USA

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.

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

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.

A very last-minute notice here that a winter edition of Hellfury’s Hardcore Bash online event is starting today. Although there’s less than usual to pick out on the freeform side, I’d like to point Horsers in the direction of Hyphen’s set tonight at 19:00 (GMT), followed directly by Shimotsukei. Watch out too for Hellfury himself playing first thing tomorrow – ideally with a freeform set but either way it’s great to see him back.

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

Presumably we’re all familiar with Blue Revolver, 2016’s fondest of fond tributes to the modern(ish) shmup? I usually manage to restrain myself from too many game-related posts here, but BR sneaked through thanks to Wyrm’s sound design and a pretty remarkable OST from Qygen. Plus of course there was the excellent collection of remixes, including the return of ikaruga_nex and some lovely stuff from Hyphen – the game itself’s a must-purchase if you’re even slightly into the genre, but at the very least you need the soundtrack, which was comfortably one of the best freeform releases of the year.

Black Label is a CAVE style rebalance/update of the mechanics and frontend, with a genuinely interesting list of new additions. What’s bolder though is an arranged version of the soundtrack, wisely deciding not to try out-freeforming Qygen and instead taking things in a more conventional soundtrack direction. Exemia and Hagane are nice choices for remix duties (especially after Exemia’s quality work with Aerolith Aurorablast), and Hagane’s lush, breakbeaty take on Qygen’s tracks is sounding very successful so far. Black Label will be appearing in January next year.

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…

Now this here is an overdue post – and yet it now turns out to be something of a hopeful preview of things to come. Sherkel’s no stranger to any visitor to TYFTH, but after gophering away for years on his own productions it’s surely time for a post to help them be heard more widely.

Since the upload a year or so ago of Night Falls, a full mixed set(!) of NRG and freeform experiments that had some very promising moments, Sherkel has hit on a incredibly distinctive style that takes his melodies in a (slightly) more conventional direction and pairs them with an unbelievably accurate take on elements of Einhander’s sound. That second bit really is something, somehow nailing not only the trademark Einhander lead sounds but also his filtering techniques. For good measure a number of Sherkel’s tracks also emulate Einhander’s percussion style, as heard in Yarai, my choice to headline the post.

Yarai‘s melody is a rework of a Pokemon OST but still has the distinctive Sherkel style – I can’t stress enough how impressed I am to be describing such a new artist’s productions (or pretty new to NRG, at any rate) in those terms. That incredible filtering gets a run out here, and the track is a fine example of Sherkel’s work post-Night Falls. You might also notice that Yarai is already nine months old, but happily there has been plenty of progress since. edit: The version at the top of the post is now the updated, full length track from January. More recent tracks have definitely upped the level once more, giving me hope that at least some will be completed and online before too long. A Night Falls 2 would already be an impressive set.

I really wasn’t expecting this – a tribute to Buzzmasta that well and truly does justice to his varied sound, as well bringing some deserved attention to one of the most important names in the Tokyo hardcore scene. Once again we’ve got Shimotsukei to thank, which of course means impressive mixing and plenty of obscurities in the tracklist.

Those familiar with Buzz’s back catalogue will know that he covered the full hardcore spectrum in his productions, nicely reflected here in a mix that goes all the way from happy hardcore to Full Circle freeform anthems. I was expecting Shoreline as the opener, but after that almost every other track (at least in the first half) was something new to me – I always loved how Buzzmasta hardcore had far more of the 90s spirit about it than most of the UK hardcore you hear these days, and the ‘happier’ section of this set is just what I was hoping for.

One of my favourite tracks, For Action, links very nicely with Sing to Me, effectively introducing a harder final third that brings back plenty of memories of Buzzmasta and Yousuke at NRGetic Romancer. Shimotsukei pulls out all the stops on the section, finding some lovely transitions to keep things pacy – Equinox into Euphonica is especially nice. Most will know that Full Circle tracks were also Buzzmasta-produced with suggestions from Yousuke and Cogi – the hyperactive (and lengthy) filtered sequences in Gate Crasher and Halcyon are good examples, and both thanks to Cogi’s cajoling. The Full Circle material is also an impressive example of his range, then, with Alchemy perhaps my favourite track that finds a comfortable spot between the two extremes.

Even putting aside the emotional aspect this is an excellent Shimotsukei set, but as a tribute to one of the kindest, most genuinely nice guys in the Japanese scene it’s even more special. I’m sure that Buzz himself would have absolutely loved this one.

I’m ever so late with this one, but as it’s hard to keep up with Shimotsukei’s mix-posting schedule there might well be some who missed her excellent tribute to Lunch. As the founder of Tokyo Hardcore Construction it’s not overstating things to say that there wouldn’t be much of a gabber scene here without Lunch’s music and events.

Shimotsukei’s set does a fine job of representing Lunch’s sounds (and even sourcing them in the first place), running through his final tracks on Pure Existence as well as far earlier work and some big THC anthems like Oldskool Terrorist (one of my personal favourites) and Hardcore Ravers Motherfucker. The mixing is also top drawer with some interesting, longer transitions that you wouldn’t often hear at THC – such was Lunch’s (justified) confidence in his timing he would usually play the next track with both faders at max volume from the very start.

More than any other recent set, this brings back all sorts of memories of the Tokyo harder scene of years past, but even without the nostalgia element it’ll be pretty hard for newcomers to resist melodies as manic and catchy as these.