Ivan Smagghe - Live at Robert Johnson

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  • Ivan Smagghe's interest in the darker fringes of the electronic music world sounds like a perfect match for what is considered to be one of the most forward-thinking and dedicated clubs in Europe. Musically speaking, however, it is slightly puzzling to realize how the epithets used in 2005 to describe Smagghe's Fabric mix ("abstract bleeps", "dark noises", "synths that rock", "4/4 electronics") still perfectly fit this one. Sure, it can be seen as simply more proof of his persistence in further exploring and pushing forward the sonic niche he has carved for himself over the years. But when he calls himself a "legendary grump" in the inner sleeve's notes, you can't help but think this so-called bad-boy image might be starting to wear thin. In other words, Live at Robert Johnson might come off as the moment Smagghe's self-indulgence finally got harder to swallow. The mix opens up on the upfront kick drum and cavernous bassline of Gary Beck's "Drifting," which is a quite telling move: Smagghe is confident enough to immediately take the listeners where he wants them to. That said, we rapidly find ourselves in familiar territories with the Tribute du Sadkin Dub of Two Banks of Four's "Junkyard Gods" and In Flagranti's short-lived "Efx 10-11," two fascinatingly twirling tracks that unfortunately display the same kind of oblique tweaks and tweets Smagghe has pulled numerous times before. Smagghe surprises, though, with the inclusion of a Röyksopp track which surely appears counter-intuitive at first—especially given its title, "Happy Up Here"—but bear in mind that it shows up here in remixed form: Holy Fuck turn the buoyant and overtly sunny energy of the original into a tribal-like drum-fest that is darker in disposition and temper. Even more bewildering is the stop-and-start dynamics he opts for throughout: Right after In Flagranti—and a second time again right before his own It's a Fine Line cut—Smagghe mood matches rather than beat matches, interrupting the mix altogether to slightly alter the tempo. On his Death Disco mix for Eskimo, it worked perfectly, creating an overarching three-part arc that fittingly served the mix's eclecticism; in this case, it feels more like repeated coitus interruptus. Even so, this second interruption makes for a captivating second half, The Wighnomy Bros/Seymour Bits/Ryan Davis sequence is particularly worth mentioning for its overall sense of digital menace. Smagghe's inclination to include vocals and rock-tinged songs is (largely) saved here for the final two tracks of the mix with the inclusion of '80s New Wavers Dark Day ("No, Nothing, Ever" is probably the most Smagghe-like title to have ever graced a mix of his!) and, after another slight pause, Rheingold's rockabilly-lite "Dreiklangsdimensionen." Yet, in typical Smagghe style, both tracks are cryptic. And, by this point in the mix, they feel unnecessary and lazy—especially when you remember how The Kills's "No Wow" blended so well with its techno surroundings on the aforementioned Fabric mix. I have been following Smagghe's career for over a decade now, have seen him DJ both in Montreal and Paris a few times, always looked forward to his productions (with either Black Strobe, Two Fairlight Bitches or It's A Fine Line) and I believe his Suck my Deck, Fabric 23 and Cocorico 03 mixes deserve a place in the pantheon of the most compelling compilations released this past decade. In short, I'm a fan. And I still am. Unfortunately, there is a pervasive sense of self-righteousness emanating from every corner of this new mix, and while it was always there before, it is, sadly, the first time Smagghe has walked the fine, er, line between deserving our attention and just plainly asking for it.
  • Tracklist
      01. Gary Beck - Drifting (Original Mix) 02. Two Banks of Four - Junkyard Gods (Tribute to Sadkin Dub) 03. Eddie Zarook & Casio Casino - Was 04. In Flagranti - Efx 10-11 05. Entertainment - U 1988 (Kruton Remix) 06. Royksopp - Happy Up Here (Holy Fuck Re-Interpretation) 07. It's A Fine Line - Never Go With A Hippie To A Second Location 08. Wighnomy Bros - Exvola Stupp 09. Seymour Bits - Watskeburt (Original Instrumental Version) 10. Ryan Davis - Spicyal Sound 11. Battant - The Butcher (Marc Houle Remix) 12. Loin Brothers - Heavy Helmet (Mock & Toof Remix) 13. Dark Day - No, Nothing, Ever 14. Rheingold - Dreiklangsdimensionen