet though – let’s see what time allows.

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.

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.

 

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.

As a bootleg remix it’s available for free on the Intelli-trance bandcamp.

What’s this, another recent set to check out? Hedonistik Ritual is now settling into a schedule with his Hard Tranceformers podcast, a hugely impressive two-hour session of trance up to freeform. I’m biased this time, but even as someone who doesn’t care much for (non Goa) trance or hard trance these sets are excellent. Enough variety to keep anyone interested, and some quality track introductions and other info from Hedonistik while he plays.

This time it’s Cyhyraeth that made an appearance in a set – superbly mixed in after Powers Beyond(!) and followed by Drug Abuse, something I never would have imagined. Aside from being played at an in-person event I can’t imagine there are many better feelings than hearing another DJ do something creative with one of your tracks, so this was a real treat. Special thanks to Hedonistik for the kind words while introing the tune, and extra kudos for nailing the cyhyraeth pronunciation.

Early impressions are that these podcasts are (unsurprisingly) getting a wider listening audience than the usual freeform veterans, making them a fine entry into our reawakening scene for trance/hard trance fans.