MIX CDs part 3:
WHO, WHAT AND
WHY YOU SHOULD BOTHER
See the first set of Mix CD reviews (posted in March 2001) for my thoughts on the format. And a second set from summer 2001 if you're hungry for more. The following are from spring 2002 and on.
WHO
CARL COX
MIXED LIVE: 2nd Session
MOONSHINE

WHAT:
A mix CD mixed as it should be - live, in the booth.

TEMPOS
Techno staple: the 130s.

WHY YOU SHOULD BOTHER

Considering that the whole point of the DJ mix CD, as far as I can tell, is to replicate the experience of being in a club, it's somewhat ludicrous that 99% of them are actually pieced together, laboriously, in a recording studio - where computer software ensures that every track synchs perfectly, but usually at the expense of the very vibe the DJ is meant to be presenting.

Carl Cox's mixes provide a spectacularly good case in point. I think Carl is the best techno DJ on the planet. And he's made some great mix CDs over the years. A year ago, I happily took on the job of writing his record company bio for his first US major label mix, Global, for which I was sent a 30-minute 'teaser' CD he'd put together on the decks at home. It was infectiously funky and clearly mixed live; as I told him during our subsequent interview, I could literally hear the crossfades and pitch controls at work. It was classic Carl from start to finish. A couple of months later, I got the final CD, and it paled in comparison. Not only was the choice of tracks significantly different than the 'teaser,' but the spontaneity had gone; the new mix felt clinical, its tracks surely spliced together in the studio (though Cox denied he'd ever worked this way in the past). This was particularly painful given that Carl Cox has a reputation as a hands-on performer, someone who vibes the crowd with his larger-than-life personality. Like a great live rock band, he has to be 'seen' to be 'understood' – and like a great live rock band, he doesn't benefit from overproduction in the studio.

Re-Enter the Californian label Moonshine, which launched its Mixed Live series in the year 2000 with Carl Cox recorded at Chicago's Crobar Club. I'm sure it says something that after the lackluster Global experience (which didn't sell well either), Cox has returned to where his strengths lie – in the booth. '2nd Sessions' was recorded in the dance tent during the Area 2 Festival's visit to Detroit this summer, and as well as crowd applause, it features plenty interaction from the DJ himself – most of it along the lines of "Oh yes you're looking good Detroit, c'mon." Such banter is unusual in dance music, and it's something even Carl has only gotten into recently. Personally, I could do without his shout-outs: I have plenty superb memories of Cox sets where his furiously nodding, sweating head, three deck wizardry, and phenomenal programming vibed the crowd up more than any amount of MCing could ever hope to emulate. Still, and especially in comparison to the more staid studio productions, his interruptions serve to enhance 2nd Sessions' 'live' sensation, as does the sound of backspun vinyl, the occasional static on a worn-out groove, the response of the ecstatic festival goers and one hour plus of pounding pounding techno music.
BEST MIXES
There's a couple of overground classics: Tomaz vs. Filterheadz's album opener 'Lazy People,' the decidedly old school '50,000 Watts' by Blubba Boy vs. E-traxx All Stars, and SLAM's 'Step Back.' Most of the tracks though are by underground producers like Brian Zentz' ('D-Clash' and 'Joplin') and Renato Cohen ('Pontape'), which first saw release on Cox's own Intec label. And of course Cox has found space for his own productions 'Want A Life' and, with Christian Smith, 'Dirty Bass.' And then there's one track so far below the radar that it's billed simply as 'White Label' by Unknown. Curiously enough, it happens to be my favorite.
WINE?
This is an old-fashioned, uncomplicated and, despite being recorded in the USA, typically European blend of organic techno. So let's keep things simple, inexpensive and old world: the Château d'Oupia white blend from Minervois should work nicely.
WHO
NEW ORDER
BACK TO MINE
DMC

WHAT:
Moody Mancs choose tunes for the crib.

TEMPOS
All over the shop

WHY YOU SHOULD BOTHER
Back To Mine started as a British radio show on which a pop star played from his record collection; then it became a TV series for which said star showed viewers round his whole house; and then the DMC crew stole the title for an after-hours/chill-out/downtempo mix series. The theme has since been 'borrowed' by equally unscrupulous rival record labels (for Another Late Night and A Night In With…) but with almost a dozen releases under its belt, Back To Mine remains the front-runner.

Still, what started as a refreshing challenge to proven DJs (Danny Tenaglia, Nick Warren, Dave Seaman), has gradually mutated into an artist-driven franchise, the equivalent of a non-spinning band's late night mix tape. Following recent compilations by Orbital and Morcheeba – neither act known for its DJing prowess - DMC has now landed the not inconsiderable pulling power of New Order for what will likely be its biggest seller yet.

So can anyone in New Order actually mix? And if so, who? Neither question is answered here. In fact, it's hard to imagine the famously quarrelsome and self-confessedly lazy band spent much time huddled over the Technics figuring this album out. I imagine instead that they each put forth a list of personal desert island discs, waited to see which ones they could get clearance on, and arranged the track order by committee.

But still, for all that this is neither a DJ album nor a mix CD, one instinctively knows that New Order has good taste, and it's fascinating to see how they demonstrate it. From older influences Captain Beefheart, the Velvet Underground, and Can; to American club legends Donna Summer and Mantronix; and including a couple of indie rock bands they've influenced along the way, Primal Scream and Doves, New Order's Back To Mine is an intriguingly-programmed collection of the electic, the electric and most points inbetween. Not only do they manage to include disco, rock, hip-hop, techno, psychedelia, glam and Krautrock, but their choices span the last five decades. You can consider it an invite back to New Order's pad, or you can listen to it instead as if a souvenir CD from a free-from radio show. Which is, fittingly enough, how Back To Mine, started.
BEST MIXES
Something of an oxymoron on this album. The only two tracks beat-mixed together are, not surprisingly, the most up-tempo: Joey Beltram's 'Energy Flash' into Donna Summer's 'I Feel love,' the latter in limited edition Patrick Cowley mix form. Elsewhere, Primal Scream's 'Higher Than The Sun' seems an obvious but welcome inclusion, especially given that it's thematically followed by Missy Elliot's 'The Rain'; Cat Stevens' 'Was Dog A Doughnut?' may be a pleasant surprise for many;and the Groundhogs' raucous 'Cherry Red' screams louder than most people's idea of a spliff accompaniment. If you're starting to think that New Order's musical tastes are all over the place, then you're right.
WINE?
The late-night aspect suggests a dessert wine, like Campbell's Muscat or a Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. I'd recommend a vintage port if I drank much of the stuff. But let's go for something appropriately eclectic and capable of standing the test of time: an aged Semillon from Australia's Hunter Valley. The 1990 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Museum Elizabeth is exceptional – and exceptionally good value too.
WHO
2 MANY DJ's
AS HEARD ON RADIO SOULWAX PT. 2
PIAS

WHAT:
The last great mix CD?

TEMPOS
Fuck tempos, let's dance.

WHY YOU SHOULD BOTHER
Since this Belgian CD made it to American shores over the summer, the flood of mix albums landing in my mail box (such as provoked me to first start this mix CD column) has stemmed to a trickle. I'd like to believe the two are related: that record labels and DJs alike realize that after the Soulwax brothers' masterpiece of musical melding, there's little more to be achieved in the mix CD realm. That's not really the case, but still, the marketplace has clearly reached saturation point and the days of every bedroom DJ releasing 70-minute, standard BPM mixes of single styles – techno, house, drum and bass, trance – are all but over. 2 Many DJs may then just be the last great mix CD.

Why? Because brothers Stephen and David Dewaele know no boundaries and respect no rules. They think nothing of putting ELP, The Cramps and Lil Louis on the same mix CD. Hell, they think nothing of mixing a Destiny's Child a capella over a 10cc backing track, or Peaches over the Velvet Underground. This musical meandering through the ages explains part of the 2 Many DJs phenomenon; the rest of it is down to the duo's ability to mix two or three old tracks together and make something entirely new - the 'bootleg'/'mash-up' style of which you may have heard, and which is currently all the rage with aspiring producers around the globe.

But you need more than Pro Tools to do this stuff properly: you need musical knowledge, dancefloor experience, programming chops, technical proficiency, and a sense of lunatic inspiration. The Dewaeles have all these qualities in abundance, and as such have managed to arrange 46 tracks into a one hour party mix that has set a benchmark for the mash-up genre.

This 2 Many DJs album is hardly brand new. The Dewaeles, who perform together as the band Soulwax, had been doing their stuff on a Belgian radio show for a couple of years before they attempted to release an album of it. Understandably, getting sample clearance proved hard work, and among those who refused permission were, surprisingly, The Beastie Boys, Beck and Daft Punk. (The 2 Many DJs web site details the machinations behind every track licensed, including ones not used, as well as the ones that were refused.) To keep matters simple, those tracks that were cleared were licensed for Belgium only. But in the modern international marketplace, such limitations mean little, and the CD has subsequently been exported throughout the world, gathering acclaim as it goes. I got my copy in June, and saw the duo DJ – with a bunch of new bootleg mixes on hand – in July. (Read about it here.) Yet unlike most of the mix CDs that pile up on the mantelpiece, I keep coming back to this compilation, constantly amazed and always entertained. It is probably one of the best party albums ever released, and yet it's also a work of art. To manage both takes genius.

BEST MIXES
Just about every track on here segues into, is mixed over, or provides backing for another, but only a handful of such mixes stick around long enough to create individual tracks. The most revolutionary is Salt 'n' Pepa's 'Push It' which, when placed over the Stooges 'No Fun', turns this old-school female shout-out into nothing short of a riot grrrl anthem. The use of Skee Lo's 'I Wish' over the top of the Breeders' 'Cannonball' is equally inspired, while it's hard not to jump around to the sound of the Basement Jaxx' 'Where's Your Head At' over ELP's 'Peter Gunn,' or to laugh out loud at the use of Dolly Parton's mainstream hit '9 to 5' over Royksopp's underground instrumental 'Eple'.
WINE?
Iconoclastic, idiosyncratic mixes are not merely the domain of mad DJs. Wine-makers can be every bit as inspired - and insane. To accompany the best of the summer mix CDs, check out the oddities among my Last of The Summer Rosês: Goats Do Roam, Vin Gris de Cigare or Rose of Virginia.
WHO
GRANDMASTER FLASH
ESSENTIAL MIX CLASSIC EDITION
FFRR

WHAT:
Retro lessons from a master.

TEMPOS
102 on up to 124 (and you won't even notice)

WHY YOU SHOULD BOTHER
For the last several years, Grandmaster Flash has been back on the New York scene, playing the hits of his youth for a crowd that missed out on them first time around. Bear in mind though, that when the likes of Flash started spining, there was no hip hop; they had to invent it. So what you have here, effortlessly mixed, are some of the tracks that inspired Flash, Afrikaa Bambaataa and co., and a few of the songs to have come out of their musical revolution. Flash starts out soulfully, with Nu Shooz, Fatback Band and Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, and ends funkily, with James Brown, Jimmy Castor Bunch, D Train and Afrika Bambataa & The Soul Sonic Force and 'Planet Rock.' Inbetween, he gives us just about everything but Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five themselves, a rare exercise in DJ modesty.
BEST MIXES
About ten minutes in, there's a medley based around the early days of the New York electro/hip hop/downtown scene that's an absolute joy to listen to. It starts with Positive Force's 'We Got The Funk,' which segues into Blondie's new wave/hip hop anthem, 'Rapture.' Debbie Harry's tribute line "Flash is back" repeats several times before giving way to Indeep's equally influential 'Last Night A DJ Saved My Life' and then, likewise, Liquid Liquid's 'Cavern,' which was used as the rhythm track for Flash's own 'White Lines.' Just for a few minutes, we get the idea of what it must have been like at the Mudd Club or at the block party circa 1981: pretty damn fine.
WINE?
It really should be American, given that just about all the music is. It should really be from New York too, when you think about it. It's got to be a blend. And finally, it should be as smooth and accessible as Flash's mix. Ternhaven's Claret d'Alvah fulfills all criteria - as do several other Long Island blends.
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