- Anyone who was lucky enough to attend the Underground Quality Nacht at Tape last month probably noticed something slightly odd about the scene in the DJ booth: All six DJs—save the lone female jock—were wearing long-sleeved t-shirts. At most parties in Berlin (or anywhere for that matter), the DJs dress up about as much as everybody else. Not so at this one, a night that was commemorated Bar Mitzvah-style: with custom-made T-shirts listing the date and location of the event, complete with a cute little graphic.
If the fanfare seemed a bit unusual for Berlin, it's because the event itself was too. "We basically said, 'How can we throw the best party of the century?'" Levon Vincent, one of the UQ artists, explained a few weeks before the event. "We won't make any from that party, just hoping to break even and get some good word of mouth. I think it will be a really special night. Actually, I think it will be one of the better memories of my career when I look back 50 years later."
To hype up the event (and offset some of its costs), the UQ team created an especially juicy promotional item: an mp3 CD featuring mixes by all the artists on the bill. Label boss Jus-Ed, Anton Zap, Levon Vincent, DJ Qu, Fred P (AKA Black Jazz Consortium) and Nina Kraviz all contributed, mixing exclusively with their own tracks. About 60% of the material was unreleased at the time it came out, and each mix plays out on a single mp3 file, so many of the best tracks remain mysteriously nameless, much as they would in a club. As he explains in the beginning of his mix, Ed's intention with the CD was to promote the party at Tape, but anyone who's heard these mixes knows he overshot the mark. With over five hours of lean and sumptuous grooves, Club Tape Club Mix is a treasure-trove of deep house music, and one that should earn UQ even more word-of-mouth than the party it was made to promote.
Ed kicks things off with an energetic mix, and while it's certainly not the compilation's best, it's definitely a lot of fun. Starting out with "Minimal Groove (Da Shit Vibe Mix)" and slipping through a set of new and unreleased material, Ed makes something very colorful and diverse out of his own tracks, which can often sound a little too simplistic or video-gamey on their own. His mixing technique is nothing to write home about: as on House Goodies Vol. 3, each track plays out for about five or six minutes, and Ed has trouble keeping his hands off the mic and phaser button. But none of this really detracts from the mix—in fact, Ed's artless approach is an important part of his artistic style (my guess is the mix was done in one take), and stems from a special laid-back charisma that's pretty hard not to enjoy.
Levon Vincent follows this up with forty minutes of his signature gravelly house sound. His first track is the highlight of the set: a bottom heavy number that makes a hook out of upright bass and finger-bent guitar strings (and some dubby warbles thrown in for good measure), evoking the sassy noir feel of an older Tarantino film. Things get pretty deep and dreary from there, with recent cuts like "Games Dub" and "Six Figures" setting the tone. But while the vibe is generally bleak, Vincent matches his drab overtones with strong, funky grooves, and ultimately the mix is fairly upbeat from beginning to end. Vincent is one of underground dance music's most recent favorites, and as this mix shows, he definitely lives up to the hype.
While most of the mixes here sound a bit gritty or rough around the edges, Anton Zap's is cool, lush and breezy. The Moscow-based producer starts out with his best track to date: "Captain Storm," a plodding dub-house bomb from his debut Anton Zap EP. For the rest of the mix, he weaves back and forth between hazy, euphoric dub house and a sunnier, more classic vibe. Familiar tracks like "Mon 6_14" and "Captain Rush" sound great, but it's the soon-to-be released tracks that steal the show, especially "Velo," "Thu" and "Looking Forward." With so many unreleased gems on display, Zap's status as an artist to watch is reaffirmed all over again.
Up next, DJ Qu steers things back toward the shadows. The New York-based producer's mix is fast, dark and heavy, but his focus on warm chords and raw timbre keeps the house vibe going strong. As a producer, Qu's got a knack for organic sounds that create a balmy outdoor feel, and jive nicely with his raw, no-nonsense rhythms. His mixing is smooth and confident as he barrels through tracks like "Nite Ride," "Rainy Daze" and "Mixing Room," occasionally jumping on the mic to chant "DJ Qu, on the one and two… DJ Qu, on the one and two…" Jus-Ed may claim to be the one "bringing all the muscle," but based on this mix, Qu sounds like the toughest one here.
Having begun her music career less than four years ago, Nina Kraviz is UQ's least experienced producer, but you'd hardly guess from hearing her mix. Her sense of groove isn't quite as strong as that of her label mates, but her personal aesthetic is surprisingly unique and mature. She begins her mix on an oblique note, with eerie whispers and a clumpy rhythm that never quite comes into focus. The vibe stays ominously sexy throughout, occasionally dipping into bad dream territory and then notching back up to a more classic house tip. The vocal tracks, done mostly by Kraviz herself, range from menacing and Perlon-esque to more traditionally sensual, but with lines like "get out and don't touch me/ get out of my life," even her diva moments sound grim. Having just released the excellent First Time EP, as well as a split on which she outshines Efdemin, Kraviz has been blowing up in the past few weeks, and this mix shows she's got plenty more in the pipeline.
Closing the compilation on an especially strong note, Fred P, AKA Black Jazz Consortium, gives us Club Tape Club Mix's most reflective chapter. Drawing nothing from his recent releases, Peterkin mixes mostly with unreleased tracks and some older material, like the ethereal "Every Day" from last year on Soul People Music. Soft chords roll along the beats, flowing seamlessly into one another as each new track drifts by in a dusky haze. As usual, Peterkin blends subtle sci-fi imagery with warm, classic tones, sometimes evoking the endless sprawl of a cosmic landscape, other times recalling the sepia tinge of old jazz records. Every UQ artist has a unique personal style, but Fred P's is the best to lose yourself in for an hour. And after an album as utilitarian sounding as Structure, it's nice to have something so fluid and emotive from this exceptional producer.
According to people who were there, the night at Tape went swimmingly. Helped along by a top-tier soundsystem and a typically insatiable German crowd, all six DJs made a serious impression, with either Levon Vincent or Fred P stealing the night, depending on who you talk to. Very little can match the ineffable energy of such a momentous night out, but for those of us who had no hope of making it, Club Tape Club Mix is a fairly excellent substitute. Bursting with the DIY energy that makes so much underground music great, this CD-R is one of 2009's best releases so far.
1. Jus-Ed Mix
2. Levon Vincent Mix
3. Anton Zap Mix
4. DJ Qu Mix
5. Nina Kraviz Mix
6. Fred P Mix