Every month, Philip Sherburne sifts through the never-ending avalanche of new DJ mixes online to bring you the best of the bunch. This month brings peak-time mischief from the Arizona-raised DJ Avalon Emerson, a strangely affecting cinematic journey from the mysterious Wordcolour, and even a mid-1990s club set from Aphex Twin.
Aphex Twin – Live at Limelight NYC Mid 1990s
This mix is like an archaeological find: a complete, magnificent piece of pottery dug out of the ground, its colors a little faded but still a remarkable specimen. Back in the mid-1990s, a clubber snuck a portable DAT machine into New York’s Limelight and, recording in the crowd, captured an hour of a rare DJ set from Aphex Twin. The sound is lo-fi, but the track selection makes for a stellar snapshot of Richard D. James’ techno predilections of that era: Meat Beat Manifesto, Drexciya, Mescalinum United, and plenty of material from James’ own Rephlex label, including cuts from Cylob and James’ Bradley Strider alias. The energy level is flat-out mental, and the audio is battered but still intact.
Avalon Emerson – Live at Mutek Mexico (November 2018)
Over the past few years, the Berlin-based American artist Avalon Emerson has emerged as one of the best club DJs out there. Her muscular, propulsive playing could suit any mainstage or basement, and it’s infused with enough moments of straight-up fun—a breaks ‘n’ acid remix of Fast Eddie’s 1988 hip-house anthem “Yo Yo Get Funky,” a sneaky segue into Josh Wink’s classic “A Higher State of Consciousness”—to remind revelers to go wild because dammit, this is a party. Like her Printworks set from a couple years ago, this one, captured at MUTEK Mexico, includes the faintest background layer of crowd noise, and those raucous cheers make the recording truly come alive. It’s an exhilarating two-hour tour of EBM, acid, breakbeats, and sneaky samples that range from Middle Eastern flutes to Nina Simone. Best of all, a partial tracklist she created on Buy Music Club (a website she cofounded to share playlists on Bandcamp) provides handy links for everything that’s available on the independent download platform.
Nazira – RA.659
In a few short years, Nazira has gone from being a ringleader of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s grassroots electronic community to a rising, international star, thanks to her keen ear and original sensibility. The DJ’s Resident Advisor set follows a familiar strip of techno’s fringes—there’s woozy psychedelia from Pavel Milyakov, scissor-handed techno from Hodge and Randomer, South African gqom from DJ Lag—but the precision of her mixing speaks to her unusually tight rhythmic sensibility. Her sense of pacing (like a white-knuckled slide from Relaxer’s shoegazing breakbeats into Hugo Massien’s crisp electro) makes for one thrill after another.
Nkisi – RA.660
Timed to coincide with the release of her second album, 7 Directions, on Lee Gamble‘s UIQ label, Nkisi‘s Resident Advisor set is a snapshot of the London DJ at her most intense. She applies jackhammers to techno, gabber, and trance of the early 1990s—sounds of her youth in Leuven, Belgium—and contrasts those rave classics with tightly syncopated drum work reflective of her Congolese roots. If there’s a ghostly feel to the set, that might have something to do with how she recorded it in an empty warehouse, letting the leftover energy from the previous weekend’s packed parties guide her pacing. Even at its heaviest, her playing conveys the chilly melancholy of an unpopulated space, synths swirling like lasers on a dusty floor.
Zozo – Recognize 011
In a mix for DJ Mag‘s Recognize series, Zolo offers ample evidence why she’s a key figure in Istanbul’s electronic underground, as well as an increasingly frequent guest at places like Berlin’s Panorama Bar and Tbilisi’s Bassiani. She knows how to set a scene, opening with cosmic synths and a strange, skulking groove; even once she hits house music’s cruising speed, her penchant for dubbed-out percussion and lush textures lends an unmistakably psychedelic feel. Her rhythmic instincts keep things constantly on the move as she shuffles beats (four-to-the-floor stomp, lurching breaks, syncopated electro) with the finesse of a blackjack dealer.
Haron – Métron Mixtape 060
At the heart of the Afghan-Dutch pianist and electronic musician Haron’s debut 2018 album lay a set of simple piano études—dulcet, understated, contemplative—offset by one head-spinning drone piece. His set for the Métron Mixtape series charts the distance between those two poles. Covering 36 tracks in its 76-minute runtime, he pulls in ethereal jazz, musique concrete, children’s television soundtracks, B-movies, and low-key psychedelia from Ursula Bogner, Senyawa, and Nuno Canavarro. Haron says the selection was inspired by staying up late and watching late-night programming shift over to kids’ cartoons—a heady, strange, and mischievous mix of sensations.
Wordcolour – Blowing Up the Workshop 101
Wordcolour (aka the London composer Nicolas Worrall) has come up with a mix concept so simple, it’s hard to believe it hasn’t been done before. His set for Blowing Up the Workshop, probably the most consistently interesting mix series out there, interweaves pensive ambient music with provocative bits of movie dialogue in a way that’s unusually transporting. Full of pliable synths, murmurs, and even snippets from a few bona fide ASMR recordings, it’s as wispy as “something like the feeling of the idea of silk scarves in the air,” a fitting metaphor for the mix’s diaphanous aesthetic. (That line comes from the experimental composer Robert Ashley’s unorthodox opera Private Parts, which touches down midway through the set.) But what scans initially as background music isn’t so unassuming; even the quietest voices have a way of commanding your attention. The mix’s most potent passage leads, believe it or not, from Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow” and the Muppets’ “Rainbow Connection” into a nine-year-old viral video of a hiker’s ecstatic encounter with a double rainbow high in the Sierra Nevada. What might look kitschy on paper is strangely affecting in Wordcolour’s world, and a minute or two later, when a character from Stand By Me whimpers, “Why did you have to die?” it’s enough to stop you in your tracks. It’s widescreen drama delivered in a whisper.