Last year was much heavier on releases than we might have expected, resulting in a decent number of sets that tried blending old and new. Even if there were fewer ‘dark side’ DJs doing the rounds in 2017, there was a lot to enjoy and making these final choices was quite a challenge.
1. Shimotsukei – Future_Proof Sounds mix series 005
Shimotsukei has been single-handedly propping up the scene during its quieter spells – it wouldn’t have been that hard at all to pick a Shimo-only top 3. This set for Future_proof is my choice though, thanks to its more considered, ‘studio’ feel than her (still generally top class) twitch sessions. Some of the strongest Shimotsukei mixing of the year can be found here, as well as a quality structure that’s sparing enough with the melodies to make for a very welcome, darker set. Make sure to hang in there for a really excellent final third.
2. Solvynt – Lucky Lotus Online Electronic Music Festival 7
Most ambitious set of the year was definitely Solvynt’s Lucky Lotus submission, with the strongest tracklist you could possibly ask for. Melding some of the trickier tunes isn’t always successful here, but when it works, it really works. Perkele! into Shine remains the best transition I heard last year, and there are many other highlights to look out for.
3. Substanced – FINRG PODCAST 003
Third spot was a close-run thing, but in the end I went for Substanced’s masterclass in how to mix newer freeform with the old. Understandably heavy on his own, newer productions, the way they blend with a couple of classics is an encouraging reminder that the FINRG spirit is still very much intact. Some of the strongest mixing of the year, great cross-scene promotion, and hopefully a sign of things to come in 2018.
Hedonistik Ritual, Carbon Based
Another addition to the growing list of interesting BRK collabs, this one features UK freeform’s Eryk Orpheus. An unexpected combination of artists, and the clip is very promising – not sure about release info yet but it’s one to keep an eye on, for sure.
I also should have mentioned BRK’s Love Like This, a collab with very occasional producer NEON that definitely sounds like both had plenty of input during production. Featuring one of those never-ending hard dance breakdowns, the track makes very good use of it with a really nice drop.
Obviously a must-listen, FINRG’s second podcast is a very welcome, Carbon Based-selected look back at a few of the label’s finest tracks. Plenty of these are well over a decade old but have never been bettered – it’s fitting to hear them again just before FINRG’s 16th anniversary event next year.
The mixing’s as rock-solid as you’d expect, and this might also be the first time I’ve heard other artists’ tracks used in a CB set.
Although it goes without saying that Shimotsukei’s SoundCloud (and especially the recent artist mix series) should be a regular destination for all Horsers these days, I couldn’t let this one pass by without comment. The difficulty of mixing Alek Szahala’s tracks together might be one reason for so few Alek-only sets over the years, but this two-hour epic is a mighty impressive effort.
As with many of Shimotsukei’s streamed sets this was put together with very little planning, which immediately gives it an extra dose of ‘live’ energy. The drawback of that approach is fewer standout transitions – a shame as that’s something I was really looking forward to in a set of this importance. That’s not to there aren’t any, mind, and the set’s atmosphere is shifted around very skilfully from start to finish.
Nine out of ten freeform DJs would recommend starting an Alek set with Tigris, and why not? It’s still one of the very best intros of all time, with enough darkness and melody to link nicely with a variety of other tracks. Here it’s Invitation – a solid transition to start, but it’s not until Ihme Juttu – Ziggurat that the mixing really picks up. That’s quickly followed by what might be the transition of the set, as Mermaid unexpectedly moves into Ngarnuuk in one of those high bpm mixes that Shimotsukei is so good at.
From that point it’s more about the excellent selection than anything else. There are a few wobbles here and there, as Heaven N Hell and Comet Catcher clash, while the following melodic tracks aren’t always comfortable mixing into each other. Much better is the Lagash – Chimaera combo, an effective transition that doesn’t overdo things while nicely altering the atmosphere. Things are really rock solid from that point – Last of the Mohicans into Icy Clouds is one I enjoyed, before the manic finale that you surely knew was coming.
A couple of omissions aside, this is a wonderful set that covers all era of Alek in a very different style to his own live PAs, and (as if you needed one) a great primer on Alek’s sound.
I’ll hijack the post before I go – it’s actually been in the back of my mind for a while to do a new Alek mix (my second, strictly speaking, as my first-ever recorded freeform set in 2006 was Alek-only), and this might be the kick I need to finally give one a go next year…
I should really have mentioned by now that FINRG’s latest EP has been online since last week, as I suspect you’re going to have to search hard to find a better freeform and NRG release anywhere this year. The ever-reliable combo of Alchemiist and Substanced has done it again with Dead Silence and its freeform remix, two tracks that definitely play to the strengths of their genres.
This might in fact be the darkest release since a certain compilation and I’m really looking forward to trying them out in a set. Both are available now from Beatport.
Aspiring freeform producers who missed the recent(ish) announcement should note that FINRG is accepting track submissions. Another promising sign (after Substanced’s Pure Freeform) that the label is resurrecting itself for the end of the year, and it can’t come soon enough.
As much as I’d love to be accepting tracks to be be released on TYFTH that’s not a possibility for the forseeable future, so it’d be lovely to see some IPoS-inspired darker tracks surfacing on FINRG in the meantime. Surely getting in touch through any of the usual channels will do the trick, but the orginal announcement can be found on the FINRG Facebook page.
This one’s already closing in on 200 SoundCloud ‘likes’ and will probably have been on everyone’s radar for a while, but Substanced’s newest set definitely deserves a respectful shout here too. I expect most will have looked with disbelief at such a new-release heavy tracklist – if this was your only set listen of the year you’d be convinced the 2017 scene is in rude (albeit very trancy/melodic) health, with Substanced’s tracks pushing a promising style of updated FINRG sounds.
Remember me positing that Hyphen’s Dryad Machine remix would be the In Praise of Shadows track with the most cross-scene appeal? Hardly a bold prediction, but it seems to be the case, here used from the break as a really effective post-intro opening track. Substanced’s material is an absolute highlight of the set – they might be tricky to mix with really darker stuff, but my gooodness there’s some great work on the melodies, as well as yet more evidence (see that excellent Gamemaster remix) that he’s the current king of the ‘FINRG filter.’
We all know what a good fit Substanced and Transcend’s tracks are together – melodic, often uplifting and with enough nastiness to get everyone dancing, here they’re mixed in a rock solid style that’s hard not to enjoy. Alchemiist’s remix of Can U See Now might be my favourite of the new tracks though, while I was overjoyed to hear Unconsciousness towards the end – the madness of that classic breakdown is a worthy follow up to Substanced’s Cyclone remix.
The ‘I’ in the mix suggests a follow up, and as welcome as that’d be it seems that this set alone has been enough for a fair few FINRG fans to revisit the scene. With the label taking submissions again we could be on the way up again after the recent quiet spell.
Great to see some DJing names returning to the fold lately, including our old friend Alderz with a quality, nostalgic tribute to Carbon Based.
If I had the choice of their whole back catalogue, my final tracklist would probably end up very similar to this one – Alderz has done a fine job of representing CB’s trademark sound along with some relatively newer tracks, promos and less played classics. Dark Side is a typical starting point, but that switch into Underworld Species is by far the best transition into freeform I’ve heard.
The majority of the set after after that progresses through some of the most satisying examples of FINRG filtering you’re likely to hear, interspersed with melodies to keep the interest up. Anthem is a great choice for the halfway point, and going the melancholy direction for the last three tracks works nicely. The transitions to/from Psychotherapy work especially well.
Cyclone arrives a bit awkwardly, but the tribute certainly wouldn’t have been complete without it. Alderz has done a top job with this one, showing an appreciation for the CB/FINRG atmosphere that veterans and newer arrivals to the scene would do well to check out.
That Solvynt’s was the first Lucky Lotus set I checked out after the event will come as no surprise to those who’ve been listening to his work over the past few years. This one may well feature one of his strongest tracklists so far, even if the tradeoff turns out to be fewer show-stopping transitions.
Starting with Tigris sets the tone – this set is heavy on NRG but at freeform speeds, leading to some really nice connections I never would have considered. The early combo of Desolated Dreams and Prelude works well, while the long combination of Inquisition and Get Fire! has its moments without quite coming together as hoped. Perkele! into Shine is transition of the set though, one of those moments when the line between DJ and creator blurs slightly . Excellent, excellent stuff, followed by a really effective introduction of Brionac via Full Metal Jacket.
Matter of Fact arrives in slightly uncomfortable style, but The Brain Controls Pain transitions far more smoothly, introducing a final third of melodic classics. Skybreak is a great choice, and I love the use of Celestea’s final filters with Gravity’s Rainbow.
Another quality set then, and the nit-picking over a couple of moments is just that – only because Solvynt continues to be one of the few freeform DJs prepared to experiment with such ambitious track combinations. Inspirational stuff that should be required listening, especially if you’re planning a mix yourself.
A couple of recent EP releases here that most will have seen, but both are encouraging signs that the big names haven’t given up on freeform just yet. From The Shadows is a very welcome return for FINRG, though this is obviously more of a UK freeform showcase and style-wise is only nominally in the same ballpark as previous Finnish releases. My favourite is Transcend and Hedonistik Ritual’s Scorched, with its trademark Transcend production and some nice filtering on the leads.
The release is also notable as a step away from SoundCloud free releases, appearing instead on Beatport and Juno Download. I know from TYFTH research and my days helping out with Hybridize that sales from digital download sites have to be pretty healthy to make it a worthwhile exercise, so be sure to show some support if your listening/mixing tastes line up with this one.
Next is an EP from one of the UK scene’s strongest producers, Eryk Orpheus. Doofs, Squeaks and Bleeps is an interesting mix of styles that has been a long time in the making – my favourite track in the release, Benodihydrochloridebenzylex, has been floating around for years. It’s another great example of how dark psy/goa can be incorporated into freeform even if things here don’t quite go to Qygen-like next levels. The EP is available for a mere £1.50 via the Intelli-Trance site.