Here’s my latest mixtape. I’m calling it Ecstasea for a number of reasons, firstly because I just like the way it looks, hovering there over the warm neon purple glow of an oilplatform in a roiling ocean. It’s also a cheeky punmanteau that neatly describes the music within: all endless liquid rhythm and blissful abandon. I had no greater ambition with this mix than to gather some of my favorite transcendental deep house and techno tracks and sequence them for maximum joy. No concept, no specific era – just a vibe that I know and love, riding beat crescendos and chill valleys up to an ecstatic, jazzy finale.
Track list appears as the songs play, and at the bottom of this post.
So I didn’t approach this mix with a mental framework beyond “I love the way this sends me into a trance while soothing my soul” but I still want to talk a little bit about why the music here is so special to me, and why I think it all fits together so well. There’s a sort of liminal space between many of the genres and scenes and eras and cultures where much of my favorite dance music resides, ignoring style boundaries and flowing in and out of hard categorization. It’s often hard to pin down as techno or house, ambient or dub, analog or digital, decades old or made today. My ears thrive in this ambiguous environment, riding the waves of energy wherever they may lead. The more wiggly and unpredictable, the better. I love when one thing turns into another, pulling the rug out from under expectations and taking the listener somewhere far from where it began. So it often goes with music I select for these mixtapes.
This time, the change is constant, the sound is always in flux, at a tipping point, ready to tumble and whoosh into new forms, unveil new textures. It begins in a more humid, outdoorsy house music biome before giving way to futuristic deep space variations, slowly building back up through crystalline Detroit techno, finally exploding with euphoric deep house, leaning harder and harder into jazz as it rips along. It’s pretty easy to describe on paper, which is a relief – sometimes I just don’t know what to say about a mixtape or how to express what should be a dead simple fact: I love all of this sound and I really hope the listener does too. I hope anyone who hears this perks up at the music on display, maybe even gets mindblown by a track or two, falls in love with a new artist, explores some albums they’ve never heard.
Despite the singular vibe I can trace across this whole set, the tracks all come from disparate corners of space and time. Atmospheric dance odysseys from Japan, interstellar reports from the ambient edge of Chicago house, and 1990s English beat experimentalism blend and phase with modern jungle rave-ups and breakbeat cathedrals and drenched rainforest voyages from China, France, and the United States. They all share this inner color, this central hum, this loving energy that transcends any one place or era, and anyone listening blindly would be hard pressed to say when any of these tracks were made. What matters most is that they build up a sense of pure triumph, a real lust for life. It’s something that I’ve found especially lacking in day to day life, months into the pandemic of 2020. Thankfully, music can provide.
There are a couple particular tracks I want to highlight, the sort-of tentpoles for the mix. I often piece these together in a circular pattern, moving outward from a handful of big tracks that have stuck in my brain over the past several weeks, finding other songs to bridge them together. First, “Rain of Ocean” by Kuniyuki Takahashi. It’s the only original piece on his 2008 Remixed album, working seamlessly within the groovier context of his other jazzy deep house pieces, rebuilt by the likes of genre masters such as Theo Parrish and Cobblestone Jazz. The nearly ten minute piece uses cloudlike ambient pads and big soft-edged percussion to frame a wiggly, exploratory synth solo that builds and billows and zigzags all over the place. The clearly jazz-inspired juxtaposition inspired me to put together a new mix and informed everything about what I wanted to put into it. Similarly, “Pacific Jazz” by Mr. YT, another Japanese composer, formed the gentler end of the spectrum of sound here. The track is a gauzy epic groove journey between techno and house recorded in the mid 1990s that all but disappeared while its creator moved into the world of video game soundtracks. Thanks to a remaster compilation in 2017, this and a handful of similarly spiritual dance tracks came into the modern consciousness, erasing the two-plus decades of time between. It’s still that fresh.
The second-to-last track here could be the most important, as far as intent goes; I almost titled the mix “Transcendental Access Point” because Eris Drew’s ebullient dance monster spelled out so specifically what I always seek in a great piece of electronic music. It’s a beautiful storm in itself, but also a means to an end, a delivery vehicle for a state of mind outside normal life. Buying the ticket, taking the ride, leaving everyday consciousness behind. The track is centered around a monologue by ethnobotanist Kathleen Harrison, discussing her first DMT trip: “I remember I was on my way into a harpsichord concert that had already started and my friend said, here is a very special joint, smoke this one. We did and then walked into a beautiful storm of harpsichord notes that were moving and dancing with apparent individual and collective will. It was apparently marijuana laced with a little DMT. I didn’t encounter it again for years until I was offered a pipe full of the pure substance and.. that was 1975.” This little anecdote rings so true for me, as so many of my formative moments earlier in life happened during psychedelic trips into altered states, submerged in music from all angles. I know I wouldn’t have the same tastes, the same philosophical interests, the same life if I hadn’t gone out on a consciousness limb and explored the possibilities within – and while I don’t do heavy psychedelics anymore, I’m always thankful for that formative period of my young adult life.
Finally, I have to nod to the final track here, the longest and most explosive piece in the mix. It’s also likely the one fewest listeners have ever heard before. Onyx Ashanti is a Detroit based musician specializing in his own invented genre called “beatjazz,” and is without a doubt the biggest embodiment of cyberpunk ethos I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting acquainted with. In addition to being a musician and prolific live performer, he’s programmer and inventor of the Sonocyb, a continually evolving, malleable interface of prosthetic synthesizer controllers that Onyx 3D prints at home and uses to articulate his unique sound via with body kinesis. The result is that his music sounds unmistakably like his own and no one else I’ve ever heard. This track, taken from a live show in Berlin, feels like a full jazz band eruption, freewheeling rhythm and wild soloing via his Yamaha midi “wind” controller – the result sounds to my ears like imagining if John Coltrane had been wormholed into the future instead of dying at his experimental peak, using records like Ascension as a jumping off point for music that sounds like it’ll always be ahead of time. Raucous, questing, deeply alive feeling music here that seems to grow and grow as it barrels toward its conclusion. I couldn’t think of a better way to end a mix focusing on the latent jazz impulses embedded in modern dance music, looking out at the skies and stars of tomorrow.
Every single track here is something I adore, though. Whether an ambient leaning “breather” moment between towering beat monsters or a languid, expansive slow drift through hyperspace, every piece has its place and every track is meant to pique interest in the artist and album it came from. These mixtapes have always been simply about spreading the love.
So, regarding the cover art. Usually I’ve got a story about the artist and why the image is important to me, but this time I’ve got almost nothing there. The photo of a massive oil platform in the ocean has been saved on my phone for months, and despite reverse image searching I could not find an original source or an author. So it is what it is: a striking, vaguely futuristic image of technology and nature colliding to striking effect. I played with it a little, of course, adding the warmly psychedelic colors that this music brings to my mind. As I stared at the result, I thought of the admittedly corny title – it just popped into mind. I smiled, thinking of how it seemed like a boat name. I thought of my father, who passed away at the end of May suddenly in the midst of this pandemic, how I couldn’t see him on his death bed. We had a lot of rough years in the meantime, but my childhood memories are pocked with the fresh air and cool water of days spent on his boat. Funny enough, despite the tradition of punny boat names, he named his vessel “Catharsis.” A little too serious at heart, I think, just like his son. But he knew what he was doing. He probably wouldn’t be into the music on this mix, but the stuff he played me as a kid will always be important regardless of genre: he always favored big, lush production, deep bass, and the kind of expensive hi-fi sound system I wasn’t allowed to touch as a kid. Handling the knobs or not, the all encompassing feel of hearing his music as a kid undeniably shaped my life. So here we are. I don’t have a hi-fi yet but I do have some nice studio monitors from Mackie and, well, a vast collection of lush, spacey music I can immerse myself in at any time. I love to share that feeling.
I believe jumping in blind is best, but if you prefer to know what’s coming, that’s cool. Each track is shown with the original year of production, linked to the release where the song was sourced, to make it easier to explore. I fully recommend everything linked below. Here’s the full track list:
01. Takayuki Shiraishi – Distant Thunder 
02. Yu Su – Watermelon Woman (Francis Inferno Orchestra’s Augur Sacrifice Dub) 
03. Mr. YT – Pacific Jazz 
04. Larry Heard – Galactic Travels Suite 
05. Spacetime Continuum – Simm City 
06. Speedy J – Symmetry 
07. Dave Angel – Lagoon 
08. Fp-oner – Light Years 
09. Octo Octa – Beam Me Up (To The Goddess Mix) 
10. Isolée – Dennis 
11. Shanti Celeste – Slow Wave 
12. Kuniyuki Takahashi – Rain of Ocean 
13. O’Flynn – Aletheia 
14. Reagenz – Freerotation 
15. Eris Drew – Transcendental Access Point 
16. Onyx Ashanti – Silicon Ancestors 
Thank you so much for listening.