My one main complaint to date with !K7’s otherwise exemplary DJ Kicks series has been the preponderance in recent years of sets compiled by younger, less-proven DJs at the expense of seasoned veterans. As one of the few true institutions of note in the electronic music scene, the fact that many recent DJ Kicks have been compiled by relative newcomers has been somewhat baffling, especially considering the long list of elder statesmen in the genre who have yet to be given a crack at the format.
This is one of the reason why DMC’s Back to Mine series has quietly emerged as one of the most consistently satisfying brand names in electronic music. Although some might dismiss Back to Mine for its reliance on established, commercially successful acts to the detriment of younger DJs, the fact remains that you cannot discount acts like Underworld, Orbital, the Orb, New Order and Tricky merely because they have been around the block a few times. I would have loved to see a DJ Kicks from any of these artists before Tiga, Chicken Lips or Trevor Jackson (Playgroup) — but the former all released volumes in the Back to Mine series, while the latter have all recorded relatively uninteresting entries in the once supremely consistent DJ Kicks catalog. Oh well, c’est la vie.
Mix CDs offer an invaluable historical tool for electronic music fans and historians. When done well, they can open up entire vistas of unknown or overlooked branches of music. They are also useful as a concrete means of measuring strains of influence through the music’s often vague and contentious history. With all this in mind, Daddy G’s entry into the DJ Kicks is absolutely wonderful, a return-to-form for the beleaguered series, an instant history lesson, and a thoroughly enjoyable CD.
Daddy G is one of the founding members of Massive Attack, one of the most influential electronic music groups in the genre’s history. The group actually dates back to the early ’80s and the formation of the Wild Bunch, a loose assortment of DJs and MCs which, in addition to the current members of Massive Attack, included Tricky, Nellee Hooper, and a few less-notable others. Daddy G’s mix takes the music back to the early days, exhuming the group’s signature mix of hip-hop, funk and reggae, and sheds a spotlight on how this particular mixture of disparate elements informed the creation of the hybrid trip-hop genre. The fact that he mixes in a few choice (and rare!) cuts from Massive Attacks’ own storied history makes for an especially satisfying experience.
I was particularly pleased to see the inclusion of Massive Attack’s “I Against I”, featuring Mos Def on vocals. This track was originally recorded for inclusion on the mostly forgettable soundtrack for 2002’s Blade II, and was the first track released by the group since 1998’s superb Mezzanine. It’s a shame that this track has been nearly forgotten, since this moody, deeply crunked-out electro funk jam was far superior to anything that was actually released on last year’s disappointing, watery 100th Window. Massive Attack are also represented by the rare Napoli Trip mix of “Karma Koma”, the original version of which appeared on 1995’s brilliant Protection. The Napoli Trip mix doesn’t actually change a lot from the original track, merely upping the Middle Eastern influence in the form of added vocal bits and a slightly odd synth outro, but that’s hardly a bad thing. It’s not a good idea to mess with perfection (unless you’re the Mad Professor).
Former Massive Attack bandmate Tricky is represented with a rare, unreleased mix of “Aftermath”, a track originally released on 1995’s epochal Maxinquaye. It is really nice to see this included here, given the bad blood between Tricky and his former bandmates in recent years.
Listening to this album is an act akin to seeing a car dismantled by a team of professional mechanics: in an almost forensic manner you are invited to peek behind the curtain and catch a glimpse of the magician’s tricks. Massive Attack’s distinctive and historic sound took the heavy stew of dub reggae (represented by Willie Williams’ “Armagideon Time” and Johnny Osbourne’s “Budy Bye”), spliced it with the crucial elements of American funk and soul (as with the Meters’ sly “Just Kissed My Baby” and the extremely rare Danny Krivit house mix of Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady”). The group also had a knack for taking seemingly exotic elements of world music and merging them with the hip-hop template (as they did on a pair of remixes included here, of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s “Mustt Mustt” and Les Negresses Vertes “Face A La Mer”). They were also influenced by the dominant sounds of late ’80s and early ’90s house, represented here by the aforementioned Aretha Franklin remix and Leftfield’s excellent “Inspection / Check One”, included here off 1995’s seminal Leftism LP. (Isn’t it depressing how quickly Leftfield have been forgotten? They used to be one of the biggest names in electronic music, but since they broke up they’ve been demoted to footnote status. I guess that’s just the way of the world.)
There are even a couple surprises here, such as Foxy Brown’s “Oh Yeah”, built atop a Bob Marley sample. It’s an interesting, dubby hip-hop track that implies a subconscious debt owed by pop to Massive Attack’s groundbreaking sound. In the almost fifteen years since the group dropped Blue Lines onto an unsuspecting world, trip-hop has gone from the dangerous cutting-edge to part of the collective cultural vocabulary. It’s no longer unusual to hear booming dancehall basslines, spry house-influenced breakbeats and smoky atmospherics in pop music: the visionary mixture of unlikely elements that propelled Massive Attack to universal critical acclaim have become normalized. This may make it difficult for modern listeners to appreciate what was so damn special about a track like “Safe From Harm”, but listening to Daddy G’s DJ Kicks should help anyone struggling with this particular historical myopia.
I am pleased to see that the CD ends with Paul Oakenfold’s remix of “Unfinished Symphony”. This is hardly a rare track — I’d be willing to bet that anyone with even a moderate interest in Massive Attack has a copy somewhere. But that is one of the main reasons why this is such a satisfying mix. Many times, mix-CD compilers get into a mindset where they have to spotlight all the rarest tracks they can find, showing off their extensive record collections to the detriment of most listeners’ attention spans (this is an unpleasant phenomena I’ve already dissected in my review of Chicken Lips’ DJ Kicks). Oakenfold’s mix of “Unfinished Symphony”, whiel hardly rare, is merely a superb track, and provides a fitting and beautiful end to a distinctively enjoyable disc. Whatever you can say about Oakenfold nowadays — and believe me, I’ve mocked his churlish excess as much as the next guy — the man could, once upon a time, deliver a classy remix. This is one of his very best, a remix of one of the group’s best tracks that manages to strike just the right note between an elegiac homage and adventurous spiritual departure. It is, quite simply, a perfect track with which to end a perfect collection.