UK

As I’m danger of falling behind recent big announcements I’ll break with tradition and catch up with a few of the main ones in a single post. Good training for the hopefully regular appearance of some longer writing on the site this year, too.

Heading the post is the opening track from Proteus’ upcoming artist album. Rather than NRG or anything like it, instead this sounds very much like something that could have appeared on Platipus back in the day, which is of course high praise. The second track, Gute Nacht has also gone online and shows a more familiar darker style – if the previews maintain this standard then it’s going to be quite the release. Plus there’ll surely be some older-school, pacier tracks in there somewhere.

Possibly the biggest freeform announcement is the recent release of Future_Proof Sounds’ second compilation, a strong collection of tracks with Japanese representation from Hyphen and Kokomochi. Kokomochi’s If Not Machine has shades of ikaruga_nex and is a fine follow-up to Iron Sky.

We’ve also got another label entering the scene in the form of Skeny Tracks – it might lean towards melodic freeform and UK hardcore but the first release Retrofuture features a really impressive selection of newer artists from around the scene. Hyphen’s here of course, but watch out too for Sanaas’ Beastout.

Finally for now is an excellent hour of mixed tracks from BRK. Featuring a full tracklist of his own material plus a solitary remix, this is quality stuff and another clear step up for his productions. The collab tracks with GULD and NEON give the set some welcome variety, while Kaos Lodge is one of his strongest tracks for some time and a well-chosen finale.

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.

Honourable mentions

Hedonistik Ritual, Carbon Based

If you’re in the market for some melodic freeform then Nonaka+Chin’s FutureProof Sounds set might be a good one to check out. I often think of Nonaka as the Midas of the Japanese scene – his mixing level, thoughtful selection and taste for the Finnish sound alongside the UK freeform means there’s always something to enjoy.

This one is excellently mixed with some nicely considered transitions, and even if there’s a lot of UK freeform that I can’t name (not laziness, there’s actually no tracklist here) the set is also a fine showcase of Japanese tracks with artists from ikaruga_nex to Hyphen, via Alabaster’s Galaxy. I found myself wishing for some darker sounds but that’s clearly not what the set is aiming for – instead this is the place for some well-selected melodic highlights of the current scene.

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.

Who’d have thought that it would end up being difficult to keep track of new freeform releases in 2017? Electronica Exposed’s 15th anniversary is one of the biggest, and an essential buy.

Happily, this landmark for one of the most important labels of them all has as wide ranging and high quality a tracklist as you’d hope. Most of the UK freeform tracks have a nicely acidic, old school feel to them, while there are some real heavyweights on the Finnish side – remixes of Cyclone and Harder Than U Think, along with Alchemiist’s rework of Can U See Now are all unmissable.

The 2 CD release is a relatively small run, and available now, directly from Electronica Exposed.

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.

Smiling Corpse’s newest release definitely lives up to the name, with 13 tracks of trancecore styled freeform that should bring back memories (for some) of the early scene, pre even the Nu-Energy/FINRG era. The CD compilation will be released this month but is already up for preorder – and with only 120 copies pressed (and 69 left at the time of writing) it might be worth getting in sooner rather than later.

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.