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BRING THE DANCE: 2018’s Top 10 DJ Mixes

WORDS BY JACK MCKEEVER      PHOTO BY JACK KIRWIN

2018 has seen club culture experience both fantastic highs and some distressing lows. One thing that remains unchanged, however, is the passion, euphoria and boundary pushing that exists in modern electronic music. The art of the DJ mix is as powerful and necessary as ever, and this year saw many new faces, as well as some legends of the dance landscape, twist it into new dimensions.

Below are ten mixes that have made me grin, cry, clench my fists and punch the air and lose myself in deep thought consistently throughout 2018. Whether you’re into vast, eclectic house and techno experiments, silky and heavenly ambient or delirious drum’n’bass, there’ll be something for you to wrap your ears around here. As always, here’s to hoping you find something you love!

TRUANTS – Truancy Mix 228: Or:la

Hailing from Derry, Northern Ireland, Or:La has enjoyed a rightful boon over the last 18 months. She won hearts with her Boiler Room-documented set from Belfast’s AVA Festival last summer, and in September of this year she stepped into the hallowed Truancy booth and delivered what is, for this writer, the most sublime hour of music of the year. There’s an otherworldly flow to the mix, which reflects her narrative of ‘order into disorder’ as though it were broadcast from an alternate reality where life is blissfully blurry. No matter what stride or tone she settles upon (and there are a few here), her touch is mercurial, gracefully welding righteous humour into hypnotic techno contortions at the mid-way point and gliding through a finale of face-melting breaks, wonky EBM and star-gazing hardcore. Truly unique, truly un-fuckwithable.

Midland – As The City Sleeps

Midland’s ‘As the City Sleeps’ mix is one of 2018’s finest contributions to the ongoing ambient resurgence. He pulls at the tear ducts early via Bruised Skies’ ‘Low’ and Benoit Pioulard’s ‘An Image apart from Ourselves’. If there are any bleary-eyed cobwebs remaining halfway through then an excerpt from Jennie Livingston’s 1990 movie ‘Paris Is Burning’ meshed with Arthur Russell’s ‘Answers Me’ clears them completely. Conceived as a sort of companion piece to his 2017 ‘Fabric:Live’ mix, rounding off on Mark Hollis’ beautifully fragile ‘The Colour of Spring’ will fit perfectly against the backdrop of sunrise and the lo-fi thunder of the first train home.

Courtesy – Dekmantel Podcast 166

For what is, in my mind, the best Dekmantel podcast of the year, Danish techno heroine Courtesy turns in an hour of pounding hypnotism. Though she keeps the BPM rate bubbling at relatively similar levels throughout, it’s her versatility within that framework which makes the mix so captivating. Beautiful, dark, sometimes dystopian and always atmospheric, it pulls together a groove that seamlessly draws from different sectors and rejects tribalism. In essence, it does everything that is necessary for a properly communal listening experience.

SHYBOI – Resident Advisor Podcast 615

Discwoman member SHYBOI decimated Resident Advisor’s podcast series this year with an hour of visceral, warehouse-ready techno that oozes confidence and, crucially, wears a sense of fun on its sleeve throughout its intensity. It’s vital listening for both preparation for big nights out or just kicking away any start-of-week/day blues, especially it’s final fifteen minutes.

Hojo Clan – Clan Wars Podcast 004

March saw the enigmatic Hojo Clan collective deliver 40 minutes of searing, fist-clenching drum’n’bass experimentalism that feels like a pensive analogy for our nail-biting times. The narrative woven throughout of the mysterious warrior Kenshiro via the SoundCloud link is also to die for.

Call Super Essential Mix – 9/6/2018

One of the things that makes Joe Seaton, aka Call Super, such a special DJ is the fact that he almost always does the last thing one expects him too. One thing some of his mixes do have in common is a deeply personal element, and his Essential Mix from June of this year is founded on that same premise. It finds him in a deliriously joyous, party-starting mode as he rolls through an individualistic wealth of glorious house and techno, cheeky garage, and in the second half off-kilter selections, each of which’s atmospheres is allowed to be held strikingly on their own merits. And there’s THAT astonishing fusion of Donato Dozzy’s ‘Cleo’ and Shackleton’s ‘Blood On My Hands’ (both vital tunes in shaping and continuing my interest in dance music respectively) at the hour mark. All of it is overseen by his inimitable, unpredictable virtuosity that although deliberately choppy, never loses its sense of grace.

Breakwave NTS Jungle Set – 5/5/2018

Rising Liverpool DJ Breakwave turned to glorious, feel good jungle for the second episode of her NTS residency in May. Like all classic jungle sets, there’s a healthy, warm soulfulness emanating from the pours of the mix, and as the heatwave struck the UK this summer, listening to this felt like sheer transcendence. There’s the rumbling push-and-pull between light and dark at play too, before Orca’s ‘Alive & Kickin’ hits at the half-hour mark and the mood stays locked at Jubilation.

Mumdance – Shared Meanings

The now legendary Mumdance’s ‘Shared Meanings’ (available as a free download in mix form, a cassette, a 12” AND a DJ-friendly compilation) makes concrete his reputation as one of those rare DJs who basically never put a foot wrong. It’s an hour and a half of previously unreleased music from some of modern electronic music’s most forward-thinking names (Chevel, Bambounou, JK Flesh, Homemade Weapons, Isabella, Nkisi) that clings closest to Mumdance’s rawest, darkest roots whilst being constantly buoyant. It’s essentially the best of 2018’s outliers, presented in poetic form by someone who understands modern dance expressionism better than most others.

Facta – Crack Mix 236

For Crack Magazine’s 236th mix, Oscar Henson aka Facta draws on a wealth of unreleased and forthcoming material from the likes of Lurka, Duckett, and Hodge, and his opting to fuse the futuristic with the club-focussed works an absolute treat over these 50 minutes. It’s one of the year’s most trance-inducing and alluring examples of deep-set, wiggling diversity, stretching to include a cavernous slow-burner from Iglew, a tension-ridden dub of Tirzah’s ‘Reach Hi’, twinkling half-step vibes, Gqom! And some of the year’s smoothest low-end techno.

Electronic Explorations 501 – Imogen

2018 saw Rob Booth’s legendary Electronic Explorations series reach its milestone 500 episode mark. Rising London DJ/Producer Imogen carried listeners into the new century in no-holds-barred, grinding fashion, taking the zeitgeist of techno-fused-with-electro to unique and idiosyncratic places. The mark of a great mix is often heralded by standout tunes that sound remarkable in their given context and create entire new contexts in doing so. The muscular assault of RXDX’s ‘Accredition Disk’ in the mix’s final throes is one such moment, but when she wields Ron Morelli’s ‘Laugh Taker’ it genuinely feels as though she’s transcended and left humanity to its fate, giggling with glee in the process. She’ll be a dominant force in 2019.

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ALBUM: Bruce – ‘Sonder Somatic’

WORDS BY JACK MCKEEVER

In electronic music, the most resonant albums and tracks are those that strike at the heart of the community, conveying memories while aiming to create new ones. Bristol-based techno producer Larry McCarthy, AKA Bruce, is devoted to the most personal aspects of the diagram. His music has always torn away any veils of conventionalism to underpin a playfully outlandish hand, taking core elements and twisting them out of time and place. Making the obscure accessible is hard to perfect, but in the case of Bruce’s back catalogue he’s often managed it with a thrilling smoothness.

In many ways, the release of his debut full-length album ‘Sonder Somatic’ on Hessle Audio feels like a homecoming. His previous releases on the label (2016’s ‘Steals’ and 2014’s ‘Not Stochastic’ – EPs respectively) have occupied the same innovative world-scape, playing sumptuous floor-filling kicks and alien atmospherics off against each other, with a mischievous sonic smile overhanging it all. But it’s the exploratory nature of Hessle Audio’s output that suits Bruce‘s placement here so brilliantly. He’s talked openly about the label’s influence on him over the years, so the synergy that winds up here seems only right and proper.

The LP was written ‘partly as an attempt to capture that rare transformative feeling that can cause you to fully lose yourself in a club space’, and on ‘Sonder Somatic’ Bruce wastes no time in going for the jugular. The whole thing sounds absolutely huge, for starters. Whereas before the late-night rawness of his music could occasionally feel opaque, on the LP a crystal-clear sheen sets its primal nuances and physicality against a gorgeous big room backdrop.

Crucially though, he focuses on inviting and then reducing ambiences, atmospheres and myriad percussive senses. It allows for a constant sense of idiosyncratic motion that rises and falls and creates new imperatives whenever they are most necessary. This is executed most effervescently at the mid-way point and the trajectory between the shuddering tension of ‘Meek’ and ambient of ‘Torn’, which is spotted with ghosts of breakbeat-y decadence, into previously released single ‘What’. The latter re-engages his most banging sensibilities with an intense sense of joy – caterwauling vocals, a deliriously catchy lead loop and the same unpredictable drum sequencing brought to a mighty zenith.

The notion that ‘Sonder Somatic’ reflects both Bruce’s professional and recreational relationship with club culture is purveyed inimitably too. Whether it’s through swaggering heaters built upon historic UK bass mechanisms (as on the opening salvo of ‘Elo’ and ‘Cacao’) or the freezing, small-hours surging lope of ‘Baychimo’ and lullaby-esque grind of ‘Patience St Pim’, a see-saw of hedonism and an absorbing approach is delivered near-perfectly.

 

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Back in manc next month! Chuffed as it’s quickly becoming my home in the north 🐝 Grab ya tickets whilst they’re only £8 (ikr)

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While the LP will do plenty for chin-stroking types and those always seeking to be challenged on dancefloors, at the core of ‘Sonder Somatic’ is the most communal aspect of club culture; personality. Bruce is one of the most singular techno artists operating right now, and the music here continues to define him as one of the most innovative and sensitive.

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helena hauff qualm

Review: Helena Hauff – Qualm

A bleak future sparkles gloriously on the German heroine’s second LP, Qualm

So much has been written about the dystopian futurism of electronic music that, these days, portraying any deep-slung industrial techno record as ‘the sound of the future’ is a hackneyed cliché. In the early days (and arguably rightly), genres like acid, electro and EBM were straight-faced and categorically freezing – oozing the dinginess of the Berlin Wall era and Reaganomics. More recently, artists like DJ Stingray, E. Myers – and this review’s own protagonist Helena Hauff – have taken the starker implements of these purveyances and turned them into spectacularly warm, if still deeply twisted workings. Hauff’s second LP Qualm is at the pinnacle of that notion not just for her back catalogue, but for flavour-spanning techno in general.

In her astonishing Essential Mix for BBC Radio last year (awarded THE Essential Mix of the year by the show’s panel), Hauff took the essence of the decidedly imposing, seamless charisma of her Golden Pudel residency and exposed further just how much genre traits could be manipulated – pulling and diverting sounds to create refreshing glances at age-old themes. Her meticulous record digging further seeps into Qualm too; everything is positioned for full effect, whether that be aimed squarely at club orientated vibes (‘Lifestyle Guru’, ‘Hyper-Intelligent Genetically Enriched Cyborg’) or subterranean no-man’s-land apartment buildings (‘Primordial Sludge’). But crucially, no matter how harsh the sounds get, everything glistens deliriously. Instead of wanting to watch the world burn, Qualm makes the most of the aftermath.

There is, of sorts, a narrative arc to the record. An arc that doesn’t wholesomely accentuate a dystopian setting, but does hint at a cycle – an evolutionary foot forward into the abyss. ‘Barrow Boot Boys’ and ‘Lifestyle Guru’ are both deeply hypnotic death dances, the former like wasps lured into a citrus soaked metal tin and the latter a searing strobe light angling its way around a Bladerunner- style bar fight in the year 2182. Next comes the heady descent into truly head-spinning realms, as ‘bdtr-revisited’ marries influences like Drexciya and Autechre in an effortlessly paranoid way before the beatless sci-fi wooze of ‘Entropy Created You & Me’ stamps its claim as the most melodic moment thus far.

The phenomenally titled ‘Fag Butts in the Fire Bucket’ continues the discombobulation by offering seismic but steady jabs to the rib cage with side lashings of screeching synths and deep-set kicks, before the aforementioned ‘Hyper-intelligent Genetically Enriched Cyborg’ rolls through as one of the squelchiest and most grin-inducing records Hauff has recorded to date. Throughout the record, Hauff guides one through neon EBM-indebted keys and an irresistible, intoxicating 4/4 groove. ‘Primordial Sludge’ is nail-bitingly tense, but its increasingly wet sojourn through mucky matter and Stranger Things-esque cinematic overtures oozes out like a genial – almost comical – beast from a tide of filth.

It’s towards the record’s end, with the scintillating double tap of the title track and ‘No Qualms’ that Qualm sounds most mournful, but even that sense of uncertainty is delivered with a spring in its step. The LP does depict the future as bleak, but never offers this up as a totally negative thing either. Maybe Qualm is the comfort blanket we all so desperately need.

Listen to the full album, below.

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wales mcr live

FUTURE FIVE: A Spotlight on the West Wales music scene

Cardiff has recently been crowned the UK’s music capital with its abundance of venues, initiatives and a community centring around the musical scene. However, the sheer talent that has been birthed outside the capital boasts a further array of artists that deserve to be discovered yet with their location oftentimes struggle for exposure, staying hidden gems in the Welsh countryside. From folk to electronic, the scene in west Wales is teeming with acts that are sure to blow up. If you fancy discovering some of the best talents from West Wales, the land of song, here are our five top picks you should invest some time in to.

The Tates

Having started in their hometown Carmarthen, The Tates are an indie outfit laced with a pop twist though they’re not as simple as that. Regarding their recorded material, the outfit possess a catchy collection of tracks all with an original flare, helping the band to stand tall within a notoriously popular genre. But, what sets The Tates apart proves to be in the beauty of their live shows; the band break any pre-disposed expectations the audience may have regarding their indie nature with sets consisting of powerful electronica and fearless energy. Having been likened to some pretty impressive names including Depeche Mode and New Order, The Tates bring a seasoned sound with a modern twist.

Alex Dingley

Alex Dingley is an artist who endlessly pushes the boundaries of folk with plenty of punk interjections. Travelling all the way from west Wales to California, Dingley’s forthcoming 3rd album ‘Beat The Babble’ sees creative input from the likes of Samur Khouja, Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley. ‘Beat The Babble’ has already been released in the US, with a highly anticipated launch on home UK turf coming up shortly on June 15th.

Roughion

Birthed in Aberystwyth and now based in Cardiff, electronic duo Roughion are making waves across the Welsh dance scene. Steffan & Gwion have recently collaborated with Astroid Boys frontman Benji for an exciting new upcoming release, as the pair continue to explore avenues that are bold & leave more than a statement. Their music is profoundly diverse, so diverse in fact that the musicians have been heralded as “Wales’ answer to the Chemical Brothers” – bold statement, eh? With an EP on the horizon, these guys ones to watch for those who need a new flavour of electronica in their lives. Check them out for yourselves, above.

I See Rivers

I See Rivers are an enchanting trio residing in West Wales’ Tenby after uniting all the way over in Norway. Their music is expansive and explores wondrous melodies with unrelinquishing elegance. Having dubbed their sound as ‘Float Folk’, they are comparable to the likes of Sufjan Stevens and Fleet Foxes. I See Rivers have an EP due out this Spring and what we have heard thus far is a clear representation of how they’ve grown in musicianship and production, with their latest single ‘Give Up’  receiving astounding reaction.

Adwaith

Adwaith are an all-female trio that define versatility. Encompassing both Welsh and English lyrics, their bilingual material can showcase everything from post-punk to stripped back folk with equally absorbing power. The Carmarthen girls have been appearing on festival bills for years, where their fanbase is growing rapidly out of love for their authentic sound with emotional pulls & we know they’re just a stone’s throw from breaking.

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