These are the tracks I played while livestreaming on New Year’s Eve for my good friends Andy and Lizzie’s Hybrid Hogmanay party. Originally I was supposed to be in Edinburgh with them for the actual party, but the Omicron variant put paid to that, so instead I streamed from my home in Berlin.
I was playing first, at 5:30 Berlin time (since we had a party to go to as a family in the evening), so I decided to keep things to a rather stately 130 bpm and not get too caught up in chopping and changing. Also, since I hadn’t planned or practiced, I mostly used records that I already knew quite well – most of these records have appeared on various past mixes.
Actually, I think it’s a pretty cool mix! You can judge for yourself, of course. But I like it. 😀
Here’s a few words about each of the tracks that I’ve used on this mix:
The Force: I’ve kicked off the mix with my favorite ever Laurent Garnier track. Moody bassline, acid, repetitive robotic vocals? Sounds like fun to me! I’ve previously used this on both Morally Diminished 3 and Meaty Aged Acid Dad.
Zulu (Trance Mix): Thumping tribal house from the master Armand van Helden, this is from a 1994 appearance he made under his Circle Children alias on Strictly Rhythm. Yes, I did indeed use another mix of this on Downtown Sound a few weeks back.
Rainbow: Erik Rug was a French house producer who made a few well-received records back in the 90’s, but this one in particular is a tune I’ve always liked. I picked it up in a second-hand shop in Paris back in the late 90’s and I’ve had it ever since. Just a nice, groovy house record. I used this previously on Tessmix.
All Night Long: Is this the best NYC house record ever? Change my mind! Just a masterpiece of house music. Timeless. Funky bassline, soulful vocals, plinky keys. It’s got it all! Weirdly it’s been almost twenty years since I used this on a mix – the last time was Rampage Teknikal 3.
I Can’t Complain: I always like a spicy mix-up, so following on from vintage deep house with trundling acid madness was, well, fun! This is the German acid gods channeling the early Chicago sound; they originally recorded this for their DJ-Kicks mix compilation in the 90’s, where it featured alongside vintage 80’s acid classics, sounding 100% correct and well suited. I used this seven years ago on A Long Way to Enlightenment.
Green Line Acid: More acid! This time it’s from West Coast act Metro, whose acid breaks sound was very popular across the US back in the 90’s. I’ve never actually used this track in a mix before, mainly because I’ve never actually done a mix this slow! I like it though – pumping acid house that later turns into tumbling acid breaks, although I mixed out before the beat switch happens.
Rock Shock: Chicago house legend Roy Davis Jr is most famous for his deep house classic Gabriel, but this is a more upbeat disco-funker for Thomas Bangalter’s Roule label. Kind of a switch from the two acid tunes preceding it, but why not, eh? I last used this back in 2009 (gulp) on Morally Diminished 2.
Donkey: Ridiculously banging house from the legendary Armand van Helden. It’s just a kickdrum, some squeaky noises, a little percussion, and a guy repeating ‘get on the donkey’ over and over in a New York accent. Genius. I’ve never used this one on a mix, but I did use Jerome Hill’s homage to it a few months ago.
Daydreemin’ (Mr. C Remix): Tech-house has become something of a dirty word, but back in the late 90’s in London it meant a warm, bass-heavy sound that combined the best of house and techno. It was the sound of Wiggle, Subterrain, and the early days of Fabric. End Recordings, the in-house label of the legendary club The End in Covent Garden, was one of the key labels for the sound, and this cut features three of the key artists from the period: Layo & Bushwacka (under their The Usual Suspects alias) and label and club boss Mr. C (formerly of early 90’s chart botherers The Shamen). Sinister and funky! I kind of lost interest in the overall London tech-house sound a while ago, but I still really like this record – even though I haven’t used it on a mix since Morally Diminished 2 in 2009.
Tardis: Another Bushwacka production (two in a row!), this is an acid bubbler from his 1998 album Wak’d, an album which is undeservedly obscure these days! Lots of cool stuff on there, in my opinion, and this particular track is my favorite. It’s also the hardest, so I guess no surprise there? This is the first outing for it on a mix since The Waveform Cult in 2008.
Cum On: Back in the 90’s, South Australia’s HMC produced some of the most memorable acid techno of the decade. From everything I’ve heard from Australian friends he is also a genius dj, but I’ve never had the pleasure of hearing one of his sets. I’m a big fan of his productions – just relentless, rolling, tweaking acid. The perfect soundtrack to dark, strobelit rooms. This is a classic of the genre – not over-the-top in any way, shape or form, but an unstoppable pulse with constantly percolating 303 lines riding over the top. What ‘minimal’ should mean. Love it! This one last made an appearance in my 2017 Mechatronica promo mix, which is now a surprisingly long time ago!
Teacher: This one is just Canadian techno legend Richie Hawtin bashing you over the head with some sharp-edged, percussive acid techno. I’ve not been a huge fan of all of his work, but I’ve always loved his harder stuff, and I think the tracks he released in the early 90’s under his Circuit Breaker moniker are amongst the best acid ever released, so I’ve been excited to hear him start to re-explore this style recently, as on his new track Acid King. I’ve never used this track on a mix, but I’ve used some other Circuit Breaker tracks before, for example ‘Creator’ was on 30×3.1: Your Mind on Acid.
Gonk: Dave Clarke needs no introduction, but this track might. This is probably one of his lesser-known tracks, originally appearing on the flipside of the massive techno anthem ‘Wisdom to the Wise’ (also known as Red 2). B-sides of much-loved anthems often struggle to get a hearing, but I think this one should be better known. I love this track’s combination of panel beater percussion, organ vamps and funkily twisted bassline. I last used this one in 2008 on Tessmix.
Break Beats (Wild World): Here’s another track that I feel is criminally overlooked – it’s a production by Japanese techno artist Co-Fusion that is just perfect in it’s simplicity. It’s basically a kick drum with some heavily chopped up breakbeats over the top with a little synth action and some cut-up vocals. That’s it! The nice thing here is that the breaks don’t sound like hardcore or jungle-style breaks, which is what you would typically hear from UK techno artists, but really more like funk or soul-style drums just chopped over a techno kick. It’s a really funky track! I first heard this on Amil Khan from Technasia’ Plus Mix, which I picked up in Japan in the spring of 2002 when I was visiting my friend Dan there. I loved it, so I ended up tracking down a copy for myself. This is yet another track that I last used on Morally Diminished 3.
House (Ben Sims Remix V.1): If you’re a fan of the funkier side of techno, you’re no doubt acquainted with Ben Sims. Coming from just outside of London, he’s well-known as one of the best and most consistent dj’s in the scene, as well as for his extensive back catalogue of relentless machine funk. This tune is one that he put out on Primate many years ago, it’s not among his better-known tunes, but I like it! Just funky techno, nothing more, nothing less, but that’s enough! I thought that I’ve never used this one on a mix before, but I’ve just checked and in fact I used this in 2003 on Rampage Teknikal 2, so almost twenty years later it has got another airing. 😉
2 The Floor (With DJ Nasty and Fletch Flex): I don’t know if I’m capable of making a techno mix without one of Technasia’s old tracks. Definitely among my all-time favorite techno artists, I previously used this track on my Technasia tribute Kowloon Nights.
The Riff: To finish things off, here’s an epic track from Swedish techno legend Adam Beyer on Primate’s sub-label Primevil. This is as euphoric as techno gets – when that bassline hits, arms fly into the air! Amazing track, and my favorite from him. This is actually the third time I’ve used this track – most recently it was on Morally Diminished 4, and before that on Rampage Teknikal 6.
I guess it was a strange one for many people, at times it felt almost normal, and then at other times it didn’t really … a bit of a weird one! On the musical front it’s been a fun one, released a record and made some cool mixes, even played out a couple times, and to close out the year here’s a very special mix that I’m quite excited to share with you.
No need for suspense, you had to scroll down to get here, so you know exactly what I’m talking about … the mix in question is my tribute to legendary house producer Armand van Helden!
To be honest, it’s a mix many people might not expect from me, and sure, it’s pretty rare for me to do a house mix, but, well, I’ve been a big fan of Armand van Helden’s productions ever since I first encountered them in the mid-90’s.
So why not, eh?
OK, I guess I could stop there, but that would be a pretty lame blog post, so I’m going to have to give a bit of a longer explanation about just what is going on here …
I like house music, I can vibe to it, but it’s not my go-to and it never has been – it just has never been something that I have felt deeply passionate about, not in the same way that dedicated househeads do. I recognize that for many, many people house music is something that has played a key role in their lives. This is especially true for the deeper side of house, which has offered community, self-expression, joy and a quasi-spiritual sense of release to hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions.
I’m not one of those people, and that’s OK!
But I do like some of it, and amongst the dozens (hundreds?) of house music sub-genres and little scenes, probably my favorite moment in time is that classic mid-90’s New York City house sound, that vast flood of music that emerged from that last moment when NYC was unquestionably one of the global capitals of club culture.
The sound of labels like Henry Street, Eightball, Nervous, Tribal, King Street, Nu Groove, Strictly Rhythm, amongst others.
The sound that boomed through clubs like Sound Factory, the Limelight, Twilo, the Tunnel, Roxy, the Palladium, Club USA, and more.
The sound of swooping diva vocals, uplifting pianos, rumbling tribal drum sessions, disco loops filtered to oblivion and back. Pumping kickdrums, funky basslines. Sirens, stabs, crisp percussion. Mellow keys, sweeping strings, every now and then a slinky saxophone. Snatches of hip-hop vocals, gospel choirs, inspirational speeches, catty queens, lilting Caribbean Spanish. Luscious pads, tinny horns. Samples from disco, soul, funk, salsa, rock, samba … the whole spectrum of modern music repurposed for dark dancefloors and endless nights.
And behind it all, the relentless pulse of the kickdrum.
The sound of Masters at Work, Todd Terry, Mood II Swing, Francois K, Danny Tenaglia, David Morales, Roger Sanchez, Mateo & Matos, Junior Vasquez, Victor Simonelli, and a cast of literally thousands of dj’s and producers operating across all five boroughs and throughout the whole Tri-State Area. A sort of collective genius in action.
But my favorite?
Always, always, always Armand van Helden.
The boshing kickdrums, the unapologetic diva theatrics, the application of killer samples, the hip-hop attitude, and above all, the sheer genius for bassline magic Shit, he’s a guy who churned out a small mountain of house remixes of terrible 90’s pop acts (Capella? Ace of Base? Vanessa Williams?) and rarely dropped a clunker … he could have just taken the cash and ran, but somehow we managed the rare feat of polishing some particularly pungent turds. And not just once or twice, but over and over and over!
To me, there’s something so distinctly, so quintessentially New York about his music. It’s just New York to the core, in the attitude, the grit leavened by a refusal to get too serious, the joyous abandon and the intensity.
Sure, he might actually be from Boston originally, but let’s not let that get in the way of this theory.
And it’s completely fitting that it’s not until he moved to New York in 1994 that he really found his audience and his success.
So as someone who bough my first Armand van Helden record all the way back in 1996 (it was this one, if you’re asking), you could say that this mix was literally decades in the making.
As with many of my mix projects, this one has been slowly germinating for a while as I built up a little collection of his tunes. This year, finally, I hit a critical mass of tunes, and it was time to make it happen!
With all of my mixes I start with the question: “What do I do with this big pile of records?”
Sometimes I just hit record and see what happens, but in this case I wanted to put a little more thought into it, so I pulled out my stack of Armand van Helden tunes and started listening to them, and what really struck me was that he did all kinds of stuff through the course of the 90’s. Maybe that’s kind of an obvious point (‘musician doesn’t stand still’) but when I sat and listened to about thirty AvH records it became pretty obvious that the story of the mix would be to highlight this career progression and make it explicable to the listener.
The solution was, in the end, pretty straightforward … organize the records by year (more or less) and that would tell the story very clearly. The mix thus covers van Helden’s output from 1994 to 1997, roughly (there’s I think one record from 1993 and one from 1998), and this approach provides a very interesting overview. Just from listening you can hear in it house music’s transformation from a sound for underground clubs to the soundtrack to the rising super-clubs and dance music’s emergence as a genuine global phenomenon.
The early tracks have that classic New York tribal sound, all relentless pumping rhythms, whereas by the end of the mix we are encountering a very different sound, much bigger and more ambitious, epic in scope and precise in execution. Gone is the charming roughness of only a few years before, replaced with a deep confidence that, fuck yeah, I can make some big motherfucking ANTHEMS.
Like this one, one of the biggest house records of all time. I didn’t use it though! (It’s not one of my favorites)
In those last few tracks you can hear Armand van Helden at the absolute peak of his commercial and critical success, dropping bassline monsters that helped spark London’s emerging ‘speed garage’ scene into life, while also raiding the disco archives for the samples that helped him to vaporize dancefloors worldwide and cause an entirely new generation to reconsider the much-maligned 1970’s and its signature music style.
It must have been a wild ride for him!
The sheer speed at which his sound progressed in the mid-90’s brought to mind a parallel process in a scene that van Helden was deeply influenced by – the UK breakbeat scene, which in mere years progressed from hardcore to jungle to drum n’ bass. This music had a huge impact on van Helden’s work, altering his own house productions in the late 90’s, which in turn sent shockwaves through the world of house as jungle-style basslines were introduced to dancefloors that just weren’t expecting them. It’s also worth mentioning that he even made an amazing Monica-sampling white label drum n’ bass classic called ‘Ain’t Armand‘.
This gave me the hook for the mix – once I sorted the records by year the pattern was obvious. Just as with my Amen Promo Mix, the best way to tell the story of Armand van Helden in the mid-90’s was to do it chronologically, starting in 1994 and ending in 1997, and allowing the listener to hear the transformation over time.
I hope you enjoy listening to the mix as much as I enjoyed putting it together!