The most remixed house track ever? Possibly. Ryan Keeling tells the story of a summertime classic.
It's best to start the story of "Cascades Of Colour" simply:
"And at sunrise
And at sunset
But when night falls
But the music"
So go the first four lines of the "Wamdue Black Mix" of "Cascades Of Colour," a 1998 house track produced by Chris Brann under the alias The Ananda Project. The honeyed vocal is Gaelle Adisson. You probably know her from Wamdue Project's "King Of My Castle," another Brann-Adisson collaboration, which became an international smash in 1999. "Cascades Of Colour" was released on the King Street Sounds sub-label Nite Grooves as part of the Cascades Of Colour EP, and it was the debut release by The Ananda Project. What happened following the release touches on the sheer magic of the original recording, the proliferation of the compilation market a couple decades ago, and dance music's fascination with remixes.
There's perhaps an alternate reality of the track's journey that begins and ends with the "Wamdue Black Mix." When it comes to vocal house music it is, after all, close to perfection. "Cascades Of Colour" has the quality that fires the mind into vivid temporal and geographical flight. Everyone's mental picture it conjures will, of course, be a little different, but this is without question a summer track. Adisson spends its first 80 seconds luxuriating in piano keys and bird calls—"Cascades of color, slip right through your hands. Your castles in the clouds, turn back into sand"—a scene of sea breezes and sun-warmed skin. Hearing this at a formative age (perhaps 16 years old), I'm almost certainly heavily biased, but it feels to me like the opening minute goes far beyond beach-based cliches, connecting with a fantastical, anxiety-melting experience of peak summer that's probably best described as bliss. (Brann also captured this on the exquisite "Deep Fall," released a year earlier on Peacefrog.)
Then, god damn, those drums. Even hearing it now, the arrival of the beat—a garage-influenced thump—is more punchy than expected. Brann's instinct might have been to follow the lead of the vocal and keys with something gentle, but the pairing of differing energies may well be where the track's alchemy resides. The rattling hi-hats become locked in a waltz with bird and insect sounds, a highly musical use of field recordings that seems to also shape the melodic overtones of pads and strings. There's plenty going on, but we never get anything other than a sense of flawless house music harmony.
Maybe Brann himself could tell early on that the track was ripe for remixes. The EP features another version credited to his Wamdue moniker, a more straightforward garage version that frames the vocal in a less dramatic context. "I Think I'm Losing You" and "Destination," the EP's other tracks, could have wound up as a mere footnote, but both are strong. Along with an overdriven kick drum, an almost Celtic-style melody drives "I Think I'm Losing You" forwards, a mood supported by a vocal sample that could be a modulated Enya. Meanwhile, there are obvious sunshine flavours on "Destination," with Rhodes keys, plenty of percussion and a rolling house beat. So all in all, a supremely well-rounded record with a killer lead track.
But things were just getting started for "Cascades Of Colour." The following year, Nite Grooves put out a remix package that featured the "Spiritual Sunrise" remix by Jask, which built upon the "Black Mix" by extending Gaelle Adisson's performance with additional vocal lines while introducing some noodling guitar and sax parts. Brann returned to the project with a new "Journey To Color Mix," a tasteful reimagining that tweaked the central melody and ramped up the percussion. The Jask remix and its instrumental version joined the "Black Mix" and a "Gaellepella" on a European 12-inch put out that same year by VC Recordings, a club music subsidiary of Virgin Records. The label also then released a remix by Saffron, AKA Rui Da Silva, via a single-sided 12-inch, a version that speaks to the less-is-more mentality of the then-dominant progressive house sound. Da Silva's version does break down into a section reminiscent of the "Black Mix," but for the most part it's a stripped-down bass and drums workout with the vocal layered overheard.
I'm inclined to think that the release of an edit of a remix is when things started to get slightly silly. In 2000, Variation, another Virgin sub-label, put out a Danny Tenaglia edit of the Saffron mix along with another new remix, this time by Moonface. Tenaglia didn't do a great deal to Da Silva's remix, but his status as one of the biggest DJs in the world meant more attention for "Cascades Of Colour" and its distinctive vocals. Joe Claussell and Ben Watt also got in on the action in 2000, with two remixes of "Cascades Of Colour" apiece. Nite Grooves bundled these and four others together on a double-vinyl drop.
To cut to the chase here, it'd be foolish to say with any certainty how many remixes of "Cascades Of Colour" actually now exist. It's certainly more than 20, and is possibly over 30. Kuniyuki Takahashi reshaped the track as a modern jazz number in 2001. The Spanish producer Wally Lopez released a further four (!) in 2002, and a Crazibiza "Sunset Mix" surfaced in 2012. I did briefly think I'd come across most versions but then went on Beatport and found three more (Leon, Morten Trust and Kiko Navarro), as well as a fairly terrible drum & bass re-rub by Logistics.
If tracking the remixes of "Cascades Of Colour" seems difficult, try charting its mix and compilation appearances. Inclusive of all its different versions, Discogs lists 28 compilation appearances, 27 on albums and 11 on mixes, for a grand total of 66. Names like The Abstract Lounge Experience, The Best Ibiza Anthems...Ever! 2001 and Broadband: Resonating All Your Frequencies come up frequently in the list, alluding to the sheer ubiquity of compilations at the time as a leading method of delivering dance music to people's homes. The Ananda Project has an overall total of 297 appearances on albums, comps and mixes, meaning Brann's career must have been shaped to a fairly large extent by the popularity of these formats.
With the "Black Mix" surfacing again last month on 25 Years Of Paradise Vol 2, a four-track compilation EP on King Street, perhaps it's worth asking if the journey of "Cascades Of Colour" shows a slightly ugly side of dance music, one where an inspired original track and vocal performance is wrung for every last bit of cash and popularity. No one came close to matching the magic of the original "Black Mix," and while club music has remix culture at its core, when does someone connected to the track step in and say enough is enough? A more generous way of looking at it could be that "Cascades Of Colour"'s brilliance made it inevitable it would join the ranks of dance music's most remixed tracks. A song that simply demanded to be reinterpreted. The comforting thing is that in playing "Cascades Of Colour" all of this melts into the background, with the first notes of its delicious keys, bird calls and vocals.