Looking back over the music that has influenced my life has landed at the 90s, and the emergence of the DJ Mix album. I’d always intended to create a best of the genre list covering all the years I bought mix albums, but realised this was a difficult ask. Firstly, the early 90s were the formative years, the time when those memories were created. It was all new then, we were all younger and a proper community/family vibe was around. People you recognised at club nights to the trainspotters beavering away creating the tracklists so we could say we knew what ID – ID was., we’re all crucial to that time. As time wore on and I got older, the times had were all compared to those early years. Renaissance at the Que Club and Bakers in Birmingham, Up Yer Ronson, Back to Basics and Vague in Leeds, The Rhumba Club and the early Essential Mix nights wherever they were held.
The upshot of all this nostalgia is a couple of posts: the first covering the 90s, then another casting a net over the noughties and 2010s. The only way to do this properly was to listen to the mixes again. It has taken months, but was most enjoyable.
The art of creating the mix album developed from live club recordings to studio mixes, Protools then Ableton Live. It is funny now listening back to the pre-Ableton mixes. In my head I’m trying to correct those wavering mixes that are now totally locked on via Ableton. It didn’t make listening to them again any less enjoyable. I only marvelled at how good they were given the technology available to them back then.
It began (for me) with bootleg tapes from various clubs or radio shows. Sasha’s ‘Giving It Up’ Kiss FM show did the rounds for a while. Lots of the tunes forming the original Renaissance Mix Collection. On the show he also introduced a young John Digweed. His ‘Unplugged’ tape was flawless, having been a studio mix rather than live. Shelley’s tapes, Pimp tapes, Rhumba tapes are were copied or shared amongst the troops. One the first mix CDs I can remember getting was Sasha & Dave Seaman – DJ Culture Non Stop in the Mix which was a mix put out via Stress. The CD is nothing but classics start to finish (eg. Bedrock, Brothers Luvs Dubs & Last Rhythm) recorded in a seminal era.
Then house music gospel Mixmag created a Mixmag Live series which paired Sasha and CJ Macintosh on one CD, Digweed with Gordon Kaye on another as well as Nick Warren with Dimitri together, each doing shorter 30min (ish) mixes of contrasting styles. There were many others, some of which were a joy to revisit. Mixmag ended up providing a covermount CD with their monthly magazine. Some of those were well worth having as a release on their own.
Around the same times, or maybe slightly earlier the Jouneys by DJs series started with Billy Nasty and Judge Jules. Two releases from that series stood out – John Digweed’s Silky Mix (JDJ4) and Coldcut’s 70 minutes of madness (JDJ8). The series carried on for a few years but eventually slipped away due to the deluge of others that appeared. Another early notable series was DJ Power with Danny Rampling, Sister Bliss, Farley & Heller each producing a mix.
Pete Tong’s Essential Mix started in 1993 with Tong himself, Danny Rampling, Farley & Heller again initially. However, it was Sasha’s Essential Mix 15/01/1994 that generated such a buzz. It felt like a change of style, much more proggy and no more piano anthems. It still sounds fabulous today. This was followed by Junior Vasquez the following week, then the immense John Digweed mix from early March, where I first heard ‘Bump – House Stompin’.
The bootleg tape was taken a stage further when the Boxed series emerged. Some of the output were studio mixes showcasing the DJs talents giving them more control over the final product. Boxed was the precursor to the Global Underground cities series, which is still going today but with a much reduced release schedule. The premise was, a DJ is sent off to do a party in some glamorous location. They then recorded a studio version representing those shows and packaged them up in limited edition long box. Nick Warren and Dave Seaman particularly, did some air miles back then. The standard of the GU output remained strong throughout, with Sasha, John Digweed and Danny Tenaglia all providing multiple mixes. There’s only a handful of those releases that i didn’t listen to again, as I remember not liking them much at the time.
The Renaissance series was kicked off back in 1994 by the original, and still the best, Sasha and John Digweed mix. I was only to happy to listen to those 3 mixes again, It’s timeless. Perhaps they didn’t think so, as they added Kym Mazelle to the 10th anniversary edition also removing all trace of M People. I do however, understand why they did it. It is a perfect representation of the time I properly got into house music. I could talk about that album for hours, but suffice to say that they missed off very little of importance in this release. There was a quality to the Renaissance mixes in terms of the DJs they used, their music and the packaging. This was reflected in the club which was always decadent done up, wherever it was. The series carried on for years with Dave Seaman being a mainstay, but adding Nick Warren, Hernan Cattaneo and James Zabiela to name but a few. The later year mixes were by DJs I didn’t know. Often producers putting a mix together, pretty forgettable stuff. That was most likely, just my age.
The Ministry of Sound (MoS) releases started with Tony Humphries and Clivilles & Cole as early contributors to the Sessions mixes. Those mixes in particular remain great snapshots of that vocal house era. Strangely, Paul Oakenfold did Volume 2 but with a tracklist that fitted the brand. Nothing like the euroscreamers he played for the rest of his career.
Ministry of Sound as a label also gave rise to the Northern Exposure series. There were 4 Northern Exposure releases. Like Renaissance, it was Sasha and Digweed’s first that was the true gem. Two very different mixes – Sasha’s (North) was very atmospheric, less club friendly. It included Banco de Gaia, Morgan King and the late Scott Hardkiss with Raincry under his God Within moniker. Digweed’s mix was darker, more club ready. It included the epic Rabbit in the Moon mix of Inner City Life and ended with Underworlds Dark & Long. Castle Trancelot – The Gloom also sounds epic on a big sondsystem. Northern Exposure 2 followed a similar theme with Sasha’s home friendly disc the better of the 2. Northern Exposure 3 (Expeditions) was good but with both discs being much more aligned in terms of style. Northern Exposure 4 (Communicate) was really disappointing. I still feel that way about it today.
Ministry also put out Junior Vasquez – The Future Sound of New York Sound Factory mix. Listening back, some of the mixing was patchy, but those tunes were outstanding and a great showcase of that moment in time. MoS may just be purveyors of cheese for the masses now, but early doors, they had more of an eye on quality and contributed massively to the 90s.
Tribal UK put out a lot of great releases in the mid 90s. This is the Sound of…, and Mix This Pussy by Danny Tenaglia mixes were notables. As was DJ Vibe via Tribal America who did the Kaos mixes.
Out of Australia came the Balance series. Kasey Taylor and Bill Hamel delivered a couple of blinding proper progressive mixes. The 5th in the series by James Holden is the most revered and is still cited as the best in the series. Personally, I liked those by Chris Fortier, Jimmy van M and SOS but agree the Holden one is class. Balance is still going today, with a release last year by a guy who wasn’t a DJ but a producer. The same way Renaissance went.
Towards the end of the decade John Digweed started his Bedrock series. His own mix was my personal highlight, but the Jimmy van M offering was also stellar. His ’99 Essential mix was based heavily on this album but had an even stronger ending. Digweed would later do Transitions and his enduring Live at series. That’s for next time.
The Back To Mine series started with Nick Warren and Dave Seaman doing beautiful ‘chill’ albums designed for after a club night, when the comedown was in effect. This series gave rise to a multitude of similar themed albums over the next couple of decades. Late Night Tales being the most notable. For the middle aged ex clubber, those albums still get a play every so often.
It wasn’t all progressive house though. I have always had a soft spot for a bit of cheese. A vocal, big break and drum roll went down well. The Fantasia series, including Jeremy Healy and Jon Pleased Wimmin was enjoyable. Trade, was a gay club that was represented by music that could best be described as bouncin’. The late Tony Di Vit, Pete Wardman and their peers put out some incredible mixes as Trade. Tony Di Vit was also given the honour of the very first Global Underground mix from Tel Aviv. He was taken far too young. I also remember fondly Pete Wardmans Essential Mix in 1995. It was a time and place though, as I find Trade mixes difficult to listen to now on account of my age. Kudos though, they were an outstanding set of ‘hard bag’ mixes and part of my life for a while. My personal favourite cheeser was Vague – Now & Then. I loved Vague as it was the friendliest club I ever visited. The night I was there was a Coronation Street outing as Angela Griffin was around with some others. On the clubs closing night, they changed the club sign from VAGUE to UGAVE, beautiful. The album covers old Vague (Then – pre 95) and a mix from ’95 (Now).
That’s the 90s DJ Mixes as I remember them. The following list are just my favourites, the ones that have stood the test of time. It’s no surprise the list is dominated by two guys. They opened by eyes and ears to house music, and to the music that followed in the 2000s. In no particular order:
Journeys by DJs 4: The Silky Mix – John Digweed. This is a very different John Digweed from the man you may know now. It’s an album of classics from 93-94 seamlessly mixed. A who’s who of bangers that never gets cheesy. Even Atlantic Ocean – Waterfall seemed to fit. That haircut though.
Essential Mix: 15/01/94 – Sasha. Not even 2 news breaks in a 2 hour mix could take away from how well this flowed. It can’t be underestimated what this mix meant and still means. From Timeless Land right through, this is a phenomenal journey.
Northern Exposure – Sasha and John Digweed. I said it earlier, these are chalk and cheese mixes that together made the perfect package. I can remember the excitement of it coming out and first playing it. I’ll pretty sure i’ll never tire of it. It’ll be 30 years old soon.
Renaissance: The Mix Collection – Sasha and John Digweed. Renaissance was important in my life. This album represents that period perfectly. Even if you don’t like house music, but were interested in what 1993 – 1994 was like, give this a listen. All 3 discs.
Global Underground 9: San Francisco – Sasha. I ended up buying so many tunes from this album. Joi Cardwell, Stoneproof, Slick Mick, Incisions, the list goes on. The samples from the local resident and his harmonica, provide great intros to both mixes. The transitions suggested they were computer aided, but that doesn’t matter.
Global Underground 6: Sydney – John Digweed. This is fierce, as it’s played much faster than later mixes in the series. Disc 1 could be considered peak time stuff. I’m still stopped dead when The Crystal Method break happens on disc 2 – There is hope. Phenomenal mixing from Digweed considering this is done on 2 technics.
Unplugged: July ’93 – Sasha. From the ambient jungle sounds at the start and which permeate throughout, to the Def Mix of Kym Mazelle’s – Was That All It Was, this is textbook Sasha ’93. A clearly planned out studio mix which did the rounds as a tape. I’ve still got the tape.
Renaissance: The Mix Collection 2 – John Digweed. Sasha had moved on from Renaissance and Digweed was now the resident. For the second in the series he got all 3 discs to himself. He did a pretty decent job. His sound had moved on from the first album and was the beginning of him transitioning to where he is now.
Back to Mine – Dave Seaman. Often the back to mine series were eclectic tunes crashed together. This wasn’t like the rest. The mixing was seamless and the tracklisting was stellar. Craig Armstrong, Depeche Mode and finishing with Gorecki by Lamb. Very few chill albums have come close even as the technology improved. Timeless stuff.
Bedrock – John Digweed. The mixing on this release was something else. Over the course of the 2 mixes he slowly moved through the gears peaking at the closer, his own ‘Heaven Scent’. When I think of this album I always think ‘We Are Connected’. It’s a masterclass in DJing.