Both a time capsule of the current club scene on the island of Ibiza, and a historically-minded examination of past sounds.
Since the heyday of dance music in the late '90s, the flood of mixed-CD compilations has never abated. To a large degree, the format is uniquely flattering to the genre. So much of dance music is concerned with singles that any understanding of the genre that doesn't rely on the importance of 12" singles as common currency for DJs across the planet is doomed to be perpetually six-months behind the times, not to mention ignorant of the 90% of dance culture that exists below the waterline, underneath the major label "album artists" and boutique label experimentation.
But the preponderance of mixed CDs also creates problems for those of us in the real world who have to listen to this stuff on a regular basis: sometimes dance music can get pretty damn boring. There are specialists a-plenty in the fields of deep house, hard house, tech-house, Chicago house, Philladelphia house, New York garage (just too mention the house microgenres that leap immediately to mind), and each of them somehow manages to fill CDs with new tracks by the truckload. Even someone who really loves the music can't help but wonder where the hell all of it comes from, and how they're managing to make enough vinyl to hold all of it. Considering that such a small percentage of the music heard on dancefloors across the world will stand the test of time and ever be heard again more than six months after being pressed, it's pretty depressing to see the endless procession of new music that pours forth from DJ booths across the planet. Every song represents a hope, a dream from some inspiring producer... but most of them are just not very good.
With that in mind, most mixed CDs are little more than the aural equivalent of fashion magazines, periodic updates from the trendy trenches. Of the (literally) hundreds of mixed CDs I've heard in my life, there haven't been very many worth holding on to. For the longest time it seemed as if there was a kind of universal amnesia in the dance community which prevented DJs from acknowledging anything older than six months that didn't reflect the latest current fashion trends. Now the pendulum seems to have turned the other way: As the audience for conventional dance music grows perceptibly older, there is more of a premium being placed in some circles on quality and a newfound willingness to engage the music's substantial history on more than a superficial basis. It is in this light that I enjoyed Defected's Eivissa 2006 mix -- as both a time capsule of the current club scene on the island of Ibiza, and a historically-minded examination of past sounds.
The set is composed of three CDs, two of which are mixed by Defected label boss Simon Dunmore, and the third of which is an unmixed selection of classic "Balearic" tracks compiled by DJ Pippi. Dunmore's two CDs are both good, even if they fall prey to many of the hazards of indulgent two-disc mixed sets. There's a smooth vibe throughout, a cosmopolitan and distinctly crisp take on the conventional deep house sound that has dominated upper-deck clubbing for a few years now. Any mix possesses natural peaks and valley, and there's a lot of room for valleys on two CDs. But, thankfully, there's always an interesting tune around the corner when things get slow. "The Cure & the Cause" by Fish Go Deep is an immediately identifiable tune, the Dennis Ferrer mix of which provides the highlight of the first disc -- it's got one of those slinky basslines that sticks in your head for days. Moloko opens the disc with "Forever More", which contains elements of tracks by DJ Gregory Elle and Bob Sinclair for a suitably clever effect. Sinclair shows up again to close the disc, with the club mix of "World, Hold On (Wahoo Main Mix)", featuring Steve Edwards. There's a reason why Sinclair has proven ubiquitous on almost every deep house CD released the past few years -- his sound is instantly recognizable and thoroughly emblematic of the juxtaposition between laid-back hedonism and tense physicality that lies at the heart of house.
Sinclair shows up on the second disc as well, with the Spanish-inflected "Amora, Amor". The Latin sound is much more of a presence on the second disc, hearkening more consciously back to the early days of Manhattan freestyle and vocal house. After a brief snippet from Jomanda's "Make My Body Rock" (familiar to anyone who remembers the Micronauts' ephochal "Baby Wants to Rock"), it kicks into high gear with the likes of Kathy Brown ("Get Another Love") and Billy Ray Martin ("Your Loving Arms" -- a track so cheesy that I am surprised they got away with putting it on here). They even manage to sneak in a Willie Bobo disco salsa track from 1978 ("Always There"), as well as a classic Paperclip People (AKA Carl Craig) track from 1994.
But it's the third unmixed disc that really shines. As enjoyable as a good mix album is, there's nothing quite like having these original tracks in a pristine and unaltered form. I've always been kind of fuzzy on what exactly the term "Balearic" means, but here it's given forth as a loose approximation of the laid-back, soulful spirit of Mediterranean clubbing. I can dig that, as the tracks here are pretty eclectic, even if they share a similar upbeat tone. Where else are you likely to find something like H20's classic "You Can Run..." or the seminal Black Box's "Fantasy (Big Band Version)", at least without paying a premium on eBay? I don't want to give the impression that this CD is merely a feast of dance-music nostalgia -- you shouldn't enjoy these tracks merely because some of them are old, but because they are good. So much dance music has been forgotten, due to the constantly shifting nature of the electronic music landscape, that it is a profound pleasure to see some of it being rediscovered by a grateful audience.