Released in the wake of Crosstown's hefty North American tour, the Rebel Rave compilation demonstrates in part the success of Damian Lazarus' team-building skills. Having started Crosstown in 2003 with Matthew Styles, Lazarus re-founded it in 2008 after it became insolvent, and you can't help but notice that it's right around this time that the label begins a steady and relatively rapid mutation process into its current "rebel rave" incarnation: the sound starts to coalesce, and a recognizable cast of characters, culled from labels like Culprit and Wolf + Lamb, begins to emerge: Seth, Jamie, Gadi, the Clap, Deniz, just to name a few.
Lazarus, who plays the role of ringmaster with an impish energy, does not often come across as a man of understatement. No doubt his past as a music journalist and A&R man have taught him something about controlling the dissemination of personality on a mass-media level, helping him to run a label, commandeer a large-scale tour and oversee the "Rebel TV" video series, not to mention foster his own career as a DJ and helm a record of eccentric ballads for Get Physical. The think-big attitude is in full effect as well on the current compilation, a three-disc affair that attempts to put another face on the Rebel Rave era. The compilation dutifully presents the label's output since 2008, and a handful of new remixes, unreleased tracks and a mix by Clive Henry help to present the "Rebel Rave" as something still alive and in motion rather than the subject of a tribute in memoriam.
The sheer heft of this release makes it difficult to summarize. Taken as a whole, the tracks here showcase the task of formulating a style, one distinct enough to be recognizable yet flexible enough to progress. The sound of Crosstown for the past two years has often taken the form of crisp, entrancing deep house capable of achieving sexiness by unconventional means, fuelled by effervescent percolation, carbonated and buoyant. Brash, experimental abuse of the human voice has also been in abundance—one often meets leery trolls and digitized angels, denizens of Lazarus' electronic circus, floating spectral over the groove.
A notable exception is the comp's infectious opener, which sees a fairly human-throated Troxler launch a comic, finger-snapping beatdown against vapid party trash. While dissing your clientele right out the box might seem odd from a marketing standpoint, it fits neatly with Crosstown's irreverent attitude. Along those lines you'll note that some of the label's biggest hits are absent in unadorned form—although arguably the comp doesn't need them. In a canny move, Troxler's own "Love Never Sleeps" appears in the form of a previously unreleased remix of by Wolf + Lamb / Double Standard honcho Gadi Mizrahi, which adds rhythmic punch but still allows you to drown in that aching voice and melancholy keys.
The marquee names from the Rebel Rave tour are well-represented: in addition to Troxler you get two cuts from Jamie Jones, and the trademark singles from Soul Clap and Deniz Kurtel. Simon Baker's muscular rework of Glimpse's "If I Was Your Girl" leads off a neat trifecta of piano house. A number of uncharacteristic cuts are on hand as well: in case your only association with the label is the sound of its anthems, you can treat yourself to Brennan Green's proggy remix of Luke Solomon, and the sinister subterranean murk of Shackleton's "Next to Nothing."
Clive Henry's mix brings out the label's silky, well-mannered side. Taking advantage of a number of special edits and remixes, Henry turns out a smooth morning blend that makes you wish the whole compilation was mixed, and will most likely be your go-to for home listening. With two unmixed discs, though, you have the chance to appreciate his work anew after you've gone and heard the rough edges he's sanded down.