Chinese

One of the other big releases recently was a lot less conventional than Ephemanent, showing what a good state the scene is in these days – at least in terms of new tracks being produced. Escape the Time is more on the freeform fringes, what with the very strong psy/hi-tech influences, but it’s definitely worth a TYFTH mention as one of the most diverse EPs there’s been for a while.

While the first two tracks are probably the furthest from freeform, I really enjoy the progression of Impending Flux and the goa-esque melodies that appear in the second half. This is one that really could find a good home in a darker, psychedelic set. Depths of Phantasmagoria starts as my favourite track on the EP, but slightly loses steam by heading in a less goa direction from the breakdown onwards. Following that is the excellent new version of Cinder Glade, then more quality Nirotiy, this time with a remix of Elk Cloner.

Although this might not be an EP you’ll have on repeat given how unusual most of the tracks are, there are some brilliant ideas in here and it deserves support. There’s a lot of mixing potential here too, so there’ll very likely be a future TYFTH set appearance for at least a couple of these.

With a big list of posts on the to-do list, let’s get going with one of the more obvious ones. Or is it that obvious, given that it’s on the lighter side? Either way, Ephemanent from Chinese label Thoughost is as good a compilation of melodic freeform as you’ll find anywhere this year, even with plenty of it around at the moment.

Overall it shows a strong Japanese/UK influence with breakbeats, pianos, and breakdowns long enough to take a little nap before the drop – but this is high quality stuff, and many of the melodies are a step above what we tend to hear these days. I used quite a few in my TYFTH Live set (more on that pretty soon) and while they are some of the strongest on the compilation there are some more typical TYFTH tracks tucked away in here too. The favourite for me is probably MiYAjY’s Nightmare Trigger, an aggressive track that builds into a quality atmosphere, partly thanks to those nicely gritty filters. Joulez’s Bezerk is also a highlight, with a Betwixt feel to the structure and melodies.

Elsewhere it’s more of what you’d expect, with two great contributions from Nirotiy to finish things off. Perhaps not a gold star TYFTH recommendation – only a few of the tracks would be contenders for me in a ‘normal’ TYFTH set – but if you’re looking for a break from the dark side and want to build up your collection of modern melodic freeform, this is definitely the place to start.

Some will have heard this pretty spectacular acid freeform track when it appeared on Nirotiy’s SoundCloud recently. Following up one of the best ever remixes of an Alek track isn’t easy, but Ray of Oblivion makes a fine job of it, keeping the Alek influence but sounding much more experimental than Iron Squid.

What you might not have noticed was its release on the huge compilation of harder Chinese sounds The Silent Xosmos -United and Unbound –. While the compilation itself is far too all over the place to get a TYFTH gold star, Irish Kappa’s Fabulous Action and Valtrax’s Recall are two quality freeform tracks on the melodic side. Have a browse through the rest of the album for everything from hardstyle to makina – if you have a Shimo-level range of listening/mixing tastes then this could be the album for you.

Isn’t it nice to see all these new mixed sets alongside the newer track releases? Here’s another from the growing Chinese scene, and once again the focus is on oldies – which totally makes sense, what with many discovering the genre for the first time. RebalLance describes this set as a practice, and while it probably shouldn’t be top of your to-listen pile if you’re overly familiar with the tracks, the middle section in particular has some fantastic moments.

A shame, then, that the weakest transition of the whole set is right at the start, with the interesting combo of Absence and Why not really working out. The lopsided use of the tracks also hurts the opening, as Why plays out for a full 5 minutes or so after the quick transition. Stick with it though, to be rewarded with a lovely sequence through Tankobu and Extremely Dangerous, and a nice navigation into Fairytale. From there it’s into the strongest section of the set, the next four or five tracks linking excellently.

Although I’m not totally convinced by Iron Bottom Sound as a follow up to Cyclone, the transition into the Lush reveals the thinking behind that one. After that there’s a ferocious finale of anthems – al Megiddo into Nue Messiah takes me way back, while Man Eaten into Mohicans is a superb way to finish things.

Give this one a try then, is my advice – a couple of surprise selections and that brilliant main sequence make it well worth a listen.

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.

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.

Time for a belated look at another Asukarai Matsuri set, again a pretty fascinating look at how a talented newcomer to the scene approaches the NRG and freeform back catalogues. This is a great hour of freeform, and very recommended even if you’ve heard most of the tracks a million times before.

The track selection definitely reminds me of my own early days, with some of the all-time classic melodic tracks alongside more aggressive sections. Global Killer – Tuonela is a fine start, but it’s probably the next section where things step up a level. A darker atmosphere moves smoothly into Voices of Babylon, followed by a very impressive stretch of filtery melodic tracks. It obviously made my day to hear Hell’s Gate, especially as the transition into Morokai is one of the very best of the set. The finale is a classic dancefloor-friendly bpm increase, nicely done here with some Lost Soul and Nirotiy, before Hydra deepens things at the finish.

Overall another excellent set, and what it lacks in unified atmosphere from start to finish it makes up for in quality track selection. With literally a few hundred classic tracks yet to appear in his sets, I’m looking forward to AM’s next tribute to the golden age.

Like me you might have been learning more about the freeform scene in China recently, and the talented group of young DJs and producers who seem to be inspired by the sounds we favour around here. One of them, Asukarai Matsuri, has put together a fantastic mix that covers just about all the TYFTH bases.

The most impressive thing about the set overall is the transitions, both in how they sound and their originality. By halfway through my first listen I was looking forward to each new one, wondering how the next track would appear. Needless to say, that’s not the case in 99% of freeform sets, and even though some were more successful than others this is very impressive for such a new DJ. There are some superb, in-key combinations like Children into Rachel’s Song and A Mind On Its Own with Skybreak, plus some ‘close enough’ transitions like Ziggurat – Gozenzeuna and Deimos – Surendrajit. There’s also a superb sequence of Hase/ThermalForce that keeps the energy of the set going despite the two long back-to-back breaks of Brionac and Meditation. Another good sign of set construction sense is that there isn’t another breakdown of similar length until the much later Fall 4 You.

Of course the danger with those ‘close enough’ transitions is that sometimes you’ll push it too far and they start to stand out, especially in a mix with so many smooth, in-key combinations. That’s the case with Surendrajit – Falling Star, which doesn’t quite work and yet becomes a very lengthy blend. It doesn’t sound bad, but when the previous 45 minutes have had some very impressive moments, it can’t help but be jarring.

Something that might put first-time listeners off is the occasional messiness of the early transitions, but things clear up a lot in the second half. It seems that this could have been a streamed set, in which case it’s totally understandable and might just have been early set nerves/tech stuff. Either way, it’s something that’ll only get cleaner with experience (something I know all too well).

It’s a real pleasure to hear a new generation take on the sound we’ve all been pushing for so long, and to already be creating such impressive sets makes it even better. I’m looking forward to hearing what comes next, both in terms of new takes on NRG sets but also new productions.