Looking backwards presents an inherent problem. What if—to draw upon the words of those craggy old grandfather figures—things really were better before? It's not a question Gerd Janson and Thomas Hammann have asked intentionally on their mix for Frankfurt venue Robert Johnson. But as the virulent organ chug of Chez Damier's 1993-released "Take It Away" segued fluidly into Global Communications' masterful 1996 re-rub of "Jazz Carnival" by Azymuth, it's one that began to gnaw at the peripheries of my conscious. So to clarify, Live at Robert Johnson, is, by all intents and purposes, a retrospective house mix. The proffered material straddles a time span which counts 1993 as its inception, and 2008 as its end point. However, rather than put forth a declaration of their scholarly credentials, in Gerd Janson and Thomas Hammann we're presented (in the press release at least) with the idea of two time-honoured house music advocates harvesting those tracks—be it 1997 or 2006—which most suitably fit an exhibition piece on house music as they see it.
With the ongoing success of his much-lauded Running Back imprint; background as scribe for key German publications Groove and Spex; and involvement with the progressive endeavours of the Red Bull Music Academy, Janson seems ideally placed to mine house music's history; but what of Hammann? The pair's meeting of the minds can be traced to their long-running Robert Johnson-housed soiree Liquid, while Hammann has been the dealer soothing Janson's craving for dormant vinyl treasures via his role as proprietor of Darmstadt's Pentagon record store.
Although many may scoff at the suggestion, their voyage to the heart of house exhibits many of the virtues that made Sasha & Digweed's 1996-relased Northern Exposure mix so compelling. The poise in selection, clear daylight afforded to each track, and the self-assured execution of the build stirs hazy memories of the UK jocks in their full pomp. The use of synthesized legato strings may also go some way to explaining the kinship: Numbers such as album opener "Liferaft" by Juicy Fruit, Dr. Nobody's Donna Summer-loving "The Big Bang Theory" and the aforementioned "Jazz Carnival" are all cruisey mid-'90s E trips. The latter of the trio, with its gusty upward trajectory and ingeniously quantized bassline, marks a tangible mid-point gear change, segueing from the pensive wading of the first half into the more steadfast stroke of the second.
It's around the point of the more modern fare—Soundstream's "Makin' Luv," Radio Slave's "Tankatan"—that you begin to feel more cerebral than physical. The mix is unquestionably enthralling, but the fact that the tracks slip so readily on to an old school canvas is a little disquieting. In this context, the cuts work their angles splendidly; after all, the two artists in question do have particular penchants for the roots. But in a wider sense, you're left reflecting on the fact that much of what we dance to these days could conceivably have been written 15 years ago. Touching back down, Superpitcher's Kompakt-defining remix of Dntel's "(This Is) The Dream Of Evan And Chan" shoos away such digressions for the time being, bringing the mix to a rousing finale with a well-deserved collapse into grandiosity.
It's important to note, that any over-arching doubts thrown up by Live at... are wholly due to the strength of Janson and Hammann's selections, which are, by and large, exceptional. The mix, particularly in its nascent stages, engages you in a way that couldn't be achieved by modern means, although that's not to say these tracks are artistically superior, rather that the spoke of this particular sonic strand is yet to re-reach the zeitgeist. Live at... may show that house music is travelling cyclically not linearly, but with DJs such as Janson and Hammann spinning the wheel, you might be left wondering if that actually matters.
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Tracklist: Thomas Hammann & Gerd Janson - Live at Robert Johnson 01. Juicy Fruit - Liferaft (Original Mix)
02. DJ Du Jour - A Fish Scene
03. Lontano - Lovebass
04. Fresh Tunes#2 - W.B.W.U.
05. Dr. Nobody - The Big Bang Theory (Stephan G & ThePersuader Remix)
06. Azymuth - Jazz Carnival (Global Communication's Space Jazz Mix)
07. Chez Damier - Take It Away A (KMS 049)
08. Chez Damier - Take It Away B2 (KMS 049)
09. JohnNick Presents Red Hook - Dreams Your Love (Kenny Dope's Remix)
10. Soundstream - Makin' Love
11. DJ Duke - Can You Feel It
12. Radio Slave - Tantakatan
13. DNTEL - (This Is) The Dream Of Evan And Chan (Superpitcher Kompakt Remix)
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