10 Essential Mixes For Aspiring DJs

We’ve all been there — standing at your DJ setup ready to record a mix, but for some reason the inspiration just won’t come. For times like these, it can be beneficial to take a break and have a listen to how other people have done it before you. And while you’re certainly welcome to turn to any number of high quality podcasts now on offer, we recommend that you look into the slowly dying medium of commercial mixes. Though they may seem antiquated, the process of recording something limited by actual physical constraints (namely time and licensing) often makes for a sharper distillation of the artist’s message and a more thought-out narrative.

Suggested Listening

Let’s be honest, this is a far cry from a comprehensive list. Instead, treat it as inspirational listening material. Check ’em out with open ears and try to apply your analytical mind. As a suggested listening exercise, ask yourself these questions while listening to these mixes (and in turn, think about how you can answer them in your own mix!):

  • How are the tracks arranged?
  • When and why do the mixes happen?
  • What is the narrative trying to say?
  • What kind of tricks and techniques are being employed?

To help you out, we’ve provided some brief notes and links (where available) to streaming versions.


Mix-Up Vol. 2 Featuring Jeff Mills, LiveMix At LiquidRoom, Tokyo
Artist: Jeff Mills
Listen: Full mix on Youtube
Why it’s so great: Sure, there are plenty of good techno mixes out there, but few come close to the raw intensity of this live recording of Jeff Mills in the mid-’90s. Using little more than three turntables, a mixer, and a crateful of 140 bpm wax, he creates a fractalized mass of shifting rhythms and alien tones. Most importantly, though, is the way he plays with dynamics and how he uses deck tricks (spin backs, power downs, and simple scratches) to veer off from his basic monolithic drive into uncharted, and continuously mind-blowing territory. This is what Paul Miller meant when he said, “Give me two turntables and I’ll make you a universe.”

Artist: DJ Muro
Listen: Full mix on Soundcloud
Why it’s so great: Every once in awhile a mix comes along that proves the artistry of the medium, and this modern classic by Japanese hip-hop DJ Muro is one of those rare works. The premise is simple: he takes a playlist of rare ’70s R&B recorded at 33 1/3 RPM and plays every track back at 45 RPMs. The result is something that sounds like the dopest Alvin & The Chipmunks record never made, and while we admit that reads terribly on paper, for some reason it totally works.

Suggested Use Pt. 1
Artist: Theo Parrish
Listen: Full mix on Mixcloud
Why it’s so great: A couple years ago we posted an article about isolators, those esoteric pieces of gear that allow DJs to play the EQs like an instrument. Theo Parrish is a modern master of this art, and this mix in particular showcases his bleedingly raw style. His enthusiasm for the music is infectious, and that allows him to take the listener on a rollercoaster ride through complex jazz-funk, brutal acid house, and even bits of disco. His jaw-dropping transition from ’70s fusion into J.T.C.’s “In The G” does a lot to explain why Parrish is such a revered figure in the underground.

In the Mix: Taka Taka
Artist: Ricardo Villalobos
Listen: Full mix on Youtube
Why it’s so great: Though many point to Fabric 36 as being Villalobos’ crowning mix achievement, we’re not of that mind. Yes, that’s an essential work in its own right, but In the Mix: Taka Taka is a much better representation of the man’s phenomenal abilities as a DJ playing other people’s music. This one’s all about pacing and selection, it’s like a perfectly assembled jigsaw puzzle of a dancefloor in full swing. Listen for his understated but cleverly placed transition from the scattered bongo house of Brothers’ Vibe’s “Manos Libre” to the precise dub techno of Vainqueur’s “Elevation 2.”

Sarcastic Disco Vol. 2
Artist: DJ Harvey
Listen: Full mix on Mixcloud
Why it’s so great: “Chicken Mcnugget Hideout,” “Sexy Woman Singing On The Beach,” “Eternal Vegan Crystals”–these are just some of the fake track names on DJ Harvey’s cheeky Sarcastic Disco Vol. 2. Released in 2001, it perfectly encapsulates the eclectic style he honed while DJing the late-morning shift at London’s Ministry of Sound, with scratchy ’70s dollar bin jams sleazily rubbing up against obscure Balearica. In the process he made one of the most creative mixes of all time, a concrete document that caused a whole generation to re-evaluate disco.

Live at Robert Johnson Volume 8
Artist: Dixon
Listen: Full mix on Soundcloud
Why it’s so great: It was a bittersweet moment when Live at Robert Johnson Volume 8 was released in 2011. Robert Johnson, the highly regarded German club, announced that this would be the last installment in its three year-running mix series. At the same time, Dixon also stated that this would be his last official mix, citing the physical limits of the format as his reason. Luckily, this last installment proved a knockout, with an unusual pacing that begins in an ambient haze before finding its concrete rhythm in the second half.

Radio Rothko
Artist: Deadbeat
Listen: Full mix on Soundcloud
Why it’s so great: Sometimes the easiest route into a genre is by being introduced through a well-executed mix. Case in point is Deadbeat’s Radio Rothko, which takes all that’s good about dub-techno and manages to condense it into an hour long lesson. Sticking close to its subject, it straddles the Atlantic, revealing the connection between behemothic labels like Deepchord in Detroit and Basic Channel in Berlin. It might not be the flashiest mix, but there are few better ways to become immersed in the style’s echo-drenched depths.

Where Dancefloors Stand Still
Artist: DJ Sprinkles
Listen: 10 minute teaser on Soundcloud
What it’s so great: Traditionally, dance music has tried to downplay its political dimensions, which is why DJ Sprinkles’ decision to create a protest mix feels so fresh. Released a few months ago, it stands to raise awareness about Japan’s puritanical 1 a.m. “fuzoku” curfew laws. But while it has a stated purpose, it’s never overbearing, instead choosing to spread its message by creating a timeless ambient house experience that’s as fully fleshed out and emotionally affecting as Sprinkles’ seminal ’00s album, Midtown 120 Blues.

DE9 | Transitions
Artist: Richie Hawtin
Listen: Full mix on Soundcloud
Why it’s so great: There are so many good Richie Hawtin mixes that it would be difficult to choose one, but if pressed, Transitions from 2005 fits the bill pretty well. It’s the third installment in the DE9 series, and it marked an important moment when Hawtin completely embraced the full potential of digital DJ technology. Using Ableton, he created an immersive experience (available in 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound!) that was at once entirely new, while still remaining indebted to the fundamentals of old-school three-deck mixing.

Essential Mix
Artist: François K.
Why it’s so great: Few DJs are more qualified to summarize New York’s huge contribution to dance music than François K. The French-born DJ and producer moved there in the ’70s, and he’s been a part of the action ever since. Though it’s not its stated intent, his Essential Mix charts a scattered course through the city’s clubland history, but it’s not the narrative you might expect. Though there’s plenty of disco and house, he also weaves in bits of hip-hop, drum and bass, Jamaican dub, and techno. Along the way, he shows how even the most disparate genres can be woven together. The trick? It’s not what you’re playing so much as how you play it.


These mixes barely scratch the surface of what’s out there. We want to hear from you, which mixes have influenced you? Do you have any in particular that you think every DJ should hear? Let us know in the comments below (and be sure to tell us why)!

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