The choice of Hybrid to compile the latest volume in Distinctive’s Y4K series was an unexpected one—not that Hybrid aren’t one of the foremost names in the modern breaks scene, because they are. They are simply not as widely known for their DJing skills as many of their peers. As producers and remixers they have spent the last five years carving themselves a name as one of the leading acts in the progressive breaks movement, as well as one of the most renowned live acts, but until recently their mixing skills have gone relatively unheralded.
The good news is that their entry into the series is well-compiled and expertly mixed, but the bad news is that it also falls prey to many of the genre’s natural shortcomings. Progressive breaks, much like its counterpart progressive house, is essentially a minimalist reenvisioning of an increasingly elaborate medium. Of course, simply by nature of the more complicated rhythms involved in breaks, progressive breaks are naturally more involved than progressive house—much of which often seems merely one step separated from minimal techno, albeit without that genre’s trademark intellectual rigor. But just as prog house took the essential house template and subtracted the trappings of trance and funk which had grown into distinctly separate branches of the genre, progressive breaks stripped away the musical variety that defined mid-90s “big beat” and replaced the heavily-sampled breakbeat with a more artificial, techno-influenced rhythm track. The new prog beats accentuated the pristine and artificial nature of the music’s electronic sources while still hewing to the same kind of rhythmic format that breaks had embraced since before breakbeat and drum & bass split in the early 90s (and which most D&B still follows, albeit at a vastly accelerated BPM).
All the tracks follow the same basic rhythm from one song to the next, and it’s the same type of rhythm that Hybrid has used almost exclusively throughout their career. The differences arise not between tracks as discrete songs, but as different elements in a more-or-less cohesively constructed whole. The distinctions between individual tracks usually boil down to basslines and whatever sparse melody lines are utilized (usually in the form of synthesizer movements or sweeping trance breakdowns). Vocal samples are sparse, and singers almost entirely absent.
For what it is, it is excellent. Since its inception, the Y4K series has always been the best way to experience a temporal snapshot of the breaks genre. Certainly, the presence of Dylan Rhymes and Stereo 8 (in the form of their mix of Orbital’s “One Perfect Sunrise”) indicates the presence of the current vanguard. But a few classics are scattered throughout, such as the Future Sound of London’s “My Kingdom (Part 4)”, and the Chemical Brothers’ genre-defining “Chemical Beats”. Here we see one of the main differences between this volume and past installments in the series: Hybrid has extensively reworked certain tracks, such as “Chemical Beats”, to better incorporate them in the mix. Therefore, the distinctive loping stomp of “Chemical Beats”, while still quite distinctive, has been retouched into something that integrates more cohesively with Hybrid’s tech-influenced progressivism.
Hybrid have included three of their own tracks, including an exclusive Y4K mix of “Blackout” featuring the vocal contributions of Kirsty Hawkshaw. This was one of the standout tracks off of Hybrid’s 2003 album Morning Sci-Fi, and it also serves as an appropriate capstone to this mix. Again, my somewhat indifferent reaction to the mix as a whole has less to do, perhaps, with the overall quality—which is high—than the simple fact that this disc presents far less variety and far more stylistic similarity than past volumes. That’s the nature of the beast: some type of mixes accentuate vastly different tracks, other mixes revel in the act of highlighting subtle nuances between basically similar pieces of music. Unfortunately, on compact disc and played at normal listening volumes, these subtle nuances can often impart an air of torpid sameness that a more diverse and variegated mix avoids.