These mixes are an admittedly self-indulgent excursion that is a very personal sentimental journey. Going back, way back, back into time etc. A time where I was over twenty years younger, the early 90’s. The music you are about to hear is what we listened to at friends’ places before hitting the club. Every weekend we were dead certain that tonight will be THE night, even better than THE night the weekend before. We were young, handsome, carefree and everything that mattered was imminent. We knew there were hours of dancing to the most wonderful music lying ahead, and we actually could not really wait. In those days the club night began timely, and it had an end. We did not even think of being fashionably late, because there could have been so much we could have missed out on. But still, there was some time left. So beers open, cigs lit, talks, laughter, scheduling phone calls, dressing up and of course, the music. The music had to be perfect. But the music also had to be different to what we would dance to later on. We are not talking about music that should not distract, quite the opposite. It should be involving, fuelling our anticipation, but not exhausting it. Of course sometimes were were out buying the latest records earlier on, and we were playing them to each other. But sooner or later the dominant sound of getting ready was mellow, slick, lush, warm, elegant, fluid, flowing, smooth, soothing, emotional, DEEP.
It was the sound pioneered by in Chicago by artists like Larry Heard and Marshall Jefferson and many others, then developed further in New York by artists like Wayne Gardiner, Bobby Konders, the Burrell Brothers and also many others. Do not mistake their music as being designed for home listening purposes. The DJs would use them, too. As a gentle introduction, or as a moment of regeneration during peak time, or as the best possible way to ease the crowd out again in the early morning, so that not a single glorious moment of what just happened was tainted by something less. A lot of these tracks had enough kicks to have you working at any time, but they also seemed to be created for special moments, closed eyes, embraces, disbelief evoked by sheer beauty.
The musical programming of that era was quite different to today. It was not steadily going up and up, it was going up and down. There were detours, breaks, constant pace shifts, even pauses. Surprises welcome. A single style was not mandatory. Changes were expected, and fulfilled, at best unexpectedly. There was a flow, but it was not built-in, it had to be achieved.
A lot of these tracks have tags like Ambient or Jazz in their titles and credits, but they did not really try to be either. The artists involved liked to display their musicianship, and their ability to establish a mood and an atmosphere. They knew how to write a melody, they knew how to arrange their layers and instruments, they were determined to sound as good as their means would allow.
One reason why I wanted to record these mixes is that I sometimes miss club music artists being musicians. And music oblivious to floor imperatives and mere functionalism. The other reason is that I was interested how these tracks would sound or even hold up if you did not just inject this feeling inbetween something else, but you pull it through, for HOURS. Would it be too much? You decide.
I’d like to dedicate this to the Front Kids, wherever you may roam. You rule.
For the majority of releases in club music history, rhythm is a crucial ingredient. Two of the labels included in this mix even proudly carry it in their brand names – Strictly Rhythm & Rhythm Beat. But, in most of the said releases, rhythm is the backbone, the carrier for other sounds that establish the groove – basslines, keyboards, pads, vocals etc. Yet, the rhythm is prominently dictating the pace, taking turns and breaks, sometimes even shifting in tempo. Especially in the late 80’s to early 90’s, House and Techno often had music on a record’s tracklist that was originally destined only for skillful DJs – bonus beats, rhythm tracks, instrumental versions. Some only formed a reprise of the original material, taking up some of its key sounds for mixing double copies into little symphonies. Some were only the rhythmic skeleton of the original, displaying little more than beats, claps, percussion. Most of them were only a small portion of the original track in terms of length as well. Then there were original tracks that were just interested in being rhythm and not much else. Reducing a track to its very basics in the process, and neglecting the musical elements that, in most ears. make a track a TRACK. For some, that might be too little to attract attention, but for others, that might be all that matters. If well programmed and arranged, pure rhythm is just that: something pure. Something engaging, too. Something that can knock you out of your natural habits of listening. Something that urges you to move. Something where the rhythm is just a part of the whole picture.
While I went through my shelves recently to select records for a gig, I stumbled upon several records that had: a) basic rhythm tracks in a DJ tool sense b) tracks that were just made out of rhythmic elements or c) bonus beats and versions of regular dance tracks. Some of these tracks were just astounding, even if they did not much more than show what then young kids could jam together with their Rolands, or showing off that their tracks were still extraordinary with all the juicy bits and arrangements left out. It struck me that such tracks still exist, but way less than before. In some cases, producers may not want to spread out their ideas for tracks that only few people use or listen to, and DJs may not require it any longer anyway, because they can extract every element of a track with software and loop it into infinity if they want to, without even setting their drink aside. This mix, however, is not for showing how you make extended versions with bonus beats, or how you beef up a track with a different rhythm tool underneath. It is a tribute to the bonus beats and rhythm tracks on their own. That beatin’ rhythm Richard Temple once sang about in a revered Northern Soul song, albeit without hearing a drummer get wicked, but a drum machine.
There are enough great tracks around to record several sequels to this mix, and it is well worth digging for your own personal favourites. I might do a sequel with just the acapellas I found in the process. But that’s another story.
In early 2004, I was occupied with the confusing and chaotic last stages of leaving my cozy and beloved seaside hometown Kiel up north for the bright lights of Berlin. My girlfriend was already there for a while, and I was more than happy to live with her again, but at the same time I was very sad to leave my family and friends behind for what was very likely to be a move for many years and a future uncertain. One of those said friends was the one who operates under the Gram moniker, a likeminded soul with whom I shared a lot of cultural interests and lasting experiences, and with whom I wholeheartedly clashed heads over what we could not agree upon in many nights of smart conversations (and more often than not far less smart amounts of drinks and cigarettes).
As it became clear to the both of us that we would not see each other as much again for quite a while, we were toying with the idea of recording a mix together. Some kind of final joint venture for the time being, a testament to both our friendship and music we both loved. At that point we had a few discussions about digital mixing devices, Ableton and the likes were on the upswing, and he was dabbling in a few track productions on the computer and was more open to the idea than me, as I was pretty determined to not abandon my turntables for this kind of progress. But then I felt it would be a good opportunity to try something I had not tried before, particularly instead of criticizing a method I only knew in theory. So we soon agreed to embark on the endeavour of a digital mix that should at best use what seemed to be the ultimate advantage over a setup with two turntables, meaning the use of multiple tracks and the ability to insert more sounds than you could with two records playing at once (no, I’m no turntablist). The problem was that we had no Ableton or similarly advanced mixing software at hand. Among the programs Gram knew his way around was Cakewalk, which at the time was already vintage, to say the least. We soon realized that the only way for us to do it was to combine analogue hardware with it. The idea for the source material was quickly agreed upon. I had vivid memories of the Acid House glory days, and I was miffed about how revivalists were mostly only clinging to 303 sounds whenever the genre came back into the spotlight, whereas I always experienced Acid House as template for parties that incorporated diverse styles, and not only one. So basically we wanted to use landmark records of that era with a bit of stylistic leeway left and right and play them like we felt they should be played: energetic, raw, the archetypical aural rollercoaster ride. With this in mind I browsed my record collection for the basic tracklist and also for what should be the added value of the enterprise: a whole plethora of acapellas, samples, vocal snippets from records and movies, sound detours, intros and outros, all coming from different angles. We narrowed down the selection to how much we would need to match the typical CD length, and to how much elements we could inject into a track without drowning it, and then we chose a basic record and a basic tempo (Tyree’s “Acid Over”, which strangely then did not make it to the final tracklist later on) and I pre-mixed all in sync with it on two Technics MKs and we recorded each single track and snippet onto the computer afterwards. I don’t recall how many tracks of the program we could fill with all those recordings, but for me, who rarely used more than three channels on a mixer, it sure looked impressive. What also impressed me was the hours it already took to finish this first stage of the mix. And it was only preparation still.
When we then started to structure all the single components into a whole, it took way more time. For more than one month, we met several times a week and spent hours from early evening to early morning trying to work out the best sequence for our material that we felt we were capable of. I must add that I’m hardly a perfectionist and a studio boffin even less, but my collaborator was, and that fit like a glove with my enthusiasm for the idea and my many years of DJ experience. In fact, despite barely managing to complete more than one or two track sequences in several hours of work, it felt like we were already exploring the atoms of everything we used, and then splitting it into even smaller fractions, and it felt like a strange universe on its own. Frequently, we took a break, stepped back from the monitor and listened thoroughly to what we just did, and how it worked with what we did before, like a painter studied what ended up on the canvas (I’m not getting carried away). And it was like we’ve created a monster, too. Something that spiralled out of control. Something that seemed more out of reach in terms of finishing it with every little step we took. But then again, every small step, however long it took, seemed to lead to something we had not expected. New opportunities came to mind that led to the deletion of the ones not considered as good anymore. There were setbacks, detours, fresh and false starts, bad ideas. And there were leaps of faith, open sesames, sudden solutions, good ideas (I’m not getting carried away again). For the work on something as functional and purposeful as a recorded mix, it was pretty intense. When we finally stuck the outro to the last track, and gave the whole thing a final listening, we were surprised with how fresh and accomplished it sounded, and how little of all our efforts were apparent. We conceived artwork to complement the listening experience, and we were done with it. We were ultimately satisfied with the result. Of course anyone with enough skills could have come up with something equally or more engaging in realtime, thus sparing oneself the ridiculous amount of time we spent on it. But that was not the point. The point was to spend this ridiculous amount of time on it, together. Not caring if somebody would ever appreciate what and how we did it (and also secretly hoping somebody would). Not knowing if the dam we built would hold.
But it did. Time went by, and we are still very good friends, and still living in different cities. We never recorded something together again, but we sometimes speculate what it would have sounded like if we would have. I have never recorded a digital mix again, being too impatient and feeling too uncomfortable with anything else than two turntables. Gram, however, went on to record a few other fine mixes with the same dated setup. We both are still very proud of “Smileyville”. For us, it has stood the test of time, like the music it contains.
In discussion with Modyfier on “Twin Peaks” by Angelo Badalamenti (1990).
What was your first encounter with Angelo Badalamenti? Did you notice the music when “Twin Peaks” was originally aired?
It was when the first season debuted in the spring of 1990. I was eleven and used to watch the show regularly with my parents. It made quite an impression on me. It was around that time that I started to become aware of abstractions and my mind wandered into the incredible world of intangible things. The show was the perfect guide, pulling me further into this exploration. I’d like to say that I didn’t notice the music apart from the imagery (because together, I think they make up the show), but I can’t. The first season soundtrack (on cassette) was one of the earliest albums I ever bought. I loved the access the music provided. Listening to it, I’d immediately be transported to Twin Peaks.
Did you have the instant impression that your fascination with the soundtrack would outlast the TV experience as a singular work of art? Can it be held apart from the series?
“Twin Peaks” is best when experienced the way it was meant to be: as a moving picture with sound. While it is possible for each to exist without the other, they lack full form. For example, if you listen to the soundtrack on its own, it is constantly evoking imagery from the show. It reaches out for it, plucking it ripe from the memory branches of your mind. Badalamenti is successful in painting Lynch’s vision precisely with his composition.
As far as my ‘fascination’ with the soundtrack, I’d reiterate that I think it is best when listened to in the context of the show. For that reason, I don’t think it has outlasted the experience of the series. The characters and places have a dark beauty and frank oddity that are created as equally by Badalamenti’s music as they are by Lynch’s imagery and narration. For me, the soundtrack is so much more than merely associative. There is a symbiosis that makes me think cymatics are at play. When things are put into motion in “Twin Peaks” (when characters and places interact in different combinations) events begin to happen that are outside of the rational. A door is opened into an unexplainable dimension that is conveyed through the important combination of picture and sound. Read the rest of this entry »
For me, there are two approaches to recording a mix. The first is to take a lot of time in thinking of a smart and coherent concept, to then carefully select the according music and plan its transitions, and later, record the whole thing and make it public. There are plenty of my sets on the internet where I have done exactly that, with quite some variety of styles and ideas, and for a variety of reasons and purposes, too. These mixes are often schooled by the mixtapes I compiled for as long as I can remember (for girlfriends, friends and maybe some yet invisible target audience). My mixes of that kind have gotten more refined over the years. At some point, I started to mix music, and the amount of people such a set finally reaches has grown considerably. But the method, more or less, has stayed the same.
The second approach is to record a set while you’re playing in the club. Of course, the selection and execution in that context is different. I usually bring as many records as possible that I would like to dance to if I would be attending the club that very night, and then I combine them as it makes most sense to me in the given situation of the party. I try to avoid repeating combinations with each gig. For me, the fun part of mixing is to try and test new sequences. This can run the risk of a hit-and-miss in outcome (often depending on how inspired or concentrated I am), but in my mind, the possibility of failure is far less uncomfortable than relying on playlists of which I have already explored or experienced the success or functionality of. In short, I try to stay open to the surprises the music has on offer, and I try to pass that on to the crowd.
As Modifyer asked me for a guest mix, I quickly thought of doing something I had never done before: a combination of the two approaches mentioned above. At the time, there were no concepts left in my mind waiting to be released in a set (and admittedly, I also had so many other things to take care of that I found it difficult to come up with another or a better idea). If such ideas don’t strike you right away, they are mostly not worth being carried out anyway. What I did spend some thought on, however, was the music I wanted to play at Macro’s imminent label residency at Panorama Bar on the 10th of October 2009. I decided to leave the records in my box in the exact order I would play them at the gig, and re-record the set as soon as possible, with the memory of the proceedings still vivid. And thus I did, a day later. Naturally, the way the set now sounds is different to the live situation of the club; the mixing is tighter in parts, probably less frantic, and I could already tell where to mix in from what I could still remember of playing the music as it happened. Still, it was very interesting to repeat the experience, and it was also very interesting to take a second look at the choices I made in the intensity and immediacy of the night.
The night itself was a wonderful experience. We had just released the album “Catholic” by Patrick Cowley & Jorge Socarras and its accompanying singles. For the occasion, my label partner, Stefan Goldmann, and I invited Serge Verschuur from Clone Records and our friend Hunee to play. We knew that both would deliver the dynamic diversity we had in mind to celebrate what we had worked on for so long. I was due to play the last set, from 8 a.m. to 10.30 a.m. Unfortunately, I had a severe cold resurfacing, so I took some hours rest before arriving at the club at around 4 a.m. I could tell right away that the vibe of the club was a bit different to other nights there. Dubfire was on for Berghain, and judging from the queue I passed on my way to the entrance, the people interested in hearing him play seemed other than the regular crowd. I didn’t mind that at all, but as I made my way through Berghain, I kept running into friends who were telling me that there was more trouble at the door than usual. The music was different, too. I paused to listen to Dubfire’s set. While the monolithic pulse of the techno sound associated with Berghain was there, it somehow lacked the tension and groove that I need to lock me. I went upstairs to Panorama Bar to check what was going on there instead.
Serge was in the midst of a blinding set of classic and contemporary house and techno. The crowd was well into it. Hunee followed suit marvelously, steering the proceedings to more cheerful shores, and adding some classic disco and anthemic vocal moments. There were smiling faces enough, familiar and unfamiliar, to convince me that the night turned out to be what we hoped for, and then some. As I took over, I had the feeling that I should take another direction musically. I felt very tired and numbed by the fever the flu brought along. To start, I thought that I should kick myself into action with the music, hoping that the dancers would follow my way. Picking Heaven 17 to follow up Hunee’s last record, Code 718’s blissful “Equinox”, was admittedly a bit bold and therefore received some confused looks, but then in the course of the set, things quickly fell into line. Flicking through my box, every next record seemed to be waiting in place, already offering its services to make the night one to remember. When I left the club, near Sunday noon, into the same mean cold drizzle I entered from several hours before, the music continued to thump in my head and there were indeed a lot of wonderful memories to keep. On Monday, I refreshed myself, had a good breakfast and then recorded this set right away in one take, in order to not let any of those memories slip away.