Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Walter Gibbons, Jungle Music

In the world of dance music, Walter Gibbons’ reputation is an all or none kind of thing:  People either revere him as an immensely talented and creative pioneer of both live turntable-based mixing and studio remixing or they’ve never heard of him.  I’m guessing most people fall into the latter group which is a shame because the people in the former group have it right.  Walter Gibbons was a monster.

Gibbons became widely known in the very early days of the underground dance scene in New York when he became one of the regular DJs at Galaxy 21.  He was exceptional at extending breaks and beat matching records and could handle the turntables with a precision that rivaled Grandmaster Flash.  Galaxy 21 was an after-hours joint and Gibbons became the DJ the other DJs went to see when their gigs ended.

Ken Cayre, one of the owners of the foundational disco label Salsoul Records, heard Gibbons mix two recordings of Double Exposure’s “Ten Percent” during one of Gibbons’ sets and asked him if he could do the same thing in the studio.  Gibbins said no problem and Cayre asked him to make a remix for Salsoul.  Cayre gave Gibbons three hours in the studio to do it.  In those three hours Gibbons extended the album version of the song by almost three minutes and gave Salsoul a remix that outsold the original by two to one and was widely seen as opening record company eyes to the fact that remixes could provide a lucrative revenue stream.

As Gibbons’ life as a studio remixer grew, his career as a live DJ waned.  His career in the studio would soon follow.  A good deal of his professional downslide was due to Gibbons’ personality and his approach to music.  Gibbons was a creative and original artist who focused on the quality of the music he was making to the exclusion of what anyone else wanted to hear.  As a result, he was often way out in front of the curve making music that many in the dance audience weren’t ready to listen to.  “Set it Off”, the first release from a label Gibbons partially owned, is a good example.  It combined elements of early hip-hop and contemporary dance music in ways neither audience was prepared for.  When first played in clubs it would clear the dance floor.  However, DJs who heard the value of the track made it a regular part of their mix and audiences came to demand it once they became familiar with it.

Gibbons was an intensely focused man and when his interest in the Bible and Christianity turned to zealotry, he became very difficult to work with in the studio.  He refused to work on songs that contained lyrics that he didn’t find uplifting or that celebrated what he saw as the degrading and promiscuous side of homosexuality.  He was intolerant of other’s views and given to delivering sermons in the studio.  Working with him became more trouble than it was worth.  Gibbons spent the last weeks of his life living in a YMCA in New York.  He died of complications from AIDS in 1994.  He was 38.

The core of Gibbons’ musical talent lay in his exquisite understanding of and appreciation for rhythm and percussion.  That talent is on display throughout the 14 tracks on Jungle Music‘s 2 discs.  The first disc focuses on his early mixes for labels like Salsoul and includes remixes of tracks by Gladys Knight, the Salsoul Orchestra and Bettiye Lavette among others.  Some of this material may sound like standard disco remix fare until you realize that when Gibbons built these tracks, there was no standard disco fare.  He was making the mold that so many others would use.

The second disc focuses on his later remixes and it is easy to hear how unique Gibbons was and how far beyond most of his contemporaries he had moved.  It’s no accident that two of the remixes on disc two were done for Arthur Russell, another recently rediscovered giant of the early underground music scene.  Some of  Gibbons’ remixes wouldn’t sound out of place today.

Gibbons has been criminally neglected in terms of making his music available for current audiences.  Jungle Music stands as the exception.  The collection includes two discs of high-quality remixes coupled with a booklet with an extensive essay about Gibbons written by Tim Lawrence the author of the superb Love Saves the Day.  Jungle Music may be hard to find but if you like highly creative, rhythmic dance music or if you have an interest in the pioneers of underground dance music or DJ studio remixing, grab a copy while you can.  There is some exceptionally good music here.

Gibbons’ 12″ mix of Strafe’s “Set It Off”

08/30/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , | 1 Comment

Review: SOS, Club

Ministry of Sound began as a dance club in London that was modeled on New York’s legendary Paradise Garage.  The club opened in 1991.. Ministry of Sound and has since grown to be a multimedia entertainment brand with a record label, radio network, clothing brand etc.  The record label has put out numerous DJ mix series over the years with their Club series being the latest.  CDs in the series are projected to include two discs; one containing a mix the DJ would do on a Saturday night in the club and the second featuring the DJ’s own compositions and remixes.  The collection by SOS is the first in the series.

SOS, which stands for SexOnSubstance, are Omid “16B” Nourizadeh, Demi Hajigeorgiou, and Desyn Masiello.  They were a good choice to kick off the Club series.  Disc 1 does just what’s it’s supposed to do – lay down a dance floor mix that’s tight, right and peak night.  SOS ease you in for maybe two minutes and then hit the 4/4 and start to ramp up the intensity.  Ramp it up , hold, ramp it up, hold  . . . hold, hit it!  Rinse and repeat.  These guys know what they’re doing and they do it well.  Disc one is a straightforward house club mix seasoned with nu-disco and funk and it rocks.  If this one doesn’t get your ass in the air go back to Mom and Dad and ask for a reboot ’cause something ain’t right.

Although the idea for disc 2 was to present a collection of the DJ’s compositions and remixes that’s not really what we get.  SOS are only credited with 2 of the tracks on the second disc.  Five of the remaining 11 tracks were written or co-written by Omar 16B and the rest are by other people.  Some of these are tracks that were released on Omid’s label SoulOnWax.  What connection the others have with SOS is unclear.

As expected of a set that compiles original compositions and remixes, disc 2 doesn’t have the linear drive and power of the club mix on disc one.  If you listen to disc two right after disc one it’s easy to go “meh”.  But that would be a mistake.  Taken on its own terms – in other words, don’t listen to it immediately following disc one – it has its own strengths.

As with disc 1, the music on disc 2 is fairly straightforward house music.  As with a good deal of straightforward house music, there’s a tendency to let 2 bar patterns go on for too long with only minor, if any, variation but this isn’t as big a problem for SOS as it is for some other music producers.  Omid B’s “Sequential 002: Same as You” does a nice job of combining a heavy 4/4 house backbeat with a jazz sax solo.  While still clearly in the House mode, the final three tracks introduce more variation than the others in terms of rhythmic patterns and sonic palattes.  These are the three tracks that don’t have any apparent connection with SOS and they sound like they were mixed by the trio but didn’t fit on the first disc.

Based on Club, SOS’s strengths lie more in the DJ than the music production realm but there are more than a few good tracks on disc 2.  Which is gravy, really, because disc 1 is good enough to justify giving the set a try.

To get a feel for a mix you have to listen to the mix, not individual tracks, but here’s Silver City’s “Pendulo (Pete Herbert edit)” to give you an idea of the kind of music on disc 1

From disc 2, the SOS edit of Latenta Project’s “Beach Combers”

07/23/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: A-Track, Fabriclive.45

Okay, so I downloaded A-Trak’s Fabriclive.45 mix in WAV format.  Twenty-five tracks mashed up by A-Trak, looked like it could be pretty good.  Launched it in my music player and before I knew what was happening there was a party going on in my computer.  I tried to write this review while the mix was playing but the fucking letters kept jumping around the screen and making new words.  “We hear the bass and we say woah”, “BASS! (woah, that was Bootsy), “DO IT!”, “You know it’s gonna be alright – be alright.”  “Get down – unh”.  WTF??!!???  This is impossible.

Figured, fuck it, I’ll play a game.  Write the review later.  Had some of that recent DLC for Mass Effect 2 I hadn’t tried.  Check that out.  Loaded the game and there’s Shepard rolling with that blue-skinned alien chick.  This can’t be happening.  Well, Bioware’s cool right?  Maybe they got something goin’ with Fabric so you get this cool Easter Egg if you run the game and the mix at the same time.  Yeah, that’s gotta be it.

Heard that the Rise of the Godslayer expansion had turned Age of Conan from a disaster into an MMO worth playing so I thought I’d check that out.  You’ve got to be kidding me.  Conan?  Waving his hands in the air and shakin’ his ass like a fuck toy?  “I see you baby . . .”  Dude dances like an elephant and you don’t even want to think about him trying to do that LeBron robot thing.

Then some fool in the mix starts goin’ on about his dick.  Daniel Woodis doing “I’m the Ish”.  The mix drops dead like a corpse fell out of an airplane and landed in the middle of the dancefloor.  Splat.    Conan looks embarrassed and tears a Pictish warrior apart with his bare hands.  By Crom!   “I’m the Ish” killed the mix.  wtf was A-Trak thinking?

But wait.  The computer don’t like it either and the words stopped jumping around the screen.  I can get the review written.  Yeah, okay, I’ll describe what just happened and then list the good tracks.  Okay, the mix starts out with . . . oh, shit.  Here it comes again.  Alexis Latrobe’s “Aurora”.  There go the words on the screen.  “Get Down”.

I open up the panel on my computer and my motherboard is a motherfucker.  All those little gizmos jumping around waving their little wires.  “Do it!”

Fuck this review shit.  You want a party?  Check it out.

Opening segment from Fabriclive.45 which begins with A-Trak’s version of his own “Say Whoa”.  Compare with DJ Spinna’s remix on A-Trak’s mix CD Infinity+1


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06/28/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: M.A.N.D.Y., Renaissance, The Mix Collection

M.A.N.D.Y. are Berlin-based DJs and producers Patrick Bodmer and Phillipp Jung who are known for their superb mixing skills.  One story has it that an estimated half a million dancers were so deep into M.A.N.D.Y.’s groove at the 2008 Love Parade that they refused to come in out of the pouring rain.  Okay, drugs were probably involved, but still . . .

The kind of mixing skills that could keep a half mill dancers, stoned or straight, going in a downpour are on ample display in M.A.N.D.Y.’s Renaissance The Mix Collection.  They excel at virtually every aspect of creating a mix.  Tracks flow seamlessly both in terms of the choice of which track comes next and the segue between cuts.  M.A.N.D.Y.’s additions are integrated so smoothly into the sequenced track it’s difficult to separate the two sources of music.  They mix styles, rhythms and vocals/instrumentals so that the flow never seems to become repetitious or boring.

Although both discs are on the mellow side, disc one is more downtempo and disc two is uptempo.  Both discs are very easy to listen to and are likely to appeal to both newcomers to electronic dance music and experienced listeners.  These guys are very good.

We listen to and enjoy a lot of DJ mix CDs and have built up a large collection of this type of music.  Typically a mix comes into the house, stays in our rotation for as long as we enjoy it and then gets racked and forgotten.  A very few are returned to a time or two.  And then there are the select mixes that we come back to again and again.  M.A.N.D.Y.’s Renaissance The Mix Collection is one of those.

06/28/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Review, Danny Howells, Choice

The idea driving Azuli’s Choice series is interesting – ask a well-known DJ to compile and mix a collection of the tracks that are their own personal all-time favorites.  Danny Howell’s Choice includes two discs of music and a DVD (which I haven’t watched).  The set also has a booklet with an essay about Howells and a brief commentary on each track by Howells.

Howells arranged each of the two music discs as a continuous mix.  Disc 1 tends toward tracks that he used often in the early stages of his career and because of this, it hangs together pretty well as a dance mix.  Disc 2 is where things start to get a little squirrelly.  Howells includes tracks that have personal meaning for him outside the club interspersed with the more typical club-oriented tunes.  At one point we get one of those spoken/sung, poem/song, loungey/sound effect things from Japan (“Ghosts”) followed by 3.5 mins of the drum break from the live version of Iron Butterfly’s “In a Gadda Da Vida” followed by Howell’s remix of The Temptations “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone”.  This sounds like it ought to be a mess but Howells is so good at putting together a mix that he makes it work.  The transition from Iron Butterfly to The Temptation is especially sweet.  The set ends with a Carly Simon track.

As interesting as the idea behind Choice is, collections like this usually end up sounding like someone else’s mix tape – a collection of tracks that mean a lot to the person who put them together but just sound like a random collection of songs to everyone else.  While the nature of the project means Choice will speak more clearly to Howells than you or I, Howells great skill as a sequencer and mixer largely avoids the somebody-else’s-mix-tape problem.  As a result, we get a collection of tracks that’s mostly enjoyable, always interesting and unlike any other mix you’re likely to hear.

06/26/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Various Artists, Bang Gang 12 Inches Presents a Radicool Compilation

Ok, I’m a sucker for this kind of thing.  Bang Gang 12 Inches Presents a Radicool Compilation is a two-disc label compilation from Bang Gang 12 Inches a small record label out of Sydney.  Some of it is really good, some of it is really not, and a good amount of it is highly derivative (like “let’s make a track that sounds exactly like” derivative) of bands like Justice and Daft Punk.  It doesn’t hurt that I really like Justice and Daft Punk but the key thing is that BG12″ sounds like it’s an outfit run by guys who just love music.  Everyone in the business end of the music business from the sleaziest company exec on up and down says “Oh we just love the music” but BG12″‘s Radicool Compilation sounds like it’s real.

A Radicool Compilation is all over the place.  Disc 1 is a collection of unmixed tracks and disc 2 is a mix by label bosses Doom and Hoodrat.  They lean toward the kind of driving dance rock that Daft Punk and Justice do so well but they recognize quality and publish tracks over a much wider range of music than that.  Disc 1 opener “Hello Cat” by Shazam sounds like ’70s slow funk updated for the oughties.    Golden Bug’s terrific “Assasin” is what happens when hip hop and dance rock have a love child.  Damn Arms “Destination Pt. 1” is an old-skool disco cut. zZz’s “Lion” features a chiming, ringing keyboard that sounds like  a titanium piano until the band says “Hey, let’s do Justice now” midway through the track.  And so it goes.  Collections like this are a prime reason why it’ll be a bad thing if the whole music world goes to downloading individual tracks.  You need the 75 mins or so of a CD to allow the range of music BG12″ is into to have its effect.

The variety of music presented on A Radicool Compilation is wide enough that everybody is likely to find something they don’t like.  Some of it really isn’t very good and some of it is too derivative of other bands for it’s own good.  But the hits far outweigh the misses and if you like Justice or Daft Punk you will enjoy a lot of what A Radicool Compilation has to offer.  If nothing else, labels like Bang Gang 12 Inches that are still doing it because “it’s all about the music, man”, deserve some love.

“Assasin” by Golden Bug

and WhiteNoise’s “Harlequin”

06/23/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: James Zabiela, Renaissance The Masters Series

Recently I reviewed James Zabiela’s Renaissance The Masters Series – Life.  That CD was a follow-up to the album being reviewed here, Renaissance The Masters Series.  Like the the other albums in Renaissance’s Masters Series, Renaissance The Masters Series is a two disc collection.

In the earlier review I pointed out the inane voice overs that were inserted in the mix that were supposed to be profound observations about life but came across as cringe-worthy and juvenile.  I wondered why someone in the CD production chain hadn’t brought some common sense to the project and pointed out that the voice-over bits were embarrassing.  As it turns out, maybe somebody did because the extraneous material Zabiela has dumped into the mix is even worse here on the earlier album than it was on the later.

The same I-think-I’m-deep-but-I’m-only-just-too-young-to-know-the-difference voice-overs are again present but this time they are accompanied by “field recordings” (lol) that Zabiela made during the course of his day.  These field recordings turn out to be things like random street noises, garbled airport announcements, and the sound of rain falling.  If you think the background noise of unintelligible PA announcements is of little interest when you’re the one in the airport, just think how fascinating they must be when it’s someone else who happened to be in an airport.  The justification for adding this garbage to the mix is that disc one is supposed to capture the course of Zabiela’s day while disc two represents the mix he plays in the club that night.  Capture the course of Zabiela’s day as he walks down the street and goes to the airport?  Who cares?  This is a level of self-absorption and self-regard that is almost embarrassing to observe.  Zabiela really needs to get over himself.

As with the CD reviewed earlier, the music and the mix on Renaissance The Masters Series is good if you can put up with the extraneous junk.  Disc 1 is laid back and disc 2 is more uptempo as befits the idea that 2 is supposed to represent a club mix.  Again as with the previously reviewed CD, Zabiela tends toward a combination of breakbeat and tech house in his mix.  He sequences and segues well and has a pronounced ability to work with rhythms that are more complex and sophisticated than the pounding 4/4 that characterizes a lot of house music.  On the basis of his own “Darkness.2”, Zabiela also shows promise as a music producer.

One again, Zabiela has produced a pair of very good mixes that are marred by an overweening sense of self-importance.  Disc 2 is better in this regard than disc 1.  If you can get past the vanity, there’s a lot to enjoy here.

“Darkness.2 from Renaissance The Masters Series

06/19/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: James Zabiela, Renaissance The Masters Series – Life

The Masters Series is yet another series of DJ mixes from the UK club/record label Renaissance.  James Zabiela is a UK DJ who first came to prominence in 2000 when he won a contest for home grown DJs run by Muzik Magazine.  Life is his second mix in the Renaissance Masters Series; a review of his previous mix can be found here.

Zabiela first attracted attention as a DJ who was both skilled with turntables and oriented toward the breakbeat sub-genre of electronic dance music.  Breakbeat tends to shift away from the heavy emphasis on an unvarying 4/4 rhythm that characterizes much House music and focuses on more complex rhythms and counterpoint, syncopation and polyrhythms.  Zabiela’s interest in breakbeat can be heard to great effect on Renaissance The Masters Series – Life.

There’s good news and bad news about this mix.  The bad news is that the music is occasionally interrupted  by some guy making portentous pronouncements about life and the meaning of it all – or something.  Whatever.  It’s shallow and pompous to the point of making you cringe every time he opens his mouth.  If you’re in a state of glucose deprivation from a night of serious dancing, are several hours into a thoughtlessly mixed drug cocktail, and are old enough to think you have attained some insight into the world and young enough to not know that you really haven’t, these pronouncements might sound insightful. if not they’re just embarrassingly juvenile.  It’s hard to believe somebody somewhere along the line didn’t say “Uhh, wait a minute, let’s rethink these voice overs” during the production of this mix.  They’re there, they’re inane, they’re brief; you just have to live with it.

The good news is that the music is terrific.  Zabiela starts very mellow and slowly builds in complexity.  However, he almost always chooses interesting music so that even the most laid back parts of these mixes – and they can be very laid back – are always enjoyable and intriguing.  Zabiela both sequences music and transitions between tracks very well which gives these mixes a feeling of coherence.  This sense of unity is bolstered by his heavy reliance on techno-oriented house music which ties the mix together on a timbral level without leading to everything sounding the same.

If you can deal with the voice-overs and would like a mix that tends more toward the laid back than toward a hands-in-the-air club raver, Zabiela’s Renaissance The Masters Series – Life is highly enjoyable.

06/16/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Danny Howells, Renaissance The Mix Collection

Renaissance, the high-profile dance club in the UK, pretty much instigated the the DJ mix as a viable CD product when Renaissance, the record label, released the first Renaissance The Mix Collection mixed by Sasha and John Digweed in 1994.  (Yikes! Can anyone say “Slaves to branding”?)  They’ve kept the series up over the years and this is renowned DJ Danny Howells’ two-disc contribution released in 2008.

Although I reviewed Howells Miami mix for Global Underground earlier, his Renaissance The Mix Collection was the one I tuned in to first.  Howells is usually characterized as one of the select group of top-tier, world-class, globe hopping, super club DJs and listening to his mixes it’s easy to hear why.  He has a deft touch at sequencing tracks that work well together, he is a master at building and releasing momentum throughout the set, and he adapts his added material to the track rather than crush the track under his “signature” sound.  All of this taken together produces a mix that carries you along from start to finish and doesn’t get tedious along the way.

Disc one opens with Cushty’s “La La Li” which is a mellow melodic number with crashing surf in the background.  This description will instantly make a lot of people think “Ugh.  Another cheesy, vapid Ibiza mix.”  Not to worry, Howell’s isn’t going there.  He takes the track out with some sweet hand drum percussion that is then used as an instrumental foundation for giving coherence to the first several tracks on the disc.  From there Howells takes off using percussion interludes that develop from the preceding track and segue to the next to tie the entire mix together.

The first disk ends with three tracks that were either produced or reworked by Howells specifically for Renaissance The Mix Collection.  The second disc picks up right where the first left off with Howells’ “Laid Out” and finishes with Howell’s edit of Apparat’s “Fractales”.  In all, 7 of the 28 tracks in the mix were produced or reworked by Howells for Renaissance The Mix Collection.

I enjoy Howell’s mixes quite a bit and Renaissance The Mix Collection is the kind of set I can listen to happily at any time.  If deep groove, melodic dance music, and expert sequencing and mixing sound like your thing, check Howells’ Renaissance The Mix Collection out.

Sven Weisemann’s “Kiss of Abana” from Renaissance The Mix Collection

06/15/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: Ewan Pearson, Fabric 35

I very much enjoyed Ewan Pearson’s mix for the Kompakt label, We Are Proud of Our Choices, so I looked for other mix CDs by Pearson and found Fabric 35.  Good move.  Pearson creates masterful mixes and Fabric 35 is a terrific CD.

There isn’t any part of putting a mix together that Pearson isn’t good at.  His segues from one track to the next are seamless even when the tracks are wildly disparate.  I bought Fabric 35 as a single track download (in wav format) from Juno Downloads and in places his transitions are so smooth I’m not quite sure where one track ends and the next begins.  Pearson also rarely lets interest flag with tracks that repeat the same few bars over and over again or sequential tracks that are highly similar in timbre or rhythmic structure.

A major part of what makes Fabric 35 so enjoyable are the tracks Pearson has chosen.  With the single exception of  100Hz’s “Trustlove” which hits the dancefloor DOA like a corpse dropped from the rafters in midset (at least for me, others like this track) every track on Fabric 35 is interesting and fits in the flow.  Many of the tracks feature dynamite vocals beginning with set opener Jahcoozi’s Robert Johnson’s 6Am X-Ray Italo Rework of “Ali McBills”, and moving through the Prince inspired Konrad Black Mix of Snax’ “Honeymoon’s Over” and Tobi Neumann’s Swinging Remix of Johannes Heil’s “All for One” and finally ending up with the astonishing “Berghain” from Aril Brikha.

Reigning over all of Fabric 35‘s many strengths is the groove.  It’s low, dark and relentless.  Ewan Pearson is a master and Fabric 35 is a masterclass in how to put together a mix.  Recommended.

05/28/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.

05/03/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Martyn, fabric 50

Fabric is a club that opened in London in 1999.  In 2001 they began a series of monthly CD mix releases featuring well-known DJs that alternate between the fabric and Fabriclive headings.  At the time Martyn’s studio mix was released there had been 49 discs in each of the two series and the feeling had arisen in some corners that the Fabric releases had gone stale.  They needed to shake it up.

They did.  Martyn is a Dutch DJ who currently lives and works out of the Washington DC area (Yikes! he lives somewhere near me!)  who is know for being both the high quality and innovative originality of his mixes.  He gave Fabric just what they needed; fabric 50 is a knockout.

One of the more appealing aspects of fabric 50 is that Martyn isn’t afraid to mix different types of music into his set.  He smoothly mixes dubstep, techno, umpteen kinds of house and a number of other micro-niches with names that only have meaning for the truly obsessed into a thoroughly entertaining set.  The variety of music on display makes fabric 50 a terrific CD for listeners who may know little or nothing about dance music to sample a fairly wide selection of many of the types of club music that are currently in the air.  Find what you like, follow it up, and open up a whole new world of goodness.

That bit about “smoothly” points to another great strength of fabric 50.  Martyn really know how to put music together.  Tracks flow into each other seamlessly most of the time.  Styles, rhythms, timbres, instrumentation consistently vary and flow so the mix never falls into the monotonous rut that can easily bedevil dance music.

The illustration on the CD packaging shows a dancer being held in the palm of a big hand.  Nice image for this set; you’re in good hands with Martyn.  If Fabric can reinvigorate their two series with sets of this quality the coming months are going to be very good ones indeed for those listeners who enjoy electronic dance music.

04/23/2010 Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Ewan Pearson, We Are Proud of Our Choices

In a recent review of Hernan Cattaneo’s mix for the Renaissance Masters series I noted that the mix has the characteristic that  any 10 minute segment tends to sound more or less like any other 10 minute segment.  Ewan Pearson’s We Are Proud of Our Choices is a good example of a mix that completely avoids this problem and is much more interesting as a result.

Pearson does a nice job of sequencing in his mix and the tracks he chooses differ sufficiently in instrumentation, tonal quality and rhythmic structure that it never feels like you’re stuck in a rut.  In addition, the individual tracks in the mix usually develop quickly enough to have their own sense of forward propulsion.  Combine this with the momentum that comes from Pearson’s sequencing and you end up with a mix that almost always feels like it’s going somewhere.

Going somewhere is only good if it’s somewhere you want to go.  We Are Proud of Our Choices relies on rolling midtempo grooves that carry the listener along effortlessly.  Tempos are generally in the 120 bpm to 126 bpm range with a solid backbeat combined with periodic accents on the one which gives the music a rolling or loping feel that is very easy to fall into and ride.  Pearson does a nice job of mixing in rhythmic variation so that there’s almost no opportunity for boredom to set in and attention to wander.

We’ve been listening to a lot of dance mix CDs lately and We Are Proud of Our Choices is one we come back to time and again.  Expertly sequenced with compelling momentum and groove it avoids the samey-samey problem of many dance mixes and is easy to recommend.

03/31/2010 Posted by | music, music reviews | , , , | 4 Comments