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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.

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.

Apologies to the Lucky Lotus chat crew who have been expecting this for almost a week, but hopefully late is better than never – best we take a look at this one before we work through some other very promising sets from last weekend.

You might remember that we were both originally on the lineup to play individual sets, but what with one thing and another it worked out easiest for us both to go for another collab. Not that I’m complaining – last year was really good fun, while this one was a great way to get over a slight lack of recent freeform inspiration on my part. I have a darker set in the very early works, but last year’s In Praise of Shadows mix worked out so well I’m having trouble matching that for the time being.

Instead I thought a slightly more melodic approach might be interesting this time, including some of the freeform side of IPoS. Shimotsukei had her own ideas of course, and the set somehow worked out very nicely with minimal rejigging of the tracklist. My toughest job was to come up with pre-Fleshfest sequence which led me to settle on Some More. Years of diddling around with the track has still left me with no decent transitions, and so after spending time on all sorts of bizarre combos I gave up and went for a Grimsoul-only opening. We don’t hear his tracks often enough these days (Sentimental Pain aside), plus it was my first time to use any of the three in a set.

Shimotsukei’s sequences are all fantastic, from the standout NRG of Fleshfest Mad Man to the so-mad-it-might-just-work finale of Voodoo to Xochitlan. Each sequence is made all the more impressive by the fact that Shimotsukei was mostly working with my completed sections of the set, once I had cheerily passed them on for her to struggle with.

My own favourite section is Syxautik to Ascend to the Stars, even if it’s the most roughly mixed (with some suspect levels that definitely didn’t seem as bad while mixing). I was trying a dark, deeper atmosphere there, with some more emotional sounds coming in as it progressed – I think it’s pretty successful, and a bit of a preview of the kind of thing I’d like from the next solo set.

It was very nice to see the positive reaction to the set in the LL chat, as well as exchange a few words with Horsers for the first time in far too long. Big thanks of course to LL for the invitation, and especially to Shimotsukei for all the hard work to get the set ready in time. I hope we’ve still got a few more collabs ahead of us, they’re going well so far.

I haven’t given up thoughts of the occasional live set stream (on chew, twitch, or somewhere else) and will keep you all posted, but I do at least have a new mix approaching completion – not the usual thing at all, but hopefully it’ll be the kick needed for a more productive second half of the year.

01. Grimsoul – Escape Forever [Electronica Exposed]
02. Grimsoul – Pahus [Electronica Exposed]
03. Grimsoul – Some More [Electronica Exposed]
04. Carbon Based, DJ Rx & Proteus – Fleshfest [FINRG]
05. Proteus, Ephexis & Ting – Angel of Hell [UHOtrax]
06. FEN Project – Mad Man [FINRG]
07. DJ Rx – Fisheye [FINRG]
08. Morita Yuuhei – The Ghost [Thank You For The Horse]
09. Alek Szahala – Dryad Machine (Hyphen Remix) [Thank You For The Horse]
10. Nightforce & Substanced – Operation Stardust [Electronica Exposed]
11. Pain on Creation – Mortality [FINRG]
12. Twisted Freq – Syxautik [Electronica Exposed]
13. Mellow Sonic – Paradoxon [Cosmicopia Records]
14. Alek Szahala – Ascend to the Stars (Qygen Remix) [ReBuild Music}
15. Anon – Voodoo (Power Mix) [White Label]
16. DJ Eclipse – Ultra World 5 [Bonkers Records]
17. Betwixt & Between – East of Eden (Remaster) [CDR]
18. Alek Száhala – Xochitlán [FINRG]

Only a week to go until this year’s Lucky Lotus, including my first recorded set of the year. Once again it’ll be a back to back with Shimotsukei, but this time with more of a freeform feel than our previous collab.

As always the lineup for the rest of the event is as good as you could hope for, happily with another good showing from the freeform scene. Names that leap out so far include Horzi, Hedonistik Ritual, Orphic, Alabaster, Solvynt, Decion, Byproduct and Alek Szahala, but as the festival runs for the usual three days it’s definitely worth checking the event page for updates and timetable info. Shimotsukei and I are scheduled for Saturday the 24th at 13:35 GMT.

I dread to think when the last post was – Life Stuff has meant some schedule juggling to fit everything in, and TYFTH has been suffering a bit as a result. Finally getting around to a few posts though, starting with the grand launch of Lucky Lotus’ CD compilation, Summertime Dreams.

The most significant news so far for freeform in 2017, this compilation has some very big names on board – Nomic, Qygen and Morita Yuuhei top the bill, with a very nicely produced contribution from Erkenfresh and Archari and Shimotsukei’s Dagor Dagorath adding some up-and-comers to the tracklist. With Shimotsukei in charge of things the rest of the release is about as eclectic as you’d expect, giving us a taste of everything from funkot to downtempo chillout, via Lab4’s excellent, roll-back-the-years NRG track, Moving To The Beat.

edit: I’ll blame posting rustiness for not mentioning something so important yesterday, but LL has announced that Qygen’s Crystal Cave will be his last freeform track. Talk about another huge loss to the scene, though the signs are that he’ll make a return to music of a different sort in the future.

Not really a release you can afford to miss, I’d say – it’s set for the end of June, but preorders are open already on the Lucky Lotus bandcamp and bigcartel sites.