[23 January 2007]
It would not be an exaggeration to say that I have been waiting for this collection, or something very much like it, for almost a full decade. Dave Clarke has long been one of the best-kept-secrets in the world of techno and hard house, a legend to those who know but virtually unknown outside the cloistered world of dance music (at least in the States). He has for the most part refused to amend his musical habits to fit the conventional mode of albums and pop singles to which most of his comrades have long since acquiesced—he’s still fiercely attached to the classic mode, that is, releasing singles and remixes at his own pace with very little attention given to the world outside the scope of his own sybarite ambitions. His albums, when they emerge, more closely resemble singles compilations than anything else, remaining steadfastly tied to the dancefloor in both form and function. He’s remained a purist, and anyone who would criticize him for failing to bend to accommodate the will of the music industry need only examine the results.
It is true that this collection only compiles his remixes (save for the Kraftwerk-inspired Japanese rarity “Affirmative Rarity”, featuring Jane Murphy on vocals), so those looking to see his classic singles compiled will have to search elsewhere for the time being, or track down a copy of the import-only Archive One. But damn, even given the exclusion of Clarke’s own material, the track listing presents perhaps as succinct an encapsulation of modern dance music history as anyone could hope to find. Anyone wishing to gauge the quality of Clarke’s pedigree need look no further than the laundry list of superstars featured herein. From the dawn of electronic music as a pop form, Clarke delivers the likes of Depeche Mode, New Order and Gary Numan. His remix of Depeche Mode’s “Dream On” is one of the better things to come from that group’s disappointing Exciter period; while the mix of New Order’s “Everything’s Gone Green” (from way back in 1981) is an incredibly hard reworking that still manages to retain the original’s melancholy chill. And hey, Numan’s “Cars” may have been one of the most important singles in the history of electronic music but that doesn’t mean it can’t benefit from a muscular refitting, as it receives here.
It’s almost easier to pinpoint the movements and sounds that Clarke hasn’t touched with his remixing at some point. Looking for the timeless acid-house of the Chemical Brothers’ early “big beat”? Check out “Chemical Beats”, still a monstrous track after all these years. What about Underworld’s classically cool trance-influenced deep house? Clarke takes “King of Snake” off 1999’s seminal Beaucoup Fish and makes it even harder than the original, if such a thing is even possible. He delivers an uncharacteristically downtempo trip-hop take on “Run On” from Moby’s Play (and seriously, if you’ve been dogging Moby lately you should think seriously about going back and listening to Play because it holds up a lot better than you might expect). Clarke takes Leftfield’s “Phat Planet”. an already incredibly deep track as is, and make it even deeper by inflating the central riff to monstrous proportions. Death in Vegas (remember them? well, you should) see their moody masterpiece “Rocco” morphed into a downright-scary meditation on mortality with hard breakbeat accompaniment.
Looking for some electroclash? How about Fischerspooner’s once-ubiquitous “Emerge”, here transformed into a much more palatable slice of traditional electro. Madonna cohort Mirwais sees his “Naive Song” transformed, as does Green Velvet with his incredibly catchy “La La Land” (still damn catchy even after I’ve heard it a thousand and one times). Slam, Laurent Garnier, even the frickin’ Super Furry Animals all show their heads. It is to his credit that even Clarke’s most potentially embarrassing moment is far more acceptable in the context of his larger career: it’s not his fault that his fizzy remix of Zombie Nation’s “Kernkraft 400” got co-opted by sports arenas and Jock Jams across the globe. He even refers to it in the liner notes as “the albatross around my neck”—but it’s hard to blame him for the overenthusiasm of crappy trance DJs and stadium operators.
My personal favorite track here is in fact none of the above. Most Americans have probably never even heard of Midfield General, AKA Damian Harris—he is, however, one of the label heads of Skint, home to Clarke as well as the likes of Fatboy Slim and X-Press 2. Clarke’s remix of Midfield General’s “Coatnoise” is presented here in all it’s glory, truly one of the mightiest deep house tracks of the last decade, with a sweeping dirty bass riff and the kind of relentless kick drum that can instantly shift any DJ set into merciless high gear. It is also educational to look at the caliber of the collaborators who were, for various reasons, left off the set: remixes for both Felix Da Housecat and Fatboy Slim. In the case of the former, regrettable label politics are responsible, but in the case of the latter, well, you probably heard Clarke’s mix of “Star 69” a thousand times back in the day, and it’s not one of his best anyway. He even did a remix of the James Bond theme at some point… which I guess doesn’t hold as much cache as it once did.
Spread over two discs, the riches are simply embarrassing. There’s not a mix on here that doesn’t contain some sort of interesting hook or distinctive sonic fingerprint. Even Clarke’s very first remix, of the Passions’ “I’m In Love With A German Film Star”, charms with its unabashed representation of early-90s British alternative mores, right down to the early rave breakbeat and mordant female vocal. Remixing gets a bad rap in certain circles, but that’s primarily because it is rare to find a remix artist dedicated to maintaining such a high degree of aesthetic coherence and sonic vision across a wide variety of remixed collaborations. Dave Clarke has earned every inch of his storied reputation, and the results are here presented in one convenient package for the entire world to see.