One of the many methods by which House and Techno have propagated over the years is through the ubiquitous DJ mix. These days it’s incredibly easy to find a couple of hours of your favourite Jockey doing his thing. Five minutes on Sound Cloud or any one of a hundred blogs and websites will probably give you enough music to last you a lifetime. Back then, in the much romanticised ‘olden days’, you really only had two options – hope the DJ you wanted to hear was going to be playing at a club you could get to, or track down a Mix tape.
These dodgy C-90 tapes, usually with a poorly photocopied cover, were the life blood of the scene for many people. Aside from allowing you to hear what all the fuss was about, they gave access to music you might have ordinarily missed. I can’t count how many times I’ve been fired up enough to spend hours digging through record crates, armed only with a track or artist name (many times not even that) vaguely hoping I might get lucky and find one single tune I’d heard on a mix tape by Richie Hawtin, or Jeff Mills. The business minded major labels have always been against people releasing mix tapes – and, these days, against people posting podcasts and suchlike online – but the underground has always understood such things only help a scene to grow. I cannot even begin to say how much I’ve spent on records over the years as a result of tracking down something I heard on a tape, and I know I’m far from the only one.
My favourite mix was, unsurprisingly, one by Derrick May. It went by one of two names: Derrick May: Live At The Technodrome, or Derrick May Live In London 1993. It’s the thing that finally made me decide to try my hand at DJ’ing. It was a master class on what was possible with a couple of Technics, a mixer and a bunch of records. It kicked through House and Techno and early Trance without the slightest pause, 90 minutes of pure energy, slamming tunes like Star Dancer by The Martian into Stella by Jam and Spoon.
Anyone who thinks that Digital DJs alone have the means at their disposal to reshape and remix tunes on the fly with samples and loops, well, they should track down a copy of this tape. I’ve never heard any Tracktor DJ do stuff half as inventive and insane as May manages here. He batters and twists and coaxes threads from the music that shouldn’t possibly exist, weaving them into new shapes that flourish but for a moment until he tears them apart and starts again.
Piano Power by Remy and Sven was one of those tunes that I hunted for afterwards. The track is perfectly weighted in May’s hands as a means of cracking into the frankly crazed medley of mixes from Music Takes You Away by Lil’ Louis. It feels, with its rolling piano riff, that it should be little more than cheesy big-room House but coupled to that bassline, those rolling drums, and a velocity that approaches 140 BPM, it becomes transcendent.
Alas, although I own many of the tunes on the tape, I lost my one copy of it years ago. Such a blow. It was incredible. Often emulated, never bettered. If anyone can furnish me with a copy of the full 90 minute monster please, get in touch. It’s too good not to share.