Harmless Records’ new Mixology series is only on its second volume but it has already taken a drastic change in approach. The first volume of Mixology (reviewed here) was devoted to Salsoul Records and dished up three discs’ worth of classic remixes and album-length versions of classics from that storied label’s disco repertoire. Mixology: SAM Records Extended Play takes a different tack: it offers a set of all-new remixes of SAM Records material designed to fit modern club standards. The results are dancefloor-ready but the sound of the original recordings tends to get lost in the mix.
How much you like Mixology: SAM Records Extended Play depends on your dance music remix philosophy. If you’re of the “anything goes” mindset that favors piling on scads of audio effects and don’t mind a remix radically straying from the elements of an original recording, you’ll be fine with this set. The team of remixers and editors, which include notable names as Maxxi Soundsystem and Jacques Renault (who compiled this set, are all skilled at the barrage of mixing and filtering techniques that are expected by many listeners from dance music today.
However, if you favor a more Tom Moulton-style approach where the remix is driven by what is in the grooves of the original then you won’t find much to enjoy in Mixology: SAM Records Extended Play. The tendency here is to pick apart the layers of a song’s arrangement, isolate fragments of it and bury them in a lot of dub-style echo while reworking the rhythms towards a more metronomic, jackhammer house-music approach. The finished remixes and re-edits are professional enough in quality to fit into any au courant club’s playlist but they frequently throw out the vocals, much of the arrangement and sometimes the entire main melody altogether.
A particularly alarming example is the Catz N’ Dogz Remix of “Bourgie Bourgie” by John Davis & The Monster Orchestra. The original track is classic Philly Soul-derived disco, with a tight backbeat, exuberant group vocals and soaring orchestrations. The remix is a sparse, chilly techno track where everything is electronic, the exuberant vocals are stripped back to a robotic hum, the main melody is jettisoned until the last few moments and there is nary a violin in earshot. If you’re going to take such a radical, scorched-earth approach in remixing a song, then you might as well just re-record it because what you are doing is no longer a remix. As these comments should make clear, Your Humble Reviewer favors the Moulton-derived classic approach to remixing so the appeal of much of this album is lost on him.
However, to be fair it should be noted that a few of the tracks did shine through the radical-remix approach to stand out. Todd Terje’s take on “Keep On Dancing” by Gary’s Gang retools the song into a driving, techno soundscape but it finds those elements in the forward-thinking original and retains enough of its original arrangement to find a harmonious mix of the old and the new. Jacque Renault’s take on another Gary’s Gang track, “Let’s Lovedance Tonight,” cleverly applies its ebb-and-flow looping techniques to create something that distills the old-school appeal of the original into a new shape that sounds like a latter-day Daft Punk record. Elsewhere, Prince Language’s re-edit of “Let’s Do It” by Convertion does pleasing things with the synth-boogie of the original and Soul Clap’s remix of “This Beat Is Mine” by Vicky D transforms another synth-boogie item into a rollercoaster that uses its hooks in a sparse but satisfying manner.
In short, how much you get out of Mixology: SAM Records Extended Play depends on your dance-remix tastes. Those who favor today’s high-tech approach will get a professional excursion in that style but those who like to hear the original melody and arrangement distilled or extended in a remix won’t find many mixes utilizing that method here. The omission of any original recordings or classic remixes also feels like a missed opportunity. Perhaps the Mixology series producers should consider including a disc of vintage 12-inch mixes and album-length cuts on the next volume along with the modern mixes: that way, there would be something to please everyone.
(Reviewer’s Note: this review was done using an MP3 download provided by Harmless Records. The actual 2-disc set includes a multi-song mix by Jacques Renault that was not included in the download and that is why said megamix is not discussed in this review.)