Mixes

Let’s start the year off with a few things that I should have mentioned at the end of last one. The first is thanks to Shimo again, and an older set that some will have heard already. I somehow totally missed it at the time though, and it’s a very pleasant surprise to see the level of back catalogue that Risa/Rinergy has been building up over the past year or so.

If you’ve been paying attention recently then you’re already familiar with the excellent Ordeal, released late last year on Khaosnet Civilization 3, but it doesn’t even find a place in this promo set. Impressively there are a fair few tracks here that match its Nomic-esque emotional melodies, and a couple that get as close to Nomic’s style as anyone has managed for a long time. There’s also a pleasing preference for filtery leads – I’ve long thought they can improve even the most unispired freeform melody, so when they’re used with Ri-energy level of composition we’re really talking.

Overall it’s a nice combination, as those filtered melodies have something of a Substanced/Hyphen feel while the piano and swelling strings steer things in more of a Nomic direction. This is also a brilliantly constructed set with (a couple of exceptions aside) some quality transitions that are as good as you’ll hear in an artist set/live PA affair. While the final Substanced remixes aren’t my thing at all they’re a good example of how Ri-energy’s production range stretches a lot further than the excellent but pretty consistent style we’ve heard for the previous 50 minutes.

Obviously a recommended set then, and if ever CODEX is to make a reappearance Ri-energy gets my vote for a Live PA slot on the lineup – I’d love to hear a set like this in a club setting.

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.

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.

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.

I was listening to Proteus’ Hard NRG V recently, and Lou Cypher Project’s Plague jumped out me as one of those nice early-era NRG tracks. It turns out that Lou Cypher Project’s are all available on their SoundCloud, with 7 or 8 in the Weirdo-esque style of Plague. My favourite is The Next Level, as its harder kick and low-end heavy synths could still do the job in a Hardcore for Life style set. Old news for many I’m sure, but check these out if you’re in the market for some retro NRG.

Belated shout out for a rare Asahi mix that’s worth checking out for lots of reasons. He’s got such good taste in NRG that it’s always nice to hear one of his sets, and while this one sounds a bit rusty in places there are some top class track combinations that I enjoyed a lot.

I somehow completely forgot about Mask Man, and here it shows what a strong track it is by combining excellently with Lush. I must admit that I zoned out a little once the UK freeform kicked in, but saying that Krater is a quality transition track that could come in handy for a lot of DJs.

The big showstopper for this set has to be the inclusion of an unreleased Booty promo, a superb track with an odd, experimental atmosphere. I wish I could hear more of these, as they make you realise how much influence might have had on the other Romancer artists. Close to zero chance of any of his material seeing a release, so we should all be extra grateful to Asahi for giving them an airing.

Last call for TYFTH Live 009, as it’s been visible in all the usual places since February. That includes Twitch, as it’s highlighted there and shouldn’t disappear anytime soon (if ever?). This was a a very fun set to put together, with many old and new tracks getting a play for the first time. I’m very happy with the atmosphere, even if (as usual) it was a lot of work to put together.

The biggest Horser-related news from the set was that we had two tracks on show – my Cyhyraeth and Sherkel’s superb Concealed. I’ve been trying to work out a way to use it in a set for quite a long time now as it has an extremely long, atmospheric breakdown. The opening three tracks of this set (repurposed from a CODEX appearance) are pretty hectic and absolutely set the tone, but are combined in a way that keeps the long breaks to a minimum. That was the perfect platform for Concealed, then, and I love the flow of that section.

Of the other transitions Perkele! – VPN is probably my favourite, as they’re two tracks I’ve wanted to play for years but are extremely challenging to use well. It was one of those lovely mixing moments when I realised there was potential to combine the two. Another high point was the Twisted Freq section (which needed some 3-deck action to get things working), as I combined the two in that way to reduce the massive breakdowns that you tend to get in Kreatrix tracks. PHASE 6 – Tigris also works really well, linking PHASE 6’s break with Tigris’ intro to deepen the atmosphere some more before the dark-but-melodic final part of the set. Oh and Mirage – Chimaera has never been in any of my online/event sets, but I used a less ambitious version in my first ever freeform mix back in 2006.

I was very happy to see how well the set was received live on Twitch – a massive thanks goes to Shimo for her raid, and to all the Fairy Forest crew who stayed around to listen. I’ve played to far fewer people at many club events, and it was a bit overwhelming to try to keep track of the action in the chat. Apologies to those I missed, and I’ll try to be on top of it next time. It actually crossed my mind to have a mic set up for interacting with everyone listening, but then I’d need to also record the set through Traktor to get the clean audio. I’m wary of adding more stress to my overloaded setup, but I’ll do some tests before deciding one way or the other.

Obviously I missed the March deadline for the next one, but more than ever these days I get the feeling that people expect a certain kind of set from me, and just throwing one together at the last minute wouldn’t really cut it. With all the newcomers to the scene and the ever-increasing distance between now and the release of those 2000s tracks, hopefully my ‘old and new’ style can still hit the sweet spot between introducing the classics to freeform rookies, while pushing the newer tracks and producers that are keeping that spirit alive. On that note, I’ve put in quite a bit of time to the next mix, with an intro just about decided and another section that has some lovely combinations. I’d say it’s pretty likely to appear this month, depending how well I manage the traditionally tricky middle part of the set.

Back in the day I used to rely on Midas for my UK freeform, as he would usually find a nice balance between the UK style and FINRG that gave a taste of what was happening in both scenes. More recently Hedonistik Ritual is definitely the one to watch for that, though as a producer and FINRG member he’s going a few steps further, of course. I’m a bit late mentioning this one, but his Exposed Events set was a fine example.

The set starts off with some Lab 4/Substanced/Carbon Based, easing into things before the UK freeform comes in. It’s always interesting to hear a mix of the two like this (even if this set is definitely more on the UK side), especially with Hedonistik’s energetic mixing style that always keeps the interest up. As many will know, he used to be (still is?) an MC, so he’s a natural at hosting and introducing this sort of streamed event.

Watch out especially for Hedonistik’s tracks, Pelko’s Hellchoir and a nice use of Kokomochi’s Megaptera towards the end.

1.Lab4 – Reformation (Nick the Kid Remix) Intro
2.Lab 4 – Reformation (Carbon Based Remix)
3. Substanced – Geneva pt 3 (Carbon Based Remix)
4. DJ Scot Project – O (Mark Sherry’s Acidburst Remix)
5. Alex Mo – Over the Rainbow
6. Hedonistik Ritual – Invasion
7. Pelko – Hellchoir
8. Aeon – Apostasy
9. Angel 0A – Psychokiller
10. Kokomochi – Megaptera
11. Kevin Energy & Afterburner – Escape Velocity
12. Impact – Phat as Phuck (A.B & Hedonistik Ritual’s Keep it Freeform Remix)
13. Ephexis – Sick Seduction

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.

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.