[8 September 2005]
Compilations are difficult to perfect. Once you have identified what it is you want it to do, you must decide how to go about it. In short, your choice of track has to match your purpose; otherwise, you have failed. If you succeed at this, longevity awaits. A fine example of this is the Now That’s What I Call Music series. While many may disagree and say that incredible longevity is instead due to an awareness of the sales yield from the series (America’s 19th installment in the series sold 436,000 copies in its first week. Europe has seen some 50-odd editions since its introduction there) but the only reason the longevity is possible is because it meets its objective. Whether this is worthwhile objective is open for debate. Death in Vegas’ work for the FabricLive label is similar to this.
Because the success of a compilation is determined by evidence of “something far more deeply interfused”, Death in Vegas’ agenda is to create the appearance of some cogency between the tracks. In other words, the intention is to match your purpose with your chosen tracks. FabricLive, like Now That’s What I Call Music!, is more than aware of how to get this to work. After all, this record is the 23rd in the series. So, what does all this mean? The answer is simply that any compilation must seek to achieve something and must use the resources at its disposal to facilitate its success. On this record, the object is to convey to the listener the working influence of his heroes on Richard Fearless’ work. He has put his own tracks alongside those of such legends as Alex Smoke to try to convey the effect of the latter upon the former. It’s a wonderful idea and it makes for a great record.
The opening track, Solvent’s’ “Science with Synthesisers”, is like a knock on the door. There is no bombast about its entry, instead it creeps up politely, asking to be noticed. Such is the nature of electronica that we are greeted with a single sound. It sounds like electric bongos but it’s probably a keyboard. The arrival of the supporting keyboard some time after the introduction is pivotal to the arrival of the first Death in Vegas track, “Zugaga”.
“Zugaga” sounds like a track that could have been done by Air. Indeed, it sounds like it belongs on Talkie Walkie. With its gossamer vocals and its synth loops it sounds like “Surfing on a Rocket”. This is a great track and, now that we know that Death in Vegas’ records sound like other people’s records, he can try something else. He has our confidence that what he is trying to do with this record is to show us that he deserves his place in the pantheon of electronic musicians. Via the mixing that links the opening two tracks, Fearless has theoretically created a single track. The effect of which is our first association of Death in Vegas with the records that have served as influences.
The inclusion of electronica legend Alex Smoke pushes FabricLive 23 on from being a snippet of Death in Vegas’ record collection to a record you could put on at a party. Smoke’s “Lost in Sound” is characteristic of the whole record. It is episodic in the way that R.E.M.‘s “Imitation of Life” video was. In that video, we watch a few seconds’ footage looped for the duration of four and a half minutes. By definition, episodic is also repetitive but the genuis of “Lost in Sound” is that it doesn’t allow itself to inhabit repetition’s traditional territory of dullity. There are so many sounds that, though they are looped, there is no point at which we are left to contemplate just one sound. Because of this, it defies derision by being anything but dull.
This record, then, is a design by Death in Vegas. It is intended to show that he has forged and shaped his sound from the raw elements that have embodied the sounds emanating from his stereo over the years. Fearless intends to show that he is no innovator because the Death In Vegas tracks on this record automatically lead to comparisons with the tracks that bookend them. This is a brave move. Effectively, Fearless tells us he is no thief since his records sound nothing like those that line the walls of his studios. We are allowed into the Death in Vegas workshop to prove that any accusations that Death in Vegas’ music is derivative are utterly unfounded. The mixes are further evidence of this. We could have had a 2 Many Djs mixing exhibition here, where Richard Fearless tries to prove that he’s an excellent disc jockey. He is an excellent disc jockey, but on this record he wants us to hear something different. The short mixes and the smattering of Death in Vegas tracks make this a record for Death in Vegas fans but also for electronica fans. As such, the record is less about Death in Vegas than about Death in Vegas’ influences. Thus, the compilation form moves into new territory: it’s both a collation of Fearless’ electronica faves and an invitation to compare his work to that of his heroes.