Peak Times #3
After months spent trudging the internet wastelands swerving internet wastemans comes the much-needed return of our very own mix filter – the one who sorts the heaters from the cheaters, the guff from the good stuff, the workouts from the merkouts… the one and only Sean Onwubuya.
Tracklists non permitting, almost all mixes are a step into the unknown, a dusky night canvas waiting to explode into life with fireworks, colour and aggressively requested tune IDs. Some mixes are meant to send the listener spiralling off on a transportative journey. Others connect the dots: multi-genre mashups that sweep away the difference between time and tempo in the name of feeling. But my favourite type of mix is the shameless calling card. The all guns blazing, lock, stock and two smoking CDJ shelling for promoters and punters alike. Naturally, this column is full of ’em. Alexa, play Led Zeppelin – ‘Dancing Days’.
Interplanetary Criminal and Main Phase are two rising forces in UKG’s continued resurgence over the past couple years. Their solo productions on new school strongholds like Dansu Discs, Banoffee Pies and Time Is Now, or together on their own ATW Records, zero in on the ruffest, most maniacal and euphoric tropes of 2-step, bassline, speed garage, and even donk, providing darkside warpers and groove laden rollers for dancers and DJs alike. The duo’s sets have the same unplaceable feeling as their back catalogue, and last month’s edition of their Balamii radio show was no different. Except this time DJ Cosworth, another up and coming member of their fraternity, hitchhiked his way into a fast and furious joyride through the vast fairgrounds of UKG sound-spectrum. Attractions range from forthcoming weapons to dusty white labels. Landmarks on the way include Niche, Club Colosseum and Wigan Pier. Come for the champagne steam rooms, stay for the Mitsubishi bumper cars.
This whole feature woulda been a gonzo style event review of Back 2 Back Sessions, the deep tech extravaganza that’s quickly become the scenes version of Junglemania, if not for the door picker at Egg moving like he’s safeguarding the VIP entrance to Studio 54. Thankfully, Back 2 Back Sessions’ similarity to Junglemania isn’t limited to its haywire atmosphere. As the apex night of an intensely underground scene, producers and DJs bring their absolute A game, and its founders generously upload the sets to give unlucky, would-be customers like myself a digital tape pack. April’s edition was BOOMING and seven sets to choose from left me spoiled for choice. The B2B sessions format is easy enough to follow. The event pairs one of its founders/residents with a guest DJ for an hour back to back, with one slot saved for an all-star showdown (think Mark Radford and Lee Edwards). Raw 3qenci and Daz Vegas, a DJ whose lockdown livestreams quickly became essential listening for the period, trading yesteryear bombs and pummeling future classics from the likes of Calle LeBraun, Paul Robinson and Jack Burt. K Coleman and Jaydaa represented 1ne Sound and Housewarmers respectively with typical flair, running through stomping, sub zero house cuts by I-Wizz, Hitty, and Jack and Danny to name a few. And finally, Midlands/Northern boyos Nocturnal Joe and M1KE WH1TE, two producers responsible for an overwhelming number of new bangers keeping DJs, other producers and most importantly dancers on their toes, didn’t disappoint with a set full of forthcoming and unreleased napalm. The deep tech sound is immensely propulsive, video game glitchy and obscenely slathered in bass. It’s a niche scene that’s been running for ten years. Consider this a primer.
Worlds collide on this genre-fluid juggernaut of a back to back by two of club music’s shapeshifters in chief for Keep Hush X The Cause. Skee Mask’s freelance approach to techno – bolstered by everything from zooming bleep and bass to skunked out downtempo – has made the Berlin based musician a ringleader for the designer end of doof doof doof. And while Oblig hasn’t ventured into production yet, his forward thinking curation on one of grimes flagship shows is to thank for the genres ongoing in roads with UK drill and non-english speaking MC’s (he even tapped up Skee Mask for a guest mix way back when). In a weekend full of chaotic, line-blurring link ups, their demolition derby of a set, packed to the rafters with serrated rhythms, abrasive textures and demon time basslines took the biscuit. This high octane fusion of buckshot techno and bladerunner grime presents a multiverse of madness that’s practically begging for a sequel.
The thing about West London’s Shy One is she’s got a b-side and rarity for every bump on your face, but can just as soon melt them off with a bag full of festival ready bangers. Across two sun drenched radio shows for Brookyln’s The Lot Radio and Peckham’s Balamii, she shows off both sides. The simmering Balamii mix see’s one of dance music’s most intrepid selectors unload a diggers dozen of fresh vinyl pickups. Funky Paradise Garage style boogie melts into deep, broken beat delicacies from 4hero, Paul Johnson and Quentin Harris, with plenty of rapturous vocals by CeCe Peniston and Colonel Abrams. For The Lot Radio we go from grown and sexy hard shoes and soulful house to a yes hats yes hood vibe that’s clattier and scattier at times but just as danceable. There’s a few left turns here and there, but they’re so intuitive that they end up circling the spectrum of transatlantic skank music. Both sets are perfect for languid barbecues, bubbling cook outs and baking block parties.
Whether cutting between tunes to isolate elements like she’s plugged into MIDI or building Frankenstein’s monster mixes out of tracks that have no right rubbing shoulders, East London’s Tailor Jae has a knack for unexpected blends that tear the house down. Frequent guest mixes in her early career made her razor sharp DJ skills an open secret, but dance musics rules of engagement demand you acquire clout tokens (like an RA podcast) before bookings finally catch up to talent. Since snagging the decorated guest mix in early 2020 and navigating a potentially momentum stalling lockdown, Tailor Jae’s club appearances have skyrocketed. And in this live recording with Croydub royalty SGT Pokes for Alchemy, she puts on an absolute clinic. Turbo charged drum and bass, doomsday dark garage and crackhead dubstep, check, check, check. Careening from smoked out dreadweight to vicious breaks and bass with skillful abandon, her genre-melting selection and stellar mixing ensures this set is all killer no filler.
One man soundsystem Thoma Bulwer assembles the full Wick Voyager artillery for a heavy bombardment of rude and retrogalactic house grooves. God knows where he found time. When not engaged in analogue alchemy for himself and others at his TB Mastering studio in Hackney Wick, the Dutch born, London made musician runs Alternate Facts parties and labels with Dexter Kane, as well as his own imprint Parasol Culture. As a DJ/producer/label owner/engineer, Bulwer has deep roots in the fertile ground of minimal, rave infected tech house (read: underground house of the highest order) that’s been hypnotising dancefloors from East London’s Lion and Lamb pub to the beaches of Romania’s Sunwaves festival. His mix for Breathe is expertly sequenced, well paced and full of contradictions: raucous but restrained, glossy and grungy, and bursting at the seams with colourful new age rollers and peak-time gnarled bangers from Superlux Records, Body MVMT, Pleasure Rooms and more.
T Williams is an unassailable legend of soundsystem music for the past twenty years and change. A producer content to run his own race but ready to lap the field at a moment’s notice. From the thuggish ruggish instrumentals as Dred-E that were so essential to grime’s revolutionary first wave, to the silky smooth “Heartbeat” which gave Local Action its spellbinding grand opening almost a decade later. Around that time, the West Londoner moved into the classist leaning house and garage mode his long awaited new EP ‘Tell Me’ sits in. His guest mix treads similar ground – driving jaunty pianos, snatches and shrieks of vocals, and blistering sub bass pressure – with fanciful footwork. There’s the swung and woozy rhythms of Anthill Mob, bassy bits of everything from J Bevin, Julio Bashmore and T. Williams own back catalogue, and the steadying hand of a master at work tying it all together.