If you spent any time online in the early 2010s, you might remember DJ Detweiler’s “flute drop” tracks. Detweiler’s premise was simple – he would take a notorious EDM hit like Darude’s “Sandstorm” and, when the drop arrived, replace the lead melody with discordant recorder playing, sometimes throwing a few dollar-bin sample-pack sounds in for good measure. These “flute drop” tunes were discombobulating, abrasive and really, really funny.
In the following years a network of producers, DJs and parties have sprung up with similarly impish glee. In this irreverent realm, DJs have names like Shitney Beers, events encourage Darth Maul dress codes and partygoers enter rooms scented with tarmac and pencil shavings. You can expect to hear plenty of donk, bassline, bounce and Makina, but a lot of the artists ride the maximalism of these sounds to create the most absurd content possible. Take for instance Royal Tweedy and Garridge, who get their kicks putting a donk on Blink-182. Other acts, like sherekahnn, splice the Crazy Frog with Aphex Twin’s “Avril 14” and/or the theme music from Game Of Thrones.
This isn’t a scene that takes itself too seriously, which puts it somewhat at odds with Business Techno’s po-faced mainstream. “The parties have had a weird and mischievous atmosphere which people seem to respond to,” says Sheffield’s South Yorkshire Mick Hucknall (SYMH) about the Masturbatrix events he’s run in the city since 2014. The nights themselves help foster the tricker like vibe – observe how the poster for one Masturbatrix party sends up the logo of Warp Records, surely their hometown’s most eminent electronic music institution, and advertises a “world record attempt [for the] longest ever wheel up” from someone called DJ Babestation.
As one might expect of something that is partially an offshoot of meme culture, things move fast in this world. At the time of writing Lobsta B’s July 2020 donkification of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” and a hallucinatory mix/freestyle/thing from enigmatic newcomer Donnay Soldier (shout out MC Devvo) are doing the rounds, but soon these will make way for something harder, faster and donker. The fact that artists are constantly aiming to outdo one another in the name of lols 'n' bass creates the vibe of a good-natured soundclash, albeit one where you’re more likely to draw for “Axel F” than the “Sleng Teng” riddim.
DJ Fingerblast runs the “universal-telekinetic ASMR” platform Planet Fun with Peggy Viennetta, Count Baldor and Trancey Beaker. He says the scene’s fast-paced nature helps maintain the creative energy. “The sound of it all is insanely fluid,” he tells me over email, “but it’s essentially all the same humour and intention behind it.” SYMH, whose own performances have the air of a karaoke night gone off the deep end, tells me keeping people on their toes as part of the fun “One act might be silly and the next on the bill will be there to completely punish the audience. I like it when people ask for their money back.”
While the scene’s mashups-in-overdrive aesthetic is undoubtedly hilarious, it never feels sneering. There’s real warmth to what these artists do, something evidenced by how enthusiastic they are about each other's work. DJ Fingerblast spends a good portion of his email to me championing contemporaries like Warhammer-core newcomer DJ David Goblin (“he’s essentially taken all of this music and managed to turn it into a fictional realm”), saying how exciting it was for Planet Fun to book PCDJ artists DJ Cammy & Gary McF (“our childhood heroes, these guys were literally like 14 and were making pre-nightcore out of hard Euro tunes”) and emphasising the importance of scene precursors Shitmat, Detweiler and DJ Dadmagnet.
When I messaged Dadmagnet, who runs Chin Stroke Records alongside Detweiler, he returned the compliment with interest. “It’s clear that Planet Fun, Chemtrails and others are directly descended from our work at Chin Stroke. But then again, our work is itself descended from [Shitmat’s label] Wrong Music and others too various to mention. And theirs was based on what came before […] All art is itself a simple rehashing of what came before. Our personal experiences, movements and ‘scenes’ are but momentary specks in an endless blur of noise, death and rebirth.”
This is a culture that wants you to laugh along with the music rather than at it. Everyone emphasises the fact that they genuinely love the artistry they’re supporting. SYMH talks about how Masturbatrix is ultimately a space where “friends [can] play stuff they wouldn’t normally get away with playing at other nights and just […] do whatever they like”. If the scene’s overarching aesthetic reminds me of anything, it’s Reeves & Mortimer – surreal, anarchic, yet also good-natured and welcoming. Cross that with the gallows humour that comes so naturally to shitposting millennials and you’ve got yourself a weirdly profound experience, as well as the pure funnest night out you’ll have for ages.
In a rather amusing turn of events, the dance music mainstream is now beginning to take notice of all of this. Lobsta B and DJ David Goblin were recently given write-ups on Electronic Beats, HMT Hard Cru held down a set at Resident Advisor’s twentyfour/seven party in London late last year, and DJ Fingerblast contributed a mix to Boiler Room’s Hard Dance series earlier in 2020 (it makes me smile every time I wonder what the platform’s notoriously holier-than-thou fanbase made of him dropping a bounce remix of “Heads, Shoulders, Knees & Toes”).
However, you also sense that no-one’s going to lose sleep if Planet Fun never hosts a room at Dekmantel. Like any other DIY subculture worth its salt this is a robust, self-sufficient scene which has developed organically over time. “About four years ago,” says DJ Fingerblast, “you’d be looking at a handful of parties over the course of a year. More recently you find yourself at something almost every weekend - notably not just in the UK.”
Fundamentally, if you enter into the spirit of things, this scene will be happy to have you. “We’ve had DJs playing at our nights,” says DJ Fingerblast, “who for legal reasons couldn’t play under their established artist names. For example, a well-known producer chose to go by the name of DJ CUM. I think Planet Fun manages to give artists that platform to be totally ridiculous.”