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Best of 2014: Mixes

Some 12 months of digesting mixes and podcasts has been chewed upon as Scott Wilson, James Manning and Tony Poland pick out their favourites of 2014.  

Regardless of the format it’s delivered in or the origin, recorded DJ mixes are an integral aspect of the electronic underground, helping to shape and change the ways in which the records we love and desire can be heard. There’s no denying that commercially released DJ mixes in their most traditional of formats have been severely affected by the advent of podcasts, online radio and the possibilities of streaming platforms, with Ostgut Ton’s decision to discard with them completely for all future editions of their Panorama Bar and Berghain mix series perhaps an indication of the future.

What was perhaps most notable for us was number of unlikely sources our favourite mixes came from. While sites like Resident Advisor, FACT, Dummy and XLR8R all curated fine podcasts this year, it was the mixes, radio shows and live sets sitting in the lesser-known cracks of the internet we found ourselves returning to most. The commercial mix still has a showing here, but in more unlikely forms than the traditional mix CD tends to offer. The diverse listening tastes of our core writing team at Juno Plus HQ should by now be evident in the lists already published, and it’s a key feature of the selections for this category too.

10. Nina – No Observable Effect Concentration (Krokodilo Tapes) (listen here)

Last year’s Obscure Object mix for Krokodilo Tapes by Helena Hauff was notable for the tangible evidence it provided of her fearless selections to those yet to attend Hamburg’s revered Golden Pudel club, arriving before the more high-profile podcast series’ were yet to indulge this obvious skill. A fascinating by-product of her raised profile has been the chance to investigate and explore the styles and skills of Hauff’s fellow Pudel resident selectors, such as F#X, Nikae and Nina Trifft.

The latter’s No Observable Effect Concentration cassette mix for BEB’s highly-prized tape offshoot proved to be every bit as cunning as Trifft’s contribution to Berceuse Heroique’s online mix series, moving unerringly through moments of harsh and abstract sounds in a seamless manner that left you wondering where one track ended and another began. It’s a skill seemingly shared by all the Pudel selectors, and repeat listens to No Observable Effect Concentration had us considering last minute weekend flights to Hamburg with increasing regularity. TP

9. PLO Man – Trushmix 61 (listen here)

As long as Trushmix remains an active concern, it is a sure thing one of their shows will always be considered for inclusion on this annual list. Last year it was a candid two-and-a-half hour split session between Ron Morelli and DJ Sotofett – with whoever’s edit of New Musik’s “Warp” a highlight – and this year it was PLO Man’s ‘track id?’ heavy Trushmix 61. “Recorded live at the Centre for Midi Production,” as DJ Fett Burger writes, there’s suggestion a “soon-dubbed, real deal cassette version of the mix,” is/was destined to hit the streets.

PLO Man runs a bi-weekly show on Berlin Community Radio functioning as a space “to air out the ‘B2’ tracks and the ‘Flute-Apellas’” of his record collection which you can check out here. But before you do I strongly suggest you hit up this year’s best Trushmix first (closely followed by Fett Burger’s preceding Trushmix 60). Be prepared, however, to scour the world for some of the records inside. In Trush we trust. JM

8. Pinch & Mumdance – Pinch B2B Mumdance (Tectonic) (buy here)

There has been much debate this year on the future of the mix CD – pieces by Andrew Ryce and Aidan Hanratty for RA and Thump respectively questioned the validity of the format in 2014, while Ostgut Ton opted to dispense with physical media for their Berghain mixes this year. Still, there are those who continue to release old fashioned CD mixes, and this excellent session from dubstep veteran Pinch and instrumental grime superstar Mumdance spliced unreleased dubplates from the pair and their close contemporaries into what Pinch described as a “scene report”, consolidating the techno/grime/jungle hybrid sound the pair have been exploring over the past year or so.

It may be something of an attempt to create a discourse around a corner of music that only the pair and a very select few others operate in, but there’s no denying that the sound the pair showcase on this mix is visceral stuff. Atmospheric, abstract, and full of mechanically grinding rhythms and euphoric rave-indebted moments, it made nods to the past but offered a compelling suggestion of how underground UK club music could develop in the ongoing fallout from dubstep. SW

7. Lnrdcroy – Live PA at Hotline, Vancouver (listen here)

Given his reputation for being more reserved/less interested in playing the self-promo game than many of his contemporaries, we were pleasantly surprised when Greg Beato happily agreed to answer some questions to accompany the excellent mix for our podcast series earlier this year. Asked about his recent gig at the Hotline party in Vancouver alongside Lnrdcroy, Beato stated “I tend to not listen or like much new stuff coming out these days but Lnrdcroy is something special”. High praise indeed, and fully warranted for anyone that took the time to listen to the recording of the performance Lnrdcroy uploaded soon after that party.

Listen to the 55-minute recording without any prior knowledge of Lnrdcroy and you’d be hard pushed to guess this was his debut live set, such was the skill and panache demonstrated throughout. It was made all the more compelling by Leon Campbell’s subsequent revelation to Brendan Arnott that he was loftily planning to use new Lnrdcroy material each time he performed live, suggesting this recording from Hotline would never be replicated. TP

6. Alex Egan – VF Mix 03 Phonica Record (Vinyl Factory) (listen here)

This mix by Phonica Records’ Alex Egan was my companion for the year. Wherever I went it came with me, never leaving my phone. The ultimate traveller. It served many purposes, either getting me to and from where I’m typing this right now, to soundtracking my Sunday’s cleaning, providing background music entertaining friends (or myself), to simply filling the void of an empty kitchen – amplified by the iPhone-in-a-glass trick of course. At two hours long it’s a mix you can always revisit, starting halfway or three-quarters in, and, furthermore: what a tracklist!

Egan’s selections and mixing between Vril’s “Torus XXXII” and Leon Vynehall’s “Be Brave, Clench Fists” is the best passage of DJing I can properly pinpoint this year, with Pender Street Steppers’ sweetly distorted “Bubble World” to the motivational vamp and vocals of D-Ribeiro’s “Down You Will Get” a pleasure to sit through again and again. There’s a lot to discover here too, all of which comes from a DJ, producer and record store clerk/aficionado you can trust, and knowing it’s a straight up vinyl mix gives it extra street cred, making it all the more enjoyable. JM

5. Lotic – Damsel In Distress (Janus) (listen here)

Berlin’s Janus night – founded by Dan DeNorch and Michael Ladner in 2012 and featuring residents M.E.S.H, Kablam and Lotic – may well have dispensed with regular nights in the city this year, but international interest in the individuals attached has never been higher. The open-minded ethos of Janus is comparable to Venus X’s GHE20G0THIK parties in New York, combining underground and mainstream sounds into something almost shockingly futuristic, and their new mixtape series offered the rest of the world a chance to see what they had been missing. The first entry was described as “100% crafted/handled/lifted by Lotic,” offering a set of material from the producer better than many albums released this year.

Lotic’s Janus associate M.E.S.H. may have described his own style as “hard club”, but it’s probably Lotic that defines this concept best. For Lotic popular music is a raw material to be stretched, chipped and twisted into dark and unfamiliar shapes, perhaps best encapsulated by the showstopping moment Beyoncé’s “Drunk In Love” is drenched in monolithic reverb and pitched down into something completely alien. If you want a window into where club music might be heading next, Damsel In Distress is as good a place as any to start. SW

4. Traxx – Live On Dek at Dekmantel Selector Stage 2014 (listen here)

Prior to attending this year’s edition of Dekmantel festival in August, DJ sessions from Nation boss Traxx had been events only ever experienced after the fact; either in recorded form or in the hushed tones of those who had witnessed them live and survived to tell the tale. There was, then, a sense of expectation surrounding this scheduled two-hour set from Traxx, and it’s fair to say he delivered and then some. Some months later, it’s easy to visualise the experience without having to revisit the recording available on the Nation SoundCloud. As steam rises from his head, Traxx is theatrically beating down the Selector’s Stage with all manner of unknown material, brutal EBM and unrelenting jakbeat, EQing cuts in a dramatic, yet wholly effective and dynamic fashion that really highlighted how many other DJs these days don’t get it right.

What originally sounded like three different tracks played over each other as an opening salvo in actuality turned out to be “Drum Story” by the Steve Reid Ensemble played in its 14-minute entirety. Watching the puzzled masses peel away in these opening minutes suggested those that remained would be in for a no compromises allowed set from Melvin Oliphant III, and what followed proved to be just that. It’s these memories, and the impassioned speech the Nation boss gave at the end of his set, that made those two hours one of the most memorable mixes of the year – both at the time and the countless listens the recording has been subjected to in the ensuing months. TP

3. PC Music x DISown Radio ft. A. G. Cook, GFOTY, Danny L Harle, Lil Data, Nu New Edition and Kane West (listen here)

Whether PC Music will stand the test of time or crumple under the weight of its own concept is anyone’s guess, but what’s certain is that this mix will most likely provide the most definitive statement from a label that famously divided opinion like no other in 2014. Though billed as a radio show for DIS Magazine, it serves as more of a showcase for six of the label’s key figures; 10-minute segments from label boss A.G. Cook, GFOTY, Danny L Harle, Lil Data, Nu New Edition and Kane West each introduced the multiple facets of the PC Music universe complete with specially constructed voiceovers, jingles and idents.

For some the stop-start mechanics, saccharine vocals and glossy textures will be an endurance test, but for those willing to suspend their disbelief and take this mix for what it is – a fairly honest and straightforward celebration of pop music – this is probably the giddiest 60 minutes of music you’ll hear all year. SW

2. TCF – 486669f0e9b8990384108f3d54c6a8f036adeb8bc7108f3d54c6a8f036adeb (listen here)

Lars TCF Holdhus has come to the fore over the past year with his rich electronic tapestries on YYAA and Liberation Technologies, music that takes a highly processed aesthetic and creates emotive soundscapes out of brittle digital textures. As this mixtape – made for a music sharing page on the Russian social network VK – demonstrates, Holdhus is just as skilled at applying his collage approach to the music of others, weaving the musique concrète of Bernard Parmegiani, the precise tones of Ryoji Ikeda and loops of William Basinski together with music of his digitally-minded contemporaries including DYNOOO, Lee Gamble and M.E.S.H.

The tracklisting might make this mix look like a daunting listen, but the manner in which Holdhus stacks multiple tracks on top of one another ensures it’s never anything other than a sublime 43 minutes of music, finding unlikely beauty in the most inconceivable combinations. The blend in which the twisted synths of Evol’s “Arid Sphere Perk Horn” drill their way through the soaring strings of Ennio Morricone’s “Di Notte” for instance, has to be one of the most unexpectedly tear-jerking moments of the year. SW

1. Lena Willikens –Sentimental Flashback 16: Haunting Soundtracks (Radio Cómeme) (listen here)

The Juno Plus office stereo can be a weird and wonderful thing because only meters to its left, literally, is a warehouse of records new and not so new. The trippiest sounds our workplace was subject to this year, however, came from one of our favourite diggers, Lena Willikens. Alongside other mixes for Huntley & Palmers and Resident Advisor, it’s her Sentimental Flashback show for Radio Cómeme that would comfort entire working days at Juno Plus.

But to hone in on one entrant from her Sentimental Flashback cache specifically, it was episode 16, “Haunting Soundtracks”, where Willikens plays – to quote her eerie, drawling and vocodered voice – “soundtracks from different genres such as horror, porn, B-movies, vampire, western, sci-fi.” It’s a nostalgic listen of synth music made for film that’s not just Goblin and John Carpenter (although they are present), and the opening sequence of Patrick Cowley’s “Nightcrawler” evokes that same happy feeling you get hearing the theme tune to your favourite sitcom you’re about to watch. JM