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Believe it or not, over the past few months I’ve actually been making more of an effort on the production front, putting in a few hours each week. Not quite the daily grind that I remember Aryx and Substanced both recommending, but I’m determined not to only have the Hell’s Gate remix to my name and it’ll hopefully end up leading somewhere. Seems like I’m not the only one, as the forum has woken up slightly with the first hoover/leads production discussion.

What with freeform being such a niche affair, videos that show the producers at work are an absolute mine of inspiration and guidance – some classics are of course Alek’s Ziggurat, Aryx’s Galaxis and Solar Flare, and Qygen’s Past Blaster. Now we can add Hyphen’s AWAKE remix to the list, doing for FL what the previous guides did for Reason users.

Hyphen’s YouTube channel already has some very nice tutorials and a look into his track Laser Fusion Reactor, but this video goes way deeper with almost 30 minutes of back and forth through the track, including detailed looks at the synths and piano rolls. This will massively benefit anyone, no matter the DAW, and whether you’re looking for a more uplifting sound or not this is surely the best introductory freeform tutorial so far.

Sorry the year ended without a post, but the Top 3 Tracks are being gathered together as we speak and will be appearing soon, along with a couple of other delayed bits and pieces. For now, let’s start 2017 with my favourite sets of last year.

2016 was a funny one for the scene – surely more releases than we’ve seen since the golden era of FINRG and Electronica Exposed, but not many events at all (other than in the UK) and fewer recorded sets than we’re used to. Hopefully all these releases in 2016 will have given DJs the ammunition they’ll need for the next twelve months.

On to the favourites from 2016, then. Most of the best sets arrived too soon for a lot of this new material, instead showing a familarity with older tracks that lends itself to more ambitious mixing and cohesive set construction. There’s still a long way to go for the scene in general (in comparison with DJs in some other genres – a thought I’ll save for another time), but there were some more really promising steps forward in 2016.

3. Nomic – Lucky Lotus Online Electronic Music Festival 6

Nomic’s set for Lucky Lotus 6 was one of his very best, not only thanks to the combination of very old and very new, but also the subtle approach to blending tracks and carefully switching key throughout the set. Neptune into Rule Breaker is a nice example, and it does wonders for the atmosphere. That aside, it’s another masterclass of melancholy into aggression and an absolute must-listen.

2. Solvynt – Lucky Lotus Online Electronic Music Festival 6

Solvynt was on top form last year with his Lucky Lotus 5 set, so I was obviously looking forward to number 6 as soon as he was confirmed on the lineup. It doesn’t disappoint, featuring some of darkest atmospheres and interesting transitions of the year. I mentioned at the time that the set suffers a slight dip after a very (very) strong start but then quickly picks up again, which is the only reason it wasn’t my number one choice. Listen and learn from Superstition – Purple – Tendrils of Reality though, that there is how the creativity of a DJ can not only link together, but actually add something extra speacial to the hard work of the artists themselves.

1. Shimotsukei – The Techno Shark Guest Mix

There was no stopping Shimotsukei in 2016, with a pretty staggering amount of mixing across all sorts of genres and even some very promising steps into production. Her end of year Le Dos-0n/Hyphen set came very close to defeating the Techno Shark, but in the end it was hard to deny two hours of excellently mixed tracks that match the TYFTH mission statement word-for-word. The first third-or-so of NRG is as good as you’ll hear anywhere, with some superb, ambitious mixing that maintains the atmosphere brilliantly. The length of the set means that things eventually have to start switching up more abruptly, but even among the freeform tracks there are some special transitions that make the whole two hours an exciting listen. Also worth mentioning what an excellent intro to the two genres this is – if you’re ever out proselytising among the non-believers, Shimotsukei’s set would be ideal.

Honourable Mentions

GULD, Hellfury, Midas, Orphic, Shimotsukei, Shimotsukei

What was already the strongest year for releases in a long time just keeps improving, as Futureproof Sounds’ first compilation has just sneaked in before the end of 2016. A UK label with a taste for the darker side, Futureproof has given strong support to the Japanese scene in FS Vol 1, with tracks from Hyphen and Kokomochi.

I’m not sure I’ve heard the Hyphen track yet, but judging from the collection of preview clips Kokomochi’s Iron Sky leads the way in the rest of the lineup. One of those Hyphen/ikaruga/Falchion-esque tracks that goes heavy on the melodies but anchors things with some nastier sounds, it sounds like a track that could fit into a lot of sets.

The rest of volume one features some interesting melodic tracks without heading too far into darker territory (Transcend and Cyrax’s Forever is a nice example), but the release is definitely one to keep an eye on. It’s available now from the Futureproof site with a very limited run of 100 copies.

Everyone’s familiar with Alias A.K.A., if not for his multi-genre productions of the past few years then definitely as Electronica Exposed’s main man, Shanty. I’ve been following Alias’ releases and mixes for a while and really should have mentioned them here, especially the fabulous Prime Suspect album.

Praise be, then, as the latest Freeform Remixes compilation takes on some of those darker tracks along with all sorts of other fun and games for a compilation of very big names. The majority of the artists lean towards UK freeform, but we also have some high quality deeper sounds on show. Nomic’s Regret remix is the big standout for me so far, but Wyrm and Sutr are a perfect fit to take on Nurgle, originally one of those excellent Prime Suspect dark trance tracks. The remix doesn’t quite hit the dark atmosphere of the original (it is named after the god of disease and decay, after all), but the second half of the clip shows a ton of promise – pacy, twisted and heading in a darker direction.

The last of the previews went online recently, but keep an eye on the Alias A.K.A. SoundCloud or Facebook page for more info on the release.

Thought you knew Nomic’s back catalogue pretty well, did you? A rude awakening awaits, as Shimotsukei has gone delving into the obscure and beautiful for another must-listen of a set.

This set very wisely takes a different approach than Nomic’s own live PAs and mixes, with older, experimental tracks heavily represented alongside some classics. With such a huge selection to choose from it’s a shame the set doesn’t go for as many melodic transitions as I was hoping for*, but the tracklist is fabulous and it most definitely has its quality combination moments.

With any other freeform artist you might complain at Leijonakuningas opening things and sticking around for a good 5 minutes or so, but for Nomic it sets the tone perfectly – you know that this is going to be something out of the ordinary. The excellent edit of Human Race follows, introducing a long sequence of trademark orchestral tracks that (utterly great though they are) don’t really have the power to be heard through club PAs very often these days.

Towards halfway is where the set comes into its own, I think – the combination of Etkö ymmärrä and Guardian Spirit is a real winner, before the bpm really starts picking up for the final third. The Black Cage is a fantastic track that I haven’t even heard before, while This Is The New Shit into Painajaiskarkoittaja is as good a use of two of my favourites as you’ll find anywhere (assuming you can find anyone else playing them, that is).

The final section from Battle of Dawn is the side of Nomic we rarely hear, but is a totally fitting finish for a top class set that manages something pretty special – covering all of Nomic’s trademark sounds but steering clear of too many anthems.

* I’ve since discovered that this was an improvised set streamed live, making it even more impressive.

Qygen’s not the only one going in interesting directions with freeform this year – one of the best releases of 2016 so far has now arrived, courtesy of Exemia.

Released earlier this month, Synthform is a pitch-perfect take on synthwave-as-freeform that really does sound like something new. The best frame of reference for us is probably Byproduct, but here with a harder edge that shows Exemia’s experience in the freeform scene. The addition of a mighty impressive Hyphen remix also means that this could be another Blue Revolver-esque gateway into the wider genre for new listeners.

My favourites so far are Defend the Bass and Digital Blizzard, but the whole album is top class and more than warrants a physical release. Instead it’s available on Bandcamp for free, but Exemia’s work deserves a lot more support than that and naming your price is surely the way to go for music of this quality.

Some news aimed at the based-in-Japan crowd here – as part of my efforts to broaden the audience for In Praise of Shadows I’m very pleased to say that the album has been on sale at Shibuya’s Guhroovy for a couple of days now.

TYFTH’s online store handling payments via PayPal is a bit of a problem in Japan, as it still doesn’t have much of a presence here. This has meant that the Japan crew have been at a disadvantage up to now and I’ve been hoping to give them some other options – it explains the very healthy sales on the first day at CODEX, but now anyone who missed that has this avenue.

It’s also a biggie for another reason, as having the label’s first release on the shelves of a music store is a pretty decent milestone – the fact that it’s Guhroovy makes it even better, as it comes almost exactly 10 years after I placed an order there (from the UK) for Khaotic Dimension. How far we’ve come, eh?

On that note, if you’re outside Japan then for goodness’ sake don’t order though Guhroovy, as the stock is fairly limited and getting the album from the TYFTH store is far cheaper thanks to the (in hindsight perhaps too generous) free postage worldwide.

I’ve been meaning to get this post online for a week or so, but now it’s especially timely – Cave/Raizing-inspired shmup Blue Revolver was released today (JST) on Steam, and is essential if you’ve even the slightest interest in the genre.

What should be of interest to all Horsers is the soundtrack, composed by Qygen and featuring remixes from the likes of Hyphen, Exemia and Blue Phoenix. In Praise of Shadows aside, Qygen’s work here is far and away the best freeform I’ve heard this year, and it’s really exciting to consider how many people could be exposed to his sound if this release does as well as it deserves to.

The top of this post is a recent episode of STG Weekly, featuring Blue Revolver and its developers. Although my shmupping has lapsed a bit over the past year, I’ve been back at Guwange and Crimson Clover recently and can’t wait to give BR a proper go.

Slightly belated notice of a new(ish) set from me and Shimotsukei that went online recently and was part of Lucky Lotus 6 back in June. We decided to make things more interesting than the usual ‘one half each’ setup and try a more aunthentic back to back, alternating every few tracks. It all came together far easier than I was expecting, and there are a fair number of rarer/unreleased tunes amongst the classics.

Big thanks of course to Lucky Lotus and Shimotsukei for such a nice opportunity to take on something different, and I hope we’ll have a chance to give this another try in the future. Tracklist is below, and the set is downloadable on the FINRG SoundCloud.

[PD]
01. Tyranoid vs Strongstream – Spice/Epice
02. Epyx & Cyrez – Game Over (Tyranoid/Strongstream Remix)
03. Epilim – Rapid Fire
[Shimotsukei]
04. Carbon Based & DJ Rx – Reptile
05. Pain On Creation & Fea – Unconsciousness
06. Epyx & Cyrez vs Fea – Untitled 4 Evah (Unfinished edit)
[PD]
07. Nomic – Neptune
08. Alabaster – Galaxy
09. Re-form – Cyanide
[Shimotsukei]
10. Epyx & Cyrez – Neverlasting
11. Le Dos-on – Rising Sun
12. Proteus – Venla
[PD]
13. DJ RX – Hellfire
14. A+D+A+M Lab4 – Psychopath
15. GULD – Hannya 2
16. VICE TEK HEAVY INDUSTRY – 3M3SIS
[Shimotsukei]
17. Betwixt & Between – Matsukin (Remix)
18. Nomic – Mutantit