These days, James Holden hardly needs any introductions. Although only in his early 20’s, he has already produced and/or remixed a plethora of remarkable progressive house tracks. Having released a number of his earlier work on the Silver Planet label, it wasn’t until his ‘Horizons’ track was picked up and championed by the likes of Nick Warren, amongst others, that he became a major force in the progressive scene. As a result of this initial exposure, he has worked with and is held in high regard by the Godfathers of the progressive genre, Sasha and John Digweed. So much so, that Sasha asked James to collaborate on a track for his eagerly awaited ‘Airdrawndagger’, that being ‘Bloodlock’. If ever there was a seal of approval, that would have to be it! His recent collaboration with Julie Thompson on the track ‘Nothing’ has garnered him further acclaim and has been included on a number of compilations including Tiesto’s ‘Nyana’ and Deep Dish’s GU #25 Toronto.
Not being satisfied with just production work, Holden has also been transferring his enthusiasm to DJing. With a lot of hard work behind him, he now holds residencies at Amsterdam’s Kremlin and UK’s Passion as well as touring regularly around the world. With his first mix compilation ‘Fear of a Silver Planet’ from a few years ago, he made a minor impact but with ‘Balance 005’, he has managed to create an instant classic. I’ll go so far as to say that I think this is THE compilation of the year.
CD 1 opens with the bass infused beats and quirky electro vocals of The MFA’s ‘The Difference It Makes (Original Mix)’ which sets a nice launching pad for the rest of the CD. We’re then taken to a deeper house sound with Meta.83’s ‘Metalgroove ep:Antrieb’ followed by Jake Fairley’s bleepy ‘Oshawa’. A deeper, progressive sound is then established with tracks such as Zeta Reticula's ‘Tool 1’ and ‘Tool 3’ as well as Avus’s ‘Real’ and DJ ESP’s ‘No Future ep:No Future (Soundburnt mix). With this particular track, the sampling of what’s up next can be heard underneath. And then it’s onto what I think is the highlight of this particular mix: Jase From Outta Space featuring Claire’s ‘Do What You Want (Infusion’s Sky mix)’. An exceptionally beautiful piece of dance music remixed more than proficiently by the Infusion lads. Anyone who has ever had feelings for or for that matter longed for, someone who is already in a relationship will relate to the words sung by Claire. I know I do. The tempo is brought down slightly with the Fluffy remix of Nathan Fake’s ‘Outhouse’ and then expertly raised back up with the original version of the same track. With an almost trance like sound brought into game with FortDax’s ‘Fortune Telling Fish, Curled To Suggest Home’, we start to hear the opening riff of PQM’s ‘You Are Sleeping (PQM meets Luke Chable Vocal pass)’. This is a track that needs no introduction or explanation. Frankly, one of the best releases so far this year. ‘No scratch! No snatch!’ Indeed! Everything is then brought to a close with Petter’s ‘These Days (Instrumental) and finally Herrmann & Kleine’s subdued ‘Leaving You Behind (Without Knowing Where To Go).
I sometimes feel limited in my capacity to describe the music I’m hearing. I only hope that in this case, I’ve done James Holden some justice. CD 1 is quirky yet melodic, spooky but fun and therefore my favourite of the two. This is so different from what I expected that my hat goes off to him. With every listen I hear something different and as such, giving each track I’m listening to another unique feel and sound. There are so many ways that this could have gone wrong but Holden has pulled off something special. Overall, listening to this would be equivalent to swimming in a sea of gorgeous, melodic beats. Yes, my enthusiasm is running at an all time high!
CD 2 begins with the sleazy, electro tinged basslines of Meek’s ‘Happy’. The vocals alone give this track an extra special feel that I can’t quite explain but to me, it’s a wonderful way to start the second part of ‘Balance 005’. The transition between this and the third track is done so quickly with Meerkat’s ‘Colours (JH re-edit) that if you didn’t know better you would think you were still listening to the opening track. With Avus’s ‘Your Body (Original Mix)’ we’re straight into typical Holden territory of progressive trance but with a deeper, more intelligent sound. And once again, before you even realise it’s happened, Scape One’s ‘PFX Tokyo’ has been sampled into FC Kahuna’s ‘Hayling (Kosmas Epsilon mix)’. At this point I have to say that I’m actually astounded at how James Holden has mixed the last five tracks. I’ve heard a lot of mixes but this just blows everything I’ve ever previously heard completely away. CD 2 continues with Holden’s own work ‘The Wheel (Pass 1)’ with its multilayered melodies followed by Kotai & Mo’s ‘Black Acid pt 1’. Once again, before you’ve even had time to stop and think, you find yourself grooving away to the uplifting sounds of Epsilon’s ‘Lifeformation (Infimal Machine mix). What an amazing piece of music! This is what I want to hear at 2am in the middle of a crowded dancefloor. This is the kind of progressive trance that I love to hear and dance to. It has the typical uplifting elements but with an almost wacked out, electro sound coming over it. Amazing! A breather comes up next with the dirty progressive breaks of Carl A Finlow’s ‘Ghetto Server’. While I’ve never been a big fan of breaks in any form, I welcome this gladly. Its quirky, almost futuristic sounding beats are perfectly suited in this mix. Then we’re back to a more melodic sound with Gill Norris’ ‘Forme’ and Ficta’s ‘Eli’. As we near the close of this particular mix, the chilled beats of Petter’s ‘Tonediary’ can be felt but this is only a red herring. Trust me! Just when you think it’s time to pack up and go home, you find yourself moving to Form & Function’s ‘Wonderland (Original mix). This is one last dance before the finale which is Meta.83’s almost dubby ‘Metalgroove ep:End Titles’. A fitting end to, dare I say a unique journey in dance music.
I don’t think I’ve ever written a review that includes almost every track so extensively. This is progressive, yet it’s not. This is electro, yet it isn’t. This is breaks but far from it. This trance but it’s so forward thinking. This is all of it working perfectly together. This is everything that dance music should be but is so often hard to find. An outstanding achievement not only for James Holden but the people behind the Balance series.
This is simply one of the most perfect DJ mixes that I have had the honour to hear. And that’s exactly how I feel: honoured! If you think about it, the person sitting next to you at work or on the bus or train or even the person crossing the street infront of you will most probably never have the pleasure of hearing this, thereby missing out on something truly special. For me, the test of a truly great compilation is if it distracts me from my somewhat scenic walk home at the end of the workday ie the colourful streets of Darlinghurst. The other day, while taking the same route and listening to ‘Balance 005’, this changed. This time around I saw everything, watched everything and felt everything. I felt like a child in chocolate shop and that shop was mine. Everything I heard was for me and me alone. All the people rushing past me, all the cars driving by me were never going to experience what I was. I think during my entire journey, I had a grin that refused to disappear. Anyone that says they have never experienced complete euphoria from listening to music has never heard good, let alone great music.
I’ve always believed that compilations mixed by specific DJs are a reflection of their mind, soul and aboveall, personality. For those of us that buy these releases, as such, they are an extension of who we are as an individual. And if ‘Balance 005’ mixed by James Holden is an extension of who I am as a person, then I’m proud of that. Because ‘Balance 005’ is an intelligent, thought provoking, tear-inducing and at times, complex example of how music should be presented. While the previous Balance releases have been great; this new addition has taken the series to another level. I don’t mean any disrespect to the other DJs involved in the Balance series, far from it, but with this, James Holden has raised the bar so high that I pity the DJ who has to follow in his footsteps.
If music is the food of life, then I hope life is filled with more of this because it is utterly satisfying.
Thu / 2 Oct 2003
01. The MFA – The Difference It Makes (Original Mix)
02. Meta.83 – Metalgroove ep:Antrieb
03. Jake Fairley – Oshawa
04. Zeta Reticula – Tool 1
05. Petter – All Together
06. Baby Ford & The Ifach Collective – Bad Friday
07. Zeta Reticula – Tool 3
08. Avus – Real
09. DJ ESP – No Future ep:No Future (Soundburnt mix)
10. Jase From Outta Space featuring Claire – Do What You Want (Infusion’s Sky mix)
11. Nathan Fake – Outhouse (Fluffy mix)
12. Nathan Fake – Outhouse (Original Mix)
13. FortDax – Fortune Telling Fish, Curled to Suggest ‘Home’
14. PQM – You Are Sleeping (PQM meets Luke Chable Vocal pass)
15. Petter – These Days (Instrumental)**
16. Herrmann & Klein – Leaving You Behind (Without Knowing Where To Go)
** Includes Beats of Baby Ford & The Ifach Collective – Bad Friday
01. Meek – Happy
02. Meerkat – Colours (JH re-edit)
03. Avus – Your Body (Original Mix)
04. Scape One – PFX Tokyo
05. FC Kahuna – Hayling (Kosmas Epilson mix)
06. Holden – The Wheel (Pass 1)
07. Kotai + Mo – Black Acid pt 1
08. Epsilon 9 – Lifeformation (Infimal Machine mix)
09. Carl A Finlow – Ghetto Server
10. Gill Norris – Forme
11. Ficta – Eli
12. Petter – Tonediary
13. Form & Function – Wonderland (Original Mix)
14. Meta.83 – Metalgroove ep:End Titles