Ivan Smagghe: Fabric 23

Stefan Braidwood

Frozen synths, hot sweat and digital disco drugs in the mix of the year so far from the gallic Darth Vader of electro; a daddy not afraid to scare his children...

Ivan Smagghe

Fabric 23

Label: Fabric
US Release Date: 2005-08-02
UK Release Date: 2005-07-28
Amazon affiliate

Video games, eh? A strange area of psychology; challenges presented as repetitive overstimulation that place the player in a completely premeditated and artificial world in the hopes of finding a special freedom, safely outside the boundaries of the real, random universe. Everything needs to be kept predictable enough to be satisfyingly masterable, yet varied and imaginative enough to delude and lure the player on. Most valuable and memorable are the seemingly unique moments when the game appears to move out of the control of its creators for a few moments in synergy with the player, the mind and personality in front of the screen briefly dancing close with the electronic patterns behind it, intimating a glimpse of life from the other side...

It's all bit like a DJ mix, really. The bloke (or increasingly these days, blokette) on the wheels of steel, who probably spent too much in their room as a ween, tries to convince the consumer to follow their lead through a repetitive medium seperate from either -- and there's got to be a shimmer of malign intelligence learing through the segues between seductive basslines and violent beat impacts, or the dancer's hindbrain is betrayed as the mind starts to feel less special; as though dancing embarassingly by themselves to disinterested noise...

So you need to keep the patterns fluid, to palpitate but not perplex, to convince but not condescend, to be elusive yet not elude, and Ivan Smagghe knows better than all but very few just how to splash alcohol through his narrative in order to keep his audience lairy and entranced. Perhaps best known as half of Blackstrobe, Parisian equivalent to dirty electro darlings Tiefschwarz and purveyors of minor cocaine classics like "Me And Madonna" and "Inner Strings", Smagghe is worshipped as something of a divine institution in France, where his shows on Radio Nova and his Kill The DJ parties keep a sexily eclectic credo of confrontation and innovation alive. In the inimitably French word order of the man himself: "Knowing how to say no, and when to say no, and don't do what people expect because, otherwise, what is the point? This is the scream of the guy who did not want to be pigeonholed."

Bearing this in mind, it is a dark delight to hear him taking a sledgehammer to the ankles of the already fairly twisted genrefest that is the scène du jour. We get the all-conquering German scene, of course, with obligatory Kompakt and Get Physical tracks, and there are also two tracks from Ghostly godhead Matthew Dear's nymphomaniac new Audion project -- including a mix of "Just F**king" by Roman Flügel, "23 Positions in a One-Night Stand", that in name at least is pure fucking genius. Slipping into slightly more obscure waters, the warm house minimalism is countered by a Mediterranean vanguard of electro and dub purveyors; (T)ékël makes brooding bass waves, Barcelona stalwart Iaqui Marin ensures stark acid electro slaughter, and the mix, which opens with a remix of a track on Smagghe's own label, closes with another remix by brilliant oddball Joakim.

Yes, there is a record on here from Trevor Jackson's cult Output label. No, there is no sign of James Murphy. Enough is enough is enough DFA, ok?

The inspired maverick touch is the inclusion of The Kills' devastating "No Wow" -- and the way Smagghe lays bare the achingly dry leather of the song's rhythmic ribcage, allowing alien wet funk to slither seamlessly inside, is testament to his mastery of texture and atmosphere.

And it is the techno-textural interplay that really highlights moments of this mix against the things-going-bump-in-the-dark backdrop. Percussion like chopped up gasps, robotically sterile vocals, violent friction, fluid hypnotism, glistening warping synths washes, insistent deep space morse code bleeping... then there's the way he dismembers the end of that Booka Shade track, slowing it down into maddening dissociated loops; he's not afraid to allow things to peter off into near silence, letting tension rise from the shadows even as you get the eerie impression the sinuous sound flux is looking at you.

It's the damnedest thing.

It's probably exactly these drops in wave pressure that make the all-out sensory assault of other moments so mercilessly effective; quite apart from the arsenal of auditory stimulation tricks at Smagghe's command, he drops tracks like DJ Koze's "The Geklöppel [Beatdown] Continues", akin to someone smudging their fingers against the back of the etch-a-sketch that is your eardrum before finally pushing their way right through, or Sergej Auto's "Carnage, OK!", which speaks (or more accurately, bellows deliriously) for itself.

If anger is your aphrodisiac of choice, Smagghe serves you a perfectly judged mashup of the instrumental from Michael Mayer's "Heiden [unbelievers]" and the Old Testament wrath of Lopazz's "Blood" vocal, which ominously recites "Blood like oil, gushing out a well" with baritone bitterness before demanding "You got a sweet face -- lift your spine up the wall"...

Without being able to judge how much this whole '80s revival thing is going to last, it is satisfying that Smagghe and DJs like him are keeping the all-inclusive feel which was the true mark of Mancuso's disco era alive and well -- with skill and style to burn, and without sacrificing their personalities. This is another notch on Fabric's impressively gem-studded belt, and another reminder that it is arguably the most important club in the world right now. Despite a slight dip at one point late in the mix, this is also a new watermark for Smagghe, who seems to have grown yet wilier and more confident since his last internationally acclaimed mix. Above all, this is a red pill for anyone under the impression that "dance music" were dead, when in fact it has evolved, embraced and consumed everything we could throw at it and now undulates close to the skin of every part of the modern world. It's probably screwing your wife, and you'll never know. The DJ is dead? Press Start on your CD player...


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