Trying to stay on top of all the DJ sets floating around online could be a full-time job (but it probably wouldn’t pay very well). Every month, Philip Sherburne sifts through the never-ending avalanche of beats and bass to bring you the best of the bunch. This month offers a bumper crop of cracking house and techno, thanks to energetic sets from Kazakhstan’s Nazira, one of the leading lights of the “New East” scene, and Chicago’s Eris Drew. There’s also bucolic ambient from Leif, bumping batida from Nídia, and more.
Grouper – RA.621
Grouper’s gloomy brand of ambient folk is a world away from the sounds typically showcased in Resident Advisor’s weekly mix series. But Liz Harris finds an unexpected point of overlap with her opener here: “It’s a Fine Day,” a song that served as the basis for an ecstatic 1992 remix by A Guy Called Gerald. Unsurprisingly, she opts for the original Jane and Barton a cappella, released on Cherry Red in 1983, whose wistful mood is of a piece with Grouper’s own music. Harris describes the mix as a “double-sided postcard”: the front side takes in melancholy, raw-nerved vocal songs from Roy Montgomery and Joanne Robertson, while the back side leans toward instrumentals and ambient: Maxwell Croy, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Tashi Wada with Julia Holter. Bristol space-rock fans will be pleased to hear late-1990s songs from Flying Saucer Attack and Crescent. And right in the middle is an eerie choral piece from Le Mystere des Voix Bulgaires, the state-supported Bulgarian folk choir whose 1975 album became an unexpected hit for 4AD in the 1980s. Just like “It’s a Fine Day” and Grouper herself, it knows a thing or two about crossing boundaries.
Eris Drew – Her Damit Podcast #28
From the very first blend, you can tell that this is going to be a special one. The opener—a tough, vintage-sounding breakbeat cut overlaid with ethereal vocals—leads so seamlessly into a remix of Blaze’s “Lovelee Dae” that they might as well be extensions of each other. Drew, a cofounder of Chicago’s Hugo Ball parties, tends to speak of dance music in terms like “oneness” and “majesty,” and both qualities shine through in her podcast for Berlin’s Her Damit festival. It’s not hard to see why she’s tagged the set as “mystery house”: Incorporating deep house, dub techno, tons of breaks, and even the occasional dubstep-adjacent track, it moves with a flow that’s unpredictable yet irresistible, and it’s peppered with moments of wide-eyed rapture. I must have listened to it six times over a three-day period; few sets do a better job of tapping into dance music’s ecstatic dimension.
Nídia – Sounds of Sónar
Nídia’s guest-producer slot on Fever Ray’s Plunge instantly confirmed the 21-year-old as one of the leading lights of Portuguese batida, a rollicking electronic style that fuses elements from around the Afro-Lusophone diaspora. This short, sweet set shows why her take on it is so special: drums so distorted they smear like blackberries dropped on the floor; slippery polyrhythms and whipcrack accents; copious amounts of acoustic guitar and accordion that give the music a supersaturated hue. It’s a masterfully hypnotic tour of one of the most exciting new genres around.
Nazira – HNYPOT 265
Nazira turned up in this column just a few months ago, and the Kazakhstani DJ’s new mix for Honey Soundsystem’s HNYPOT series is too good not to make room for her again. It’s got everything you could want out of a techno set: Impeccable selection from the very first track (Stanley’s “Travolta”); tight, thoughtful mixing; an understated sense of drama. Her crisply percussive tracks are forceful but never overbearing, in large part because she switches up straight-ahead stompers with electro’s slinkier syncopations. Around 23 minutes in, keep an ear out for the unexpected sound of seagulls—just one of the many trap doors built into her labyrinth of clang and shadow.
Elena Colombi – BIS Radio Show #934
NTS Radio resident Elena Colombi takes to her guest slot on WNYU’s Beats in Space like a spelunker heading deep underground. Her set is full of sluggish tempos, muddy frequencies, and downright clammy atmospheres; a sensibility inspired by post-punk and coldwave yields minor-key synths, murky basslines, andominous muttering. Still, availing herself of the slow tempo, she also makes room for dancehall’s dembow pulse. Colombi plays a 27-year-old CJ Bolland track at 33 instead of 45, using it as the woozy setup to Clint Mansell’s mind-scrambling “Meltdown” from the Requiem for a Dream soundtrack; by the time she follows up with Plastikman’s seismic “Slinky,” you can practically feel the stalactites raining down around you.
Leif – Blowing Up the Workshop 85
Attendees of Wales’ Freerotation festival describe it as a kind of rural paradise, the sort of place where certain trees on the property are as celebrated as the headlining DJs. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Freerotation resident Leif channels such a mystical sensibility in this gorgeous ambient set for Blowing Up the Workshop. This is a vision of Balearic music at its most open-ended, encompassing the chimes and bells of Max Roach’s “January V,” reeds-and-organs drones from Waclaw Zimpel, jazz piano and Senegalese kora from Omar Sosa and Sekou Keita, and even hair-raising Gaelic liturgical music; there are Theremins, Hawaiian slack-key guitars, and, of course, plenty of shimmering downbeat grooves. My highlight falls almost exactly at the halfway mark: a track from Canada’s Ex-Terrestrial that sounds for all the world like 4AD’s ambient-prog-jazzbos Dif Juz. The perfect lazy-afternoon outdoor mix, just brimming with lakeside vibes.
Auscultation – Radio Valencia Broadcast 54
This broadcast from San Francisco’s Radio Valencia begins with a pair of techno tracks and a brief introduction from Infinite Beat host Topazu, but the main attraction begins just before the 11-minute mark: a nearly two-hour ambient set from Auscultation, aka Madison’s Joel Shanahan, best known as Golden Donna. His Memory double-pack of two Golden Donna live sets was a late-2017 treat, but this set is an entirely different proposition: Focused on beatless ambient in the vein of Stars of the Lid and GAS, classical soundtracks (Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence”), and the odd new wave brooder, it’s elegiac, immersive, and unpredictable—an ideal late-night soundtrack. (Stream or download here.)