In Praise of: Fabric Mix CDs

Last week London clubbing institution Fabric celebrated 10 years of its seminal mix CDs. In honour of this milestone – especially when the format is supposedly dying – I thought I’d compile a list of my favourite Fabric and FabricLive mixes from the last decade.

Before I do, it’s probably worth taking a few paragraphs to assess just how important the series of CDs has been. From the expensive metal cases and ever-evolving art work, to the ridiculously cheap monthly subscription service and insistence on keeping the process in-house – and not forgetting the impeccable artist selection process – the reason they’ve made it this far is surely down to the attention to detail and quality control that permeates the organisation. Here’s Fabric Director Keith Reilly to explain the birth of the compilations: “From Fabric’s launch onwards we encountered an almost daily assault from labels and organisations wishing to partner us in producing a mix compilation. Despite being continually, politely told that we were very busy becoming good party organisers, the crescendo of ‘When will you do one? Why don’t you do one? Please will you do one?’ became deafening, eventually triggering my lifelong tendency to do the exact opposite of what was requested of me. So we just got a bit silly and thought: ‘OK, you want one? Try to control this! Here’s one a month.’ We wanted them to fall from the sky like hailstones on the musical philistines that sought to twist what we were doing into any old shape that spelt numbers to them. I wanted to sell them at on our website, which I felt was indicative and reflective of how I saw the product; as licensed rave tapes.”

To commemorate the anniversary Fabric staff have all contributed their favourites here, while some of the artists responsible have shared their thoughts here, but for some really valuable opinions you’ll be wanting to find out which one’s I liked the best; right here:

10. FabricLive 39 – DJ Yoda

It was a toss-up between this and Deadly Avenger’s early entry into the series, but the couple of times I’ve seen Deadly Avenger live he annoyingly played pretty much all the same songs on his CD, so I’ve gone for DJ Yoda. Being a hip hop-based DJ is inevitably a rather limiting pursuit, as with the quality of new hip hop being produced these days you’re forced to constantly plunder the golden age, so I like that Yoda has at least tried to do something a bit different with his entry. He does of course include a few of the best party time hip hop tracks ever – Handsome Boy Modelling School’s ‘Holy Calamity/Bear Witness’, Jurassic 5’s ‘Swing Set’ and Gangstarr’s ‘Just to Get a Rep’ (the latter deftly mixed into the Jean Jacques Perry song it samples) – but also splices them with likes of ‘Blister in the Sun’ by The Violent Femmes and less successfully The Coral’s ‘In the Morning’. Of course his trademark humour is on display as well, but unlike on his ‘How to Cut and Paste’ mixes here he just selects some silly songs to maintain levity; Minnie Ripperton’s ‘Lovin You’, DJ Zinc’s ‘Super Sharp Shooter’ and his own ‘Chatterbox’ with Sway.

9. Fabric 30 – Rub-N-Tug

“Were into having a party. Music and having a drink and a good time,” is the quote from Eric Duncan and Thomas Bullock AKA Rub N Tug that accompanies this mix’s description page on the Fabric website, and the mix is all about exactly that. I remember coming across them in Room 3 at about 4am after something a little too minimal was plodding along in the main room and instantly being lifted by their infectious attitude and fun dance music. They’ve managed to distill the fun of their live sets into their mix through quick mixing and inspired track selection, kicking off with the karate chopping ‘The 7 Deadly Strokes’ by Claude VonStroke and bouncing through Jesse Rose disco-bomb ‘Evening Standard’ to the equally upbeat Italo-house epic ‘Atto D’Amour’ from Serge Santiago. The brilliant Satoshie Tomie 3D mix of Slok’s ‘Lonely Child’ works perfectly as a mid-set change of pace, preparing the listener for the final onslaught centered around power-house anthem ‘Discopolis’ by Lifelike and Kris Menace. It’s the kind of song only they could get away with playing at Fabric; but then that’s why this mix is so great.

8. Fabric 28 – Evil Nine

I wasn’t sure whether Evil Nine or Plump DJs deserved to make the list, as both their Fabric CDs are worthy of inclusion, but while the Plumps’ 2003 effort was straight breakbeat throughout, I rather liked Evil Nine’s attempt at applying the breaks aesthetic to house and electro. The resulting mix is one full of tough beats, funky touches and a really relentless groove throughout. The live sounding drum beats and attitude-filled vocal by Ursula Rucker on their remix of Will Saul’s ‘Where Is It’ provide a microcosm of the mix, before successive Riton re-rubs expand on the theme, first of his own ‘Angerman’ and then his stunning rerub of The Mystery Jet’s ‘Boy Who Ran Away’. Things get filthy in the middle with Paul Woolford’s ‘Erotic Discourse’, ‘John’s Addiction’ by John Starlight and ‘The Dogs’ by The Bassbin Twins, then the 2006 zeitgeist is latched onto with the achingly trendy Justice ruination of Franz Ferdinand’s ‘The Fallen’ and the Digitalism mix of Test Icles ‘What’s Your Damage’. Evil Nine appear to have lost their way somewhat in the years since, but back then they were on the top of their game and this confidence was never more evident that on this mix (apart from maybe on their Essential Mix the year before).

7. Fabric 09 – Slam

2003 was a great year for dance music, something which was reflected in the quality of Fabric mixes released at the time; none more so than Slam‘s rightful early entry into the hall of fame. Of all the times Orde and Stuart have tried to convert their club sets to CD, this is probably the one that best captures their inimitable sound and style. Running an eye over the track list there’s not necessarily anything that sticks out – bar the inclusion of the classic ‘one more tune’, Underground Resistance’s ‘Inspiration’ – but that’s what’s always so good about their sets; they weave something amazing out of thing’s you’ve missed. Starting out with the chunky house of  Octave One’s remix of John Thomas’ ‘Working Nights’ and Spincycle’s  rework OCB’s ‘Synchronisity’, Slam are in their bassline-centric Soma element. Envoy provide a melodic interlude with their ‘Night Moves‘ before the first of a few key Slam remixes shape the mix, first of Ladytron’s ‘Seventeen’ and later on ‘D Clash’ by Bryan Zentz. By this point it’s time to switch to the deeper and darker side of things with the hypnotizing Marco Carola mix of Sven Vath’s ‘Steel’ and the banging Hades mix of Redhead’s ‘Riddles’ taking the mix to it’s cresendo. Outside of the Arches, Slam seem to be the most at home with Fabric’s powerful sound system and switched on crowd; this mix is the best possible recreation of that winning combination.

6. Fabric 20 – John Digweed

A bit of a surprise to me at the time as I couldn’t remember a line-up with him on it, but nonetheless a Fabric mix that will  always be something Diggers has over his friend Sasha. While his inclusion may have been a bit out of left field, his contribution is definitely one of the finest. This mix seems to mark  his shedding of the prog house tag he had lumbered himself with during the couple of years either side of the millennium, reinstating him as one of the finest house DJs this country has produced. There’s nothing particularly flashy about who he is or what he does, but the man knows how pick the best tracks and build a great set out of them, working the tempo up through a first half of solid tech-house before rewarding the listener with a couple of fine dub mixes of Martin Solveig’s ‘Rocking Music’ and SLAM’s ‘Lie to Me’, before unleashing Wink’s interpretation of ‘Better World’ by Infusion. As much as I revere and respect the Fabric mixes by M.A.N.D.Y, Tiefshwarz, Steve Bug, DJ T, etc; John Digweed’s trumps them all by remembering that there’s still room for some melody and movement within tech-house.

5. FabricLive 16 – Adam Freeland

I’ve always been a fan of Freeland’s work, whether it be the output of his Marine Parade label, the couple of times I’ve seen him live or through the variety of mixes he’s put together over the years. His Fabric comp stands out among these as possibly the best demonstration of his approach to putting together a set and skill at seamlessly mixing through different genres. Claiming the title for probably the best opening track on any of the back catalogue – Black Rebel Motorcyle Club’s ‘Love Burns’ – he then works it nicely into a first quarter of Brighton breaks courtesy of him and his protégés Evil Nine. The mix is admittedly heavy on his own productions, but coming out just a year after his fine debut album ‘Now & Them’, he was arguably at his and this style of music’s peak. The way house (M.A.N.D.Y’s ‘Word’s Don’t Come Easy’), techno (LFO’s ‘Freak’) and breaks (Evil Nine’s mix of ‘Reign’ by Unkle) are blended towards the end of the mix is a joy to hear; although I never quite agreed with the D’n’B stylings of ‘Mind Killer’ to finish.

4. FabricLive 33 – Spank Rock

Party mixes really don’t come much more pleasing than this. The opening combination of Curtis Blow’s ‘The Breaks’ and ‘Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death From Above’ by CSS reveals a formula which is used to great effect throughout this electro tour de force. Working the freshest electro stylings from the bleeding edge of cool – where Spank Rock ply their trade – into a selection of classic dance-floor favourites is a textbook fun-time mixing method. The selections speak for themselves really: Yello’s ‘Bostich’ and ‘Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight’ followed by Daft Punk’s ‘Technologic’ and ‘A Bit Patchy’ by Switch, then the guilty pleasure mid-section of Mylo’s ‘Drop the Pressure’ into ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’ by Yes and finally Simian Mobile Disco’s ‘Hustler’ sandwiched in between Tangerine Dream’s ‘Love on a Real Train’ and The Romantics’ ‘Talking in Your Sleep’. Next time you want to look cool at a house party, whilst still keeping people entertained, this CD is the way to go.

3. FabricLive 01 – James Lavelle

The original and still one of the best. He may not be able to mix very well live and by most accounts seems to be a bit of a prick, but you’ve got to credit MoWax and Unkle founder James Lavelle with the ability to pick good music. It’s good that The Psychonauts’ (who probably mixed the thing) best song ‘Circles‘ gets an early showing, and the fact that it’s mixed into one of my favourite tracks ever – ‘Organ Donor’ by DJ Shadow – means I’m sucked in immediately. However, the fact that he continues the dark and funky vibe with overlooked Chem’s gem ‘Piku‘ and the superb Plump DJs mix of Orbital’s ‘Funny Break’ ascends the mix to classic status. Lavelle’s inclination and ability to seamlessly mix hip hop, breakbeat and house was demonstrated again on the couple of comps he did for Global Underground, but never as well as with the riches 2001 had to offer. The atmospheric breaks of Unkle cohort Richard File’s ‘Kick a Hole’ via his Forme moniker work their way into the ubiquitous ‘La La Land’ from Green Velvet and FC Kahuna’s pummeling ‘Mindset to Cycle’. The mix then goes admirably deep for several tracks before finishing with the apocalyptically powerful ‘Healer’ by Buckwacka! and ket anthem ‘Everything in its Right Place’ by Radiohead.

2. Fabric 13 – Michael Mayer

I have to admit that I dismissed this mix the first time I heard it and argued with a friend that it should take precedence over other mixes in the scramble to stick music on after a night out. When he won out and I gave it a proper listen the penny finally dropped, and from the moment the hypnotic Piano Mix of Westbam’s ‘Old School Baby’ came on I was hooked. The Kompakt boss – through his DJ sets and label output – has always managed to brilliantly bridge the gap between melody and minimalism and that’s what really shines through on his Fabric mix. It’s a perfect snapshot of what made 2003 such an interesting period in dance music, mixing through modern classics like Villalobos’ ‘Easy Lee’ and the Jackson Midnight Fuck mix of M83’s ‘Run into Flowers‘. Crucially though, this mix is German through and through, sandwiched between different remixes of Heiko Voss’ ‘I Think About You’ and mixed with a sheen of stereotypical precision, it seems to almost herald the recent rise of the country as the centre of dance music.

1. FabricLive 09 – Jacques Le Cont

Not only the best Fabric mix, but one of the greatest mix CDs ever compiled (although the same could be said for any of the top 5), it defines for me exactly what funky house should stand for. Super-producer Jaques Le Cont (real name Stuart David Price, but also know as Les Rythmes Digitales, Man With Guitar, Pour Homme, Thin White Duke or the brains behind Zoot Woman) responded to the burgeoning electro-clash scene with a track selection and mixing technique that showed the fledgling genre just how fleeting it was. Between Erol Alkan’s Trash nights and 2ManyDJs Radio Soulwax mixes, eclectic genre-mashing was already all the rage, but neither did it with the class of Le Cont, moving from Tom Tom Club’s original of ‘Wordy Rappinghood’ to ‘Abracadabra’ by the Steve Miller Band via Chicken Lips and Crazy P with such panache that it’s now hard to hear those songs without anticipating the next. Of course the pinnacle of this mixing without boundaries comes with the inclusion of Strauss’ ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ – a seemingly unmixable piece of music already synonymous with 2001: A Space Odessy – and the balls to follow it with ‘Sweet Dreams’ by Eurythmics. It was always the first CD on at afterparty’s during my time at university and remains one of the single best party mixes I can think of. Embarrassingly I’ve never seen JLC play live, but I’m almost reticent to take the opportunity as I fear he could never live up to the hype in which I hold his productions.

I was very tempted to make this a top 20 and could have easily filled it with firm favourites, but I thought this number fitted the occasion and forced me to be ruthless with my selections. Looking at my list it’s clearly indicative of my impatience with the more minimal mixes in the Fabric series and my general distaste for the drum’n’bass and dubstep side of the FabricLive series. Having said that there are still some mixes I left off that I feel are definitely worthy of a quick mention. My attendance at the club overwhelmingly falls on the Saturday night house and techno sessions, so I jumped upon mixes by people like Ivan Smagghe, Andrew Weatherall, Matthew Dear, Claude VonStroke and Damian Lazarus; all of which were very fine pieces of work but haven’t quite garnered the repeat listens of the above. The very fact that Fabric managed to get John Peel to compile a mix stands as a testament to the series, even if I found the CD itself as sporadic and difficult as his radio show. Other artists with more Late Night Tales-esque mixes that also merit inclusion are Death in Vegas, Cut Copy and the wonderfully danceable one from LCD Soundsystem front man and drummer James Murphy and Pat Mahoney. You may have also noticed the absence of any mixes past the 40 mark. To a certain degree they do seem to be running out of really great DJs to cover, but some of the young guns have turned in noteworthy comps; I’m thinking Pearson Sound, Filthy Dukes, the Visionquest boys and of course Optimo. Anyway, a big thanks to Fabric and the DJs I’ve listed and here’s to another decade at the top of the game.

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