Subtle? Yes. Boring? No.
“Remixed by…” compilations are becoming more and more common these days, and it makes sense. With “performed by” or “produced by” often replacing “remixed by” in the credits, remixes are becoming more the work of the remixer and less about the remixee.
With the rise of club culture and superstar DJs in the ‘90s, labels and artists began handing off their masters to other artists to work their magic on. It was a great marketing tool: Why have Michael Jackson do a techno remix when a techno star like Moby could do it? How else could you sell Michael Jackson to Moby fans? The upshot is that these days, for better and worse, many acts’ cred can be directly affected by the list of remixers for their latest single. And most remixes bear only a tangential resemblance to the original studio versions.
With all this in mind, it’s not surprising that the coyly-titled Route de la Slack, a collection of others’ tracks as remixed by British electronica duo Swayzak, sounds much more like a Swayzak album than a compilation of loosely-related tracks. Swayzak’s James Taylor and David Brown bring their unique brand of mellow, minimal, yet usually danceable techno to bear on a selection of remixes from throughout the act’s career, some of them exclusive to this comp. And, while they’re at it, they throw in a disc’s worth of career-spanning rarities as well. It’s an interesting concept: On the first disc, you can hear how Swayzak have interpreted the variety of sounds in others’ music; on the second, you get a sense of how they’ve experimented with a variety of sounds in their own.
As with many of their studio tracks, Swayzak’s remixes rely on subtle changes, adding and removing sounds and sequences every few bars. It’s trance music in the literal sense of the word, and makes for a surprisingly uniform listen. Unlike many of their peers, though, Taylor and Brown don’t smother their source material. They add a seductive momentum to the fragile, Sunday morning vibe of Quark’s “Acoustiques Paralleles”, while their reworking of George Sarah’s “Sonata for Petra” takes the delicate, haunting piano and strings from the original and runs with them, adding a quiet rhythm for an effect that recalls Moby at his moody best. Wisely, they don’t mess with the pop elements of Tahiti 80’s “Changes”, instead keeping the hooky vocal track and injecting more edge and energy. And, when called for, they’re not afraid to stray from their low-key ways, as with the punchy, almost live-sounding rhythm section on Bergheim 34’s “Random Access Memory”. The disc is almost an alternate, more eclectic Swayzak studio album, but it shouldn’t offend fans of the originals, either.
The “Rarities” disc provides evidence that Taylor and Brown’s respectful remixes may derive from their own willingness to explore new approaches within their chosen working method. In other words, while “Lokal” and “Blufarm” are fairly striaight-up house, “If I Didn’t Care” is nearly dub, and “Grace’s State” pays homage to New Order’s eurodance side, they all sound like Swayzak. You get the sense of a couple guys who know each other’s musical inclinations well, know what they want to sound like and don’t mind taking different routes to get there. And, on the evidence of early tracks “Saints” and “I Love Lassie”, one of the routes taken and abandoned was hip-hop. The two tracks themselves aren’t great, but they provide the context and insight you want from a compilation like this.
A downside is that on both discs, several songs go on a couple minutes longer than they should, the understated changes of the Swayzak sound proving too subtle. But, whether it’s intentional or not, Route de la Slack is more rewarding than just a stopgap thrown together while Taylor and Brown put their feet up.