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Laurel Halo
DJ-Kicks James Ball , March 25th, 2019 10:25

In an age of relentless live streams, and archived podcasts, radio sets and live recordings, the mix CD is safe in Laurel Halo's hands, finds James Ball

In a time of relentless live streams, and archived podcasts, radio sets and live recordings, the mix CD has had to look elsewhere for inspiration. It’s no surprise, then, that some extraordinarily challenging and interesting ones have been released over the past few years, particularly Objekt’s relentlessly innovative Kern Vol. 3 and Nina Kraviz’s fabric 91 which gleams with near-peerless peculiarity.

Not many labels are better suited to capturing the different in electronic music than vaunted German label !K7 and its DJ-Kicks series. Kicking off in 1995 with a slew of club-focused mix CDs from the likes of Joey Beltram, Claude Young and Stacey Pullen, the series moved into experimental territory two years later when it commissioned a mix from Scottish singer-songwriter Nicolette, which inspired further out-there entries, especially Rockers Hi-Fi's lush and languid May 1997 release. Laurel Halo’s latest DJ-Kicks dovetails these approaches, a fleet-footed, hour-long mix that dishes out slow burners and gut punchers in equal and effective measures, remaining engaging and weird throughout.

A compelling aspect of the mix is its lack of linearity, which is also evident in Halo’s general artistic approach. Her dynamic back catalogue conveys everything from ambient, fever dream feelings (‘The Sick Mind’) to vocal-led, gelatinous pop (‘Jelly’). One particularly locked in, tech-centred section of the mix, which includes Final Cut’s armour-clad ‘Temptation’, is bridged by the peaky jazz of Geoffrey Landers’ ‘Brian’s Having a Party’ before dashing headfirst into Via Maris’ ‘Side Effects’, which churns with Timedance otherworldliness.

While including exclusive tracks in a mix CD series is hardly a new thing, DJ-Kicks has always led the pack in this regard, giving a more holistic sense of the artist’s curatorial clout; all the better when the artist in question is as interesting as Halo. She includes two of her own vastly different productions (‘Public Art’ and ‘Sweetie’) and other great picks, including fellow Hyperdub star Ikonika’s belting ‘Bodied’ and Machine Woman’s deceptively-titled ‘Just Made Some Jazz Music’.

The tracklist, and the fleet-footed manner in which Halo mixes these selections, provides an excellent snapshot of 2019 dance music, one that is being propelled by a unrelenting tide of weirdness. It never quite reaches superlative highs or lows but it ticks along tirelessly, getting better with repeated listens. For now, the mix CD is safe.