Goa / Psy

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.

The recent M3 event in Tokyo was a big one for freeform, with a cluster of albums and EPs released. Until the last minute I was supposed be there too, but thankfully everything I had my eye on has since become available online/digitally. Although last weekend’s TYFTH Live featured a few of the new tracks (more on that soon), it didn’t end up including anything from the most TYFTH-friendly album of them all – Khaosnet Civilization Vol.4.

Impressively from a lineup heavy on newer artists (and even the more experienced here haven’t been around for that long) the track selection gave me some In Praise of Shadows-esque first impressions. Granted there’re some uplifting sounds here and there, but the album as a whole sounds like it’s taking on the darker and deeper sounds that IPoS was trying to resurrect. No NRG here though – it’s freeform all the way with some of the bpms really getting up there.

Picking a track of the album is tough, but I’ll go for Elfen lied – instantly my all-time favourite Kokomochi track, the first five minutes or so is some of the best dark freeform you’ll hear all year (in a year when there’s actually some competition). Add in some Guld-esque filtered melodies and you have one heck of a track, which is already on the to-play list for my darker FINRG set.

Other highlights for me are Ri-nergy’s Empty Dream, Samiyama’s Azelf, and polaritia’s Strange Dream, but truth be told the quality level is very high throughout. Even Kannami’s Lose Control, a track that seems to have more of a Transcend/UK freeform influence, adds more darkness than you’d expect with some weighty filters.

Compilation of the year, then? It’s in the lead for now, I’d say. Congrats to Kokomochi on this release – another sign of hope in a scene that really seems to be waking up again.

It’s no secret that getting the psychedelic/goa influence back into freeform is one of my goals these days, but interestingly this lovely album is coming at things from the opposite direction. Clearly from a psy/goa background (or at least with more experience in that area), Yogga* shows a good ear for when and how to introduce NRG/freeform sounds to all seven of the tracks here.

It’s probably the kick and bass that most betray the lack of freeform experience (and the occasional happy hardcore-esque combined kick and clap definitely takes some getting used to), but get past that and you’re in for an excellent listen. If anything, the opening track (Seratonin) is the least freeform of them all, sounding more like a pacy, acoustic goa set-ender. Still a lovely track, mind, nicely setting up the atmosphere for the rest of the album.

Oxytocin is one I can definitely imagine fitting into a freeform set, with some excellent goa acid and filtered synths leading into a quality breakdown. Unfortunately it is on the shorter side – the album is seemingly put together to be listened to in its entirety, which means DJs might have trouble with a couple of the tracks (the excellent Dopamin, especially). Saying that, they’re in a pretty consistent key and it wouldn’t be difficult to mix a few of them back to back – the beautiful Endorphine and Melatonin are two of the most emotional, psychedelic tracks and would be an especially nice combo, I suspect.

What a unique, enjoyable album this is, then. Fitting some of these into a set could be perfect way to introduce some new atmospheres – I’ll be having a practice with them very soon.

It’s highly likely that I missed an announcement about this at the time (especially now that I’ve escaped the clutches of most social media), but either way this is a first TYFTH mention of Carbon Based’s ridiculously good Kraateri EP. Apparently it sneaked out in the middle of last year, making it one of the best releases of 2023.

The first track is what you’d expect, a remastered version of the original that still stands up to anything in that bpm range of twisty-melodic NRG. It’s with Reincarnation that things really get interesting though, as this is a superb new version that takes the atmosphere to another level. Crucially it still sounds nice and gritty in the NRG filtering, but the goa influence that was always there in founding FINRG releases has more depth and clarity than you’d typically have heard in the early years.

This is one of FINRG’s strongest releases for quite a while, and deserves all the support if you’re like me and missed it the first time around. All the digital stores have their problems but I’m linking beatport here – it’s likely available elsewhere too.

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.

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.

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.

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…

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.