With so many mixes fighting for your attention each month, this column shines a light on the DJ sets that deserve to be heard – from household names to underground operators, from peak-time energy to morning-after moods.
For the most part, February’s picks feel housebound – but that’s fair enough, if you’ve done two months of lockdown while barely exiting your pyjamas. Well done, you made it. So we’ve got slow-motion pop hypnotics from Nathan Micay, soulful selections from Midland, and an array of spiky folk from Aaron Angell. A mountaintop ambient session from Pareidolia will have you pining for the great outdoors, and when you’ve finally gathered some XP, use it wisely on SHYBOI’s ragga jungle set, Chants’ rhythm pointillism and Ayy Den’s sound system slammers. But it’s also been a month of mourning for SOPHIE, with an outpouring of tributes from her friends and admirers. So take some time for Nabihah Iqbal’s special show on NTS, Ariel Zetina’s SOPHIE special and Jimmy Edgar’s exposition of new material shaped by SOPHIE’s artistic guidance.
Chants for The Astral Plane
Rhythmic pointillism and ferocious drums
While the rest of us were poisoning our brain cells with Tiger King, jazz drummer-turned-club producer Chants spent last spring learning a new rhythm every day and uploading videos of his progress. That spurt of creativity led to Poly Pointillism, a glowing new album on Astral Plane Recordings which taps into the minimalist rhythm-play of artists like Steve Reich and Beatrice Dillon. It’s not exactly club-ready stuff, though – so on this mix for his label’s blog, the Wisconsin artist weaves his new material between fast and ferocious drum tracks from DJ Swisha, James Bangura and DJ Manny. The final stretch is magic: taking us from DJ Hank’s toyshop terrorism into the Mega Man 2 theme music, and winding up inside Steve Roach’s new age synths.
Aaron Angell on NTS
Spiky folk and forgotten psychedelia
Ok, so technically every mix is a “home listening” mix right now, but here’s a couch-targeted session you’ll want to keep on file for a lazy afternoon. When he’s not squishing clay into fantastical ceramic figures, London artist Aaron Angell is expanding his collection of vintage vinyl from the freakier corners of folk, soul and forgotten psych-pop. His February NTS show is an excellent example of his subtly spiky take on “freak-folk”. Kicking off with suede-fringed ‘70s singer Margaret Wakely and flat-picking folkie Malcolm Price – hardly household names – it gradually achieves lift-off, floating through psychedelic sitar-and-banjo duets, sneering sludge-rock and Irish coldwave. A reminder that there’s still plenty of music you can’t find online – except on shows like this, of course.
Midland – As The City Rests, a mixtape
Sofa-bound soul selections
February might have been the quietest month of lockdown yet in terms of DJ mixes – seems like all we’ve done in 2021 is crawl from duvet to sofa and back again. But that’s okay! It’s a challenging world out there. Take it at your own pace and play the oldies, says this sprawling session from Midland, the follow-up to an ambient mix he gifted us three years ago. This time he picks out slow-moving soul music from across the decades, placing Bill Withers’ jazzy chords next to a haunting Fellini soundtrack, and Miriam Makeba’s tough blues next to The Flamingos’s ’50s doo-wop track I Only Have Eyes for You (one of my favourite songs of all time, if you’re asking). Midland himself calls the session “a love letter to getting new speakers after 16 years,” but these are the kind of songs that sounded just as good when they came out of tiny transistor radios 50 years ago.
Pareidolia for Spontaneous Affinity
Rarefied ambient for a chillout zone above the smog
Pareidolia is the co-host of Noctuary, a San Francisco party and mix series “celebrating the not-dudes of house and techno”. In the last year, she’s taken the opportunity to step up to the decks and wade deep into her ambient collection, creating a silky chillout zone for fractally fried and horizontally zonked. This mix for the Spontaneous Affinity blog was recorded last summer after a 10-mile hike to the top of a mountain overlooking Los Angeles, where she and a group of pals stayed out all night for a “gently joyful and psychedelic experience under the stars”. Makes you sick, doesn’t it? They watched the sunrise burn through the smog while blissing out to watercolour washes, insectoid ambient and synth geometry from Donato Dozzy, Andrew Pekler, Forest Drive West and Wata Igarashi. Spare a thought for the heroes who lugged the speakers to the summit.
Nathan Micay’s Face Mix
Slow-motion pop hypnotics from the Industry soundtracker
Apparently inspired by his soundtrack for Industry – the hit HBO show about hedonistic, power-grabbing hedgies – the Berlin-based trance-spotter Nathan Micay takes us behind the velvet rope for a slow-and-steady selection of pop-dance blends. Madonna’s Bedtime Story sets the tone for a chugging hour of pillow talk, cosmic seduction, dervish-spins, didgeridoos and Depeche Mode. The mood recalls that ’90s moment of musical crossover when pop, dance and R&B merged in a mood of globalised exotica: sugary vocals, squelchy synths and hip-hop breakbeats all teasing a decadent future at the end of history.
Ayy Den for Dublab BCN
#Fastmusic and sound system slammers
Hailing from British Columbia but now based in the UK party capital of Manchester, Ayy Den has a tidy grasp of the transatlantic back-and-forth that links reggae and dancehall with UK funky, Jersey club and garage (to name just a few of her dancefloor interests). Her sound system sensibility is cranked up to 11 on this outrageous set for Dublab’s Barcelona station, as she slashes a path from vogue to dubstep to footwork like the crossfader was a machete. It’s a mostly under-the-radar selection, with remixes from Om Unit and UNIIQU3 sharing space with some unsearchable names and then, out of nowhere, a massive dubstep classic. Fast blends and sassy acapellas light the way, with Riko Dan, Megan Thee Stallion and A$AP Ferg bringing their unique steeze to unexpected places. Exhausting TBH!
SHYBOI for Juanita’s Mix
Ragga jungle for rage and release
The Jamaican-born, New York-based artist SHYBOI digs out some of her heaviest, sweatiest tracks for this righteous ragga jungle session. There’s a focus on the mid-90s highpoint of mind-boggling breaks and a cast of iconic MCs and vocalists – from Bounty Killer and Top Cat, to remixed reggae singers like Dennis Brown. After an extended prologue of molasses-thick dub from classic outfits like Roots Radics and Black Uhuru, she slashes the brakes and accelerates feet-first into wild-style jungle and hype MCs. As she explained it for Juanita’s, it’s a mix “exploring the radical tradition of truth telling, diasporic spirituality, rage and release.”