One recurring topic of conversation this year has been about the so-called death of the commercial mixed compilation in the age of digital reproduction. For instance, websites like Filter27, NewMixes and Tongless among others (usually Russian, weirdly enough) are hosting free mixes such as Radio 1’s world-famous weekly ‘Essential Mix’ series, while P2P networks are offering live recordings of DJ sets from all major—and minor—trendsetters in dance music. You also have an increasing numbers of podcasts popping up here and there on a regular basis: individual artists such as Tiga, Kissy Sell Out, The Bang Gang Deejays or Black Strobe all offered free selections this year directly to your iTunes; online magazines such as Ibiza Voice, Pitchfork Media, and Resident Advisor (!) are giving away high-quality recordings from underground dance’s own favorite players; and now even record labels are jumping on the bandwagon, Fabric London being the most recent with very personal mixes from the likes of club regulars Craig Richards and Andrew Weatherall. Why, people are asking, would music buyers therefore want to spend their precious money on the likes of Body Language Vol. 4 when Dixon’s Sonar set, made more or less of the exact same tracks, is available on Soulseek for free?
Paradoxically, then, and maybe as a confrontational kick in the Internet’s teeth, mixed compilations were still going strong this year...and greedy music fans were somehow still interested in them! Fuck, even some of these recent months’ key releases were 2CD compilations (the At the Controls series, Get Physical’s Monza Club, Gui Boratto’s Addicted, Freakshow: Cocoon Ibiza Summer Mix by André Galuzzi & Raresh and Issst just to name a few), and it’s not even unusual anymore to see triple-disc albums (Anthony Rother’s We are Punks comes to mind), which is proof that people are not just downloading, but also buying.
"Mixed compilations are not just simple collections of random and discrete pieces of music put together in an attempt to make a few bucks out of music fans."
The mix series is also in robust health. The legendary DJ-Kicks, for example, is still following its self-imposed two-album-a-year routine: in 2007, after recent installments from the likes of Annie and Erlend Oye, !K7 pursued the producer-on-the-decks trend with diverse yet remarkably coherent mixes from Hot Chip and Booka Shade. The famous club-turned-record-label Fabric is also still releasing on a regular (i.e. monthly, for fuck’s sake!) basis what is starting to look like the most impressive series out there right now, if not ever. In 2007, Fabric delivered party-starting mixes from Spank Rock and Krafty Kuts as well as much-talked-about offerings from Ellen Allien, Ewan Pearson and Ricardo Villalobos (whose terribly long-overdue Fabric 36 drastically polarized opinions...just like any of his releases, really). With an outstanding attention to packaging (such as that still stunning metallic box in which the CD comes in) and ever-changing but always beautiful artwork, the Fabric mix series, both in terms of form and content, is designed to satisfy both anal-retentive collectors and the most demanding of dance music aficionados, thus making it as vital and mandatory as any artist album or live performance out there these days.
On all of those accounts, the 2007 vitality and viability of the commercial DJ mix format shouldn’t be surprising to anyone, mostly because a recorded DJ set has nothing to do with a live deejaying act in front of an audience: they’re different in aims, contexts, energies, track picking, and arrangement. The mixed CD thus constitutes, as opposed to MP3 live sets available in variable length and of questionable quality everywhere online, a valuable and pertinent artistic format in its own right. For instance, it is where a DJ can self-articulate and self-promote. It also allows for a more personal selection informed by—but not relying solely on—codified dancefloor imperatives. Its attention to detail gains from repetitive listens, while a live performance is forever lost in the here-and-now immediacy of its execution. It is not obscured by special requests from annoyingly drunk fans and shady promoters’ lies about the mixing board and the sound system’s quality.
"They are are a well-founded, unique, and proper way music can – and should – be experienced by."
Crucially, mix CDs also thrive on a stimulating assortment of aesthetics. Some mixes are metaphorical, for instance, making sense of the abrupt juxtaposition of stylistically opposed cuts (Shir Khan’s Maximize, The Bang Gang Deejays’ Light Sound Dance, A-Trak’s Dirty South Dance). Some are unifying, seamlessly gliding tracks over one another (the aforementioned Ellen Alien, Ewan Pearson or Villalobos albums being cases in point). Some mixes are prospective, paving the way for and legitimizing upcoming trends (Jesse Rose’s Body Language mix on Get Physical made fidget house pretty much acceptable). Some are retrospective, serving as a hefty reminder of a genre’s or a label’s pertinence (as displayed on Troy Pierce’s Something More compilation for M_nus or Patrick Chardronnet’s Grand Cru mix for Connaisseur). Some are sadly uninspired (Claude Von Stroke’s regrettable take on a successful series), creepily long (Prins Thomas’ psychedelic and way too out-there Cosmo Galactic Prism), or a tad predictable (The Trentemoller Chronicles or Soulwax’s Most of the Remixes… bonus mix). Some are better creative statements than any proper artist album the DJ ever released, like Agoria's stellar selection for At the Controls or Château Flight’s recent era-blending mix on Get Physical. In short, mixed compilations are not just simple collections of random and discrete pieces of music put together in an attempt to make a few bucks out of music fans: they are a well-founded, unique, and proper way music can – and should – be experienced by.
In the liner notes of the (quite glorious if you ask me) Booka Shade DJ-Kicks album, Guardian journalist Jim Butler wrote: “Rare are those DJ mixes that manage to be both about the moment and forever. In the search for one, it almost inevitably follows that the other is lost.” But when a DJ gets it right, both in terms of track selection and track combination, it really does feel like he or she is talking directly to you, doesn’t it? Away from sweaty and smelly dancefloors, toxic smoke machines, and exuberant dancers hogging all the surrounding space for themselves, the DJ mix is creating, right in your very own personal comfort zone (for me, it’s in the car driving on those interminable Canadian highways), not only an imaginary link between the past and the future but also between the DJ and the fan, thereby making you feel, in that very moment, like you’re a little bit special and could live forever, too. And when a DJ mix can have such an effect on you, as those selected here as the Best Compilations of 2007 by the RA staff, then I guess you can say they’re pretty much, well, truly essential. - Stéphane Girard
10. DJ A-Trak - Dirty South Dance [Obey Records]
“The thing that makes this such a fucking amazing mix CD is that A-Trak has found a way to put all the most ‘obvious’ tracks on a mix (‘E Talking’, ‘Hustler’) but make it all sound new and fresh by putting southern rap vocals over the top, and by producing his own custom remixes of old favourites. It’s infectious. Even if you hate poppy electrohouse normally, you can’t help but smile at how friendly and fun-loving it all is. If you want something to put on to start the house party, or to rev up your energy when you’re getting ready to go out, you won’t find better this year.” – Jacob Wright
09. Henrik Schwarz - Live [Studio !K7]
"Though Henrik Schwarz's productions stand up well on their own, Live suggests they're best heard sewn together into a gorgeous and flowing document of his talents. Many of his tracks were built during his improvised live shows, and in that spirit, this disc combines bits and pieces of sets spanning continents and years. The selections unfold naturally and evolve into each other, as if predestined to end up side by side. But the most stunning facet of Live is how human and alive the tunes feel. It's evident in the loose jangle running through his Kuniyuki remix, the calming marimba pattern and rootsy upstroke of 'Stop, Look & Listen' and the busted, live band funk of 'Leave My Head Alone Brain'. It's the refreshing sound of people outnumbering computers. You won't find a more vital or cohesive deep house mix this year." - Steve Mizek
08. Optimo - Walkabout [Endless Flight]
"Taking their cue from Throbbing Gristle’s throbbing take on industrial and post-punk electronics (incidentally, TB’s ‘Walkabout’ is the mix’s opening track), on Walkabout the Optimo guys dig into the darker and colder corners of their 12” collections, mixing vintage digital noises from Suicide and Pan Sonic with recent minimalist cuts (Thomas Brinkmann’s ‘Momomexico’, Marc Houle’s ‘Bay of Figs’). They’re even giving in to current semi-hits by showcasing the Smith & Hack celebratory remix of Herbert’s ‘Moving Like a Train’… but don’t expect this album to soundtrack breezy terraces this summer: ‘Walkabout’ is precisely suited for the neurotic hours of the early morning, alone at home, watching paint dry and flies die." - Stéphane Girard
07. Ellen Allien - Fabric 34 [Fabric Records]
“Bpitch Control boss Ellen Allien has always managed to give techno a melodic, joyful and innocent feel. Be it fragmented and delicate vocals on her album ‘Berlinette’, or the fusion of rough beats and Apparat's strings on last year's awesome ‘Orchestra of Bubbles’, she has a gift for making music that not only rocks but has a unique warmness to it. Thankfully, she's managed to maintain the same aural aesthetic on this excellent mix for Fabric, and has produced one of the best in the series. Although 2007 is only halfway gone, I'd venture that if you get this and Optimo's 'Walkabout' you'll be hard pressed to find a better pair of electronic mix CDs this year.” - Daniel Bates
06. Various - Shut Up And Dance! Updated [Ostgut Tonträger]
"This is an unexpected collaboration between ballet and klub that brings together nsi, Sleeparchive, Âme, Luciano and Luke Slater's 7th Plain (resurrected). A notch or two down from usual club tempos, the specially commissioned tracks contributed by each artist—designed for a very different dance floor than Berghain’s regular Saturday night crowd—are transpositions: fully-developed, cohesive compositions that show each producer exploring the edges of their usual territory. From the classical-sounds-to-synth-stab transition of nsi’s layered opening ‘Bridge and Tunnel People’, through Âme’s fluttering, spacey centrepiece ‘Fiori’ to Luke Slater’s expansive closing ‘Symphony for Surrealists’, the compilation holds together with a gratifying lightness of touch and pace while serving up opulence, innovation, restraint, humour and groove in spades." - Janet Leyton-Grant
05. Lee Burridge - Balance 12 [EQ]
"Breaking from the proggier sounds of previous volumes in the series, Lee Burridge's Balance 012 is a gargantuan three-disc epic of modern European minimal. For my money, it's one of the most memorable mixes in series yet, right up there with classics by James Holden and Jimmy Van M. Why? Well, instead of just another pile of (nice) tracks, it's a mix which succeeds because of acutely honed DJ instincts. It might be over three hours long, but it has a cohesive feel, no doubt due to the years Burridge has racked the clubs, living out of a suitcase on his seemingly never-ending '365' world tour. Balance 12 has an all too rare and genuinely titillating night-at-the-club feel that seems borne out of experience." - Sean-Michael Yoder
04. Dixon - Body Language Vol. 4 [Get Physical Music]
"Body Language Vol. 4 is a re-presentation of house proper, replete with melodies, choruses, vocals, and in some cases, even songs. The ‘showcase’ feel of the programming hints that Dixon has either sweated over the selections, or that they’ve evolved as tried-and-true chains of association through regular gigging. The neat segues between tracks bespeak a DJ who understands not only how to use editing software (unless this is a flawless analogue mix) but who also understands the crucial one to two to three of sequencing. Dixon has an all-important master plan, and it’s at work throughout the mix. The overall effect of this plan is melodic richness, programmatic discretion and the occasional moment of inspiration."
– Peter Chambers
03. Ewan Pearson - Fabric 35 [Fabric Records]
“In a dance world where tracks have seemingly come to dominate once more in recent years, the fact that Pearson manages to convince you that there are still dance “songs" out there in abundance is almost miraculous. Fabric 35 also flits through dance sub-genres, and sees Pearson benefitting strongly from his lack of explicit connections or allegiances to any labels or trends. He remains a DJ who is out on his own in terms of aesthetic and style, leaping from country to country and from scene to scene in his selections, without losing any coherence in the process. You may never quite be sure what you'll get from Ewan Pearson, but you can almost always be sure it'll be worth getting.” – Ronan Fitzgerald
02. Agoria - At the Controls [Resist Music]
“Never mind the album’s artwork, with the fucked-up hands with too many thumbs and disproportionate fingers, because there is nothing clumsy or uncoordinated about Agoria’s craft. As demonstrated on this 2CD, 120-minute selection, the French DJ is fully in control (duh) and is taking the listeners on a commonplace yet proverbial “musical trip”, and is not afraid to have somber, chamber music-like moods sitting next to contemporary techno. Thanks to Agoria, the At the Controlsmix series appears to be one of the finest and era-defining out there right now, and it’s not only setting a sequence of elevated norms for itself: it is quickly becoming the canon by which every other recorded mixes will have to be judged by.”
- Stéphane Girard
01. Ricardo Villalobos - Fabric 36 [Fabric Records]
"As an artistic statement, Fabric 36 is a very subtle pleasure, one that allows Villalobos to gently fuck with your expectations while doing what he’s always done, unbidden. Then again, this is an artist who’s expected to do the unexpected, while the self-appointed techno cognoscenti are (likewise) expected to praise him for it. But with delicacy and charming skill, this 'mix', and most of the ‘tracks’ it contains, seem to duck all of that. I guess that makes it the authentic work of an artist, if not an authentic work of art – and definitely worth a spin."
– Peter Chambers
What are your top compilations or mix CDs of 2007?
Have your say in the RA forums
Voters: Jeremy Armitage, Chris Arden, David Berkley, Philipp Cerfontaine, Peter Chambers, Richard Chinn, Paul Clement, Angus Dawson, Tami Fenwick, Stéphane Girard, James Glazebrook, Mohson Iqbal, Janet Leyton-Grant, Alex Macpherson, Chris Mann, Joshua Meggitt, Steve Mizek, Patrick Munoz, Siana Petro, Carl Ritger, Nick Sabine, Colin Shields, Björn Schaeffner, Lee Smith, Christopher Thomarios, Nik Torrens, Enrique Vanegas, Rick Warner, Jacob Wright, Sean-Michael Yoder and Robbie Younan.