Six Mix Albums That Define The Art Of DJ Culture
In the days before the internet well and truly consumed our souls, mix albums and tape packs were king. Bringing the sound of dancefloors and movements beyond your local club – and compounding some DJs’ global profiles – it wasn’t unfeasible for mix albums to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. Some sold millions.
Much more importantly than sales, however, was what some particular mix albums did for the entire culture and artform of DJing. Mixes that took what everyone thought they knew about mix craft and spun it on its head, setting a whole new benchmark for the next generation of DJs to aspire to. Mixes that debunked the ’12 bangers mixed top-to-tail’ formula, dug deep, joined unexpected dots and showed a different level of technicality. Mixes that meant people still talk about years later… And still sound amazing and perplexing too.
Mixes like these….
J.Period Presents The Roots The Best Of The Roots (Truelements, 2006)
The ONLY ‘best of’ album that could possibly warrant a place in a best mixes list; in 2006 J.Period looked back over almost 20 years of Black Thoughts and ?uestlove’s Philly troupe The Roots material, pulled out their fiery finest and brought it all together with matchless mix class. Tapping into hip-hop’s classic mixtape tradition and building on a theme The Roots had already established with previous album mixes from the likes of Jazzy Jeff and Cosmic Kev, Period brings together precision balance of Roots classics and oldies with the help of rogue Beatles loops, Malcom X samples and wry references from Kurtis Blow to KRS One. All brought together with hosting commands from Black Thoughts himself, this defines the art of DJ culture and redefines the art of best of albums (if ‘best of’ albums can be considered an art)
Alternative: For an immaculate party session of hip-hop foundation cuts mixed with mind-boggling speed, references and humour FABRICLIVE 14: Sinbad is well worth hunting down.
Sasha & John Digweed – Northern Exposure (Ministry Of Sound, 1996)
In the 90s there was a simple way to separate the casual listeners from the DJ connoisseurs; those who pored over the mix schematics in the liner notes as they listened to this double mix CD. And those who didn’t. Displayed like a linear DAW session, the artwork showed how the two progressive house pioneers laced the mixes together which felt revolutionary at the time and added a whole new layer of depth to the experience. Sonically the mixes defined the burgeoning progressive house sound at the time. Far from the languid clichés prog became associated with years later, these mixes are driving, dynamic and loaded with elements of classic house (Morgan King), rolling hypnotic techno (Castle Trancelot), ambient (Keiichi Suzuki) and blissed out rave euphoria (Ultraviolet) and ultimately set the blueprint for the progressive house glory days that took us well into the new century.
Alternative: This wasn’t the first time Sasha & Diggers set the benchmark; their ‘Renaissance: Mix Collection’ opus two years before set the foundation for ‘Northern Exposure’ and galvanised the sound and spirit of one of the UK’s most influential clubs in the 90s.
Kruder & Dorfmeister: K&D Sessions (!K7 1998)
According to Red Bull, it was pretty much the law in the late 90s to own both a copy of this album and an Ikea Billy bookcase. Seems legit: Ikea revolutionised affordable furniture for penniless students at the time while this mix revolutionised downtempo dance music. Both sold units of millions and the real savvy cats would store their album safely on said bookshelf. But while the shelf would last a few years, or one house move, this album still stands as tall as it did 20 years ago. Released off the back of their successful DJ Kicks mix two years prior, ‘K&D Sessions’ is a collection of the Austrian duo’s own material and remixes (ranging from Bomb The Bass to Bone Thugs & Harmony via Depeche Mode, Lamb, Alex Reece and Roni Size) With it being their own material, there’s a rich consistency weaved throughout as their cosmic, dubby signature flips between the 85/170 axis taking in shades of funk, hip-hop, D&B and trip hop along the way. The law on Billy bookcases has since rescinded, but ownership of this classic DJ mix album is still mandatory.
Alternative: LTJ Bukem’s ‘Logical Progression’ from 1996 was another album that lack of ownership was punishable by law during the late 90s. For very similar reasons; it carried such a strong and distinctive sonic signature and captured and galvanised a new musical paradigm.
James Zabiela: Balance 29 (Balance, 2018)
Released January this year, James Zabiela’s long-awaited entrance into the hallowed halls of the Balance series is proof that the DJ mix CD still packs a punch in 2018. Official mix albums of this weight give DJs time and reason to dig into the craft so much deeper than they might on a podcast or freebie promo mix, but Zabiela took this to a whole new level as he whittled down a wish-list of 3000 tracks to 58, which he then painstakingly deconstructed and re-edited to tesselate so smoothly three or four elements of tunes are running at any one time. With so much additional production he not only ended up creating his first original tracks in five years, he also drove himself to the creative brink and began questioning his art deeply according to interviews he did for the mix. The line between genius and insanity is about as thin as the one between DJ mix and artist album on ‘Balance 29’; Zabiela has always been known for his professor-level DJ science but this is a whole new schooling.
Alternative: While it’s not in the same genre or style, Richie Hawtin’s ‘DE9: Close To The Edit’ from 2001 takes a similar deconstructed approach as he dissembles over 100 tracks into loops and creates a hypnotic seamless blend that was years ahead of its time.
Journeys By DJ: 70 Minutes Of Madness (Music Unites, 1995)
Launching in 1993 with techno dark lord Billy Nasty, Music Unites’ ‘Journeys By DJ’ albums were one of the first DJ mix series to reach collectable status and set aspiring bucket-list benchmark status for DJs in the same way Fabric/Fabriclive mixes or Essential mixes do today. By the time Coldcut’s fittingly-titled ’70 Minutes Of Madness’ came along the series had already explored jungle (with both DJ Rap and DJ Trace mixes), early progressive house (John Digweed, Paul Oakenfold) and house (Danny Rampling, Rocky & Diesel) but this mix took the ‘journey’ aspect literally to a whole new level. Jungle at its core but prone to wild excursions from house to funk to jazz to even the Doctor Who theme tune, this mix was an intense snapshot of the Ninja Tune bosses’ tenure in the pirate radio movement on Kiss FM and really captured the UK musical melting pot that was frothing over at the time. Still just as compelling, baffling and fun 23 years later, there’s a reason this mix is on every ‘best DJ mix’ list.
Alternative: DJ Food & DK – ‘Now Listen Again’. One of those rare instances where the sequel is better, DJ Food & DK’s 2007 follow up to 2001 ‘Now Listen’ is a similarly wild genreless trip that takes in everything from Ram Jam to Roots Manuva.
2 Many DJs – As Heard On Radio Soulwax (PIAS, 2002)
There’s no question that this swashbuckling multi-genre mix defined and pushed the art of DJ culture when it landed in 2002, but admittedly it’s not aged quite as well as other mixes. This is due to the mash-up and bootleg culture that it became associated with. A gimmicky trend across house, electro and breaks, mash-ups prized crass cut’n’shuts over original productions and were rife during a substantial chunk of the 2000s (and arguably still on Soundcloud today). But the blends the Dewaele brothers were cooking up here were a cut above the crude cut and paste botch jobs you’d find on white label in record stores at the time. They came from a DJ perspective and were presented with such high impact, energy, humour and entertainment the album wasn’t so much mixed but frenzied together. When this, and the ahead-of-its-time online radio series, landed 16 years ago it did feel like a whole new style and technique to DJ mixes.
Alternative: ‘Fabriclive 09: Jacques Lu Cont’. Nowhere near as mash-uppy (although it does have an excellent mix of Strauss and Eurythmics) Jacques Lu Cont’s blend for the then-burgeoning Fabriclive series had a similar freeform spirit and electro backbone that captured the ‘what happens next?’ feeling of the time.