Last week I found myself on a bus home from the airport at five in the morning, scrolling through my phone and reading accounts of the attack on Ariana Grande’s Manchester concert just a few hours earlier. I felt grief, anger, numbness, and exhaustion—both of the existential and the dully practical kind. While reading, I listened to Young Marco’s gift of a set for Resident Advisor’s long-running podcast series, an inviting journey through ambient music at its most soothing. As the familiar strains of a track from Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works, Vol. II came on, I looked out the window and saw a fingernail moon dangling above the skyline. A fleeting moment of synchronicity, but it felt like the perfect reminder of how great mixes can serve as a kind of longform storytelling—one that reflects light back upon the circumstances in which we experience them.
No matter when or how you hear it, Young Marco’s set is an obvious highlight of the month, and it’s not the only one marked by a narrative spirit: Sets from Karen Gwyer and Silvia Kastel move with a similar sense of purpose, while Optimo’s JD Twitch flips through his overflowing crate like a raconteur with a taste for abrupt shifts in tone and topic. Even if you’re simply looking to dance, though, you’ve come to the right place: Vakula, Anastasia Kristensen, and Danny Daze provide plenty of ways to sweat out whatever might be troubling you.
Young Marco – RA.571
No ordinary DJ mix, this podcast finds Amsterdam’s Young Marco pulling out a selection of beatless ambient records and jamming over them with synthesizer, drum machine, and various effects. His handiwork gives the recording a sense of cohesion that’s rare in even the most impeccably selected sets, as softly purring synths and pitter-pat drums stitch together a broad array of textures—like an a cappella rendition of “Pretty Saro,” a bittersweet 19th-century folk song, or the dubbed-out playground noises that crop up later on. Throughout, the mix conveys a profound sense of atmosphere, as enveloping as a journey by train on a moonlit night.
Karen Gwyer – Solid Steel Radio Show 28/4/2017
Karen Gwyer’s recordings and live performances tread the far edges of techno, and her DJ sets venture out even further. Beginning with the shimmering pulses of Jaleh Negari’s microtonal gong music, Gwyer quickly plunges into far more hard-scrabble terrain: electro in overdrive, static-encrusted noise from LFA Reinshagen, and slow-motion techno from Bookworms. Grey gives way to color in the set’s second half, with opalescent IDM from E-Sagglia, pensive synth studies, and what sounds like a duet for conch shells. Careening back and forth between beats and ambience, it’s a deeply transporting psychedelic electronic expedition.
Danny Daze – BIS Radio Show #886
Miami’s Danny Daze starts off this sticky set for Beats in Space way down around 105 beats per minute: hangover tempo, one made even more sluggish by woozy synthesizers and oozing distortion. Over the course of nearly 90 minutes, he never pokes his head above the 110-BPM mark. It amounts to a kind of extended fever dream, one that flits between claustrophobic atmospheres as dank as a flooded basement and bright, hallucinatory spins on classic electro. The blends are so twisted—like a strangely slowed-down Aphex Twin track around the 72-minute mark—that it’s sometimes difficult to tell which way is up; best just to grab hold of the hammock and wait for the dizziness to pass.
Silvia Kastel – Knowing Something Podcast 3
One mark of a brilliant selector is the ability to make listeners hear even their favorite music in a whole new way. That happened to me around the 20-minute mark here, when the Berlin-based musician Silvia Kastel had me reaching for Shazam to identify Autechre’s “Piezo,” off their 1994 album Amber—a desert-island staple if ever I had one. Here, her style of mixing favors tracks that exert a powerful gravity on their neighbors, each one pulling the next out of its usual orbit. The digital chimes of Visible Cloaks’ opener set up the hyperreal choral pads of Geinoh Yamashirogumi’s “Doll’s Polyphony,” from the Akira soundtrack. Hyperkinetic jungle breaks provide a bridge to rippling footwork from Deon before the violent oscillations of FIS’s “DMT Usher,” fluttering like devils’ wings, yank Autechre’s uncharacteristically technoid roller three feet off the ground. The hour-long set proceeds in similar fashion, traipsing through Tangerine Dream, Phew, and even a forgotten cut from Plastikman at his doomiest, in a fashion that’s completely engrossing and wonderfully surprising.
JD Twitch – RA Live 14.05.17
Optimo’s JD Twitch has deeper crates than just about any other DJ out there: Here’s a guy who stuffed a mix CD with not just Mr. Fingers and Chris & Cosey but also Hawkwind and Johnny Cash, who imagined hardcore and post-punk as equally appropriate for DJ purposes as electronic music. So to hear him in a context where dancing isn’t the first thing on anyone’s mind—as in this set, billed as “an afternoon of music discovery,” from the London Japanese restaurant Brilliant Corners—is a special treat. Here, he traipses through cosmic synthesizer music, Japanese new wave, dubby NDW, reggae, Alice Coltrane, German punk, and Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Sylvian. There’s no obvious rhyme or reason to the sequencing, so just lie back and let yourself be pulled by the current.
Vakula – P-MIX
Whether he’s making disco funk, deep house, or lo-fi machine jams, the Ukrainian producer Vakula has a reputation for knotty constructions and odd twists and turns. Here, he showcases his straight-ahead side in sleek cuts descended from Detroit techno at its most emotive. A pensive synth intro explodes into thundering breakbeats, and from there he hits cruising speed and maintains, opting for rolling machine grooves and richly colored chords. The whole set might be summed up a delicate balance of force and atmosphere, and the tension builds gradually to a killer finale of throwback electro. Whether you’re commuting home or catching up on bills, it’s a great way to make three-quarters of an hour disappear in no time.
Inga Mauer – Radio Cómeme – Bon Voyage 17
The latest installment of Inga Mauer’s Bon Voyage mix series for Radio Cómeme is a journey full of left turns. Over the course of 73 minutes, she veers from clammy coldwave and machine-centric house music into old-school hip-hop and ’80s funk. That #Storytelling tag she employs is at least partly literal: She begins with a creepy introduction of spoken-word paired with ambient rustling, and roughly halfway through, she dips briefly into an Anthony Hopkins monologue from Jeff Wayne’s 1992 adaptation of Spartacus. The set’s most transporting moment, though, is a long passage in the middle, in which bright Detroit synths and shrieking loons spin down into a strange, tentative track that sounds like a free-improv chorus led by Woody Woodpecker. For this voyage, pack light and prepare to cover plenty of ground.
Samo DJ – Cav Empt Mixtap
Sweden’s Samo DJ, one of the co-founders of Stockholm’s Born Free label, delivers 45 minutes of murky electronics, coldwave, and Casiotone weirdness on a split tape with L.I.E.S.’ Ron Morelli for their Japan tour. Early on, sampled horns pool over a beat marked by plinky RZA-isms; Carla Dal Forno’s “Fast Moving Cars” lends a touch of goth; a voice whispering “Ecstasy” over ominous bass hints at ghosts of raves past before a squall of dub delay gives way to Talaboman’s “Loser’s Hymn,” a bittersweet tune to temper the gritty taste of what’s come before.
Anastasia Kristensen – Impact Mix for Mixmag
The Russian-born, Copenhagen-based DJ and producer Anastasia Kristensen pulls no punches in her Impact mix for Mixmag. The blissful ambient opener is a head-fake: From there, she jumps far north of 130 beats per minute, using a 1994 UK electro cut (RAC’s “Quexos,” an early Warp release) as a springboard into punishing warehouse techno and rave-minded house. Tempos and tensions both remain high throughout, with pummeling drums and swarming voices keeping the mood ominous. Freely mixing old and new, the whole thing sounds like something you might have swiped from the cassette deck of your best friend’s older sibling back in the ’90s. Portuguese producer Pal+’s “The Hentai Cut” adds a dose of squealing, sample-stuttering mayhem early on; later in the mix, “Röntgen,” a 1993 cut by the late Mika Vainio, pulls the thread taut. Kristensen really lets loose in the final stretch, finishing up with the hell-bent breakbeats and sirens of Ascendant Masters’ “Put the Bassdrum On,” a 1992 hardcore anthem that hurtles like a runaway train.
And check out last month’s Best Mixes column for even more tunes.