Every month, Philip Sherburne listens to a whole lot of mixes so you only have to listen to the best ones.
In times of uncertainty, it is a natural impulse to seek familiar ground. A number of this month’s standout mixes find artists exploring their roots, wherever they may lie: Armenian choral music, Saharan landscapes, or canonical styles like liquid drum’n’bass and UK funky. Other DJs, sensing the transformations implicit in a moment of upheaval, have opted for shape-shifting ambient mutations that suggest pure possibility.
Azu Tiwaline – Groove Mag podcast
Somewhere around the time Azu Tiwaline moved to southern Tunisia, where she inherited a house her mother had built on a small patch of sand, her music began to open up. When she began producing, around the turn of the millennium, her sound was charged with the energy of France’s anarchic free-party scene; over the years, as Loan, she fashioned an increasingly intricate fusion of dubstep and IDM, full of cybernetic textures and sharp angles. But in her recent music, those hard edges have dissolved, replaced by the fluid rhythms of rolling hand percussion and the stillness suggested by her new alias, which is Berber for “eye of the wind.” Her love of percussion unites this remarkable mix for Groove Magazine, which kicks off with the liquid tones of Jakarta’s Wahono before morphing into her own melancholy “Violet Curves,” a recent collaboration with the Paris-based electronic musician Cinna Peyghamy, who runs his tombak drum through modular synthesizer. From there, she wends through pulsing UK bass from Henry Greenleaf and Hodge & Randomer; minimal techno from Efdemin; and the complex time signatures of Burnt Friedman’s group Drums Off Chaos. Since she moved to the desert, she told Groove, “I have been nourished by more softness, calm, large spaces, and silence.” You can hear it in the set’s subtle textures and enveloping flow.
Bakongo – Bleep Mix #140
As Roska, Wayne Goodlitt has long been one of the prime movers of UK funky. He’s masterminded a driving sound that’s both tough and giddily unhinged, like a drum circle powered by one of Rube Goldberg’s kinetic contraptions. As Bakonga, Woodlitt has gradually developed a more expansive style, updating funky’s staccato signature with elements of house, bass music, and broken techno. Released in conjunction with his new EP for Livity Sound, Goodlitt’s Bleep mix is an invigorating deep dive into his percussive sensibility. He likes his drums blunt and syncopated, and he’s got a knack for prodding things forward with repetitive bursts of tone; the nooks and crannies of his grooves are filled with needling guiro shrieks and sharp, stabbing synths. It’s an energetic, effortlessly propulsive sound, and with roughly half the tracklist penned by Goodlitt’s own hand, the set makes for an excellent primer on his music.
KMRU – KST – 25th October 2020
Joseph Kamaru’s recent Editions Mego album Peel achieves maximum emotion with minimal effort. Very little seems to happen in the Kenyan musician’s swirling ambient tracks, which frequently stretch to 13, 15, or even 23 minutes long, yet they draw you in regardless. Taking in their minutely varied drones can be akin to staring one of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s seascape photographs, where perspective dissolves in a silvery blur. A similar subtlety marks his mixing in this set for the Japan-based DJ KST’s show on Internet Public Radio. Over the course of an hour, Kamaru cycles through 10 tracks so gradually that it’s difficult to say where one begins and another ends. The liquid droplets of experimental harpist Mary Lattimore’s “Til a Mermaid Drags You Under” seem to freeze into the crystalline drones of the Key’s “Of Air (Bethan Kellough),” which in turn give way to the glacial tones of Paperbark’s “Lampshade Dust.” Each successive blend feels like a transformation of matter and energy: a single entity morphing before our eyes and ears.
Roza Terenzi – Bazaar 37
Trip-hop keeps threatening to make a comeback; if Kruder and Dorfmeister’s forthcoming lost album doesn’t do the trick, perhaps this set from Australia’s Roza Terenzi will nudge that long-promised revival a little closer to fruition. Keyed to the same drifting tempo and billowing textures as “Jungle in the City,” the lead track off Terenzi’s recent Modern Bliss, her set for Tel Aviv’s Tofistock series is steeped in lush chords, dub delay, and drowsy breakbeat shuffle. Occasionally, she’ll inch right up to the edge of kitsch: A few tracks have the elegantly narcoleptic sheen of vintage Café del Mar comps or Cinemax hot-tub scenes, just one shakuhachi sample away from Deep Forest territory. But even the most faux-luxe textures here are genuinely evocative, in the same way that vaporwave calls up memories of a not-so-distant era with a mixture of fondness and horror. A few recent tracks, like Low Flung’s “Microtear,” take the ’90s downtempo conceit and make it fresh, while even the selections verging on camp have a genuine air of mystery to them (or, as my 5-year-old daughter remarked, “This sounds like spy music!”).
Karen Gwyer – Crack Mix 378
Karen Gwyer’s own productions tend to tread the outer edges of dance music, but in her mix for Crack Magazine, the London-based musician abandons the rhythmic grid entirely, instead piecing her way across an undulating landscape of eerie pulses and perpetually mutating textures. After a succession of metallic drones, the first beat arrives some 15 minutes in, courtesy of Jako Maron’s ominous “Maloya Valsé Chok 1.” Over 74 minutes, Gwyer continues weaving between contrasting moods: Post-industrial dub clangor gives way to aimlessly tranquil marimba patter before patten’s coolly thrilling “Valley Commerce” dials up the drama. The final 15 minutes are breathtaking, with the almost devotional sounds of CS + Kreme’s “Saint” leading the way to Caterina Barbieri and Kali Malone’s “Glory (Final Movement),” a meditative duet for electric guitar that ripples like the surface of a lake.
Pontiac Streator – XLR8R Podcast 663
“Mangy cursed energy”—that’s how Philadelphia’s Pontiac Streator describes their set for XLR8R’s podcast series. Demonic stray-dog vibes might not sound terribly appealing, but once you acclimate to the spooky atmosphere, the description makes a kind of intuitive sense. Along with names like Huerco S., Caveman LSD, exael, and Ulla, Pontiac Streator forms part of a loose constellation of artists who are dissolving the hallmarks of ambient music into an uneasy stew of oily drones and degraded textures. Slipping between beatless passages and stark, chest-caving rhythms, this hour-long mix is a feast of ragged textures and murky shadows. Beats, like the distressed drum’n’bass breakbeats of Florian T M Zeisig’s “Aspire (exael Remix),” feel perpetually on the verge of disintegration, and ethereal tones slide woozily across the spectrum. Of special note is a Huerco S. track featuring a rapper named SIR E.U that suggests a kind of narcotized ambient hip-hop. Stitched together out of mostly unreleased tracks, the set makes for a provocative glimpse at one possible near-term future for experimental club music.
Darwin – Daisychain 144
Eleven years ago, UK junglists D-Bridge and Instra:mental breathed new life into the drum’n’bass scene with their Autonomic podcasts, abandoning the genre’s goes-to-11 intensity in favor of deeper, more reflective vibes. “There was no space in drum & bass, it was just running 20 breaks on top of each other,” Instra:mental explained of their motivations. “We decided to not fill the gaps.” The Canadian DJ Darwin pays tribute to Autonomic in her contribution to the Daisychain series, focusing on hypnotic, rolling grooves: deep-diving breakbeats, half-time pulses, dubby undercurrents, and the moodiest footwork, all of it suffused in aquamarine chords and fluid textures. The set is also a tribute to the ocean: Darwin’s Berlin-based party series is called REEF, and she spends half the year surfing in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. (She’s a cofounder of Clean Scene, a group focused on climate activism through the lens of the dance-music community.) Oscillating between slow and fast, dark and light, her immersive set gives the impression of powerful currents in constant flux.
Jake Muir - Space Afrika Presents Jake Muir
Jake Muir’s new ambient album The Hum of Your Veiled Voice is a highlight in a year that has hardly lacked for great ambient music. Following in the footsteps of artists like Philip Jeck and Marina Rosenfeld, the American-born, Berlin-based musician massaged vinyl samples into atmospheric tracks inspired in part by gay bathhouse culture. His gorgeous set for Space Afrika’s NTS Radio show evokes similarly foggy, humid atmospheres. Across the course of the two hours, he traverses a wide range of textures and sounds, blending sci-fi drones, field recordings, fluttering chords, romantic strings, and even acoustic guitar with unusual finesse. The trick in any good ambient mix is to find the balance between “not enough” and “too much,” and Muir’s session handles that balancing act perfectly: There’s enough tone to pull you in and just enough subtly shifting variation to keep you spellbound without ever jolting you out of a deep reverie.
Club Chai – Peace for Artsakh & Armenia w/ FOOZOOL & 8ULENTINA
As though there were not enough hell on earth in 2020, renewed tensions have broken out in the former Soviet autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh, or Artsakh, an Armenian ethnic enclave in Azerbaijan. Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over the territory in the early 1990s before signing a cease-fire agreement in 1994, but what had long been considered a “frozen conflict” exploded into full-blown war last month. Oakland’s Club Chai has used its October show for NTS Radio as a platform to call for peace and defend the claim of the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenian population’s right to self-determination. In the first half of the mix, Lara Sarkissian, aka FOOZOOL, plays Armenian classical, jazz, ballads, and Sharakan (Armenian chant) selections intended, she says, “to channel solace, spirituality, and the allowance to sit in sadness and grief.” Her own haunting “A House Is a Being,” from the Beirut benefit compilation Grief Into Rage, opens the set; Sona Koloyan’s improvised “Mother,” for piano and strings, deepens the sorrowful mood, and in his 1983 song “Asa Asdvadz,” the beloved Armenian balladeer sings plaintively, “Tell us, God, what is our sin/Why are you torturing us like this?” 8ULENTINA takes over the mix’s second half, playing a selection of melancholy songs from Eartheater, Russell E.L. Butler, and Cocteau Twins that builds to a chilling climax with Special Interest’s “Street Pulse Beat.”
Originally Appeared on Pitchfork