It must get tiring being a hard house DJ. All those jackhammer beats, those hairpin segues between tracks, those tweaked-out screaming fans in your face. Sometimes it must make you just want to put on a nice, mellow Sarah McLachlan track and lie on the floor for awhile.
DJ Irene does just that at the end of her relentless, 26-track onslaught Audio Underground, although this particular Sarah McLachlan track isn’t exactly mellow—in fact, teamed up with world-beat trancemeisters Delerium and remixed by the always-frenetic DJ Tiesto, Sarah sounds pretty wound up on “Silence”. But she still makes for a soothing coda when compared to the rest of DJ Irene’s nerve-shredding disc.
Of course, if you’re a hard house fan, you probably like having your nerves shredded, and DJ Irene knows how induce uncontrollable dancefloor twitching better than almost anyone. For you folks, the first part of Audio Underground won’t disappoint. Irene slams through track after track of the sort of punishing stuff that’s inevitably described as “bangin’”—deliriously repetitive cuts by DJ Corrosive, Poogie Bear and Raoul Zerna that only a speed freak could love. The rest of us must hang on for dear life until about one third of the way into Irene’s surgical sledgehammer of a mix, when the familiar chant-along riffs of Zombie Nation’s “Kernkraft 400” kick in, and we’re taken to a realm where the bass is set to something less than 10 and the BPMs drop to a more hospitable 140 or so. From there it’s a relatively gentle ride through some of hard house’s funkier corners (funky hard house? check out Junior Jack’s “My Feeling” if you don’t believe me) into acid house, techno, and even trance, albeit of the ultra-hyper, hands-in-the-air variety. By the time the Tiesto-distorted Ms. McLachlan cuts loose, Irene’s thrown down something for almost everyone.
On the one hand, this is an impressively eclectic mix, but on the other, it’s a little too all over the map for its own good. Irene’s deck skills are impeccable (well, mostly—she’s a little too fond of an explosion sound effect that allows her to move from full-throttle tracks to quieter ones without really having to blend them), but she follows a progression here that moves too quickly through different genres and doesn’t make sense to me either as a CD mix or a club set. From a flashy four-minute intro track that features a rapid-fire blend of at least 12 different songs (impressive, even if it almost certainly wasn’t mixed live), Irene goes into peak hard house territory, then into a rave anthem trifecta (Voodoo & Serrano’s “Blood Is Pumpin’”, the infectious “Kernkraft 400”, and Darude’s great-but-already-overplayed “Sandstorm”, here in a curiously lifeless remix), then into some funky house before finally settling into a slightly slower-tempo, but still hyper, house/trance mix. It’s like arriving at the club at 2 a.m. and leaving at 11:30—like your drugs have just started kicking in and you have to go back and listen to the first 10 tracks again to really get off.
It’s also surprising, given Irene’s bold mixing of genres, not to hear some bolder track selections to back it up—stretches of Audio Underground play like a “Dance Music Mega-Hits” package. Yes, Timo Maas’ “Dooms Night” remix is still great, but it’s a very safe, predictable track for a DJ of Irene’s caliber, as is “Kernkraft 400” and even, to some extent, that Delerium/Sarah McLachlan tune “Silence”. And none is really presented here in peak form—“Dooms Night” and “Kernkraft 400” are cut off too quickly, and Tiesto’s remix of “Silence” speeds up the tempo of McLachlan’s vocals in a way that robs them of much of their sensual allure.
Ultimately, I suspect that Audio Underground‘s departures from straight hard house will disappoint many Irene fans, and the weird track sequencing and all those familiar hits are unlikely to win her many new ones. It all just makes you want to put on a nice, mellow Sarah McLachlan track—a real mellow one, like say, “Sweet Surrender”—and lie on the floor awhile. Either that, or do more speed.