Because I hear so many more worthwhile sets than I can include every month it behooves me to try and not repeat DJs too often. But Ben UFO’s Mixmag Cover Mix (April 3) deserves at least a mention. It’s friskier musically than the wide-ranging Dekmantel set I wrote about in February, but it also follows a less zigzagging, more linear progression, and that clearer contour makes it far more immediate. Ben UFO was hardly the only competition — I found a dozen more killers this month, easy — but the four new ones below I landed on almost effortlessly. The fifth, older set still holds up— as history, if nothing else.
Blue Hawaii, Midnight in a Perfect World (March 16, 2018)
There are filter-house loops and gauzy breakbeats on Tenderness (2017), the second album from this Montreal electro-pop duo, and though they have a melancholic underpinning, they reach pitches of euphoria — “No One Like You” clangs to a climax worthy of a loved-up Elephant 6. But it isn’t “dance music” in the 3 a.m.-at-Output sense. This set for the Seattle radio station KEXP’s weekly Friday-midnight DJ showcase is a different story — not simply because they go for faster tracks-not-songs than the mid-tempo songs-not-tracks that they make, but because it sounds not like a visit to the dance floor but born to it.
Building from cocktail-hour slink like Galcher Lustwerk’s “Nu Day (Jimpster Edit)” all the way up to Nineties 2step [house style OK — still 2step?] garage, these tracks unfold as genuine personal favorites lined up with pride and care, but not in obvious ways — instead of bunching all that 2step together, they follow Steve Gurley’s remix of Basement Jaxx’s “Red Alert” (nice one, guys) with a hazier-sounding recent track from the Lobster Theremin label. And they also follow the DJ code of a continual build, which keeps it going right to the end. The segue from 2step classic “Stone Cold” by Groove Chronicles into Robert Hood’s filtered, sped-up loop of Sister Sledge’s “He’s the Greatest Dancer” sums up their ecumenism nicely. And Late Nite Tuff Guy’s “Hold Tite” — an edit of Change’s “Hold Tight” — is as graceful a closing number as you could ask for.
Nark + Analog Soul, Beats in Space Radio Show #930 (March 20, 2018)
“Are you our first Seattle person here on the radio?” Beats in Space host Tim Sweeney asks Kevin Kauer, a.k.a. Nark, proprietor of Bottom Forty Records and one of the Emerald City’s party-throwing mainstays. On this set, Nark approaches techno and house as aggressive, hypnotic psychedelia with deep roots in Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” and Phuture’s “Acid Tracks.” The rhythms don’t usually have that after-beat clap that typifies the Chicago “jack” rhythm (an exception is DJ Boring’s “Different Dates”), but all that acid engulfs you anyway. Within eight minutes, as Chaim’s “Ha Lalla” marches out the slinkiest 303 line in an age, Nark has sunk his hooks into you, and every subsequent turn is equally assured. The capper comes at 53:45, when the best refrain I’ve heard in an age burbles forth: “Your techno is misogynist.” I cannot wait to encounter this one on a dance floor.
Nark’s set never stops building, but the episode’s follow-up is a lot more ruminative. Analog Soul is twin sisters Jacky Sommer and Kat Smith, formerly of L.A. and Oakland, now in Brooklyn, with a new residency at Nowadays, as they mention to Sweeney. It’s rare for a set with as many tempo shifts as this one to be so seamless. One reason is that they let their records run their course — for example, letting Sterac’s “Primus,” from 2010, fade out as Matteo Monteduro’s “06 Planet Amor,” a 1994 gem from the Detroit label Generator, revs up with menacing little synth-string peals before a pumping little kick-drum beat. And then letting that track’s follow-up, the Experience’s “Tubes” (1992), go all the way to its doleful piano ending, allowing them to press reset on the tempo yet again. “The only real conversation about a set we might have is beforehand to say, ‘Well what are you thinking about playing?’ ” Smith told Resident Advisor recently. “And then we’ll give each other a general idea in terms of sound, but we never actually rehearse.” This set doesn’t seem rehearsed, but conversational.
Sandrien, Boiler Room Amsterdam DJ Set (March 6, 2018)
Techno’s long builds can make people impatient, understandably enough. Still, for this former resident at Amsterdam’s fabled (and now shuttered) Trouw club, taking five full minutes to get from effusive announcer intro to some lonesome watery chords rising all the way to legibility in the middle distance are worth it because within another two the groove is stark, shadowy, and viscid, and stays that way to the end. The DJ goes so far into the shade she threatens to become merely deliciously gloomy wallpaper — and then, around 16:40, a snake-charmer melody seeps out like a mirage. Every corner offers a similar nudge, from the sputtering acid-line climax of ROD’s “Acine” to the drop-dead-perfect closer, Underworld’s “Rez,” sounding absolutely refreshed in this company. It was a good month for DJ sets that approximated glittering whirlpools: Pär Grindvik’s XLR8R Podcast 534 (March 21) and John Dimas’ RA.618 (April 2) were strong contenders for this space, and although I was late on it, so was Bonobo’s Boiler Room New York DJ Set (January 19). This one plays less like a cozy fantasia than a clarifying submergence.
SHYBOI, RA.615 (March 12, 2018)
I’m alarmed to see the copy of this mix’s home page calling SHYBOI’s sets “bewildering and unpredictable.” Who could be dumbfounded by a bunch of party tunes? Try delightful and cohesive — or, better yet (and pardon the pun), boisterous. I do sort of get it: At first, the Brooklyn DJ’s set for Resident Advisor seemed willfully all over the place — I’d check to see which new set I’d stumbled on only to find it was still this one — but once I locked in it became a freewheeling tour of slammin’ rave tunes through the ages, from People of Cactus’s minimalist, insane-making “Traky” to Krome & Time’s eternal U.K. hardcore-unto-jungle anthem “This Sound Is for the Underground.” “I’m Jamaican — we’re sprinters,” SHYBOI says in the Q&A. And: “I still don’t think I’m capable of the patient party logic that happens with extended marathon sets.” Not everybody needs to be.
Mat Zo, Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas (June 22, 2013)
It starts out like a frat party, with Kurd Maverick’s dunderheaded “Hell Yeah”: “You getting drunk up in this motherfucker?” “Hell yeah!” The doof-doof-doof-doof entering soon thereafter doesn’t help. And this is a live recording, not a direct soundboard feed, with the very audible crowd adding to the feel of a time capsule of the U.S. EDM boom cresting. (EDC Vegas’ attendance in 2013 was 345,000, up 25,000 from 2012.)
The result can be janky — when the bass goes infrared on DallasK’s “Alienz (Botnek Remix),” around 32:30, we hear the bins rattle but don’t feel ours. But even at EDM madness’s height, it was obvious that Mat Zo had more going on behind the decks than your average piece of main-stage headgear. (In my lexicon, “EDM” means it’s from this decade and sounds like it was injected with collagen.) The 94 Zo sets you can find on 1001 Tracklists (the EDM world’s go-to set aggregator) show as much variation as anyone in the “underground” this column typically dotes on. Zo’s upcoming open-to-close set at Output is hardly his first, and while in the aforementioned underground long showcase sets of this type are normal, they’re notable from a guy who made his bones on hour-long blurts for neon-clad kids.
And this particular big-room blurt has real shape. He modulates from an over-the-top screamer like Ferry Corsten’s “Rock Your Body Rock (ARTY Rock-N-Rolla Mix)” (its hyper-compressed circus riff reaching peak bombardment around minute 21) through to the Spanish guitar-led stomp of Knife Party’s “LRAD.” He treats “Get Lucky” — by then out for two months, and already a stadium-DJ cliché — with the irreverence it deserves, speeding it up and slowing it down, a sly aural grin that points up both the song’s ubiquity and its irresistible bounce. And around 32:30, after slipping on “Rebound,” his collaboration with ARTY, he gets on the mike: “Yeah — I copied this song off will.i.am.” It was, of course, the other way around. It’s a telling moment of the growing pains EDM experienced as it entered the pop arena. Zo’s set remains endearing for how little about pop it caters to. These are dance floor dynamics at play, however overblown. You don’t have to be mellifluous to be subtle.
Mat Zo plays a five-hour extended set at Output on Friday, May 4. More info here.
Michaelangelo Matos lives and raves in St. Paul, Minnesota. At this month’s Pop Conference in Seattle, he will be historicizing the male orgasm in dance music. Tweet mix recommendations to @matoswk75.