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The intersection of rap and hardcore dance music has been fertile for years now with artists like Dark0, DJ NJ Drone and Drippin all putting a spin on everything from drill to gabber. As time has passed, some artists have expanded beyond the club track format to explore the outer reaches of the sound, digging into the interstices between era and genre with the goal of crafting narrative-rich long form pieces. Amsterdam’s Know V.A. in particular have impressed with their desire to draw substance from extended original pieces, releasing two separate editions on Signal Life (“RIP”) and DISPLAY (“Reification”) respectively. Those compositions utilize familiar forms (grime synths, 808s, trance riffs, dembow arrangements), but push towards abstraction, allowing reproducible tropes to extrapolate over a wider space. At times, the releases come across as a standard mixtape as tempos and energy is revved up, but the peaks and valleys of both tapes are unpredictable enough to allow the listener to consider their more nuanced qualities.

For their Astral Plane Mix, the Amsterdam duo has crafted an entirely new original piece, titled “Purity” and this time extended to 54 minutes. Fueled by the gabber and trance they listened to as youngsters, the piece takes on an epic quality, simultaneously exhausting and invigorating as it crescendoes over and over again. In a text sent over by the artists, the piece explores “losing the spontaneity of life and the randomness of nature” that follows a “drive towards perfection in the manufacturability of the outer world and the inner self.” That hyperreal emptiness is felt throughout “Purity” as layers of sheen crumble into grotesque noise and club constructions emerge, fizzle and burn. Unlike other sci fi-minded music though, Know V.A. smartly stray away from cliched vocals and narration, keeping the composition entirely instrumental and maintaining its all important sense of enigma. No track list but you can find more Know V.A. here.

N1L

Martins Rokis has been involved in a range of projects over the past few years, spanning sound design, soundtrack work and straight up club music. Rokis’ most public project at the moment is N1L where he has found a home at labels like UIQ, Where To Now and W-I. Rokis, originally from Latvia, now resides in Berlin and works in a practice that encompasses the “exploring multimodality of human perception via installations, performances and compositions for multichannel sound systems.” His previous work, often under his own name, explored abstracted, tactile arrangements of electronic noise and his work as N1L takes a similarly left field approach, offering a torrent of loops and almost-familiar tropes that come to resemble an uncanny valley take on club music. Most recently, Rokis has contributed a soundtrack for contemporary dance piece “Neverendings” by Sergiu Matis, performed at Berlin Atonal, and contributed a remix to Philadelphia’s Mhysa’s “Strobe”. Per Rokis’ request, we’ve left this write-up fairly cut-and-dry and we’ll do the same for the mix. Download is available here and track list below the jump.

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Dance music has always been a culture of extremes as technology, the human body and the imagery surrounding it are pushed to their furthest logical limits. Often, those extremes are manifested very literally as music gets faster, harder and more abrasive. In recent years, a number of crews around the world have embraced the cross-contamination of hardcore forms and crafted something new entirely, playing on classic rave tropes as much as discombobulating them entirely. Milan’s VISIO, the brand new project from Nicola Tirabasso (ArteTetra / Entertainment Systems), provides an exciting node in that global nexus, a multi-disciplinary artist riffing on “ecstatic virtualities” and exploring the ground between the placidity or ambient and the raw energy of hardcore. Tirabasso is one of the driving forces behind Milan’s Macao, an activist-driven venue housed in a former slaughterhouse, a space that has hosted artists such as Kablam, HVAD and Kilbourne. Tirabasso’s Astral Plane Mix, his second entry as VISIO, is a full on exploration of extremes, gathering material from a group of artists pushing their respective forms to the breaking point. There’s blown out breakcore, hypnotically repetitive ballroom and whatever it is that Balasa has cooked up on “BRISHITI”. Tirabasso has left the mix nicely unadorned, allowing each track to take on a totemic quality, existing on its own until it runs out of time. Not one for the feint of heart, but this burgeoning project offers a deeper dive that appreciates upon further listens.

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If you’ve only recently started following Philadelphia’s DJ Delish, you’d likely come to the conclusion that the producer, vocalist, DJ and host only recently started making music. That’s because Delish consistently takes down older releases and uploads from her various online platforms, resigning them to loose hard drives, her own DJ sets and time immemorial. It’s a somewhat common practice in the age of screenshots and Soundcloud, but Delish’s dedication to the practice is strong and belies how deep her catalog really is. It also belies how influential Delish is in both Philadelphia and on an international stage as she plays the roll of local DJ/host, as well as purveyor of some of the most rinsed ballroom productions of the last half decade.

We first got to know Delish in 2015 via “Piano Rage” (featured in our first For Club Use Only column), a stab heavy track that melds the gritty, corporeal energy of ballroom with an eye towards large rooms and an innate clarity. Obsession followed as did deep dives into Delish’s various platforms, of which her Youtube channel is one of the only places where you can hear original productions dating back to 2012. Those uploads, as well as a host of kinetic balls in Philadelphia, show a producer slowly developing a style that now traverses and incorporates everything from hands-in-the-air disco to the sharp thwack of kuduro and baile funk.

The fact that Delish deletes much of the older material as time passes does not mean that she has a dearth of material up at any given time though. August 2017’s HAZEL is a prime example of her recent work rate, comprised of four sparse, low end heavy efforts aimed squarely at the dancefloor. The release, put out through PUMPDABEAT, is a no frills affair, but its rhythmic twists (the switch ups in the 2nd half of “Reclaiming”) are captivating enough. Many of Delish’s recent releases and one-offs are included in her Astral Plane mix,  a session that has been a long time coming and could not possibly disappoint. By extrapolating on the subtle inflections of her own productions, Delish effortlessly brings in tracks by contemporaries (Ase Manual, Habibiboi, AceMo, Sartana)  and legends (El-B, Karizma, Kerry Chandler) alike, eliminating generational schisms via an assertive mixing style. We didn’t expect anything else, but this one has had, and will continue to have, us moving for months to come. Check out more DJ Delish at her Bandcamp and download Astral Plane Mix 155 here.

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Every so often, a new sound emerges that galvanizes dancers and DJs and introduces original ideas into the conversation. More often than not, new sounds have been percolating up out of a localized scene for years before they gain ubiquity, a process that will be familiar to fans of ballroom, Jersey club, and, most recently, flex dance music (FDM). The latter has followed a familiar path, charting from its origins as a wildly dexterous dance style called flex in the early 1990s to a distinct genre over the past few decades. Gone are the days of public access television and shared bashment cassettes, but FDM has a new identity and new style, defined by a young, savvy group of producers and dancers who have brought the Brooklyn-born genre to global Rihanna tours and revered underground dancefloors the world over.

Brooklyn’s Epic B is one of the stars of the FDM world, emerging alongside Uninamise as Immortal Instruments in 2015, he has perfected a lean, powerful sound that merges a gruff ragga aesthetic with dramatic sample choices, often from fantasy movies and TV shows. 2016’s Riddims From the Gods Vol. 1 epitomized the Epic B sound with songs named after Greek Gods and an overwhelming sense of grandiosity. The songs are ambitious and over-the-top, but the sparse drum programming and ad lib-esque sample arrangements are so expertly concocted that it flows effortlessly. It was 2017’s Late Night FlexN that brought Epic B to listeners outside of the FDM and online club music community. Released by Manchester’s Swing Ting, who have been championing FDM in the UK for years, the EP is the most expansive FDM release to date, not only showcasing the aforementioned style but introducing Epic B as a vocalist and formalizing the link between dembow and the New York-born genre. The EP has since become a staple for DJs playing dancehall, reggaeton, rap and everything in between, providing a genuine pop moment in “One Time” and some of FDM’s most undeniable bangers in one fell swoop.

Beyond his production work, Epic B has also excelled as a DJ on The Lot Radio, co-hosting the Immortal Instruments show with Uninamise, which has become a go to for fans of the genre. And while he plays a range of new material from across the FDM spectrum on radio, we grabbed him for an almost all-original Astral Plane mix, featuring originals from Late Night and FlexN, Riddims From the Gods Vol. 1, as well as a host of exclusive material (“Mask Off Riddim” anyone?). It’s tightly organized and a sure bet to incite movement with its well timed pops, breaks and silences that work symbiotically with flex dancers. Download the mix here and hit the jump for a full track list. Follow Epic B on Soundcloud here.

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$jayy

We’ve written extensively over the past few years on the growth of Jersey Club from beloved regional dance genre to global phenomenon and have been lucky enough to feature a few of our favorite producers from Jersey. Kayy Drizz and DJ J Heat have turned in two of our absolute favorite Astral Plane mixes to date and today, we’re lucky to have $JAYY in the mix. For the unfamiliar, $JAYY has gained notoriety through consistency and work rate, pushing out edits and originals through his Soundcloud with startling efficiency. To boot, he’s experimented with everything from slouched, stoned out hip hop to frantic footwork for labels like TAR and Like That and, most recently, self-released an album of edits and original work called Acid Club. Those familiar with artists like UNIIQU3, TRICK$, SWISHA and Ase Manual, all of whom $JAYY has collaborated with, will find comfort in his full force drum arrangements and uncanny touch with samples, which, as far as we’re concerned, has set the pace for Club music at large.

His mix contribution, recorded in the midst of a busy finals week, encapsulates everything we love about Jersey Club, running the gamut from hyped up, stripped back floor burners to more restrained, melodic ideas. Familiar dance moves and call-and-response can be found throughout, as can the requisite edits of a huge chunk of the past year’s rap hits. Several collaborations with Gutta and DJ Tray punctuate the mix nicely, as does an unreleased Mike Gip track and material from DJ Sliink, Ase Manual and DJ Jayhood. At 34 tracks in just 40 minutes, it’s a kinetic mix, but it’s hard to imagine Jersey Club mixed any other way and the frenetic pacing is met by quality at every turn. Grab a download of the mix here and check out more $JAYY here.

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In the age of Soulseek and Traktor, the concept of hybrid DJing isn’t exactly new, but few DJs embody the schismatic spirit and energy that the Internet and contemporary mixing technology enables. Just because someone has access to the right material and software/equipment doesn’t mean that they’ll be able to use it properly, both in terms of laying out a narrative and technical ability, and more often than not the result will be clunky and unappealing from the get go. New York’s (by way of Austin, Texas) Brandy-Alexander aka Miss Kenzo, a relatively new name with an immediately recognizable voice, does not fit within that trend of. Offering a fresh take on what is a distinctly New York sound, Miss Kenzo’s sound is built on Ballroom and Club music, the two forms forming dual backbones for her to insinuate threads of the hardcore dance spectrum. Fans of crews like KUNQ and Club Chai will find solace in the storytelling quality of Miss Kenzo’s past mixes and her entry for Mask Mag, titled “Belladonna of Madness”, is a great place to start.

Beyond DJing, Brandy-Alexander is a model who has entered the fashion world with the express goal of shedding light on issues affecting black, queer and trans people in her community. The connections between the fashion world and hybrid DJing styles are well established (see here, here and here) and the Miss Kenzo project feels like a natural extension of ground set out over the past decade, allowing her to explore the the tensions between euphoria and violence inherent in queer club scenes and music, often through brilliantly laid out non-linear narratives. On top of that, her mixes bang, supremely functional arrangements and surefire function starters. Her Astral Plane mix doesn’t pull any punches, leaping into breakneck hardcore before settling into a breakbeat and crash-laden groove, punctuated by trance loops and constant stylistic curveballs. It’s 45 minutes of pure energy that bares repeat listens, if for no other reason than to decipher MK’s intricate arrangements. Download the mix here and check out more Miss Kenzo here.

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The world of experimental electronic music is both rife with artists seeking to present their work in an immersive light and completely lacking in the funding and professionalization needed to make large scale audio-visual projects possible. DIY scenes exist on the margins without access to suitable venues and spaces while both public and private funding often constrain creative aspirations, or in the case of the United States, are largely limited to more traditional artistic expressions. French producer and composer Eric Raynaud aka Fraction feels like an exception to the aforementioned rules, an artist whose work is immersive in both its live and recorded incarnations and who has a deep understanding of the intersections of audio, visual and physical space.

With only two official releases in the past decade, Fraction’s work doesn’t fit into the traditional music business model, but one only has to read about and watch video from performances like ENTROPIA and DROMOS to understand the level of conceptualization (not to mention time and effort) that goes into each of Raynaud’s respective projects. ENTROPIA, initially performed at the IX Symposium in Montreal, features a geodesic sphere outfitted with audio-reacted LEDs, all situated within a room complete with projection walls. The video alone demonstrates the all-encompassing nature of the project, while Fraction’s music, spacious and glitched out, is transportative in and of itself.

For his Astral Plane mix, Raynaud gathered a range of music from China, drawing on everything from abstracted sound design to fractalized beats and more overt peak time club moments. It’s a vivid selection that feels like a natural extension of his own recorded work, both tactile and always in motion. Familiar rhythms weave in and out of the mix, interspersed with granular noise and a smattering of organic instrumentation. Fraction is an alumni of the SHAPE Platform. More info of his involvement can be found in an interview on their website.

Lycox

Lycox at Unsound Festival in Krakow

After an almost five month hiatus, the Astral Plane Mix Series is back up and running and we’ve recruited one of our favorite artists from Lisbon’s Principe crew. DJ Lycox has been  a longtime favorite, appearing constantly in our For Club Use Only feature for FACT and becoming a quick staple in Astral Plane DJ Team sets. Born in Portugal and based in the Paris suburbs, Lycox is a prolific producer, initially emerging as part of the Tia Maria Produções trio before setting out on his own. Working mainly within a kuduro framework, Lycox’s productions are intensely melodic, introducing an element of euphoria and pop song writing to the genre’s intricate percussion arrangements and forceful energy. On November 17, Lycox’s debut solo album will be released by Principe, a coming out party of sorts for an artist who has become an underground favorite and a release that will surely establish the Portuguese producer as one of the most respected kuduro artists alongside the likes of Marfox, Nidia, Nigga Fox and Firmeza.

Lycox’s Astral Plane mix exemplifies what Lycox is all about, a 30 minute ride that blows by before you know it and functions as the perfect soundtrack to the melancholic last tendrils of Summer. Heavy on original productions, Lycox links irresistible hook after irresistible hook, bridged by the loping gait of his expertly arranged kuduro rhythms. It’s a breezy selection that performs an idyllic counterpoint to much of kuduro’s sweaty pomp, leaving trace elements of each respective hook as it drives onwards. Pre-order the Sonhos & Pesadelos LP here and dive into Lycox’s Soundcoud for a heap of divine original productions. No track list for this one so you’ll have to look out for the album.

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We hit the NTS studio for the second time in September last Friday and brought along Julien, a DJ and producer spending the summer in Los Angeles. With releases out/forthcoming on Tobago Tracks and Apothecary Compositions, the Denver resident brought a deluge of hardcore techno to the table for his 45 minute session, ratcheting up the tempo and bringing out a brutalist energy. His mix begins at the 45 minute mark and runs until 1:30. Our session features new Bell Curve, VIOLENCE, Torus, Dane Law, Fatima Al Qadiri, Alex Compton and more. Download available here and track list after the jump.

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