A Great Party None of Us Attended
My mix tapes are amazing. So are yours, I bet—all that time spent in trying to figure out the crucial answer to “What should I follow this long-ass Nick Cave depresso tune with, Pizzicato Five or ‘Rubberband Man’?” But no one pays us for our mix tapes, do they? No, because we’re not Big Internationally Famous DJs. The argument for buying mix CDs by BIFDJs goes like this: they have better taste than we do (or at least they have better access to newer cooler records) and they have better mixing equipment than we do and we can just put this disc on and it’ll be just like we’re in one of the clubs that those BIFDJs play in.
Large genial Mancunian Carl Cox is one of those BIFDJs, but he’s earned his title the hard way: he’s been deejaying since forever (about twice the lifetime of most of his dancers), and he actually loves to perform live. He inspired Moonshine Records’ whole “Mixed Live” series, which began with a Cox Chicago set a few years ago, and now he’s back; this disc contains a 73-minute live techno dance set from Moby’s Area2 tour in Detroit last summer. That’s right, live: real dancers, real DJ Carl Cox exhortations to the crowd to make some noise and their actual noise, the whole thing.
It’s a hell of a performance. We have to judge it like that, because that’s how it’s presented (in case you ever forget, Cox will pop up again with “Let’s hear it Detroit!” and people will yell back at him), and it’s skillful all the way. Cox’s transitions are perfect and inevitable like art, like gravity, like Halle Berry in a Bond film; he knows how to hook things up together and make them work like his name was Conjunction Junction. The rich creamy transition between Tomaz and Filterheads’ “Lazy People” and “I’ll Shove” by Colt Systems is amazing, wonderful, etc., as are all the other segues here.
Cox is not a turntablist, and isn’t trying to scratch or juggle or break weird edgy new ground on this disc, but he does know what to do as a DJ. Since many of these tracks have similar rhythmic underpinnings (a.k.a. boom boom boom boom repeat), he has to find interesting new ways to break things up. There is no real difference between some of these tracks, so Cox creates a difference by manipulating the fader to create a pseudo-breakdown on one of them and then moving from the other into a slightly different style of music. And the whole thing is paced so that people can get a break every five tracks or so. Cox’s handling of this on “Step Back (Smith and Selway Remix)” by SLAM is masterful; he takes full advantage of the lengthy breakdown, and then the tension commences again, and everything is ratcheted up a notch when he calls out “Come on Detroit I cahn’t heah you!” during the slow build back to the beat. By the time it comes back in, it feels like heaven.
I say all this even though this really isn’t very much my style of dance music. Hard house is unambitious stuff, and the whole four-beat pounding thing can really grate on a fella after a while. But you don’t really notice anything amiss during the less interesting pieces, and when a true scorcher comes in, like Bryan Zentz’s “Joplin” (a very nice invasion of Earth by robots) or the “unknown” piece that is track 5 (whoever the hell thought that acoustic hippie folk should be turned into techno music gets my vote), it sounds all the better.
My two favorite tracks here are actually Cox originals. “Want a Life” exploits its lockstep sampledelica in a way that recalls both the Human League and Chicago industrial house, and “Dirty Bass” (with Christian Smith) is a mad percussion bustup with swarms of synths and some of the most ominous chord changes I’ve ever heard in this genre. (Actually, there aren’t a lot of chords in this genre at all, so it’s even more impressive.) I really wish Cox would arse himself to do more original records, because he’s got some flavorful ideas that aren’t going to do much sitting on his DAT while he goes around spinning vastly inferior stuff.
All in all, a really well done live set that I probably won’t listen to very much again. I appreciate it and all, but I don’t get the urge to throw it on for fun or for dancing. Maybe that’s because it’s a live performance, a wonderful party I wasn’t invited to, or maybe it’s just because I already have several Moonshine releases with the same MO and the same BPM. Or maybe I’m just a loser. But I’ve learned a lot from this record about pacing and structure in live dance music, and I still think it’s a hell of a disc.