Review: Sasha & John Digweed, Renaissance: The Mix Collection
Renaissance: The Mix Collection is a remarkable DJ mix in more ways than one. Originally released in 1994 it was one of the first CDs that presented a collection of music that was fully mixed for CD by a DJ. There had been others but none had attracted the attention that Renaissance: The Mix Collection received when it was first released. In many ways it established the DJ mix as a viable format for sale on CDs.
Renaissance: The Mix Collection is made up of three CDs mixed by Sasha and John Digweed who were resident DJs at the Renaissance club in Mansfield, England. The set was re-released in a 10th Anniversary edition in 2004 that was remixed by Sasha and Digweed using then-contemporary technology to improve the sound and with two tracks by the group M People replaced with other tracks because of copyright issues. It’s the 10th Anniversary edition that is being reviewed here.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Renaissance: The Mix Collection is how well it holds up sixteen years later. Club-oriented dance music has changed a great deal since 1994 and Renaissance: The Mix Collection may sound dated to listeners who are into the current dance music scene. However, the fact that this is music that was popular over a decade ago shouldn’t get in the way of hearing that it’s terrific. Each of the three disks is filled with get-up-off-your-ass-and-shake-it dance music. All of the disks are well mixed with smooth transitions and tracks that work well together. Each mix has a subtly different flavor but all of them are high energy and very good. They didn’t call this stuff “rave” for no reason.
Renaissance: The Mix Collection was released at a critical time in the history of dance music. The rave scene had taken hold among the young people in the UK to an extent that some older people were afraid civilization as they knew it was coming to an end. Massive rave parties with as many as 30K to 40K participants were being thrown in empty fields and warehouses all over the UK. The ravers were young, they danced in a frenzy all night and day, they liked their music loud, and they scared the neighbors. Their recreational drug of choice was the untaxed ecstasy rather than the taxable alcohol and this represented a significant loss of income for both pub owners and the government. The government responded with the infamous Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 that criminalized outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people who had gathered for the purpose of listening to music. It also permitted police who suspected a person of going to a rave anywhere within a five-mile radius to send that person out of the area or suffer arrest. As the government did its best to stamp out raves, dance clubs like Renaissance were the viable and legal alternative.
The rave scene that so frightened the good people of England was something of an “everyman” movement. Raves were held in empty places, anyone could go, and a lot of people did. The liner notes for Renaissance: The Mix Collection include a remembrance of the Renaissance club as it was in 1994 that draws a sharp distinction between the patrons of the club and the ravers. Dom Phillips, who wrote the liner notes, goes on and on about how special the club was because it didn’t allow just anyone in. There was a strict dress code and a very tight door policy so that only the special people were allowed inside. The smelly hoi polloi ravers who didn’t have the right labels on their clothing or go to the right hairdressers were not welcome. Phillips is ecstatic in being one of the special people whose superiority was so clearly recognized by his admittance to the club where everyone looked fabulous.
Phillips’ characterization of the Renaissance club as an elitist mecca reminded me very much of the club world in New York during the disco heyday when Studio 54 set itself up as the self-consciously elitist alternative to clubs like Larry Levan’s Paradise Garage, David Mancuso’s The Loft, and Nicky Siano’s The Gallery which were places where you could be anybody and wear anything (and even less as the night wore on) as long as you loved music and loved to dance.
My particular bias is that I automatically assume that people like Phillips who are all about being recognized as one of the special people tend to be icons of empty style combined with little substance. This bias was reinforced when Phillps smugly identified his Renaissance club of 1994 with “the famous New Jersey club Paradise Garage”. The Garage was one of the most storied dance clubs of all time and its resident DJ, Larry Levan, is still revered as one of the DJ gods so it is easy to see why Phillips would want to link it to Renaissance. But New Jersey? The Garage was at 84 King Street in New York City near the border between Soho and the West Village. While not far in miles, it’s light years from New Jersey in almost every other respect. Being someone who is knowledgeable about the dance music world and placing the Garage in New Jersey is like being knowledgeable about the pop/rock music world of the 1960’s and placing the Beatles’ Cavern Club in Dublin. You know the right names to drop which you think indicates that you’re one of the special people but you don’t have much of a clue what you’re talking about.
Then it dawned on me that I was expressing the same level of elitism that I found offensive in Phillips. If I had read the liner notes and knew nothing about the music, I would have never have listened to Renaissance: The Mix Collection assuming that the music would exhibit the same lack of substance as the people who frequented the club where it was played. That would have been a big mistake and a just punishment for falling prey to the same snobbery I was condemning in others. Listen with open ears, live with an open mind. Renaissance: The Mix Collection is a rich and varied set of dance music that is as enjoyable to listen to today as it was when it dropped like a bomb in 1994.
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