[5 March 2001]
Although it’s called Club Series 4, a better name for this new dance music compilation might be Radio Series 4. That’s because the two DJs who share billing on these tracks, New York’s Riddler (a.k.a. DJ Rich) and Los Angeles’ Christian B., are primarily radio DJ’s, each famous more on the airwaves than in the dance clubs. It’s important to point this out because, in the rarefied world of dance music, it’s not cool to be a radio DJ—especially when you’re spinning “dance shows” for Top 40 purveyors like KISS-FM or Z-100, as both these guys have done. Sure, you reach a wider audience than most club DJs, and you probably make more money than most of them, too. But commercial radio has never really courted dance music, or vice-versa; the music remains a primarily a sound of the discos and nightclubs, where the DJ plays off the energy of the crowd and tries to pick just the right sequence of tracks that will work them to a fever pitch. So radio DJs, no matter how big, often have a hard time gaining street cred. They have a reputation for not knowing how to mix, and not knowing how to excite a dancefloor crowd.
Club Series 4 is divided into two halves—Riddler plays the disc’s opening “set”, and about halfway through Christian B. steps in to finish things off. This gives the CD something of a split personality, since both DJs have very different styles; the Riddler is all banging club anthems with lots of hands-in-the-air breakdowns and breathy female vocals, while Christian B.‘s track selection is darker and trancier, with fewer moments of pure make-the-crowd-scream theatrics. It would have worked better as a double CD, but apparently the producers decided against a more expensive package.
Riddler has the credentials to buck the “radio DJ who can’t mix” stereotype—he won “Hotmixer of the Year” at Miami’s prestigious Winter Music Conference, and he now shares the limelight with the likes of David Morales and Armand Van Helden on an all-dance music radio station in New York. But frankly, I don’t care how many awards Riddler has won—if this compilation is any indication, his track selection is dull and cliched, and he still can’t mix. He mostly sticks to the road-tested hits—Malina’s “By Your Side”, the hopelessly hokey and overplayed “Ordinary World”—or songs that are thinly disguised knockoffs of hits like Mike Ski’s “In 2 the Future”, which, with its air-raid siren riff and drumroll builds, sounds like something Chemical Brothers could have put out in 1996. Worse, he slams back and forth from track to track heedless of any progression or build, which is exactly what you’d expect from someone who learned his trade on the airwaves. On the rare occasions he does throw on a decent track, like Darude’s corrosively driving “Sandstorm”, he’s back out of it so fast you barely have time to let the groove settle in. He can match beats, even between wildly different tracks, but technical skills don’t count for much when you have no sense of style. It’s possible the Riddler felt confined by the time limit the half-a-CD format imposes—he squeezes 10 tracks into barely 30 minutes—but it’s more likely he’s making the all-too-common mistake of confusing speed with good mixing.
Christian B. is a lot better, limiting himself to a relatively expansive seven tracks, choosing them wisely, and mixing between them with at least some degree of subtlety. He starts off strong with a solid trance remix of, of all things, French “classical crossover” singer Emma Shapplin. When her angelic vocals soar in over SAF’s brooding synth pulses, you start paying attention to this CD again. The follow-up track, a collaboration between English mega-DJs Sasha and Darren Emerson, is almost as good, another dark trance track with a nifty flamenco guitar loop woven into its bridge. From these foundations Christian B. forges a very respectable progressive trance set, marred only by some distracting cut mixing (when it sounds like the CD is skipping, you know the DJ is trying too hard) and a dreary Hybrid remix of a drearier BT song, two excellent trance artists who demonstrate here why they should really not be allowed to do breakbeat. But the concluding track, an underplayed Way Out West cut called “The Fall”, is excellent, and left me wishing I could hear more of Christian B.
Ultimately this disc may actually represent the coastal division currently happening in dance music. L.A. is becoming increasingly known as a trance town, and Christian B.‘s dark, sleek brand of it is perfectly suited to La-La Land’s glamor-puss, Blade Runner vibe. The Riddler’s set, on the other hand, is all in-your-face hard house, techno, and hyper club trance—in other words, very New York. This may explain why I, as an L.A. resident, prefer Christian B.‘s set, but I do think his sound is the more interesting and forward-looking of the two. We club kids have all heard enough of Riddler’s breathy female vocals and air-raid siren riffs—and we’ve heard them mixed better, too.