Saturday, February 25, 2017

Various - United DJs Of America Volume 17: Scott Hardkiss (Original TC Review)

DMC: 2001

(2017 Update:
One of the very, very,
very few perfect scores I gave out while writing for TranceCritic, and I still stand by it. Admittedly, what Scott Hardkiss does here probably isn't as impressive these days what with digital DJing making eclectic sets like these much easier to produce. Heck, such CDs were quite marketable and profitable for a short while a number of years back, kitchen-sink sets earning all the critical plaudits. Just makes Scott's effort here all the more remarkable having done it on vinyl, practically in spite of scene hype focusing its attention elsewhere.

Sadly, Scott passed away some four years ago now. Before then, he'd finally released a full-length album in 2009 called
Technicolor Dreamer, all the while continuing to put out singles and working the DJ circuit until the end. Truly one of San Francisco's legends, taken far too soon.)

IN BRIEF: More house than a suburban district.

United DJs Of America: remember this series? If not, don’t feel too bad - it’s understandable. Despite having a number of highly respected names tied to it (Bones, Bambaataa, Knuckles, Vega, Farina, Craze… loads more), DMC had difficulty maintaining a consistent distributor, flopping around on several during its eight year run. In the end, it folded when the American dance industry entered a mild recession in the year of ‘03.

Shame, then, that San Francisco based DJ/producer Scott Hardkiss should be offered a go at this series so late in its run. Most likely know Hardkiss as that guy behind God Within and White Dove, but he was mixing up acid, breaks, and house on the West Coast scene for longer than that. As something of a recluse from the spotlight, he never quite broke out the way many of his peers did. And when finally given the opportunity to do so, his contribution to the United DJs legacy went largely unnoticed. And that, my friends, is an even bigger shame, as Hardkiss put together possibly one of the finest mixes the series ever saw.

For all its resilience and ace talent, the quality of United DJs often varied. It wasn’t uncommon for a classic release to be followed with an achingly average one, often due to the limitations DJs put themselves in by sticking to their chosen styles. Hardkiss, though, is a wildly eclectic DJ, and wouldn’t be satisfied with settling for a few forms of house. So, he went and made a mix with all of them!

Well, not all of them. Deep house is absent because this isn’t the kind of set for it. Electro house is obviously uninvited to this party either, since this release comes before that sound had really emerged. And of course euro-house is just too poppy. But yeah ...everything else - prog, acid, disco, tech; it’s all here.

So if this is such a varied mix, why did it go unnoticed? First impressions can go a long way, and in this case the opening tracks may have turned many away. Hardkiss starts with prog, and in 2001 this stuff was everywhere, with many sets sounding no different from the next. You’d be forgiven for dismissing this as Just Another Prog Mix based on the beginning.

But unlike many prog sets that drag with tension builders and transition tracks due to the room of two discs, Hardkiss knows he has far less time to get everything he wants in the seventy-four minutes a single CD offers. With no wasted meanderings, he mixes into his trademark funky acid house with Electric Skychurch’s Liberty and peaks the trip with a kaleidoscope of bubbly psychedelia in is rub of Tom Chasteen’s Freedom. And soon after that, we’re off into a festive atmosphere with The Heartists’ Bolo Horizonti, where Hardkiss gives a nod to New York as well with David Morales’ remix of the same track right afterwards.

You’d think these quick transitions between such different types of house (we’ve gone through at least four by the mid-way mark) would clash with abrupt mixes, yet Hardkiss keeps things flowing just fine, each track complementing the next without sounding forced. By contrast, a number of DJ mixes that attempt house sets of this nature sound like an MP3 player put on Random. Either it’s a testament to his skill as a DJ, or most other DJs have just grown lazy over the years by sticking with only a couple styles.

The house music continues jumping all over the place as the set carries on: funk is brought in courtesy of C-Mos’ 6-2 Young; having earned our trust with his track selection thus far, Hardkiss gets away with the goofy fun of Plastika and Conga Squad’s Disco Rockin’; energetic tech injects a dose of adrenaline with Jark Prongo’s Rocket Bass (and yes, that is Push It sampled there); good-natured hip-house from Armand van Helden and Common take us out with class; and sprinklings of San Francisco’s disco funk fill in the gaps.

Critiques then. Surely there has to be something that doesn’t hold up on this half-a-decade old set. Honestly, there’s very little worth criticizing here: track arrangement is superb and the mixing is mostly unobtrusive. A couple technical issues pop up but hardly hinder; in fact, it adds to the charm of this set, giving it a rawer live feeling and thus making Hardkiss’ few DJ tricks all the more engaging. And even if you don’t fancy house music, you’ll nonetheless enjoy the positive San Fran vibes that ooze from these tracks.

Steady readers of this website probably realize these five-star ratings are rare, but Hardkiss’ foray has everything we look for in a release that earns it: diversity, creativity, and - most importantly - enjoyable engagement from start to finish. Don’t miss out on this overlooked gem.

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2007. © All rights reserved


ACE TRACKS:
Electric Skychurch - Liberty (2001 Mix)
The Heartists - Belo Horizonti (Dub-Duo Samba Vibe)
Jark Prongo - Rocket Base

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