- A gifted live performer shows her DJ skills.
- When Laurel Halo was studying at the University Of Michigan, she DJ'd regularly on WCBN-FM, the campus radio station whose freeform programming policy let her play whatever she liked. In practice, that likely meant a lot of jazz—the station had a large archive, and she'd been introduced to it through her parents' record collection. But one night she also dropped "The Most Unwanted Song," a collage of opera rapping, souvenir-shop bagpipes and a Christmas children's choir. (Wired described it as a "scientific attempt to create the most annoying song ever.") In doing so, Halo was echoing a maverick tradition central to US freeform radio. On WBAI's Radio Unnameable, Bob Fass, a legend of the format, aired a record called "How To Teach Your Parakeet To Talk," and, on another show, a recital of Donald Rumsfeld clips made to resemble beat poetry.
That anything-goes spirit informs the radio stations Halo has DJ'd on more recently. She had a longrunning bi-monthly slot on the now closed-down Berlin Community Radio, where, in one broadcast, she played A Made Up Sound, West African calypso and celestial spoken word on the nature of free will. Halo has also hosted shows on Rinse FM and NTS, a station whose cofounder Femi Adeyemi said was itself inspired by the freeform formats of US college radio. Halo began DJing in clubs a couple years ago, bringing her adventurous radio DJing to the dance floor. Her club sets also influenced her radio shows. On DJ-Kicks, Halo's first official mix, she highlights this club-focused sound with style.
Halo has said her studio instincts tell her to "make it weird." Club DJing's functional aspects don't easily encourage this approach. To tackle this, some DJs opt for drastic tempo changes, others play records at the wrong speed, and others still rely on imaginative edits. Halo does it mostly through wide-ranging selection. A typical set might span gqom, Portuguese club music, deep Detroit cuts and Bristol techno. On DJ-Kicks, the presence of UK club music is especially strong. One of the mix's best tracks, Halo and Hodge's "The Light Within You," is a unique combination of cool, vapoury ambience and hashtag vocals. Another Livity Sound track, by Via Maris, resets the energy after what you might call the mix's Fassiest moment: Geoffrey Landers' "Brian's Having A Party," a discordant squall of horns that might have sampled a '50s public service announcement film.
On mixes like this, with lots of push-and-pull between moods and styles, the set can sometimes feel ragged, or without enough runway for things to really fly. Halo avoids these sort of pitfalls. In the first third, there's a cruising wormhole techno section. Midway through, she slams in Dario Zenker's "Koraimer Bro," a killer rave techno cut that gives climactic resolution to the first half's twists and turns. And the last 20 minutes lock into a deeply satisfying groove. When Halo does hop around, the results are unexpectedly cohesive—the dip into Parris's tender "Puro Rosaceaes" is cradled by Red Axes and C.A.R.'s synthy new wave and Rrose's pins-and-needles arpeggiation.
There are four tracks by Halo that show her remarkable range as a producer. The opener, "Public Art," is an atmospheric wash of saloon piano rushes and Foley talk. Where "The Light Within You" is ethereal, "Oneiroi," from 2013's Chance Of Rain, is earthy, with woody drums and microbial digital layers. "Sweetie," whose wicked swing and electronic kalimba riff faintly recall Joy O, is the boldest club track Halo has produced. While her past music in this vein leaned knotty and abstract—the synth and vocal leads on 2013's "Sex Mission," for instance, were curiously low-key—"Sweetie" is easier to imagine on a touring DJ's USB.
For all its appeal, DJ-Kicks isn't necessarily Halo's most striking mix. Her 2017 Boiler Room, which incorporated UK funky, grime-adjacent tracks, Príncipe anthems and Whitney Houston, felt slightly fresher, more expressive. But DJ-Kicks is still a success, a standout club mix that reflects the individual streak that runs through Halo's work. That's all the more notable considering she only embarked on this kind of DJing "after getting over [an] irrational fear." Halo now seems as confident in the booth as she is in the studio.
01. Laurel Halo - Public Art
02. Stallone The Reducer - Always Hate
03. Red Axes - 5 Min feat. C.A.R.
04. Parris - Puro Rosaceaes
05. Rrose - Cricoid Pressure
06. Machine Woman - Just Made Some Jazz Music
07. WCC - Ana
08. FIT Siegel - Pennyrut
09. Yamaoka - Plastic PQ
10. Siete Catorce - Canto
11. Facta - Poliwhirl
12. Laurel Halo & Hodge - The Light Within You
13. Ikonika - Bodied
14. Griffit Vigo - A.C.I.D. (Electronic Gqom Mix)
15. Panda Lassow - Lachowa
16. Dario Zenker - Koraimer Bro
17. Final Cut - Temptation
18. Aos - Violent Light
19. Geoffrey Landers - Brian's Having a Party
20. Via Maris - Side Effects
21. Laurel Halo - Oneiroi
22. Nick León - Pelican Dub
23. Stefan Ringer - Lust
24. Kirk The Flirt - Loser
25. Laurel Halo - Sweetie (DJ-Kicks)
26. Blake Baxter - Funky World (Blake Baxter Remix)
27. Kiki Kudo - Freakey Keke
28. Group A - Ketabali
29. Whitefield Brothers - Ntu