The studio mix has played a major role in the development and presentation of a number of genres and sub-cultures in the history of electronic/dance music. Mix CD series — like Fabriclive and DJ-Kicks — offer, at least ostensibly, the most polished studio mixes around, proposing near-album levels of focus and conceptual underpinning, but in the last half-decade platforms like Mixcloud and Soundcloud have effectively removed the limitations on who can compose a mix, what can be included (not being beholden to the licensing process, or at least less beholden), and what sorts of outlets can host mixes. Today, the best mix series tend to be hosted on an array of blogs, magazines, online visual art platforms and labels, providing an almost-constant stream of new material from every genre, geography and technology imaginable. This is undeniably a positive development, but it does lead to issues of quality control, both on the part of DJs and hosts.
Simon Docherty aka Pure Joy has composed a series of complex, densely studio layered mixes over the past year, starting with “E M P Y R E A L” in February. Techno, angular club forms, contemporary synth music and bizarre corners of the avant-pop comfortably fit together, often in blend form, in Pure Joy mixes, which tend develop with the tensile quality of a methodical art film. Songs are introduced and quickly unraveled, matched with unlikely partners and boiled down to the essential elements needed for that particular segment of the mix. Docherty is a mathematician by day and a self-described “techno logician” so it shouldn’t be a surprise that his mixes are so cogently thought out and meticulously planned, but Pure Joy mixes manage to miss the predictable quality of so many ostensibly mathematical techno mixes, offering a range of color and emotion more often associated with DJs working in grime and other club forms.
I think the simplest explanation for what I do is that I aim to do the kind of things the best grime DJs do in the blends, for lengths of time more associated with techno, with music that isn’t necessarily anything to do with either of those two genres.
Alongside Docherty’s solo aspirations with the Pure Joy project are his work with the Truants website, specifically the Functions of the Now series, a sadly defunct mix/interview series focused on the experimental extremes of contemporary club music, and the Wild Combination party, thrown in conjunction with partner Maya Kalev. Both projects, the former running from July 2013 to December 2015 and the latter beginning in January of this year with guests Nidia Minaj, DEBONAIR and Reckonwrong, offer insight into Docherty’s personal taste, but are more indicative of an open approach to dance music that prides artists who have established their own idiosyncratic path over those who are, as Docherty notes in our interview, “simply a cog in the dance music machine, outputting genre exercises.” We exchanged emails with Docherty about Pure Joy, Wild Combination, London club culture and the qualities he looks for in a DJ. His Astral Plane mix is the fourth in a series that began with “E M P Y R E A L” and includes “P H Y S I C A L” and “C O L L A P S E” (hosted by Tobago Tracks). All are well worth your time and feature some of the best blends you’ll hear all year. The next Wild Combination party features SKY H1, MM, Yamaneko, Dis Fig and a special guest. Attendance is required for our London readers. Hit the jump for our full talk and a track list that features Abyss X, Air Max ’97, Hodge, Lexxi and more. Enjoy.
Hi Simon, how are you? Where are you answering these questions from?
Hello Gabe, I am very good! I’m answering these questions from a variety of locations around London as I bounce between paper writing, teaching, Wild Combination promotion, venue sourcing and various other tasks.
Introduce yourself to our readers a bit. We’re obviously familiar with your various projects, but a quick overview of your work with Wild Combination, Truants, Pure Joy, etc. would be helpful.
OK, well Wild Combination is a London party that I run with my partner Maya Kalev. It’s been going since January this year and we’ve hosted artists like Nidia Minaj, Cooly G, Nkisi, DJ Haram and Manara. We have our next party onSaturday 3rd Dec at The Yard with SKY H1, MM, Dis Fig, Yamaneko and a very special secret guest who we’re very excited about. We may also have something special happening a bit closer to Xmas but I’ll leave that there…
Pure Joy is a musical alias that I’ve been developing for just over a year now. Although I’ve been producing in private, my primary output has been DJ mixes thus far, starting with P H Y S I C A L back in August 2015. I’ve posted a couple of – what I would describe as – club mixes for the promotion of Wild Combination, but the ‘real’ creative output is the sequence of mixes P H Y S I C A L, E M P Y R E A L and COLLAPSE, the latter of which was part of Tobago Tracks’ mix series. This mix for you guys is the fourth in that series.
I’ve also been involved with the site Truants, most prominently co-curating the mix series Functions Of The Now with SCAM of the Australian collective Eve from 2013 to the end of 2015. That was a series aimed at charting out the aesthetic of a wide variety of rising experimental(-ish) club music producers who we felt could benefit from both a platform and some contextualising.
Your mixes usually involve a number of Pure Joy blends and mixes unique to that recording. Are those ideas in your head previous to recording or do they come out in the process?
It’s a combination. With any creative endeavour I pursue I start with a fairly crude approximation of what I want and chisel it down into something more precise. My visual picture of this process is sculpture.
I record every single time I use my decks and somewhat obsessively archive and re-visit. It’s important for me to use transitions and blends to create coherent song structures when I’m mixing, especially on something intended for home listening. Often something falls out immediately, sometimes I can see the spark of something in a transition and will then spend some time working out how to make it reach its full potential through a process of refinement. Having done this so much I’ve got a fairly good instinct for it now: I pretty much put that Shackleton/Air Max ’97/Abyss X blend together in my head while walking before I even tried to mix the tracks together.
It’s also just how I play. The creation of new music through mixing is a function of my DJing that’s as important to me as making people dance and selecting interesting music, if not more so. I’m interested in pushing this as far as humanly possible. I find it necessary for the sake of communicating the things I would like to express, as I feel a lot of the emotional moods I want to convey are unappreciated or even completely absent in certain styles of dance music I’m nonetheless interested in. To make up for this I create them in the blends.
What DJs do you admire for their blend/extended mix abilities? Considering that your DJ aesthetic combines a huge number of genres, I’m curious to who you look up to with those skills in mind.
I think one big inspiration is a Hieroglyphic Being mix for the blog Keep It Deep from about 5 years ago. Musically it bears pretty much no resemblance to what I do even though it touches on a bunch of things I love outside of my own creative output: early electronics, 80s post punk, Laurie Anderson, etc. What it really unlocked within me was an idea about the potential of DJing as a form of composition. I felt the principles laid down there could augment a style rooted in dance music and that is basically what I’ve endeavoured to do since.
Generally speaking, with most DJs that I admire it’s more the spirit of what they’re doing that informs my practice than anything specific like what or how they play. A lot of people who are renown for playing ‘lots of genres’ tend to do so in an overly gimmicky, winking way that I’m not interested in, and I don’t value eclecticism in itself. For me, there is an extremely specific aesthetic that I wish to communicate and I value that in other artists above all.
On that basis I’ve been interested in what Lena Willikens, Ben UFO, Total Freedom, Slimzee, Paula Temple and a few others do/did at various points in their careers. Some newer/lower profile DJs that I think are really special are Yuko Lotus, Cõvco and Dis Fig. I think they are all people who do interesting things in the blends but they’re mostly quite focused genre wise.
I think the simplest explanation for what I do is that I aim to do the kind of things the best grime DJs do in the blends, for lengths of time more associated with techno, with music that isn’t necessarily anything to do with either of those two genres. Perhaps the fact I’m a mathematician in my day job explains why my primary inspirations are abstract principles.
Wild Combination, the party you throw with Maya Kalev, has booked some of our favorite lineups anywhere since starting earlier this year. Do you have a booking policy and/or philosophy?
Thank you, that is very kind! In simplest terms, it’s the intersection of mine and Maya’s tastes in party music, executed to the highest standards we are capable of. And we apply those high standards across the board: aesthetically, ethically and politically.
Some things that are important to us are:
– Programming bills that are adventurous yet coherent;
– Creating a safe, accessible and inclusive environment;
– Fun (these are definitely parties, not Experimental Electronic Music Events);
– Controlling the flow of energy across a night;
– High production standards;
– Creating a platform for unconventional and/or marginalised artists.
But we feel strongly that these are all things any club night promoter worth their salt should focus on.
We have no set in stone booking policy but I’m sure if you read through the list of artists we’ve hosted you’ll understand where our commitments lie musically and politically. We’re mostly interested in artists who are communicating something very specific to themselves, and tend to work to program complementary bills around one or two names we immediately decide upon.
You will probably never see us book a DJ who is simply a cog in the dance music machine, outputting genre exercises. This can pose a difficulty for us in some ways: dance music events punch above their weight in terms of audience because they can unite their artists under the banner of giant genres like techno and thus rely on ‘the techno audience’ rather than ‘DJ Techno’s audience’. We’re therefore extremely grateful for the open minded crowd who have come along with us on this.
Building off of the last question, were there parties in London or elsewhere that inspired your (rather eclectic) booking approach?
Tropical Waste is an obvious comparison and something like Wild Combination’s older sibling. They’ve been extraordinarily ambitious in their programming, giving very early support to the likes of the Janus crew, Ziúr and Mind:Body:Fitness whilst championing the most interesting DJs in London. They’ve also been some of our biggest advocates and we’re extremely grateful for that. I think we have a very healthy co-existence forming, where there’s an overlap in some of what we do, which is good for the purposes of building a consistent night life in the city for this kind of music, but also places that both of us go that the other wouldn’t, which is good for justifying our existence.
That inspiration is certainly something Maya and I both share. We both admire parties like Creamcake and GHE20G0TH1K from afar, though I’m not sure I would describe them as direct influences and you always have an incomplete picture of a party you’ve never experienced.
For me personally, the parties Crazylegs ran in Bristol in the period I lived there (2008 – 2012) left a deep impression on me that I hadn’t really contemplated until I thought about answering this question. They were equally ambitious – as anyone who attended their second birthday party can attest to – putting together artist-focused bills that crossed genres in a surprising yet coherent way, with a mix of high and low profile DJs that were all making people dance in new and creative ways. It’s no surprise to me that it’s become such a good label.
With the closing of Fabric being the obvious major event, London appears to be going through a period of increased regulation on the club scene. How do you, as a promoter, DJ and participant, exist in that constantly shifting landscape?
Well, since this question was sent to me Fabric seems to have come to an agreement to reopen, albeit with absurd and draconian conditions forced upon them. Whether this will have any bearing on the London club scene that I inhabit? I’m in two minds. For one, Fabric, and clubs like it, exist at a scale completely alien to anything I’m interested in or a part of personally. The authorities are focused on big clubs like this because, starved of resources, they are basically doing “Policing Theatre” where they make it seem like Something Is Being Done by cracking down on big, obvious targets. I’m not yet convinced this will trickle down to our level.
I’m also reflexively suspicious that the people generating this narrative are people with vested interests – music journalists who’ve realised ‘LONDON CLUBS UNDER THREAT’ is good for clicks and businessmen with large property portfolios and reheated Randian schlock on their website. Virtually everyone in my (admittedly niche) circles I’ve talked to about this shares this vague suspicion.
The pressures facing promoters like us are more along the lines of “is it possible for us to reliably break even without compromising our ethics or aesthetic”, or even more simply “we don’t have the resources we need” but it’s always taken considerable sacrifice and effort to make fringe culture happen so I think this is just part of the game.
I’m actually an optimist who thinks there will always be a way for people who want to dance to do so. Contrary to the viral tweets there are still lots of really good clubs in London. Beyond that, unconventional and temporary venues pop up that have an atmosphere far beyond the usual circuit, and I predict the greater accessibility that the night tube promises for places outside Zone 2 will slowly create more spaces where this is a possibility.
I think it is therefore more important to redirect the energy and resources generated for the sake of clubs and dance music towards overcoming root causes that threaten more than just where some of us party at the weekend: gentrification, austerity politics, corrupt and self serving local government, racist policing and yes comrades……. capitalism itself.
Lastly, what’s the best (non-Wild Combination) event you attended this year and what parties are you tipping for next year?
The answer to both questions is: Unsound Karaoke. Joking aside, Unsound probably had the best line up of anything I went to this year, and very little else comes close to hitting so many of my pleasure points. I mean Lechuga Zafiro & Pobvio on the same bill as Matmos performing Robert Ashley pieces?! It’s like they programmed that straight from my brain.
For the future? I was recently really impressed with the lengths Tobago Tracks went to to host an edition of Club Chai in London and think that bodes well for their future movements. Boko! Boko! are a nice little crew and they seem to be going places right now – one of the trio Tash LC played at our last party and she did absolutely wild things to the early crowd. Tropical Waste will undoubtably go from strength to strength, and I’m interested in what else happens at The Yard in 2017 as it seems to be attracting a wave of creative new promoters as well as some very good established ones. Outside of London, I’m sure Creamcake, Boo Hoo, Evolver, ATM, Club Chai, Swing Ting, Progress Bar, Unsound, Eve and many others will continue to be ambitious and resist convention.
I’m also going to cheat and say that my real favourite event of this year was the last Wild Combination party with DJ Haram, Nkisi, Moleskin and Tash. I cannot put into words how affirming it was to have a full club dancing all night long to this strange and powerful music. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to bring people along with you on anything that doesn’t neatly fit into a pre-established box but it is 100% necessary. A new world is possible, friends, we just have to build it!
1. Ali Wade – Xenophyophore
2. Lexxi – $EVERO
3. Gaunt – JP / TSVI & DJ JM – Aziza
4. Shackleton & Ernesto Tomasini – Twelve Shared Addictions / Air Max ’97 – Face Up / Abyss X – Thru Lids Matono Stagona Stagona (Pure Joy Intensity Blend)
5. D-Malice – Visions (Roska Mix)
6. Loom – Acid Rain
7. Andrew Red Hand – Shattered Soul
8. Ahadadream – Gunshot
9. Hodge – Blood Moon
10. Pangaea – Time Bomb
11. Pangaea x MM – QBTime Bomb 16 (Pure Joy Rhythm Mix)
12. Jikuroux – Slow Pressure
13. Martel Ferdan & Superficie – Maromba 3K
14. Martel Ferdan & Superficie x Cooly G – Love Dub 3K (Pure Joy Infinity Blend)
15. Visible Cloaks & Dip In The Pool – Valve Revisited
16. SKY H1 – Hybrid
17. Sylvere – Smashing Stars
18. Pearson Sound – Tsunan Sun
19. Copout – Enough
20. Imaabs – Mordaza
21. Silk Road Assassins – Shaded
22. Lexxi x Silk Road Assassins – 5HADEB01 (Pure Joy Emotional Mix)
23. Andrea – Floating (Pure Joy Overspill Edit)