On his entry to the venerable mix series, Darren Cunningingham's brilliant selections take precedence over beatmatching.
Listening to a mix by Actress is a lot like watching a Satoshi Kon film; it sets the tone early, bashes you in the face with how jarring it comes and goes from the initial start, and then by the end you realize how thoroughly engrossed you were the entire time. In this case, while listening to Darren Cunningham’s irreverent take on a series such as DJ-Kicks, I was mesmerized, yet always aware that things might go awry at any moment—Cunningham has chosen not to emulate the effortless mixing of previous selectors in the series. Instead, he’s done what he does best in this medium, which is to choose brilliant tracks that would provide contrast and/or comparatively enhance the listening experience.
The first thing that anyone will notice is that Cunningham opts to segment his selections and weave them through their titles, artists and labels in a riveting way from the outset. Starting off with Breaker 1 2‘s “2,” he settles listeners in with an analog emphasis, continuing by incorporating Lorenzo Senni‘s off-putting and brilliant “Elegant, and Never Tiring,” following up by heading toward darker corners with cuts from Reel By Real and Autechre. When Chameleon‘s “Thought 2” give us a rhythmic representation of snake charming, it’s more of a red herring than anything, as Beneath‘s “Stress 1” reminds of a backing track to a bizzaro U.K.–funky rave in a ’80s John Carpenter film. These jarring moments are what make Cunningham’s DJ-Kicks stand out—and he replicates this formula by flowing between cathartic and calming, doing it just enough so it doesn’t become too repetitive of a process. When Zennor‘s “Tin” rumbles with a drum track layered between oriental loops, it begs to stay at that energy level—until John Beltran’s “Anticipation” soothingly enters to break the rhythm, providing breathing room.
The next few tracks by STL and Snakepiss bring the tempo down to Earth, closer to where Actress’ Ghettoville LP lied dormant, clawing at our feet. That mood flips with the one-two punch of Chez N Trent and Mark Fell; both tracks are rhythmically quite far apart, yet help to facilitate the mix’s finale. Joyful rhythms and stupendous loop-mania set up the final stretch of tracks, from Hank Jackson, Gherkin Jerks and Actress himself. The cuts play off each other masterfully, their strengths enhancing each other, leading to a more-than-satisfying conclusion to a worthy addition to the DJ-Kicks catalog. The decision to reject seamless beatmatching has only enhanced the mix, and lets us look into the Actress’s process in a different context. Let’s hope his next mix comes sooner rather than later.