It's never a good thing when people start listening to their own hype, and DJ D:Fuse has clearly been listening to great heaps of his. On People_2, his latest mix CD, he drops a track called "Music is About You" that features D:Fuse himself pontificating about the state of modern dance music in tones so fraught with portent they would make Leonard Nimoy blush. "These are exciting times in the evolution of dance music", Mr. Fuse intones. "Trance, tribal, progressive, techno, breakbeat and house have all borrowed from one another. . . . Is it trance? Is it house? Does it matter? I believe no matter what the music style may be, good music is simply good music". He goes on, believe it or not, but you get the idea. Much of what he says is true enough, but I can't even begin to imagine the hubris that made him think anyone would want to listen to him rattle on about it over the thumping beats of a progressive dance track.
To be fair, D:Fuse deserves a lot of the hype he's gotten; he's an amazingly talented DJ, whose best mixes really do flow through a whole catalog of genres with the aggressive, percussive energy you'd expect from a guy who got his start as a drummer in a punk-industrial band. And the first half of People_2 contains some of his best work yet, as he serves up a surprisingly effective chillout mix before venturing back into his usual club-friendly terrain on disc two. Starting with the ambient sounds of Feel's "You" and the quieter beats of downtempo tracks like Mark Horwood's "Ave Verum (Sub Aqua Mix)" and Subtech's "Piano Heaven", D:Fuse moves into some soulful house territory with Spiritchaser's "Heaven" and the ever-reliable Chicago house producer Kaskade's "Be There" before ending things on a sweetly pretty note with his own "Blue Skies". It's that rare instance of a chillout mix actually being chill without ever being dull, a well-balanced, well-paced set of tracks with soothing chord progressions, beats that compel without ever overpowering, and buckets of spacey atmosphere. Clearly, whatever may have happened to his ego, D:Fuse's skills as a DJ remain undiminished.
It's puzzling, then, how few compelling moments can be found on the second disc of People_2, as D:Fuse shifts gears into what's supposed to be his main forte. Once you get past that embarrassing opener "Music is About You", there are some good tracks, but as a DJ set it fails to build on any of its occasional peaks, winding up sounding more like a collection of individual songs than a well-structured mix. For all his talk of musical styles coming together, most of D:Fuse's track selections are pretty familiar-sounding and strictly genre-based, falling mainly into the categories of bass-heavy progressive house (Abraham Bam Boogie's "Deep Satisfaction", for example) and the Van Dyk/Oakenfold school of driving, percussive trance (D:Fuse's own "Wash", a collaboration with veteran trance producer Shane Howard).
The most interesting moments on the "People_Clubbing" disc (the first one's called "People_Chilling", of course) come on tracks that truly do shapeshift between a variety of styles, like Guy Gerber's "You Can Have Him", which deftly mixes dubbed-out funk guitar loops, trancey synth effects and what sounds like an old jazz torch song sample atop a galloping house beat, and Nathan Profitt's "There is Hope", which as remixed by D:Fuse himself starts out in the dark, vaguely tribal style of a John Digweed track before slowly blossoming into a prickly flower of classic trance arpeggios. Cool stuff; but in between these two gems we have to listen to filler like Liam Kennedy's atmospheric but intensely dull "Evaporate" and another piece of wince-inducing, self-congratulatory nonsense from D:Fuse, a collaboration with Joy that I can only hope fails to live up to its laughable claim to represent "the house sound of the fyoot-cha-cha-cha-cha" (yep, deep, portentous voice complete with ghetto inflection and cheesy echo effect -- is this a joke?).
Elsewhere, D:Fuse gives us bouncy vocal electro-pop set to house beats (Runner's "Lifeline"), airy Sashaesque crashes of synths (Planet Heaven's "Where Are We Going"), and his biggest blast of pure progressive mayhem on a track by a couple of guys from Turkey, of all places, who call themselves E-Magicians and who deliver a track called "Out of Stock" that, as remixed by Evolution's Barry Jamieson, has all the thumping energy and slowly crescendoing synths you expect in a peak-hour anthem. He closes his club set with his own progressive trance re-invention of U2's "New Year's Day", which could have been unbearable, especially in the wake of so many tacky club retreads of classic rock staples in recent years (check -- or better yet, don't -- Bryan Adams' "Heaven", Elton John's "Rocket Man", etc., etc.). Surprisingly, however, it's actually pretty good, stripping the original track down to a thin-voiced but still impassioned Bono and building up around him a darkly insistent soundscape of tweaky synths and jittery percussion that's a smart, club-friendly analog to the tight rock rhythms and chiming Edge guitars of the original.
I don't know; maybe I'm judging all of People_2 too harshly on the basis of a few moments of ill-considered pontificating. Maybe I'm judging D:Fuse too harshly because he still hasn't knocked my socks off since his-now classic mixes for Moonshine's Psychotrance series back in 1999-2000. But it seems to me that a DJ of this caliber should put together a set that's a little less uneven and a little less reliant of tracks that, for all his claims of representing the "house sound of the future", sound to me like they could have been recorded six years ago. Or that are based on rock songs recorded 20 years ago. Even though he displays a nice knack for chilling on People_2, D:Fuse's clubbing skills here are not in top form.