Electronic-dance journalists write about DJs they know as a matter of course; indeed, I’m one of the few dance writers that doesn’t spin records out. (Yet.) With the Kansas City–bred, San Francisco–dwelling, omnivorous-eared Chrissy, it’s different — we met nearly a decade ago, around the time I spoke with him for the Guardian, and by now we’re friends beyond professional call: I had him over for Thanksgiving a few years ago when we were neighbors in Brooklyn, for starters. So I’m cautious. But it would be churlish not to mention that his Groove Podcast 158 (May 11, 2018) is one of my favorites of the year, nailing his freewheeling aesthetic and razor-sharp ears as well as anything I’ve heard. It’s eclectic, sure — Devo! Lone! Cool Hand Flex! Sisters of Mercy! Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band! — but the stylistic transitions are effortless. The guy knows how to make an argument.
Beautiful Swimmers, Solid Steel Radio Show, part one (May 25, 2018)
Loose as a goose and friendly as Santa Claus, this is the kind of house mix you play for a non-head in order to get them acclimated. Beautiful Swimmers are the Washington, D.C., duo of Andrew Field-Pickering (a/k/a Max D) and Ari Goldman; the former runs the label Future Times with Mike Petillo. Indeed, Future Times artist Will DiMaggio, who has a track on Beautiful Swimmers’ set, also helms part two of this Solid Steel program. (DiMaggio’s half is excellent as well, though its muddy slo-mo groove is a world away from the buoyancy of this one.) Ping-ponging vocal snippets thread through many of the tracks, signposts that, like clockwork, arrive squarely on landmarks: the fetching wordless moans blooming into the title phrase of Paul Johnson’s “The Love That We Share,” or the stuttering “dit-dit-dit”s of KW Griff’s Baltimore club (or Bmore) favorite “Let Me Tell U Somethin” flowing into the sunnier West Coast funky breaks of Bassbin Twins’ “Rockin’ With the Best.” (The latter isn’t online at all, a testament to Beautiful Swimmers’ digging savvy, as well as yet more evidence that the internet’s musical storehouse is nowhere near as endless as we like to think.) Every time I’ve put this on intending to pick it apart, I’ve lost myself in its flow instead; more than any set I’ve heard lately, this one beckons the summer.
Blawan, Essential Mix (May 19, 2018)
Crinkling and crunching, crackling and clobbering, this is a two-hour tour de force along the techno-industrial axis. That by itself is nothing new for Blawan, born Jamie Roberts. Not especially interested in opening up publicly (“I’m not a very outgoing person,” he admitted in 2016: “I stepped back from the whole press game and tried to concentrate on producing something real rather than just talking about stuff”), Blawan moved swiftly on from his gleeful, knocking Brandy edit “Getting Me Down” to the curt, cavernous “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?” (2012), one of the decade’s defining dance tracks, spun by everyone from Chicago house innovator Green Velvet to IDM godfather Aphex Twin. The progression from his bassy, bouncy Boiler Room London DJ set from May 3 of that year and the delicious muck of this Essential Mix six years later is clear, even linear — to shorthand it, this set finds as much variation in the mid and high range as the earlier one did on the low end. Though it serves as a preview of his album Wet Will Always Dry, out this week, there are only four Blawan tracks here, out of forty. Heard on their own, the album previews are clear and disorienting, but here they acquire the kind of dirt that gets under not only your fingernails but your skin. The masterstroke: ending with Airod’s “Universe of 90’s Techno Parties,” pitched down to match everything else, but also to bring out its smiling menace.
Matt “Jam” Lamont b2b Smokey Bubblin’ B, Rinse FM Podcast (May 7, 2018)
U.K. garage has been a consistent feature of the British dancescape for more than two decades, even as its successors grime and dubstep embedded its sharpest sonic and rhythmic moves. Yet for an American listener, even the new stuff seems to live in the pre–9-11 cusp in a way other dance genres don’t. UKG was London’s answer to American hip-hop and r&b during their cyber era, before the Brits’ springy keyboard riffs and skipping rhythms took on the metallic coating that would define grime. Compare and contrast this frisky, vocal-filled March 1996 fill-in slot from DJ Ramsey on London Underground 89.4 FM with Agent X’s glowering, mostly instrumental February 2002 set on Rinse FM, seemingly minutes before it mutated into grime.
Matt “Jam” Lamont was one of UKG’s original and key DJs and producers, as half of Tuff Jam, with Karl “Tuff Enuff” Brown. (Their Underground Frequencies Volume Two, an officially issued mix CD from 1998, is a sentimental favorite.) Smokey Bubblin’ B is a new jack: His first EP came out in 2013, and in January he issued (how very 2018) a cassette mix titled Sounds of the UK Underground. (No, I haven’t heard it — I haven’t owned a tape deck in more than a decade.)
Their first-ever back-to-back set, then, zips freely around the UKG timeline — “Old school, new school, whatever we feel rocks,” as Lamont puts it at the top — and refuses to let up for two solid hours. Head-turning moments abound, some involving the usual cavorting pianos and dive-bomb bass drops, and many others involving vocals — the still stunning MK (Marc Kinchen) dub of Jodeci’s “Freek’n You,” from 1995, and DJ Para’s audacious chopped-vocal bootleg remix of Stevie Wonder’s “If You Really Love Me,” from 2010, to give you an idea of the time range. In a good month for Rinse sets — Radio Slave’s Rekids Takeover (May 5), Ben UFO twice (May 10, by himself, and May 17, back-to-back with Pearson Sound), and Bella Boo’s first half of a two-hour Studio Barnhus (May 16 — Michael Goulos’s second half is all dancehall and, as they say in academia, lies outside the scope of this column.) The bonhomie of this one was most fetching.
Young Male, Kiss & Tell Podcast 21 (May 15, 2018)
A Queens producer-DJ, and the co-founder of the label White Material, Quinn Taylor won’t be doing business as Young Male for much longer — as he recently announced on Twitter, he’s changing his DJ name to Flood1 after he plays Bossa Nova Civic Club this week. But while his background is in Providence noise and his records tend toward the lo-fi and freaky, this set for the Bossa Nova monthly Kiss & Tell is almost blindingly shiny. The theme: 2000s French house of the Alan Braxe & Friends variety, and never mind that the standout track, Rossell feat. Emma’s “Dancing With Strangers,” comes from Mexico City and sounds like a great lost 2000s electro classic. Sinuous, hook-savvy even though there are no voices on most of the tracks, and so irradiated they’re practically neon, their combined propulsion is both effortless and game. Must be all the strutting disco bass lines.
Young Male plays Bossa Nova Civic Club with Katie Rex, Anon, and Auspex on Wednesday, June 20. Info here.
David Morales, United DJs of America 4, disc one (DMC America; rel. July 18, 1995)
My, did David Morales have a busy 1995. Then again, he’d also had a busy 1987 to 1994 — and before that as well. Like a lot of Brooklynites, he began DJing in 1977, at age fifteen — as Morales told Finn Johannsen, “There was a blackout in New York and there was a lot of stealing so I came across a Radio Shack little mic mixer that I set up to make it work with two turntables.” By the early Eighties, he was subbing for Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage, and in 1988 Morales and Frankie Knuckles teamed up as Def Mix Productions, where their deep grooves and supple arrangements redefined New York house music as lush and professional, as compared with the rawer DIY Chicago sound.
Skip ahead to ’95: By a raw Discogs count, during that year Morales produced something like fifty tracks and remixed about twice that many — even allowing for repetition, that’s a daunting amount, and it was also normal for him. “I took two years off doing a lot of records like I used to,” Morales told Muzik in its April 1998 issue. “But it was only because I got tired of mixing other people’s records. I’ve already reached a point in my career, mixing-wise, which I cannot go beyond. I’ve gone to the top of the game.” He wasn’t kidding — 1995 was the year Morales remixed Michael and Janet Jackson’s “Scream,” which is about as top-of-game as it gets. He also made a pair of official mixes, each the first of a two-CD set. True to its name, Cream Anthems, released that October, with British DJ Paul Bleasdale handling the second disc, features Morales mixing some of the era’s most obvious dance hits: De’Lacy’s “Hideaway,” the Bucketheads’ “The Bomb!”, Jaydee’s “Plastic Dreams,” Morales and Def Mix Productions partner Frankie Knuckles’s remix of Alison Limerick’s “Where Love Lives.”
But it’s Morales’s half of United DJs of America, distributed in the U.S. by the ascendant Los Angeles dance indie Moonshine Music (and titled United DJs of the World in the U.K.), where he gets to DJ in the classic sense — taking his time, pacing things out, letting it build. Not to mention constructing a historically minded narrative, however incidentally. House music was always built on disco, but 1994–’95 is when disco samples and grooves roared back into house full force. (“The Bomb!” is the prime, but far from only, example.) This, needless to say, placed Morales right in his element. His United DJs opener, Disco Elements’ Sylvester cut-up “Muzik Takes Me Higher” (mis-titled “Volume 4,” for the EP containing it, on the CD) nods to Morales’s dance-floor roots, as does the next track, a remix of Ly’s “Back 2 Zanzibar” that pays homage to Tony Humphries’s Newark club Zanzibar (see Bruce Tantum’s oral history), where Morales also spun during house music’s mid-Eighties flowering. The set peaks in the middle with Morales’s own “In My House,” recorded under the alias DJ Dexter. “In my hoooouuuuuse!” screams a sampled diva — and if anyone could claim that house music belonged to him in 1995, it was David Morales.
David Morales plays the Roof at Output, Saturday, July 7. Info here.
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