Sasha Ring’s work under his Apparat moniker has always been evolving; over three albums on the Shitkatapult label and the collaborative full lengths with Ellen Allien and Modeselektor as Moderat on Bpitch Control, he’s surprised a lot of listeners with his output. Confined to little or no definitive style his music has always been in a constant state of metamorphosis, simultaneously breaching new waters and staying true to his unique spirit of musical openness and his obvious passion for sound design.
Aptly joking that his DJ KiCKs selection reflects his style to “not really have a style” it’s evident that Ring is more than aware that his contribution to the series might look ‘intelligent’ on paper – with the tracklist aligning variant artists like Oval, Autechre, Ripperton and Thom Yorke – but given his recent tour at the start of the year, it’s simply a representation of where he’s at in terms of modern music. “I didn’t want to make this kind of ‘smart’ mix, that’s eclectic and sounds like it’s done ‘on purpose;’ but I need to do different things to keep myself motivated,” Ring explains. “At first I wanted to make a collection of influences, all kinds of old songs but then sometimes with those mixes it’s hard to keep some kind of flow and they’re just not very easy to listen to, so I ended up using good new music; music that almost gave me hope that there’s more out there than boring minimal techno.” The Apparat contribution is as stylized as the preceding mixes in the series from Kode 9 and James Holden; with Ring embracing the opportunity to create a mix that represents both his personality and his brave take on ‘club’ music. With an incredibly prevalent talent for manipulation of both tempos and melodies, Ring includes tracks from a handful of dubstep producers like Dutch producer Martyn – whose ‘Miniluv’ provides a glorious rhythmic propulsion when under-layed beneath Patrice Baumel’s ‘Sub’ – and Ramadanman’s ‘Tempest’ – whose melody all but dissipates at the optimum moment – layering and blending them perfectly with tracks from across an array of genres from Autechre’s percussive white noise to Oval’s erratically colourful sound slices or the echoed clicks of Phon.o’s ‘Intervall.’
“A mix needs a bit of dynamic,’ he states. “There were these weirder things I wanted to use, like this Four Tet remix (of Born Ruffian’s ‘I Need A Life’) and then there are some tracks i had to use as tools to glue it all togehter. The way I used the Martyn track is more of a tool to adjust the Patrice Baumel track dynamically to the following ones. But most of the songs are in there for musical reasons. All these artists have their own sound signatures and manage to inject that space into every new song they produce.”
Achieving a sense of progression in the mix through both his selections and his awareness of sonic space, Ring manages to harness his enthusiasms for frequency perfect soundscapes, often creating moments of sheer beauty out of his polarized composite parts.
“The mix isn’t that balanced when it comes to melody I guess,” he continues, considering his point. “There’s a lot of sweetness on there, but it is dark and mysterious at points. I guess the bittersweet-ness has long been kind of my thing and with this mix I was just trying to spice it up a bit.”
1. Apparat – Circles
2. 69 – Rushed
3. Telefon Tel Aviv – Lengthening Shadows
4. Apparat – Interlude
5. Luke Abbott – More Room
6. Oval – Legendary
7. Patrice Bämel – Sub
8. Martyn – Miniluv (Original Mix)
9. Ripperton – Echocity
10. Cosmin TRG – Tower Block
11. Scorn – Falling (Autechre “FR 13” Remix)
12. Born Ruffians – I Need A Life (Four Tet Remix)
13. Pantha Du Prince – Welt Am Draht
14. Phon.o – Intervall
15. Burial + Four Tet – Moth
16. Vincent Markowski – The Madness Of Moths
17. Ramadanman – Tempest
18. Thom Yorke – Harrowdown Hill
19. Spherix – Lesser People
20. Oval – TV Power
21. Joy Orbison – The Shrew Would Have Cushioned The Blow
22. Apparat – Sayulita (DJ-KiCKS)
23. T++ – Worn Down
24. Tim Hecker – Borderlands
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That Juan MacLean is just a bundle of contradictions. Here he’s created one of the year’s best mix CDs—and not just a proper party mix, which it certainly is, but even what you might call an “important” mix, a timely lesson in the enduring spirit of house music—and how does he choose to describe the process of putting it together? As an “existential tailspin.”
“I really wasn’t joking in the liner notes when I said that in the six months I knew I was going to do this mix, I spent most of the time agonizing over the relevance of doing a DJ mix in 2010,” says MacLean, a cheerful neurotic who’s clearly serious about his craft. “So much about DJ-ing has changed in the last 10 years. It seems that anyone at home can make their own mix, whether they’re a proper DJ or not. Which begs the question, why bother putting them out at this point?”
“So at the end of the day I just came back to where I had started, which was basically wanting to do something that was representative of where I’m coming from in producing my own music, and also focusing on the current house music scene.”
That’s right: house music. Pumping, sweaty house music at its purest, from the churning pianos to the chopped-up vocals. Surprising? Maybe: DFA, the label MacLean calls home, is best known for post-punkish indie dance, and label co-founder James Murphy’s dance-floor tastes run mostly to vintage disco. But MacLean is undoubtedly DFA’s resident house aficionado, something you might have guessed from his anthemic 2008 single “Happy House,” a homage to ’90s piano house.
That track bookends MacLean’s DJ Kicks, which opens with the beatless strains of Ian Breno’s dub and closes out with Alex Frankel’s Rhodes-infused remix. Along the way, it arcs through 72 minutes of peak-hour energy, mixed live with two turntables, a couple of filters and a tape delay. The approach may be old-school, but the sound is simply classic, reflecting MacLean’s taste in timeless grooves and the raw, spontaneous, ecstatic energy of a dance floor in motion. The mix is also impeccably shaped, with a tracklist accounting for the natural ebb and flow of the crowd’s energy, and a couple clever codas easing us gently back down from the climax.
The oldest cut on the mix, Armando’s “Don’t Take It,” dates back to 1988, when it was recorded in one take in a legendary Chicago after-hours session. Detroit, normally remembered as the birthplace of techno, gets its due with a Theo Parrish remix of Rick Wilhite’s 1996 tune “Get On Up,” originally released on Moodymann’s KDJ label. Otherwise, the mix sticks largely to recent material, though you’d never know it from the sound of the tracks themselves. Without ever coming off as willfully retro, any of them sound like they could have been recorded at any point in the past 20 years.
One of the striking things about the setlist is its international scope, which flits through Glasgow (6th Borough Project), Berlin (Florian Meindl, Alex Niggemann), Buenos Aires (Manuel Sahagun) and even Adelaide, Australia (Sonny Foderra). Just consider Shit Robot’s “Simple Things (Todd Terje Remix)”: here’s a track made by a Dubliner now living in Stuttgart, remixed in Oslo and released on a New York label. It’s a great proof of just how universal a language house music has become.
And ultimately, MacLean’s DJ Kicks is all about achieving that universal vibe, unconcerned with populist trends or trainspotters’ disdain.
“As a DJ,” says MacLean, “I’ve been wrestling with the idea: how much are you an artist, with your own aesthetic principles, and how much are you an entertainer? I’ve always found it interesting to grapple with those two ideas, rather than throw yourself in either direction. It’s easy to be self-indulgent and stay cool and make the proper moves. It’s also easy to just play hit after hit, which most people do. But to somehow wrestle with those two things and emerge with something that considers both, seems more interesting.”
Interesting it is. Fortunately for us, MacLean’s DJ Kicks doesn’t stop there. A love-letter to house music penned by one of the music’s most sincere (and well-schooled) admirers, it’s a sweet, sweaty, wide-ranging set that wraps you up in chugging grooves. At a time of proliferating podcasts and fly-by-night mixtapes, it’s a welcome change of pace: a mix that makes its case the old-fashioned way, one perfect blend at a time.
1. Juan MacLean – Feliz Casa (Ian Breno Dub)
2. Still Going – Spaghetti Circus
3. Andre Crom & Luca Doobie – Ebony
4. 6th Burough Project – Planets (The Revenge Lost Groove)
5. A+O – Take Me
6. Rick Wilhite – Get On Up!! (Theo Parrish’ Late Dub)
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