Truth be told, Agoria never really cared about being fashionable. If opening his Cute & Cult mix  with the ‘Mulholland Drive’ theme is not (pretentious?) proof enough, let me remind you that he didn’t have a problem inviting Tricky to sing on his first album (at a time when even Tricky himself felt he was passé) or 70’s gloom king Peter Murphy (for the pogoing kids down the front: Murphy was the main singer in Bauhaus and the godfather of everything remotely Gothic-chic and pale-faced) on his latest. That said, it doesn’t mean his music, both as a producer or as a DJ, is insufflated with low-spiritedness and cheap, calculated misery. Au contraire.
The At the Controls mix series, launched by the UK-based label Resist last year, was initially heartwarmingly received here at RA, the James Holden and M.A.N.D.Y. mixes being named respectively third and first Top Compilations of the Year (how is that for a critical accolade, eh?) in our latest writers poll. Then, earlier this fall, Claude VonStroke’s contribution to the series was, weirdly enough, so disastrously mundane and luster-lacking it made you wonder about the series viability and Resist’s own long-term intuition. Hopefully, Agoria is quickly (only a few weeks after the previous VonStroke release, that is, as if the label A&R people were fully aware of their faux-pas) bringing it back to the high standards set by the Border Community head honcho and the Get Physical maestros.
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” (literally: you’re on the Lyon-Lille TGV and, at some point, wondering about “Belgium’s direction” or hanging in the “tourbus back”) and is not afraid to have somber, chamber music-like moods sitting next to contemporary techno. At times, an almost creepy aura even permeates the mix, with atmospheric introductory cuts from Daniel Teruggi (‘Instant d’Hiver’) and Unit (‘Your Arrival is Our Arrival’) or sinister Murcof (‘Cosmos 1’), Planningtorock (‘When Are You Gonna Start’ and its disturbing vocals) and Stefan Goldmann (the doleful choir-sampling ‘Lunatic Fringe’) moments. Which is not to say that Agoria doesn’t know how to dance, mind you, because we’re also treated to everything from minimal ‘feminine’ techno à la Anja Schneider (‘Belize’), Jennifer Cardini (her ‘Tuesday Paranoia’ collaboration with Shonky) and Chloe (the glacial ‘Be Kind To Me’) to distinguished yet jacking house from Catz N Dogz (‘Searching’) and Efdemin (‘Acid Bells’). Thrown in there is also playful IDM from Plaid (CD1 closer ‘OI’), troubadour pop from Findlay Brown (that Beyond the Wizards Sleeve’s reanimation of ‘Losing the Will to Survive’) and Apparat’s glorious ‘Arcadia’, a track that sounds like Thom Yorke on some sort of hallucinogenic drug. In short, Agoria’s sometime unfashionable tastes (exhibit A: that aforementioned Bauhaus track that opens CD2) are here elevated to those of an impeccable collector and characterized by a witty and fascinating yet natural sense of progression and aural storytelling.
I am glad to add that all this twirling diversity is, in accordance with the series’ aesthetic, coherently and masterfully mixed: it’s all done with a typically French and Cartesian retenue, never messy nor disorganized. Sure, there are some little technical details you can complain about on CD2, like the awkward transition between Telepopmusik and Guy Gerber & Chaim, the one-second intentional but annoying blanks you can spot here and there, and that Apparat album-closing track (the same one Ellen Allien used earlier this year to end her Fabric mix), but overall, these are minor flaws that only make the album feel more human and alive, something the ClaudeVon Stroke mix – and a lot of commercially-available DJ mixes, come to think of it – was so devoid of.
For reasons so evident for me I don’t feel the need to enumerate them all here, a recorded DJ mix has nothing to do with a live deejaying performance in front of an audience: they’re different in aims, contexts, energies, and, obviously, track picking and arrangement. The mixed CD thus constitutes, as opposed to MP3-recorded live sets available in variable length and of questionable quality everywhere online, a valuable and pertinent artistic format in its own right. Bar the Claude VonStroke misstep, the At the Controls mix series, thanks to Agoria, 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.