- "Live shows and clubs and festivals, for me, have taken on an entirely different meaning the more the world has changed over the past 18 months," Matthew Barnes said around the time of his last album, Compassion. "It can feel a lot more like a shared and beautiful experience." A year later, the producer's DJ-Kicks mix also reflects obliquely on the power of live music experiences. It's inspired by DIY nights he went to when he was younger: events driven by the urge "just to share music between people", where "DJ etiquette" was ignored and artists instead seemed to be "cook[ing] up their personal mixtape in front of you."
Forest Swords' first licensed mix is his own personal mixtape. A patchwork of sounds and moods with a few of Barnes's own "voice note" field recordings thrown in, it's casually and playfully eclectic, hinting at influences and nodding to his peers. There's only one Forest Swords track, the scratch-itching exclusive "Crow." But with its sombre mystical mood, clever combos of acoustic and electronic sounds, and the odd bright shot of pop, the mix as a whole has many of the qualities that define Barnes's own music.
His mixtape approach has its downsides, however. It's not like we'd ever expect a seamless dance floor session from Barnes, but his Ableton mixing—a fade-to-reverb here, some no-frills looping there—doesn't always serve his material best. For example: the mix's opening flits briskly between gorgeous ambient tracks from the likes of Anna Homler and Kara-Lis Coverdale, before clicking into gear with Dialect's surging "Three Sisters Theme." It's a short track, and on the record it comes from, its sawing strings bleed into the next track after 90 seconds. Barnes cuts it there instead, quickly bringing in Rhythm & Sound's "Best Friend," a dub techno ballad with a completely different tone and frequency balance. It feels like the mood of the mix's opening has been needlessly discarded.
There are a few similar hiccups later on. You wonder if a bit more finessing might paradoxically have improved the mix's loose flow. Still, these moments don't obscure its positive qualities. After the ambient opening there's a killer song-led section, where Anna Domino, Dead Can Dance and Neneh Cherry meet the electronica of FIS. Then we pivot around Lutto Lento's "Gyal A Devil," landing in the body of the mix, a dancier passage which hockets between weirdo electronica and trippy almost-techno. There are some gems in here: Disjecta's dank "Smokehead," which is from '96 but could've been bounced out yesterday, Laurel Halo's "Throw," with its sour piano chords, and Demdike Stare's lurching "Mnemosyne."
The mood is mostly dark until, around 50 minutes in, Djrum's "Showreel Pt.2" provides the saccharine payoff. Barnes could have gone straight to the outro from there—instead he squeezes in a couple more rhythmic tracks from Orbital and Beatrice Dillon & Rupert Clerveaux. They sit oddly, but this minor stumble is forgotten when we get into the gorgeous closing run: a polychrome ambient set with Vashti Bunyan's ethereal "Here Before" at its centre. As you listen to Barnes apparently lose the thread before grabbing onto another, equally strong one, it's like being in the room watching him throw the thing together live. Which was his intention, after all.
01. David Toop - Things Just Went Sour Gradually All At Once
02. Forest Swords - Voice Memo of Outdoor Singing Group In Chinatown, Liverpool
03. Anna Homler & Steve Moshier - Ŏŏ Nu Dah
04. Kara-Lis Coverdale - Imgs /r
05. Dialect - Three Sisters Theme
06. Rhythm & Sound w/ Love Joy - Best Friend
07. Anna Domino - With The Day Comes The Dawn
08. Neneh Cherry - Blank Project
09. Tokyo Prose & FIS - The Truths
10. Dead Can Dance - Mesmerism (Remastered)
11. Forest Swords - Crow
12. Lutto Lento - Gyal A Devil
13. Disjecta - Smokehead
14. Skinnerbox - Gender (Axel Boman Remix)
15. Deena Abdelwahed - Walk On, Nothing To See Here
16. Pantha Du Prince - Welt Am Draht (Animal Collective Remix)
17. Mira Calix - Umchunga Locks
18. Laurel Halo - Throw
19. Demdike Stare - Mnemosyne
20. Djrum - Showreel Pt.2
21. Orbital - The Box (Part 1)
22. Rupert Clervaux & Beatrice Dillon - VII
23. The London Bulgarian Choir - Pilentse Pee
24. Vashti Bunyan - Here Before
25. Forest Swords - Voice Memo Of Piston At Manchester Museum of Science & Industry
26. Baka Forest People Of Southeast Cameron - Eden Liquindi 2
27. Ánde Somby - Gadni (Spirit Of The Mountain)