If I told you how many mix CDs pile up in our office each week, you wouldn’t believe me. PR companies, record labels and DJs are voracious in their appetite to fill up people’s inboxes and postal piles. Years ago, when I was just getting into music, mix CDs were a unique way to find out about new artists and tracks. Now, the Fabric and Fabriclive series’ are on their 47th installment, Global Underground their 37th and Renaissance their 51st and it just doesn’t seem necessary anymore. The numbers are starting to blur, titles that were once heavyweights have become stagnant and mediocre and deflated mixes just keep piling up. If you’re knee deep in house and techno then it might be necessary to collect the odd mix collection, but on the whole, death bells are ringing for this format, unless something drastic changes.
There were several times following the hip hop tape renaissance where mixes felt truly significant. I remember when Kid Loco’s downtempo DJ-Kicks mix CD came out ten years ago; it was awe inspiring: the French producer introduced me and many others to artists like Underworld, DJ Vadim and Boards Of Canada. Mixmag went on to declare !K7’s DJ-Kicks series the “most important DJ Mix series ever” and they were probably right; it was facilitated by innovators such as Stereo MCs and Henrik Schwarz.
One mixed CD that carved a template for the genre was the groundbreaking Peter Kruder and Richard Dorfmeister double album, “The K&D Sessions”, which was released in 1998 and partially kicked off the modern mix movement as we know it. Without the Austrian duo, the mix format might be without direction. There was also Sasha & John Digweed’s 1996 “Northern Exposure” mix for Ministry of Sound, which built upon their creation of “the world’s first DJ mix CD” for Renaissance in 1994 and steered the superstar DJs into collecting tens of thousands of pounds for sets. Some people even rate “Northern Exposure” as the best mix CD ever and mint condition vinyl versions now go for £65 on Discogs. For history’s sake there were mixes that came before in the early nineties: Coldcut being one, and even going back to the early eighties, Kid Capri was an ideal mixer, years before the advent of the Internet. As my editor noted, “with one of those tapes you were the KING.”
Soon, any genre of music became entitled to a mix CD, as long as the DJ or producer found it appropriate. Check out the terms “happy hardcore” or “chillout” on Amazon and you’ll see what I mean. Over time, a large quantity of mix CDs were released in the name of a specific club, such as the Pacha volumes, Fabric and Fabriclive or “Live at Robert Johnson”, the branding of a label (Cocoon), with VHS accompaniment (X-Mix) or even as a symbol of existence, to shout from the rooftops, “hey we’re still here!” Now we see an almost-constant stream of mix series releases from the likes of Renaissance, Hed Kandi, Café Del Mar, Fabric, Bugged out, Kitsuné, DJ-Kicks and Ministry of Sound, just to name a few. I’m not taking a cheap shot at them or their respective series’ and I know each imprint has fans dedicated to their output, but depending on which side of the table you sit on, are they still relevant?
It’s hard to say: the future of mix CDs is still being puzzled out and determined. Most people are fickle with their tastes and unless you’re a halfhearted consumer who views them as background music, buying just “another mix” in this day and age feels futile. Admittedly, mix CDs, podcasts and live mixes give DJs and producers an outlet to showcase their talents and prowess. But now the game is different: everyone’s a crate digger and everyone has the capability to incorporate a mix at one BPM or find a bunch of obscurities from the Internet. There have been no real genre innovations since Richie Hawtin used 100 tracks and 300 loops to create his 53-minute “Closer to the Edit” mix in 2001 or since 2 Many DJs started their bootleg series around 2003. You now have websites such http://www.artofthemix.org where anyone can upload mixes of any worth.
What’s even worse is the advent of the Internet mix. How many emails directing me to YouSendIt, Soundcloud, or various podcasts and websites must I ignore per day? It’s total overkill. Technology has only made it harder for quality dance music artists to distinguish themselves: you don’t need turntables, hell, you don’t even need to know which tunes go together; enhanced-capability music programs like Ableton and Logic do that for you. But a bad mix with or without technology will still always be a bad mix.
Listening to three different online mixes in the same week, one gets the feeling that many of the mixes have no quality control, motivation or direction. But those that stand out from the fray do so resoundingly. Fact Magazine and Resident Advisor both offer challenging and interesting mixes available for download for three to four weeks, our own EB Radio uploads one streaming mix a week and LA record label Stones Throw offers excellent podcast subscriptions via iTunes. Unfortunately there are still copious amount of online mixes which unashamedly use populist genres like disco and tech house, all scurrying at around 120 BPM, with no flair or ability to spell out what they are doing.
I have a strong feeling that the people behind the corporate desks of Ministry Of Sound and Café Del Mar are not ashamed of their plentiful mixes and rightly so: their CDs have evolved into global dance music lifestyle brands and provide an interesting way for the behemoths to stay relevant in the ever changing music market. Even so, we will have to wait and see where the movement heads to next. Mixes will be delivered through different mediums in the future and undoubtedly find new ways to shine. But in the meantime we’ll just have to clench our teeth and ignore all the static.