Enough time has passed that it’s easy to forgive John Digweed the excesses the late ‘90s trance scene with which he was so strongly identified. He was one of the first of his contemporaries to leave the sound behind in favor of progressive house, and the humble quietude with which he has pursued continued success in the field places him in a stark contrast to conspicuous peers such as Paul Oakenfold and Sasha. The fact that he continues to sport the most doggedly banal public image of any other major DJ just serves to accentuate his charm: he can show up in that same boring brown sweater and the fans will still love him because they know that electronic music is the one field of pop music where anonymity can be a strong artistic statement.
The recent re-release of the 10th Anniversary of Sasha & Digweed’s first Renaissance mix provided a convenient milestone for his career, and this new Fabric disc traverses a full circle in his musical development. The eclecticism that marked his early mixes has returned, and while progressive elements are still pervasive, they do not dominate. This is a hypnotically tasteful mix, a perfect synthesis of current flavors filtered through Digweed’s distinctively transparent style. He’s not a very flashy DJ, and most of his mixes are likewise long and involved. It’s hard to see the seams, and that is a very good thing.
The disc begins with the 16b mix of Pete Moss’ “Strive to Live”, a sublime throwback to the samba-infused rhythms of classic Detroit techno, with a slight nod to the tech-house of producers like John Tejada. From this we segue into Adam Johnson’s “Traber”, one of the few distinctively progressive tracks on the CD. But its a short track that soon gives way to the Richard Davis mix of Repair’s “Forgive + Forget”, a melancholy electro-pop vocal number undergirded by a sturdy house beat. This first section highlights Digweed’s ear for selection, building from a slow start before introducing the driving house beat that will carry through the entire mix. Additionally, his use of minimal tracks like “Traber” to provide the proverbial “breather” between otherwise clashing sonic motifs is a subtle and sophisticated way of pacing out a diverse mix.
DJ Rasoul’s “True Science” introduces surprising elements of jazzy funk, in the form of a lengthy saxophone sample. This slight funk gives way in turn to the extreme disco throwback of the 20:20 mix of The Glass’ “Won’t Bother Me”. The Glass are one of the mainstays of New York’s strong electro scene, and their contribution here is characteristically funky.
From disco-infused electro to acid house, The Glass gives way to Billy Dalessandro’s “In the Dark”, a throwback to early ‘90s rave complete with repetitive vocal samples and harshly arppegiated 303 lines. The beats are also getting gradually harder, as the pounding acid 4/4 of “In The Dark” transforms into Bobby Peru’s mechanical “Venom”, a robotic techno number.
The Freestyleman Thirsty Monk Dub of Slam’s “Lie to Me” is a full-blooded flashback to the days of 1980s proto-techno freestyle, complete with a stuttering 808 highhat. From there we go to Angel Alanis’ “Knob Job”, another acid track that has one of the most annoying recurring vocal samples I’ve ever heard, and which serves as an unfortunate blight on an otherwise stellar mix. But it’s followed in short order by the Josh Wink mix of Infusion’s “Better World”, which takes the acid idiom into surprisingly clean directions—this could almost pass for a deep house record, if it weren’t for Wink’s famous “Higher State of Consciousness” wiggles lurking just around every corner.
The last three songs drop the acid motif, beginning with the hard and precise techno of Michael Mayer’s mix of Superpitcher’s “Happiness”, off Germany’s stalwart Kompakt label. After building an appropriately intense mood, the mix falls into Joel Mull’s “Emico”, a rhythmically complex house track with a surprising and melancholy melodic synth element. This elements serves as a perfect introduction to the Goldtrix remix of Matrix & Danny J’s “Vertigo”, the album’s sole concession to trance. But even here, it doesn’t really grate because the track owes as much to Underworld’s brand of deep house as it does to the kind of bellowing and obvious anthems that used to clog these type of mix discs. It’s a fittingly emotive end to an excellent mix, a disc that shows Digweed breaking through his customary reserve in order to summon a taste of the same kind of magic that made him a superstar lo those many years ago.