Notes on the Holy (Mix) Grail – II

In the beginning there was Jack. Jack built a groove, and house music was born.

Whatever the history of the tunes behind darkened rooms and dilated pupils, things have come a long way (baby). Listening back to early mixes two things become clear. Production quality has improved dramatically, while the cynicism of clubbers has increased tenfold.

The mix album has charted, through the ages, what has changed, what’s been lost and what’s been discovered. The only trouble is that there are so many of them, and with new additions to the history books each week, it’s easy to forget what we’ve already learnt. So, to help prevent the same mistakes being made, and, more importantly, great music being missed, Plain & Simple dips back into its Benno CD towers to dig out more priceless gems on the hunt for the elusive (dare we say impossible to find?) Holy Grail of mix albums. Enjoy, argue with us and let us know where we’ve gone wrong…

From rocking Creamfields’ hardy northern ravers in Liverpool to working with the likes of U.N.K.L.E., there’s little argument against the statement that the work of Joshua Paul Davis, aka DJ Shadow, appeals equally to everyone with an interest in electronic music. Putting him together with turntable maestro Cut Chemist, a shit load of old 45s, that Georgio Moroder track (Tears) and a day of studio time should result in something incredible. Thankfully, Brainfreeze: Product Placement doesn’t disappoint. Withdrawn after release due to issues with the 7 Eleven convenience store brand they ‘borrowed’ artwork from, you can still pick it up in most discerning record shops.

Originally the rather intimidating combination of Fabric resident Craig Richards, international guest Lee Burridge and The Man Like Sasha, Tyrant really came into their own with a residency at Nottingham’s hallowed stomping ground, The Bomb. By the time their first mix album was released only Craig and Lee were left, and they’d carved out a unique style of low slung, club focused dance music. F-ilthy breakbeats and rolling, percussive house music, the best way to describe it borrows from one of the samples: “Super, crazy-ill bombs.”

When The Winning Ticket was first released tapes were still in Bradley’s Records. And Bradley’s Records still existed. Times have changed but John Digweed’s greatest solo compilation remains as good as ever, earning itself a place on the ‘timeless’ list. It’s not just prog, it’s the definition of progressive house; intense, aggressive, eerie, and confident. Few mixes manage to really get across the attitude and experience of seeing a DJ in a club, but put this on at 6am after a night on the tiles and you’ll quickly find your living room converted into a temporary dancefloor.

As frustrating as they can be, one thing rewinds have given us is the title to Nicky Blackmarket’s 2002 retrospective comp, The Big Rewind. It rolls, snaps its snares and rewinds surprisingly few times as it paves a way through soundscapes dominated by Rascal, Andy C, Doc Scott and Krust. Released around the time drum n bass was experiencing a serious resurgence following its perpetual hangover in the late 90s, there are few official examples of junglism as utterly enjoyable, entertaining, and dirty as this.

The odd thing about James Zabiela is that he was arguably at his prime before his name blew up to the size of a Godskitchen festival tent. Discovered via Muzik’s Bedroom Bedlam competition, it wasn’t long before he was banging out breaks and prog prior to the likes of Sasha at clubs across the country. With his Alive mix for Renaissance, the energy of these sets almost made it onto CD, and the breathtaking skill of his mixing was forever committed to record. From block party beats to driving house it’s all here. Better still there’s very little pitching, FX or rhythm stopping sampling- just clean music.

Peter Kruder and Richard Dorfmeister’s seminal K&D Sessions is one of those special mixes you simply must own. It’s part liquid drum n bass, saturated in cannabis rhythms, part broken beat experimentalism, and all incredible. A collection of rare, classic and unreleased remixes by the production partners for artists such as Depeche Mode, Bomb The Bass and Roni Size, it’s everything an alternative dance-music compilation should be; innovative, eclectic and perfect for the couch, car, headphones or bar.

The Back To Mine series has provided plenty of worthwhile £12.99 investments. But few can equal the perfectly formulated tracklist that Everything But The Girl offered. From the southern drawling blues of Dr John “the night-tripper”, to the heartbreaking desperation of Mary Margaret O’Hara’s Something To Cry About, it’s a smooth journey through a truly broad record collection. What’s better, though, is that it’s properly mixed, and approached as all good mixes should be, with careful thought to ensure the next track is perfect to follow with.

It’s not surprising that Andrew Weatherall finds his name on both the lists we’ve put together so far. And while we can’t include his spellbinding 1993 Essential Mix, as it was never sold, the same cannot be said for his thesis on efunk, electro-disco and all things freaky, The 9 O’clock Drop. Think sleazy synthesised dominatrices, basslines that loom, duck and dive like quicksand, and an inherent groove that would make even the most trendy of scenesters move. With this mix he beats everyone else to a suggestive, grinding sound that began to dominate clubs across the country, proving why two decades on he’s still one of the finest DJs on the circuit.