Friday, 6 May 2011

The 20 greatest DJ mixes

The album is deemed the connoisseur’s method of listening to music but for a thrilling ride through genres and sounds nothing beats a DJ mix. The mix enables the listener to hear songs out of context alongside sounds they would never have envisaged to create something new. I remember listening to an essential mix by the Freestylers (anyone remember them?) which started with a combination of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy theme, Beenie Man and Public Enemy - it was quite simply one of the most thrilling things I have ever heard. A great DJ mix seamlessly blends records that no-one would have put together in such a way that it seems entirely logical – taking the listener on a journey of twists and turns through differing moods and tempos. Some focus solely on dance music with a 4/4 beat, others eschew this for a more esoteric take on great songwriting of the last 50 years (Air spring to mind). Here are 20 of the very best....if you have your own favourite please mention it in the comments below so that others can enjoy your choice...

20. Beat up the NME - Fatboy Slim (1997)

A mix given away on Cassette with the NME. Norman Cook is now best known for his big beat sound and there are a number of tracks here that hint at this (most notably Pierre Henry's Psyche Rock and tracks from Psychedelia Smith and Bassbin Twins) but this also covers drum n bass (EPS and 2-Vybe's Hype the Funk - which went on to become my favourite track of the genre) and UK garage (Double 99's Rip Groove). A great listen in the car.

19. Another late night – Zero 7 (2002)

A personal favourite. I particularly love the mix of Da Lata's Pra Manha into Herbert's mix of Serge Gainsbourg's Bonnie and Clyde. This also features a number of quality mellow hip hop tracks by the likes of Madlib, Souls of Mischief and Roots Manuva. Anotherlatenight have cornered the niche in nice post-club vibes and their overall quality control is high.

18. Live in LA - Z-Trip (2003)

Don't like DJs and dance music? Try this. Z-Trip mixes up classic rock breaks (Zeppelin, ACDC, The Who) and mixes them up with hip hop beats (Jaz Z, Outkast) to devastating effect. One for the Luddites but great goofy fun.

17. Fabric - Swayzak (2003)

Techno mixes tend to leave me a bit cold. There is rarely enough variety to sustain interest over a longer period. That's why I like this one so much - despite essentially being deep techno all the way through it is varied enough to draw you in. After hearing this I've been after the Herbert mix of  Louie Austen's Hoping for half a decade....also includes the wonderful DFA remix of Metro Area's Orange Alert and LCD Soundsystem amongst more obscure tracks. The blending is excellent as well.

16. Sleepwalk - Optimo (2008)

One of the more subtle mixes on this list, Glasgow legends Optimo create a mellow after hours mix which manages to be electronica without focusing on current names. Kraut artists such as Cluster are mixed with the likes of Coil, Arthur Russell and Duke Ellington. This transcends genre creating a spiritual vibe that takes you to another world.

15. Death Mix Live!! - Africa Baambaata (1985)

Recorded at a High School in the Bronx, this perfectly captures the energy and excitement of early hip hop and is hugely influential despite appalling sound quality. DJ Shadow famously copied the cover many years later. Includes the Drells, Edwin Starr and the Jackson's timeless It's Great to be here.

14. Brainfreeze - Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow (1999)

Shadow and Cut Chemist blew everyone else out of the water when this arrived in 1999. Clearly influenced by the cut and paste of Double Dee and Steinski. This is a brilliant use of classic soul and funk reinvented for the hip hop generation. Inevitably the 1000 copies pressed sold out and it has been widely bootlegged.

13. The K and D sessions - Kruder and Dorfmeister (1998)

Less a DJ mix, more a collection of mixes by DJs, this is probably owned by every coffee shop in the country. There is no doubt that the impact of this record has been dulled by familiarity. When it was first released it was like nothing else, The Viennese duo's mellow beats weaved a heady flow through Roni Size, Lamb and Depeche Mode to name but three and created the perfect soundtrack for any time of day. Their remix of Bomb the Bass's Bug Powder Dust in particular was a complete reworking of the original for the post Massive Attack generation. It sold by the bucketload simply because it was so good....Immaculately stoned. 

12. Journey's by DJ, Desert Island Mix - Norman Jay and Gilles Peterson (1997)

Arguably the two most influential British DJs of the last 20 years teamed up for this effort to choose their desert island discs and both excel. Jay focuses heavily on disco with a couple of Voices of East Harlem tracks, Pattie Jo's Make me believe in you and a wonderful use of a hip hop beat over Hall and Oates' Maneater. Peterson predictably takes a more gentle route but manages to weave in Roni Size, Jazzanova and Rotary Connection's Black Gold of the Sun which has become one of his signature tunes.

11. Fabric – Diplo (2005)

For sheer enjoyment, this mix takes some beating. Heavy on classic electro (Cybotron, Debbie Deb, Freestyle) but wildly eclectic. The mix of the Cure's Lovesong into Outkast's Bombs over Baghdad is just wonderful. Brings the spirit of Fabric to the living room. Diplo has done many other fine mixes covering styles from Baille Funk to classic Psych. 

10. Essential Mix – Air (1998)

There are a number of French acts that have produced DJ mixes of exemplar quality. Check out Pheonix's Kitsune Tabloid for one. Air really did excel as well though and this Radio 1 mix captures them at their best. Its all fairly mellow but its a lovely mix of the Theme from Mash, the Pharcyde, David Bowie and, somewhat predictably, Serge Gainsbourg.

9. The Document - Andy Smith

Smith was Portishead's resident DJ and this mix announced his arrival in his own right. Mixing up soul covers, funk, hip hop and beats cutting from track to track to create an exciting dancefloor mix. Includes one of my all time favourite Hip Hop songs - How you want it by Jungle Brothers featuring De La Soul as well as Marvyn Gaye and the Meters. Generally regarded as one of the best soul, funk and hip hop mixes (and there are no shortage of contenders).

8. Essential mix- Francois K (2000)

One of the definitive New York DJs. This mix by K covers many musical bases including African Drug by Bob Holroyd (just how many mixes has this track been on?!), Kraftwerk and Tribe Called Quest. The main focus though is obviously disco. Lisa Taylor's Did you Pray Today has reduced this listener to tears...

7. Logical Progression - LTJ Bukem (1996)

Drum n bass didn't leave us with much of a DJ mix legacy. A whole hour of breakbeats is too much for most people as a home listen. This mix focuses on the mellower side of the genre and focuses heavily on Bukem's own label mates including Peshay and PFM. The sound of outer space brought to the living room.

6. Renaissance- Sascha, John Digweed (1994)

You can't have a list of the best DJ mixes without having at least one straight house one. I've plumped for this because it contains some of the very biggest DJs of recent years but also because it hangs together pretty well. OK M People are on it but so are Leftfield. I suspect this was the first dance mix bought by a whole generation who had previously been buying Pop Will Eat Itself and Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine.

5. Monk's Dream - Monk One (2002)

Wax Poetics writer and New York DJ Monkone broke at the turn of the millenium. He specialises in latin influenced house, jazz and hip hop and this is probably his best mix. Opening with a Brazilian version of Rapper's Delight its perfect for a bar-b-que.

4. A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble exploding in your mind -  Amorphous Androgynous (2008)

No matter how many DJ mixes you've listened to, I can assure you that you've never heard one like this. Taking the concept of psychedelia as its starting point the ex-Future Sound of London duo take us on a trip from Donovan to Miles Davis via the Psychonauts and David Axlerod. Noel Gallagher claimed this mix changed his life and I'd have to agree - I remember thinking upon hearing it that I could just listen to this one CD for the rest of my life. Extraordinarily ambitious in its scope and you hear something new every time. Volume 2 is great too.

 3. As heard on Radio Soulwax volume 2 - 2 Many DJs (2003)

 Another one that is wildly eclectic. Soulwax pretty much brought mash-ups (mixing two songs together to create one) to the mainstream with this album. Using Destiny's Child and the Stooges with Dolly Parton and 10CC might sound like a car crash on paper but because it's brilliantly mixed this appealed to the purists and the pop fans as one.

2. Gimix – The Avalanches (2000)

Certainly the only entry from Australia on this list. This mix was never officially released due to the sample clearance but reads like a history of popular culture. Bob Dylan - check. The Smiths - check. Michael Jackson - check. Despite its disparate styles the Avalanches make it seamless by mixing in their own disco house infused tracks. This is a perfect CD if you're hosting a do at home and want a bit of a party but no-one can be bothered to DJ. Whatever happened to them recording a second album?

1. Journeys by DJ – Coldcut (1995)
Unlike some of the mixes here (The Avalanches for example) this mix isn't timeless. Instead it takes you right back to the mid 1990's when Coldcut's Stealth night was the hottest night in London clubland. Focusing heavily on Ninja Tunes artists but also finding room for Boogie Down Productions, Masters at Work and even the Dr Who theme this is the art of the DJ mix perfectly realised. The listener is never quite sure where it is going next as the '70 minutes of madness' takes us from dub to hip hop via drum n bass and electronica and the spoken word samples perfectly fit the mood of paranoid, deep beats. Single tracks are seamlessly mixed to create something completely new - the ultimate articulation of a DJ.  The Wagon Christ remix of 2 Player's Extreme Possibilities is a perfect example of the sheer experimentalism that is the hallmark of UK dance culture. Almost 20 years later this is still yet to be bettered.

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