Believe it or not, this post is in response to a few requests I had, many years ago, to talk a little about how I put my sets together. Back then I felt I had a lot to work on, and either way wasn’t really confident enough to articulate what I’d learned so far. Although there’s still plenty to improve, the combination of more regularly hitting what I feel is the ‘TYFTH style’ and the collected notes made during a decade of mixing mean that now might be the right time to give an explanation a try.
With as many mixing styles as there are DJs, it should really go without saying (despite the occasional imperative mood) that I’m in no way prescribing this as the way to put a freeform set together. Taking set construction so seriously has always been massively rewarding for me though, so the hope is that this will be an interesting look behind the scenes for those who enjoy TYFTH’s mixes.
These thoughts (they’re far too meandering to be called a guide) are roughly divided into three sections, covering the main steps in my mixing process. Particularly important points are noted along the way, and to help with the explanations a few PD sets (or even transitions within them) are used as examples, as well as occasional mentions of non-freeform sets that have inspired me over the years.
Some housekeeping for the comeback post, as In Praise of Shadows is available again via the bigcartel page. Of course it was offline for a while during my Europe wanderings so that potential orders weren’t on hold for a month and a bit, rather than having sold out. Although the compilation has sold repectably by recent (or 2016) standards, the print run was closer to 2007 golden era numbers, meaning there’s plenty of stock left. That also means, sadly, that there’s a long way to go before costs are recouped, but as a labour of love I’m not so worried about that part. Financially idiotic or not, I’m glad to have kept the quality bar very high for all aspects of the release.
Anyway, I thought I’d also use this post to say a massive thank you to everyone who has ordered so far. Even this year there has been a small but pretty steady flow of orders, which is especially amazing considering my lack of action here or promotion elsewhere. The compilation has now found its way to 18 countries, and I can’t tell you how inspiring it is to imagine it being played around the world. A second release might only be wishful thinking at the moment, but keeping the TYFTH sound alive in some form or another is I hope a decent way to start repaying you for the support so far.
Even with a lot of catching up to do after recent weeks this guest set for Hardcore Junglists United by Shimotsukei has remained top of the to-post pile. Definitely the best I’ve heard from her in a long time, this is one of those sets that was obviously a labour of love and manages to bring together just about all of my favourite freeform elements.
I’d roughly divide the set into three sections, as things start with a very aggressive and genuinely dark opening, followed by some more melodic, uplifting tracks and a finale that makes a decent fist of blending all the previous styles. That opening is quite the thing though, setting a tone that Shimotsukei does a quality job of never straying too far away from. The mixing throughout is excellent, very rarely overdoing things and keeping it simple when longer transitions wouldn’t really work out.
If you can ride the wave successfully, mixing the aggressive filters of two different tracks does wonders for the atmosphere and can give a lot of flexibility in terms of which tracks you use. That proves to be true here at least, with combos like Kadotettu Todellisuus 2009 and Fear Myself working out incredibly well – other highlights might be Adversary – Reign of Terror, and Attacker – Daemons, even coming from a listener who usually struggles to get into Lost Soul’s tracks.
There’s a lot more going on here though, including a fine section of Tyranoid/Strongstream transitions and the mid-set use of Raindrops. It hasn’t shown up in a mix for a very long time, but Nightforce’s melancholy breakdown is a lovely choice as a set centrepiece. Personally I might have slightly shortened the melodic section pre-Attacker, but that’s present-day PD speaking and for many I expect it’ll be a nice break from all the aggression. Even having said that, the limited use of vintage Substanced and only one Transcend track shows that Shimotsukei was clearly going for an atmosphere that wasn’t stretched by too many different styles of melody. Really impressive stuff.
The lack of Alek/Nomic/Betwixt means it isn’t quite the grand tour of the scene you might be expecting in two hours – instead it’s a simply superb set that flows as well as any I’ve heard this year or last.
Almost perfect timing for a comeback post, what with 16 Years of FINRG clips appearing daily and the release set for the 25th of this month. Thanks to the FINRG grapevine I knew this compilation was in the works, but lost track of things since the initial murmurings and am as much in the dark as everyone else re. the remaining previews.
Such a strong lineup suggests there is still plenty to look forward to, as the tracks so far are keeping standards very high indeed. There’s also a good range, leaning towards uplifting sounds with a welcome strain of FINRG nastiness. Alchemiist’s Cybernetics might be the best example of that so far, while the return of Cyrez with the excellent Downshifter is my overall favourite at the time of writing. Another very welcome return to production comes from JNKS – The Game Needs Me sounds like a really impressive mixing of his DJing influences.
Notable of course to have such strong Japanese representation from Hyphen, Kokomochi and polaritia – after probably contributing the strongest track to Lucky Lotus’ Before The Dawn I’m excited to see what polaritia’s come up with this time.
A slight change of pace to highlight a fine set of NRG from Unknown Kill producer Risa. I really have to be in the right mood to enjoy this brand of NRG, but this was definitely a tracklist to catch the attention.
NRG has to be up there with schranz as one of the easiest genres to mix, so here the focus shifts to selection over elaborate transitions. Risa keeps things solid but basic, allowing the tracks to play out in their entirety – as some of my favourites like No God and Oblivion are in here that was no bad thing.
The end of the set alters the atmosphere slightly with a sequence of Asylum tracks, nicely leading into Take Down as the finale. Risa missed a trick for a more manic finish (as Shogun seems to be in the same key), but who knows, a change in the mixing style at that late stage might have sounded out of place.
A tracklist that has had obvious influences on Risa’s production, this is a fine set and should be required listening for those into the grittier side of the genre.
Here’s one of the main reasons it’s been a bit quiet around here recently – fitting a set around Other Things these days isn’t always easy. No way I was going to turn down a chance to contribute to the FINRG podcast series though, so here’s my first full freeform set since the In Praise of Shadows mix.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how it wasn’t only the dark, melancholy atmospheres of freeform that initially attracted me, but also a strangeness that I hadn’t really heard anywhere else. Play tracks like that in a club setting and you have the other-wordly atmosphere of NRGetic Romancer, of course, and so this set was an attempt to capture some of that with a tracklist of slightly less common tunes. The key was to avoid throwing in unusual tracks for the sake of it, as well as putting the usual effort in to construct a cohesive whole.
To that end I built the set around three main sections, resisting some old, obvious transitions in favour of keeping things headed in the direction I wanted. Hence the use of Twisted Freq early on, and a pretty basic introduction of Godd, for example. I wasn’t desperate to use promos here, but it turned out that GULD’s little-heard City of Solitude remix and Re-form’s Intro both fitted in nicely. Alabaster’s Awakening remix is still under construction, but this is the latest version and not too far from completion (and used with permission, obviously).
The 2023 remix was supposed to mark the big finale, which is probably my favourite part of the set. I’m quite pleased with the shift in atmosphere from there to Blackmailer, then into the Alek-Mellow Sonic combo. Those two beautiful breaks threaten to bring a tear to the eye every time, and I was hoping the contrast with the rest of the set would make them sound even better.
As always there are things I’d like to improve, but having already spent an outrageous amount of time planning this one the deadline was probably a good thing. Hope everyone enjoys it!
There’s more Shimotsukei to talk about soon, but before that a quick mention of this three (!) hour NRG session that ticks plenty of the TYFTH boxes. Although there’s already an endless supply of recordings on Shimotsukei’s SoundCloud, it really does add to the enjoyment of live sets when you can see what’s going on. Plus in this case there’s the very helpful overlay to answer any tracklist questions and a pretty lively chat that’s worth keeping an eye on.
If NRG’s your thing then this really is an essential listen – it’s very likely you’ll hear some forgotten classics as well as some more obscure selections. As things move into freeform territory it’s also a good chance for fellow DJs to check a few Before the Dawn tracks in a (well) mixed environment
I’m slow (of course) to mention the most recent FINRG podcasts, but even if you’ve heard them before they’re well worth a revisit as DJ case studies.
Listening to these sets you can hear right away what freeform means to each DJ, with both featuring some similar tracks as part of two very different atmospheres. JNKS’ 64 minutes goes from happy/UK hardcore to some solid gold FINRG and back again, while Alchemiist plays some surprisingly melodic freeform, connected to neurofunk and hardcore by a few darker oldies.
JNKS’ selection is spot on, with a huge number of later-era happy anthems (including remixes to keep veterans of the early 90s happy), while the potentially hazardous transition into the FINRG section is very nicely handled. You really can’t beat the gritty sound of tracks like Killer Instinct and Illuminate, and of course it’s nice to see the obligatory Alek appearance.
Alchemiist’s steady progression into the non-freeform final third is just as well handled, but the standout section of the set was a more conventional one. I might prefer the original PVC, but the transition from Ghost of Jupiter into Lost Soul’s remix is still top class and a worthy centrepiece to the set. Absolutely lovely stuff.
Both essential listens then, as is the entire podcast series so far.
Yet more release announcements, this time for the huge, freeform-only Lucky Lotus compilation, Before the Dawn. I can’t the only one who’s been hoping for something like from LL for a while now, and this is a high quality cross-faded preview. Also an impressive tracklist, with some veterans anchoring things in amongst the new faces and a lot of Japanese representation. I haven’t heard the full tracks yet, but going on this preview and others I’ve heard Kounta Kulture’s Cannibal Girl might be the most immediately promising. Definitely looking forward to a leisurely listen of the whole release, though.
The other good news is that the compilation will be released in little over a week via the LL bandcamp – the official date is 10th March.
Even though Dark Dimension’s been pretty sporadic for the past few years it has made a strong case to be the best harder, darker event in Tokyo since the end of NRGetic Romancer. The lineups have been hit and miss, but last year’s anniversary event was the strongest so far with Lab 4 appearing as guests.
April’s edition is going one better though – the surprise booking of Proteus makes this his first appearance in Tokyo for what must be about a decade. GULD will likely be adding some more NRG to the event to make it a proper reunion for the Romancer crowd.