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.