Sunday, February 7, 2010

Azuli Presents John Digweed: Choice - A Collection Of Classics (Original TC Review)

Best Price: $8.88

Azuli Records: Cat. # AZCD35X
Released March 28/2005

Track List:
CD 1
1. Voices Of Africa - Hoomba Hoomba (4:33)
2. The Grid - Floatation (3:17)
3. T Tauri - Joy To The World (No Felt) (4:35)
4. Hypnotone - Dreambeam (Ben Chapman 12" Remix) (3:55)
5. Smith & Mighty - Dark House (4:00)
6. Peech Boys - Don’t Make Me Wait (5:05)
7. Propaganda - Your Wildlife (Red Zone Mix) (4:45)
8. The Beat Club - Security 88 (Midnight Club Mix) (5:06)
9. Sheertaft - Cascades (Hypnotone Mix) (5:08)
10. Euphoria - Mecurial (Euphoric Original Mix) (4:29)
11. One Dove - White Love (Scott Hardkiss’ Psychic Masturbation Mix) (5:23)
12. Dance 2 Trance - We Came In Peace (John Digweed Re-edit) (4:57)
13. Desert Storm - Desert Storm (6:06)
14. Abfarht - Alone, It’s Me (Alley Cat Edit) (5:40)
15. Underworld - Mmm... Skyscraper, I Love You (Jamscraper Mix) (6:46)

CD 2
1. Babble - Beautiful (Blue Mix) (6:38)
2. Waterlillies - Tempted (Spooky Mix) (5:18)
3. INXS - Disappear (Morales 12" Mix) (5:03)
4. Megatonk - Belgium (Nintendotone Mix) (3:52)
5. DSK - What Would You Do (8 Minutes Of Madness Mix) (5:14)
6. Reese & Santonio - Back To The Beat (With The Sound) (3:34)
7. Jody Watley - I’m The One (Def Dub Version; John Digweed Re-edit) (4:39)
8. Saint Etienne - Cool Kids Of Death (Underworld Mix) (6:16)
9. Hi-Bias - Drive It Home (4:47)
10. Young American Primitive - Young American Primitive? (4:26)
11. DJ H. featuring Steffy - Come On Boy (Larry Levan Remix) (5:29)
12. Secret Knowledge - Sugar Daddy (7:27)
13. The Cure - A Forest (Mark Saunders Mix) (6:46)

(2010 Update:
Man, I wish I'd spent "only" two paragraphs on the first disc too. Then I wouldn't have ended up with a cumbersome 2000+ word review. Still a fun compilation to throw on once and a while, certainly more so than some of Digweed's more recent forays into dry minimal-tech house. Bring back the classics, Diggers!)

IN BRIEF: A history of Digweed untouched upon by the media.

In this era of placing DJs on unreachable pedestals for their fans to idolize, it’s grown increasingly difficult for them to do what they do best - namely bring the listeners a variety of diverse music strung together into a cohesive flow. To quote from the liner notes of this release written by Sean Cusick: “A DJ’s fanbase can have very weighty expectations...invisible limits placed on diversity and the potential creativity that distinct music encourages. A dedicated fan-base comes to expect ‘more of the same’ from their hero and sometimes very little else.”

While not all EDM scenes are quite this picky, the trance scene, for the most part, can be very guilty of this. How many fans of, say, Oakenfold, abandoned him when he stopped playing tracks from his Tranceport compilation (and don’t give me that ‘his DJing got worse’ excuse -it was always like that; you just didn’t notice it because you liked the tunes he played). For DJs whom grew up exposed to music long before their fan-base’s niche even existed, I’d imagine this can be a very frustrating thing.

Let’s face it. Good DJs, of any style, have exposed themselves to a lot of music. Their music collections tend to be ridiculously large, even if they only get to play out a fraction of it. Labels realized this and figured out a way to not only introduce a new form of compilation, but also give these DJs a chance to do what every music collector loves: show off their records.

So maybe you could argue these sorts of compilations are just stroking a DJ’s ego, or are redundant because there’s nothing but old tracks that any connoisseur will already have. Fair arguments, but I tend to take a less cynical route with this. Compilations like Back To Mine, Life:Styles, and Choice serve as a chance for DJs to create a sort of mix-tape for their audience. No scrutiny placed on them to only have the latest tracks, no critical analyzing of their technical skill -just one music lover sharing their tastes and influences with others.

Prog house legend John Digweed was tapped for this particular edition of Azuli Records’ Choice series (which has featured mostly house legends like Frankie Knuckles and Danny Tenaglia). There’s no need to get into the history of the man, as I’m sure many already know about his raise to super-stardom from the Renaissance days on. Besides, most of that is moot here, as Digweed takes us on a little trip to an era before that. Most of the music on display here dates back to a time when the man was just a fledgling DJ, working from the ground up. As such, much of the music that tells the tale here is a far cry from what his more recent fans have come to expect of him, even if the elements that would come to define the Digweed sound are scattered about.

Indeed, who’d have ever thought a song like Hoomba Hoomba by Voices Of Africa - a world beat group more akin to Enigma than Banco de Gaia - would ever find its way on a Digweed compilation? Yet here it is, right out of the gate. The first disc is littered with willful genre jumping so don’t expect any kind of typical DJ mix here. Digweed’s aim is to showcase songs, sometimes in their entirety, that have a personal connection to his young DJing career. It also gives his newer fans a chance to hear music they may have overlooked.

Second song, The Grid’s Floatation, is a prime example. Everyone knows the groups’ ‘spaghetti western’ tunes like Texas Cowboy but who knows they did blissy, downtempo tracks like this? Not many, I’d imagine.

A good chunk of the opening act of the first disc dwells on groovey, laid back tunes. It is definitely not a sound Digweed’s newer fans are likely to connect with him but they may stick around to see where he’s going with this. With Smith & Mighty’s Dark House, it’s straight into the old Chicago clubs. Rest assured, these are some old songs on display, and folks weaned on the pristinely produced cuts of the 21st Century will probably be a bit put off -provided that infectious bassline doesn’t hook them in regardless.

Or, hey! How about some classic disco to make his new fans run for the hills? Despite being made in ‘82, Don’t Make me Wait by Peech Boys (a Larry Levan production) sounds as though it could have come straight from the glory years of disco’s birth (that’s pre-Saturday Night Fever, folks). Well, they use a drum machine instead here, but the spirit of old disco is still present. It’s a groovy song, as most old time garage is, but I’m willing to bet only the most trusting of Digweed fans will buy into his showcase of one of the most heavily sampled tunes around (Lord knows I’ve heard bits of Don’t Make Me Wait scattered about the last thirteen years).

The eclectic choice of tracks continues unabated: the Morales remix of Propaganda’s Your Wildlife is a great grooving house number, if you don’t mind some of the late 80s pop hooks sprinkled about; The Beat Club’s Security takes us through an erotic trip in freestyle’s dungeon -yes, freestyle proper, as in massive use of the good ol’ 808 drum machine; Sheertaft’s Cascades brings us back to the groovy ambient dub on display from earlier; and Mercurial from Euphoria touches on the chunky prog house Digweed would soon embrace. So much musical territory to cover, so little time. I get the impression Diggers had even more than this in his initial selection but was cut short due to trying to keep some sort of cohesive narrative to the whole enterprise; even mixtapes like to tell a story when possible.

But our man knows his audience well enough to give them something they’re familiar with. Probably striking parallels to the early Northern Exposure series, the Hardkiss remix of One Dove’s White Love certainly is a groovy gem of dreamy prog house done as only the names Andy Weatherall, Scott Hardkiss, and Dot Allison can imagine. It’s a shame these names aren’t given the recognition they deserve today. Well, at least Digweed does here.

And, of course, he let’s all of his ‘99 fans have a taste of trance towards the end -classic trance, that is (hah!). No progressive anthem schlock for you. Instead, you get the trance tune that practically defined the genre: Dance 2 Trance’s We Came In Peace. After what seems like a lengthy bit of minimal techno going nowhere, the song’s building tension is finally unleashed with synthy strings accompanied with a sample uttering the song’s title repeatedly. It’s an incredibly simple technique but is still just as effective in putting your mind in space as it must have been fifteen years ago.

With the cleverly ironic follow-up Desert Storm, the hypnotic trend continues. Again, nothing fancy with this track: looping rhythms, gently bubbling acid and melancholy three-note chord progression played on spacey pads defines the bulk of it. Yet, it’s far easier to become entranced listening to a track like this than anything with a supersaw in it.

As the disc wraps up with Abfarht (hey, it’s Nosie Katzmaan again!) And Underworld, I can’t help but notice this starts to sound like, dare I say it, an actual DJ mix! No, there’s no beat-matching or transitions fancier than brief crossfades, but the final run of tracks have such amazing chemistry together, it sounds just as smooth as any decent mix. How’s that for track selection, eh?

If you figure the end of the first disc is a sign of things to come in the second disc, you’d be partially right. For the first half of CD2, Digweed takes us on a tour of all sorts of 2nd generation house music: deep house, prog house, tech house, deep prog house, prog tech house, tech deep house, deep prog tech house, and some New York stylings, too. But, most notably, ‘choice’ house (hah, again!). Most of these tracks tend to play out without much mixing, but they all segue nicely together so as things don’t sound too disjointed.

For the final stretch of this disc, our intrepid DJ digs into his crates an unloads a bevy of rarities and obscurities that collectors would cash in their retirement reserves to own. In case Skyscraper wasn’t enough convincing, Underworld’s remix of Cool Kids Of Death is further proof we should really be hoping for that eventual reunion tour [involving Emerson, that is -2010 Syk]. And the genres begin to liberally jump again, sometimes within the same song (like Young American Primitive, a track more akin to Banco de Gaia than Enigma) before ending off on Mark Saunders’ mix of The Cure’s A Forest, a track that sounds like it could have helped spur the electroclash movement had it not been produced ten years prior.

If you’re wondering why I’ve only given two paragraphs to describe what goes on in CD2, the answer is I don’t feel it quite lives up to the expectations set out by CD1. Of course, all the songs on display are nice and make for decent listening, but aside from the tail end of it, it lacks the spontaneity of the first disc. As such, it doesn’t engage you with surprises like you might have hoped.

But don’t let this nitpick of mine put you off of this whole compilation. For folks looking for some history in either Digweed’s own musical beginnings or discovering older, obscure EDM cuts, this edition of Choice is fine buying. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this, and any of the Choice releases, should be required listening for those who wish to explore the rich tapestry EDM has created in the last thirty years. There was so much that was left to the recycle bin by major record executives, we are quite fortunate to have compilations like these to remind us where this music came from and where it is still going. However dated some of these songs may sound, their influences can still be heard over a decade later.

Score: 7/10

The Grid - Floatation
Desert Storm - Desert Storm
Saint Etienne - Cool Kids Of Death (Underworld Mix)

Written by Sykonee. Originally published 2006 for © All rights reserved.


J said...

I actually think this is one of your best reviews. I've read it a few times down the years and it never feels like a 2000 word'er. beauties it's a little un

As I recall we both had this compilation at the same time, and I was planning to review it until you put this up. I remember thinking that you did a much better job of it than I would have.

Anonymous said...

This review fits the track-by-track review structure a lot better than an album would, so I think this review is pretty good too.

Sykonee said...

Well, let's be honesn. Even if a track-by-track description works in this case, my grammar was still quite clunky. For instance, I don't think an update of Dance 2 Trance's We Came In Peace needed quite the detailing that I gave it here.

But hey, thanks for the kudos on this one anyway!

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