Taking a glance at the vast track-listing for the three disc Balance 15 release, the label's democratic style is reflected in Saul's track selection. Underground darlings like Model 500 and Rhythm & Sound sit happily alongside currently fashionable dance floor producers like Sebo K and Shonky. There is nothing wrong with this approach, although the mix is likely to divide listeners. It is easy to imagine the release pulling an equal audience of serious "heads" exclusively focused on the underground as well as more casual dance fans. So, does Saul manage to toe the line between the semi-commercial and the underground on his mix as well as he does with his label?
The first CD here seems to focus largely on music with a disco association. With appearances by Todd Terje, Daniel Wang, Chromatics, Tensnake, Hercules & Love Affair and Capracara you'd expect the mix to be dripping with dramatic emotion. Unfortunately, it just doesn't work. Saul's approach—to keep the groove firmly anchored at a low BPM, and to clinically mix and layer songs—doesn't lend itself well to this style of music. Anyone who has seen Prins Thomas, Todd Terje or Rub N' Tug spin these kinds of tunes live knows that unexpected changes of pace and a little bit of grit in the mixing is essential to transmit the raw energy of disco. It's a bit shocking to see just how little momentum gets generated when a more delicate approach is taken to a wonderfully varied track selection.
On the second CD, Saul opts to mostly focus on tech-house and minimal, deftly sliding through tracks from Isolee, DJ Koze, Villalobos, Konrad Black and Matthew Jonson before closing out the proceedings with a spot of dubstep. Interestingly, the precise and layered mixing that sucked the energy out of the first disc works brilliantly on this installment. Ricardo Villalobos's remix of Isolee's "I Owe You" with Courtney Tidwell's vocals floating on top sounds absolutely gorgeous, and Matthew Jonson's "Typerope" slowly emerging from Adam Marshall's "Vespers" is a mix that Saul rightfully lets play out for a while. Not surprisingly, the sound on this side is most similar to the glistening deep house being released on Aus of late. It is also most in-line with the sound Saul finds himself currently spinning in clubs around the world. As a result, you really get the impression that THIS is the music Will is most adept at manipulating as a DJ.
This is further reinforced by the weaker dubstep section of the mix which pops up after Burial's melancholic "Shell of Light." While not entirely without worth, it unfortunately isn't anything you haven't heard done better on one of the countless free dubstep podcasts floating around the net. That set, the final installment of the three mixes—one which picks up from the dub tip at the end of CD 2—is perhaps the most creative and exciting of all. Blending dubstep with vintage reggae and later shifting to deep house, Saul showcases what his genre-spanning tastes can do when put in the proper context.
The mix opens up in a contemplative mood with Pangaea's downcast "Memories" before quickly moving onto Rhythm and Sound's classic "King in My Empire," creating a solemn duet by layering both the male and female versions of the record. After a few other deep dubstep tunes, and some proper Jamaican roots dub courtesy of Sly & Robbie on "Skull & Bones," the energy gets jacked up with Geiom's bass-heavy "Reminissin" and TRG's hit "Broken Heart." Eventually the mix bridges the divide between all things dub to house via future soul from Atlantic Conveyor Belt and classic soul from Patti Jo. The sly move is the creative highlight of the entire three CD release, and, consequently, the slamming deep house mix which closes out proceedings sounds refreshing and ecstatic despite the odd lemon amongst a mostly sublime track selection.
While the first part of this compilation is a bit of a disappointment, the latter two are certainly strong enough to consider adding this entry in the Balance catalogue to your collection. However, while part two is merely a good contemporary mix, part three really is something quite special. In fact, it really brings into question the entire idea of having a three CD release. In this day-and-age when podcasts are available everywhere for free, perhaps a better value proposition for the public is less rather than more? Instead of several CDs, a better idea might be to just present the best mix for release as an individual Balance CD. It is through mixes such as the third—surprising, delightful and well thought-out—that the mix CD format will continue to have a market. Let's definitely hope this occurs as mixes of this caliber truly deserve to be carefully mastered, promoted for a wider public and preserved on CD for future enjoyment.