DJ Rashad

10 Mixes: Looking Back on 2014

Michaelangelo Matos

By Michaelangelo Matos

on 12.18.14 in Features
‘While DJ culture’s mission has always been to transform the old to new, actual old dance music was particularly noticeable in 2014.’

Dance music is celebratory and future-forward, right? Yet even as the electronic-dance juggernaut of a decade now half finished speeds ahead, 2014 seemed to be marked — haunted — by dance music’s past. On March 31, Frankie Knuckles, house music’s founding father, died of complications from Type 2 diabetes at age 59, after returning home to Chicago from an overseas tour. Then on April 26, Windy City footwork pioneer DJ Rashad accidentally overdosed on a mixture of cocaine, heroin, and Xanax — Chicago dance music’s roots and fruits, both gone within a month. Sobering.

While DJ culture’s mission has always been to transform the old to new, actual old dance music was particularly noticeable in 2014. On March 25, only six days before Knuckles died, XLR8R sent one of his 1990 sets, recorded at New York’s Sound Factory, out to subscribers as the 336th edition of its podcast series. Resident Advisor one-upped that on May 12, offering a 1987 set from the club C.O.D.’s by Ron Hardy — one of the other crucial Chicago DJs who developed the house sound alongside Knuckles — as RA.415. And throughout 2014, London bass-music stalwart Zinc (whose classics include 1995′s drum ‘n’ bass anthem “Super Sharp Shooter” and 1999′s U.K. garage burner “138 Trek“) began uploading a series of mixes to his SoundCloud page dubbed Trust Me, I Was There. The first, covering 1986-87, went up right before Christmas 2013; the most recent, Chapter 19 — 1992, Pt. 7, in early November.

It was tempting to include those sets, and others like them, in this edition of 10 Mixes. Yet it also felt like cheating, in part because by dint of time, those sets have had their accounts settled, so to speak — their place on dance music’s ever-unfolding timeline is assured. With a couple of exceptions (Rashad’s tantalizingly brief Japan souvenir, Prosumer’s closing chapter of a beloved series), the sets below still deal with a messy present, even when they dive into the past, as you can hear on the Seven Davis Jr. and Caribou sets — twin mosaics that become even more suggestive in one another’s company. Sometimes they fashion escape hatches from that present, from PC Music’s shiny new toys from hell to the murky depths of DJ TLR and Lena Willikens. What follows is a snapshot. It doesn’t stop moving — a reason to celebrate.

DJ Rashad: Japan 20 Min Workout (January 17)

In the opposite of today’s increasing young-DJ-blows-up-instantly scenarios, DJ Rashad and his partner DJ Spinn had spent years perfecting the footwork and juke styles for an intensely local Chicago scene when they went wide around the turn of the decade. Rashad’s sudden death in April was so unexpected it threw many fans for a loop — not only as a pioneer of a well-regarded style but increasingly so as an artist, with his widely praised solo album Double Cup released a mere six months before his passing. This snatch of him in action — the details are all in the name — is short, beguiling, and potent, neatly distilling his approach — and like his career, it leaves you wishing there’d been more.

A. G. Cook, GFOTY, Danny L Harle, Lil Data, Nu New Edition and Kane West: PC Music x DISown Radio (March 25)

If any “scene” proves that the Internet is not the real world, it’s PC Music, the London collective that’s shadowy despite its gleaming plastic surface. So far PC Music has given away lots of songs — only recently has any of it been for sale — and their ultrabrite sound and hyper-reductionist tactics are a love ‘em or hate ‘em proposition: “Who else would take an evidently heartfelt song like [How to Dress Well's] ‘Repeat Pleasure,’” marveled Philip Sherburne, who loves ‘em, “and treat it like a Shrinky Dink?” But it smells fishy to anyone who loves the thrills of mainstream pop without needing them mediated by a bunch of smart-alecks hiding behind avatars featuring updated versions of the Powerpuff Girls.

Initially, that was me, especially when Resident Advisor ran a breathless overview by Adam Harper wishfully subtitled “A new kind of punk?” It was accompanied a Ben Aqua RA Podcast I bailed on after 15 minutes. But when I tried this late-March radio show the style clicked. For one thing, the itty-bitty tunes and remixes are segmented into 10-minute slots per billed DJ — the whole thing is precisely 60 minutes long, which not only fits their hyperclean aesthetic, but also enforces discreteness and concision, making it an ideal showcase for something so avowedly twee and jittery. The show’s multi-set framing device also helps make sense of the tracks’ jump-cut nature. And “Kane West” is an A+ moniker.

LWE Podcast 200: Prosumer by Electronicbunker on Mixcloud

Prosumer: LWE Podcast 200 (June 2)

Eight years ago, podcasts muscled into the dance-music firmament — downloadable calling cards that broke new tracks and DJs and helped hasten a degree of genre blending notable even by DJ-culture standards. Today there’s more of them than even a full-timer can (or wishes to) keep up with. So here’s to a series that knows when to quit, even if it will be more keenly missed than most — the Chicago dance site Little White Earbuds, edited by Steve Mizek, which offered a set a week firmly grounded in heady house and techno basics and particulars and elected to cap their podcast at 200 even (though they’ve offered other recordings since then — just not as a series, per se).

The LWE Podcast has many highlights (a few at random: Anthony “Shake” Shakir, Donnacha Costello, Agnès, Sepalcure, Midland), and former Panorama Bar resident Prosumer’s 200th edition — the site’s last ever — is one of the most singular, eclectic and freewheeling of them. The selection that feels intensely personal, like a friend showing off the cream of a lifetime of crate-digging and unafraid to get a little obvious on occasion (here, the Nick Straker Band’s early-house building block “A Little Bit of Jazz,” from 1981). He shifts tempo and mood without sounding disjointed; just as important, he unearths one nugget after another. Right now, my favorite is Tommy McGee & Era’s “She’s Got Her E.R.A.,” charming (and somewhat campy) indie-label funk from 1982 — but that changes every time I play it.

DJ TLR: I Gave DMT to My Cat and Then I Had a Meaningful Conversation with It (June 5)

“For the freaks, by the freaks” runs the motto of Dutch house label Crème Organization, founded in 2001 by the Hague’s Jeroen van der Star, a.k.a. DJ TLR. “I only like uplifting music when it’s also depressing,” he told Equaliser London last year. “I look for a certain sense of teeth clenching euphoria which isn’t quite fun.” Gold star, then, for this woolly, long-dark-tunnel June set, which moves from raunchy, burbling acid to piano-and-string arrangements over overdriven kick drums, but never once feels completely settled. TLR writes in the set’s SoundCloud description: “Dedicated to those fearless pilgrims of the mind, whose mystical meanderings across God’s chemical dirt roads propels them away from the mundane musings of lesser souls, straight onto the astral planes of cosmic awareness and understanding…” Aren’t you glad to have that straight?

RA.421 Lena Willikens by Electronicbunker on Mixcloud

Lena Willikens: RA.421 (June 23)

The resident and booker at Cologne’s Salon Des Amateurs, Lena Willikens is also behind monthly sets for Coméme (archived here). But her contribution to Resident Advisor’s podcast is clearly the mix of the year: Nobody concocted a more elegantly twisted or unique hour. Willikens is clearly mischievous as well as sharp-eared and dexterous; each selection here has some strange, singular twist to it, be it the keening organ of Khidja’s “Mustafa” or the Louis & Bebe Barron-go-underwater feel of Ekoplekz’s “Nerva Beacon,” and it’s stitched together in an arc that’s clearly been thought through but feels utterly organic.

Seven Davis Jr.: FACT Mix 449 (July 7)

A former hip-hop ghostwriter turned Low End Theorist, Los Angeles’s Seven Davis Jr. is a house DJ in the loosest sense. Based on this funk-heavy hour for London’s Fact Magazine, he plays whatever the hell he wants — hits certainly included — as long as he can carve a through-line with it, however rough. Sometimes his jump cuts are abrupt, as when he drops his own remix of Close & Second Storey feat. Kid A’s “No Love Lost” is favor of Adam Feingold’s “Jahkra” around 13:30. But the jolts are positive because Davis’s selections grab and hold, with his “SDJR” mix of Four Tet’s “Buchla” particularly bracing. So is Prince’s “Head.”

Jubilee: FACT Mix 461 (September 21)

Jess Gentile is one of Brooklyn’s most-loved DJs — by me included, which is an admission that we’re friendly. But even if she hadn’t secured fellow Miamian Trina to shout her out at the top, this hour felt like a breakthrough — a total statement from a DJ who can play all kinds of stuff without sounding like she’s reaching. It helps that, no matter how widely she ranges — and this goes from Baltimore club (Rod Lee’s “Kim Theme”) to the buzzing, brooding minimalism of Lucid x Dj Dior’s “Elevator Elevator (Rizzla Edit)” to the fritzing, heavily-echoed electro-whaps of Scratcha DVA & Mickey Pearce’s “Spoonbender” in the first half, or the fist-waving closing diptych of DJ Rashad & Addison Groove’s self-explanatory 303 freakout “Acid Bit” and GA Girlz’s Miami-bass “Ragtop.” It helps that the whole thing boils down to an hour-long ode to the 808 roll, that thing so many people mean when they say “bass.” It also helps that there’s plenty of bass-bass, as well.

Caribou: Essential Mix (October 18)

Of course Dan Snaith was going to showcase the hell out of Our Love, his new album as Caribou, on his edition of BBC Radio 1′s 21-year-old DJ showcase. But he also makes room for a lot of material by his other, more straightforwardly dance-oriented alias, Daphni, including three edits — not to mention more than two dozen tracks he didn’t even have a hand in, most all impeccable, from funky golden oldies like the Beginning of the End’s “Funky Nassau” to classicist New York house like Head High’s “Megatrap (Mix Mix)” (by Berlin’s René Pawlowitz, aka Wax). Moving in discrete arcs rather than a single slab, Snaith’s Essential Mix is warm and personable, as well as enormous.

Kaytranada: Mixmag Live (October 25)

At the beginning of 2013, Kaytranada — Kevin Celestin, a Haitian-born Montreal R&B-house DJ-producer — uploaded his remix of Janet Jackson’s “If.” At the end of 2014, he’s one of the most eagerly hyped new talents in clubland, with particular traction in England. This 80-minute set, originally streamed live from the HQ of venerable U.K. dance monthly Mixmag, is a convincing demonstration of why that hype might bear fruit, as he blends wedge-cut early-’80s boogie guitar into his gurgling rework of Teedra Moses’ “Be Your Girl.” And unlike his equally momentous i-D mix from February, he keeps his time on the mike brief here.

Ben UFO and Pearson Sound – Hessle Audio show on Rinse FM 2014-11-13 by Core News Uploads on Mixcloud

Ben UFO and Pearson Sound: Hessle Audio Show, Rinse FM (November 13)

I have no hard proof that Ben UFO (Thomson) is the most exciting DJ working other than what I keep hearing, which are brilliant Ben UFO sets. (Other good ones: Beats in Space five days after this Rinse set; live at Fabric’s 15th-anniversary party in mid-October; back-to-back with Joy Orbison in Amsterdam, from September.) My favorite is this sparky edition of his years-old weekly slot for his label, Hessle Audio, which he owns with Pangaea (Kevin McAuley) and Pearson Sound (David Kennedy). “DJing in and of itself seems like a niche, specific thing, so I suppose it’s a strange thing to specialize in,” he told Red Bull Music Academy in November. “But I do seem to be able to endlessly pick over what I do and sort of overanalyze it constantly.” Judging from this rough-and-ready two hours, in which Ben UFO and Pearson Sound jump from Todd Terry to Ron Maney to Skudge to Jeff Mills, it gets results.