One of my the most inspiring concepts to me as a DJ is the idea of the third song. Now, I might be splitting hairs here, but while you often hear about DJ blends that can last anywhere from fifteen seconds to a couple minutes, the third song is much more than a simple blending of two relatively similar songs. I won’t attempt to identify who first coined the term as it’s likely one of those DJ innovations that likely came into existence simultaneously around the world.
But for me, I first came across the idea in a late 2000s Martin Clark interview with Kode9, a DJ who is truly the master of the third song; that extended mix of two tracks when they seemingly become a wholly other song. While early Kode9 sets are full of examples of him doing this via vinyl, these days I certainly can’t blame anyone for choosing the convenience of a CDJ sync button...if they’re going to do something interesting with it. I remember reading an interview with Rrose where she talked about her past as a 90s DJ and how her switch to digital was mainly due to her desire to actually utilize the many fancy effects and features of a typical CDJ set-up. Namely, by saving the time it takes to beat match, the technology should encourage a far more adventurous form of DJ’ing.
Of course, that is so rarely the case. Yeah, everyone’s mixes sound oh so tight but when they’re just going seamlessly from one song to another with little in the way of third song magic, what’s the goddamn point? Still, while I may be a vinyl DJ currently, if—god forbid—I ever manage to get a gig and then another and another, you can bet at some point I’m gonna start ripping wav files of my records (basically the closest way to approximate the depth and warmth of vinyl, though those file sizes are no joke).
There are many ways to take advantage of the CDJ format and one of the most remarkable examples I’ve seen came a little over a year ago when I got to see Gqom gurus Rudeboyz creating live effects with their mouths and looping, creating an endless barrage of rhythms and melodies that sent my body into an epillectic dance. Well, it took another year but I finally saw another DJ whose command of his gear and tracks jacked my body for two straight hours
I’ve been itching to see Batu for over two years now and for a minute yesterday, it almost seemed like it wouldn’t happen due to not having a dime to my name rn (yeah, it’s been a really dark time folks and can’t say enough how much I’m looking for basically any work to keep me fed right now). Fortunately, the producer Omar born McCutcheon is a class act and sorted me out.
Arriving early, it was a true delight to finally meet Omar in person after a year of intermittent email. Stupidly bright with a gentle and kind demeanor, he’s kinda of like a brainiac teddy bear...who morphs into an evil genius behind the decks. Understandably knackered following a month of steady gigging, we soon moved our way into the main room where the young DJ Shy Eyez was playing the kind of UK bass-heavy set that made me want to get to know her as a DJ better (a feeling I don't get very often going out in NYC). Her dropping of Laksa’s “Delicates” was an early highlight and her set was undeniably full of passion, emotion. She’s the first local DJ I’ve encountered in a while who I would love to share the decks with some day, so similar are our tastes. Absolutely loved the set.*
The night’s host mite then took the decks for a dnb set that ended up providing a nice bridge between the genre-hopping style of Shy Eyez and Batu. A lovely and gracious host, he seemed to be pulling from more recent cuts, though that's truly just an educated guess based on the production values and the general lack of Amen breaks. Indeed, the drum programming was some of the more interesting sort that I've heard outside of the 1993-1995 jungle, at times taking on an almost tribal patina.
But the real drum work-outs came in the form of the cross-genre free-for-all that Batu unleashed upon an NY audience unusually receptive to adventurous rhythms and mind-scrambling sound design. Starting off with a lowkey roiling tribal simmer, Omar gradually yet briskly turned up the heat within ten minutes as he set about sewing an ambitious and far-ranging tapestry of beats—some that followed a steady 4x4 patterns, others a more abstracted rhythmic framework buttressed by sharp drum programming. What was so body-jacking about the whole thing was how he always seemed to be creating a wholly new piece. Sure, there would be moments where I’d recognize a certain track, like Lorenzo Senni’s “Forever Headline” in the exhilarating final quarter of the set. But as soon as a track would announce itself as something familiar, Batu would quickly set about making it other, blending it with another track to create something far more impressive and moving.
Though I know I heard quite a few tracks whose names escape me, those two would remain recognizable for only a brief period before another rhythm or counter-melody would be mixed in and soon you wouldn’t quite know what you were hearing. Upon returning home from the show, I found myself putting on the incredible Patina Echoes and soon found myself possibly recognizing certain tracks from the evening...but this all speculation. And really, the first hour blazed by with Batu not relying on an established bangers, instead pulling from his vast war chest of exclusive tracks, each one a bruising, Russian doll-like polyrhythmic nugget.
Having found out earlier that evening that Batu was ten years my junior, what got me the most about his set was all uncompromising it felt while also keeping the majority of the floor moving (either that or I was dancing hard enough for everyone;) Sequing effortlessly through a cadre of techno, electro, and broken bass rhythms that often sounded like they were all being played at once (in the best most mindfucking sense) it was the last third that really captivated me, even as I was on my last duke.
Batu and many of his peers aren’t really big on big dramatic breakdowns, preferring to keep a steady but always-changing rhythmic arsenal in tow. Speaking with him beforehand, I mentioned the fact that recent tracks like “Flash React” and his remix of The Maghreben’s “Eddies” have seen his bpm pushing past 140 into the 150s. And once his remix of “Eddies” came in at the start of the long wind down, it was hard to believe that we were in such high bpm ranger and getting higher.
And then, just like that, the set began deconstructing itself with the producer deploying a series of askew Rude Goldberg rhythmic constructions sourced from the kitchen before barreling into Gaunt’s motorboat bass monster “SP12” off his debut EP. At this point I was quite literally screaming and pumping my hands in the air for here was a track I’ve been too skittish to attempt and Batu was making it sound as effortless as any other track he played that night. And then, before we knew it, we were suddenly back down to 100BPM while still retaining a phantom 150BPM tempo, sturdily bringing the set to a close.
Similar to the way the Khidja mix I shared the other day sounds so effortless while making ample use of the third song, Batu’s mixing was always busy but never sounded fussy or overstuffed, his nimble fingers pecking at the EQs like a hen to ensure the mix never felt like it would collapse under its own weight.. I kept thinking the whole time, damn, this guy really has been producing and dj’ing for more than half of his life and thus has the skills to bend crowds into every shape imaginable. He’s off to Hot Mass today, a party that will likely have quite a few more guests instead of forty and as I kept telling him after the show, those boys are going to lose their shit. I know I sure did.
*An earlier version of this review contained a rude and inappropriate comment about her appearance on stage, which rightfully led to a Twitter thread bashing that observation. I in no way intended this in the same vein as when random ass dudes tell women on the street or store or everywhere that they should smile more. But that doesn't really matter as that's how it was read and ultimately I was reflecting that position, even if it's something I would never have published if I had given it even a second's more thought than I clearly did. I was trying to articulate the disconnect I felt when I did open my eyes and looked up at the stage, but this becomes a problematic critique if one doesn't apply it to the other DJs (and when it's applied to the only female DJ I reviewed that night, then it's just fucked). Discussions about dancing and DJ'ing have existed forever and not dancing in no way invalidates a set. If I didn't like the set so much, I wouldn't have said anything but as soon as I realized what I had so absentmindedly wrote, it was deeply horrifying as that's the last thing I'm trying to perpetuate. Yet I very, very much did and that's necessitated some much-needed soul searching on my behalf to probe any gender prejudices that I had simply assumed didn't exist.
It is my desire to talk about DJ sets in a way that's a bit more involved than RA's two positive qualifiers and a track ID formula. That said, critiquing a DJ's performance outside of the actual music is even more subjective of an impression than the music and thus creates a major problem for the reviewer, especially when this should just be about the music. Superficialities should not distract from the quality of set...but sometimes they do, and that can be as more the fault of the spectator than the DJ. I love plenty of DJ's who simply slouch over and lose themselves in the music and everyone does that in a different way. So reading the above criticism in the light of Hodge's and Shy Eyez extremely on-point critiques is quite upsetting to me as it's about as antithetical as one can get to my own beliefs, which are deeply rooted in anti-patriarchal feminism and a sensitivity to the relationship between capital and mental health. I experience crippling performance anxiety when DJ'ing despite having been a percussionist since the age of thirteen and I fear I forgot that everyone deals with performance in their own way. And also, it really doesn't matter at the end of the day if someone is a banging DJ and Shy Eyez is just that. My sincerest apologies to Shy Eyez for my disrespectful, misogynistic, and insensitive comment as that is just not how I was raised nor how I am IRL. Hopefully, this can be a learning experience for others as it has been for me.