Electronic music and DJ culture lie at a crossroads at this moment in time. In one direction, the vinyl purists and fetishists, clinging onto the black gold that begat the entire art and culture of mixing. In the other, the technophiles who value convenience, speed and the infinite possibilities that digital mixing offers. But who said you had to pick a side?
Ever innovative and creative, Swiss melodic techno bastion Deetron has chosen to embrace both the past and present of mixing disciplines on Balance 020, showing that the two can indeed live together in harmony – or even synergy – and underlining the qualities and nuances of each school of thought. Bringing his wealth of experience that has seen him release on labels from Music Man to Green to Rejected to Circus Company to Versatile, he has created something truly inspirational.
“I chose to use both digital and analogue formats since I’m using both when I’m playing out”, he explains. “This compilation is a celebration of the gorgeous format that is vinyl and a praise for the endless possibilities the digital world has to offer.” To that end, Disc 1 was mixed digitally, with additional production and editing in Cubase and Wavelab, and Disc 2 was recorded with three turntables and an Allen & Heath mixer – and some very special dubplates. The track selection and structure of each of these two sublime mixes lovingly and carefully reflects that inherent choice of medium, while at all times reminding the listener why his highly accessible, humanistic sound is so widely cherished and embraced.
Deetron’s Balance 20 mix takes in seminal classics, exclusives, rare cuts, lesser-known gems, and a healthy blend of big names and underground heroes, with his blend of thoughtful techno and scintillating, moving melody stamped all over it. “It’s really exciting and challenging, especially these days,” he says of the process of putting together the mix. “The beginning of the process could be compared to crate-digging in a record store and going through hundreds of pieces of music. The more difficult part is to make the final selection and to put these tracks together in the mix with a good flow.”
Giving a nod to the past and some of the all-time greats, he cites !K7’s blueprint-setting X-Mix series as a key source of inspiration; a collection of mixes which showed that techno was about much more than just kicks, loops and stabs. “Those mixes had a big impact on me when they were released in the early/mid-nineties. I’ve had those in mind – especially the Laurent Garnier one – because of their cinematic approach and dramaturgy.”
Disc 1 sees Deetron make full use of the possibilities at his fingertips. Mixes drift in and out of focus, with loops perfectly selected to segue and compliment their counterparts. It’s always sleek; never cluttered. Our selector engages us with the blissful tones of Nine from hugely influential electronic pioneers Autechre and a tease of Model 500’s twinkling Infoworld, giving the intro section a – whisper it – Balearic warmth and grace. Detroit-style beauty comes from Unabombers’ take on Shit Robot’s Losing My Patience, arpeggiated proto-trance lushness from Todd Terje’s Bonysh and unclassifiable hypnotic magic from DJ Koze’s The Geklöppel Continues. Melodies and intriguing textures arrive thick and fast, with momentary lapses into more leftfield territories to keep us on our toes. Move D is drafted in for some jazzy piano action on Your Personal Healer, leading into round two of Terje’s epic odyssey Ragysh and rude analog techno on Carl Craig’s re-rub of old school legends System 7 Positive Noise.
We’re pulled deep into the stunning collaboration between Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Four Tet and the elusive Burial, Ego, midway through the mix, and a little funk colours the mix via Maceo Plex’s U & Me. Caribou’s remix of Virgo Four’s It’s A Crime ups the ante again, unexpectedly bursting into a flurry of acidic sexiness and hazy, fuzzy synth chords, the dashing violins of Mr. Beatnick’s Synthetes taking us in a different direction next, and Cavalier’s Kaimanawa bringing skippy deep house flavour to the table. Ratcliffe’s take on Throbbing Gristle’s seminal Hot On The Heels Of Love lays its emotion-drenched chords under loops of Nicolas Jaar’s detached voice mesmerisingly, the mix soaring to dizzy new heights before LV and Message To Bears and Zaki Ibrahim’s sumptuously minimal and soulful Explode sucks us deep into the void. A dubbed-out closing section gives way to an eccentric finale, in the form of Savage Progress’ bugged-out and vampy Heart Begin To Beat”.
Over on Disc 2, our host shows us that you don’t need bells and whistles to produce a highly creative mix. The mixing is tight and imaginative, but gently roughed edges in places remind you that you’re dealing with real DJing skills, and not simple beat grid syncing. It’s reassuring somehow; and pleasingly organic. We’re focused on straight-up house and techno grooves, keeping the momentum and energy high. Those golden melodies are not forgotten, though; heavenly piano chords on Ripperton’s Swept Illusions early on lead up to the afro-tech riffs and soulful vocals of Âme’s stunning reworking of Osunlade’s Envision and the shuffling, heady, effervescent charm of Deetron’s own Croque. The mix begins to pulse and thump heavily via cuts from Super Flu and Sneaker (the wild You Think You Think) and South London talent Wbeeza in old skool jack mode. Reggie Dokes’ blissed out piano beauty “Haiti” flies effortlessly over the top of a mysterious, snappy old skool tech house white label (Shed, in case you were wondering) – and then Romanthony joins the party. The dots between past and present, heritage, influence and re-interpretation are joined.
Simon Garcia’s tense Detroit chugger Tears In Vain takes the mix to a higher plane next, sublime Dutch techno leads into another dusty Four Tet gem, and Deetron then dispenses with the pleasantries and heads for the box marked ‘heads-down techno.’ His edit of Radio Slave’s Let It Rain ups the tension, giving his skippy beast Starblazer the perfect setup, exploding in all its jacking, piano-driven glory for one of the compilation’s ultimate highlights. Retro-focused techno from Lone leads into actual retro techno from Derrick May, then an epic slice of Carl Craig magic – and what better way to finish than with an exclusive dubplate from our faithful curator? One of his finest moments to date, no less, this unreleased version of Collide rounds off the compilation in spine-tingling, fist-pumping, sensational fashion. If your jaw’s not on the floor by this point, you’ve come to the wrong club.
An easy contender for the finest compilation of 2011. That’s no hyperbole, just a genuinely overwhelmed reaction to a truly breathtaking compilation. Deetron knows.
*Deetron North American tour dates coming in February 2012.