Believe it or not, this post is in response to a few requests I had, many years ago, to talk a little about how I put my sets together. Back then I felt I had a lot to work on, and either way wasn’t really confident enough to articulate what I’d learned so far. Although there’s still plenty to improve, the combination of more regularly hitting what I feel is the ‘TYFTH style’ and the collected notes made during a decade of mixing mean that now might be the right time to give an explanation a try.
With as many mixing styles as there are DJs, it should really go without saying (despite the occasional imperative mood) that I’m in no way prescribing this as the way to put a freeform set together. Taking set construction so seriously has always been massively rewarding for me though, so the hope is that this will be an interesting look behind the scenes for those who enjoy TYFTH’s mixes.
These thoughts (they’re far too meandering to be called a guide) are roughly divided into three sections, covering the main steps in my mixing process. Particularly important points are noted along the way, and to help with the explanations a few PD sets (or even transitions within them) are used as examples, as well as occasional mentions of non-freeform sets that have inspired me over the years.
Some housekeeping for the comeback post, as In Praise of Shadows is available again via the bigcartel page. Of course it was offline for a while during my Europe wanderings so that potential orders weren’t on hold for a month and a bit, rather than having sold out. Although the compilation has sold repectably by recent (or 2016) standards, the print run was closer to 2007 golden era numbers, meaning there’s plenty of stock left. That also means, sadly, that there’s a long way to go before costs are recouped, but as a labour of love I’m not so worried about that part. Financially idiotic or not, I’m glad to have kept the quality bar very high for all aspects of the release.
Anyway, I thought I’d also use this post to say a massive thank you to everyone who has ordered so far. Even this year there has been a small but pretty steady flow of orders, which is especially amazing considering my lack of action here or promotion elsewhere. The compilation has now found its way to 18 countries, and I can’t tell you how inspiring it is to imagine it being played around the world. A second release might only be wishful thinking at the moment, but keeping the TYFTH sound alive in some form or another is I hope a decent way to start repaying you for the support so far.
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.
A slight change of pace to highlight a fine set of NRG from Unknown Kill producer Risa. I really have to be in the right mood to enjoy this brand of NRG, but this was definitely a tracklist to catch the attention.
NRG has to be up there with schranz as one of the easiest genres to mix, so here the focus shifts to selection over elaborate transitions. Risa keeps things solid but basic, allowing the tracks to play out in their entirety – as some of my favourites like No God and Oblivion are in here that was no bad thing.
The end of the set alters the atmosphere slightly with a sequence of Asylum tracks, nicely leading into Take Down as the finale. Risa missed a trick for a more manic finish (as Shogun seems to be in the same key), but who knows, a change in the mixing style at that late stage might have sounded out of place.
A tracklist that has had obvious influences on Risa’s production, this is a fine set and should be required listening for those into the grittier side of the genre.
Here’s one of the main reasons it’s been a bit quiet around here recently – fitting a set around Other Things these days isn’t always easy. No way I was going to turn down a chance to contribute to the FINRG podcast series though, so here’s my first full freeform set since the In Praise of Shadows mix.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how it wasn’t only the dark, melancholy atmospheres of freeform that initially attracted me, but also a strangeness that I hadn’t really heard anywhere else. Play tracks like that in a club setting and you have the other-wordly atmosphere of NRGetic Romancer, of course, and so this set was an attempt to capture some of that with a tracklist of slightly less common tunes. The key was to avoid throwing in unusual tracks for the sake of it, as well as putting the usual effort in to construct a cohesive whole.
To that end I built the set around three main sections, resisting some old, obvious transitions in favour of keeping things headed in the direction I wanted. Hence the use of Twisted Freq early on, and a pretty basic introduction of Godd, for example. I wasn’t desperate to use promos here, but it turned out that GULD’s little-heard City of Solitude remix and Re-form’s Intro both fitted in nicely. Alabaster’s Awakening remix is still under construction, but this is the latest version and not too far from completion (and used with permission, obviously).
The 2023 remix was supposed to mark the big finale, which is probably my favourite part of the set. I’m quite pleased with the shift in atmosphere from there to Blackmailer, then into the Alek-Mellow Sonic combo. Those two beautiful breaks threaten to bring a tear to the eye every time, and I was hoping the contrast with the rest of the set would make them sound even better.
As always there are things I’d like to improve, but having already spent an outrageous amount of time planning this one the deadline was probably a good thing. Hope everyone enjoys it!
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
I’m slow (of course) to mention the most recent FINRG podcasts, but even if you’ve heard them before they’re well worth a revisit as DJ case studies.
Listening to these sets you can hear right away what freeform means to each DJ, with both featuring some similar tracks as part of two very different atmospheres. JNKS’ 64 minutes goes from happy/UK hardcore to some solid gold FINRG and back again, while Alchemiist plays some surprisingly melodic freeform, connected to neurofunk and hardcore by a few darker oldies.
JNKS’ selection is spot on, with a huge number of later-era happy anthems (including remixes to keep veterans of the early 90s happy), while the potentially hazardous transition into the FINRG section is very nicely handled. You really can’t beat the gritty sound of tracks like Killer Instinct and Illuminate, and of course it’s nice to see the obligatory Alek appearance.
Alchemiist’s steady progression into the non-freeform final third is just as well handled, but the standout section of the set was a more conventional one. I might prefer the original PVC, but the transition from Ghost of Jupiter into Lost Soul’s remix is still top class and a worthy centrepiece to the set. Absolutely lovely stuff.
Both essential listens then, as is the entire podcast series so far.
This was the first of Hedonistik Ritual’s live sets that I was able to catch for quite some time, but even a quick skim through should be enough to convince you that this one deserves a proper listen. Stretching a full two hours, it’s another one of those mixes that really shows what HR is all about.
Some harder UK tracks alongside plenty of rock solid Japanese and Finnish classics make for a really nice atmosphere, while the excellent use of some happier vocal tracks add another surprise element. In the wrong hands that could be the recipe for a right old mess – that this set works so well speaks to some high quality selection and nicely judged mixing. Finish things off with subtle effects and mic use for that live feel, and you have a streamed set done the right way. Check out the set on Youtube, along with the past Hard Tranceformers shows.
Heartfelt thanks to everyone who made it to the inaugural twitch stream, especially after social media did its best to keep people away. Even the last-ditch Facebook posts on the day were being hidden away, which wasn’t much help to the mostly European crew who had shown interest in the cancelled edition a few weeks ago. Lesson learned though, and from now on I’ll be relying more on here, lesser-of-two-evils Twitter, and twitch itself for announcements. Special thanks to the Japanese crew and TYFTH regulars who managed to find their way to the stream, it was utterly great to see you all.
I have uploaded the video for anyone who missed it though, with some very minor edits to cut out the soundcheck and some silence at the end. I was tempted to go down the titles/captioning route to spruce up the presentation a bit but that’s possibly going a bit far for what was supposed to be a pretty casual set.
In the end we made it to just shy of two hours, which was quite a surprise. I hope everyone enjoyed it, and if I seemed slightly subdued it was mostly thanks to having to keep more of an eye than usual on some new technical stuff. I tend to be as much of an arm waving loon during practice at home as in the club but didn’t want to hit one of the four screens I was surrounded by…
Anyway, the set was great fun and was reasonably on-brand for me considering it wasn’t planned to the usual extreme degree. I’ve noticed that winging it completely doesn’t really work as the transitions will be shorter and/or less interesting – too many of them and it starts to sound less and less like one of my mixes. Dug my own grave there, it seems.
Finally, I was glad to see the visuals went down well with everyone. What with it being a twitch set I really wanted some way add some visual interest and a live, interactive feel, and this seemed a pretty successful first try. Might be an idea to lower the room lighting next time for that authentic, cramped club vibe.
Stay tuned then – I’d like to manage one of these sets each month, but it’d be nice to stream some practice runs and other genres in the meantime, too.
01. Turmion Katilot – Verta ja Lihaa (Proteus Mental remix) 02. Lab4 – 4 Those About 2 03. GULD – Nightmare Freak (2009 remix) 04. Lab4 – Candyman (GULD remix) 05. Marilyn Manson – Resident Evil (J-Gear bootleg remix) 06. GULD – Hannya (Android Lime remix) 07. Lab4 – Perfect Drug 08. Hatsune Miku – Senbonzakura (GULD remix) 09. Alek Szahala – Ziggurat 10. Zio – Hell’s Gate (PlasmaDancer remix) 11. Alek Szahala – Dryad Machine (GULD remix) 12. Morita Yuuhei – Redemption Song 13. Cyrez & Sam One – Reboot the System 14. GULD – Gozenzeuna 15. Twisted Freq – Rougher Than You 16. Alek Szahala – Caballo 17. Betwixt & Between – Surendrajit (2011 refix) 18. Nomic – Rule Breaker 19. Betwixt & Between – Like a Flame 20. Nomic & Pain on Creation – Make Me Real 21. Eryk Orpheus – PVC 22. Proteus – Venla 23. Proteus – Venla Part 2 24. Cryobiosis – Serenity
A quick reminder that the rescheduled TYFTH twitch stream is happening tomorrow, which might be especially necessary as our old friend Facebook is limiting visibility of yesterday’s announcement. The set will definitely be longer than the usual event appearances but I’m not sure by how much – I was trying out a few mixes yesterday but I haven’t got a fixed tracklist in mind. Let’s say longer than one hour but probably less than two.
This’ll be a test run, but I’ll be aiming to iron out any sound issues and tinker with the visuals for a few minutes before the official start time. I’ll do my best with the multitasking to keep an eye on the chat, and it’ll be great to see anyone who’s able to stop by.