Saturday, October 11, 2008

Notes on a few mixes (but especially "Fabric 41")

With podcasts appearing regularly on seemingly every blog and website in this, the age of rapidshare, I've heard more mixes this year since ... well, ever. The Mole threw a curveball with his Resident Advisor podcast and assembled a collection of 70's soul because he'd been understandably depressed after splitting up with his girlfriend. I loved both the mix and the sentiment -- there are plenty of self-promotional mixes floating around, but not too many that were sound as if they were thrown together in his or her bedroom at 2AM in place of a mood update on their Livejournal page. My mixes probably turn out best when they were made as an extended elaboration on my feelings about a certain person and/or at a certain moment in time, and I'm sure I'm not alone in writing that. The mix is a postcard from that hour or day or week, and is often far more effective at preserving memories than a rambling journal entry.

But despite the volume of material, I had yet to hear a near-flawless, truly excellent techno or house mix. For example, I had strong hopes for Matthew Dear's "Body Language Vol. 7", but found it to be less than the sum of its parts, with too many uneven sections where the momentum was lost (most notably about 30 minutes in, when the mix gets stripped down after a hot start and starts bubbling under when it should have been ready to take off).

I hadn't been a big fan of either the Fabric mix series or Luciano's earlier mixed work (incl. live recordings). Too many minimal mixes tend to take their sweet time before stumbling their way toward a peak of sorts, leaving long stretches of understated plateau and little in the way of euphoria or climax. Combined with the style of Michael Mayer's Fabric mixes, which led to a load of copycat mixes in which the DJ let the tracks run from start to end groove, and you end up with far too many 12-track, 65-minute mixes that seem to drag on forever. Luciano's "Fabric 41" contains none of these flaws. It hits the gas immediately, dispensing completely with any conventional notion of steadily building a mix toward a peak in the middle or at the end, and creates a series of euphoric peaks by being consistently surprising and unpredictable, even while staying within the general format of a continuously mixed minimal set. He'll stretch out a track for a six or seven minutes and follow it up with a couple of shorter cuts that jumble the pace of the mix just enough to keep the listener guessing. By dropping a vocal track only every ten or fifteen minutes, he creates a further element of surprise out of simple track ordering, making the appearance of vocals feel that much more glorious. Of course, the tracks themselves are simply stellar, and from start to finish -- from the rhythm guitar lines of Rhadoo's "Slagare" to Chymera's Gottsching-like "Arabesque"-- they are full of flourishes that set them well apart from plenty of lesser, cookie cutter minimal.

One way to build a mix is to slowly tease and build to a crescendo over many tracks and dozens of minutes, in other words, manipulating the listener's expectations, and then delivering exactly what they expect. Luciano takes the opposite tack on "Fabric 41". You might not know what to expect, but when he gives it to you, it's all good. It's further proof that track selection and the ability to pace a mix are the most important skills that a DJ can have.

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