Wednesday, 4 April 2012
Review: Qattara - Abduction V02
Me, a week ago:
When I'm in a summery mood, there's only style of music worth hearing - early '90s progressive house!
As you can probably guess, the fine weather from last week continued, and despite owning absolutely loads of early '90s progressive house already, I simply had to have some more. The result was a second hand purchase of this, one of the few mid-90s prog compilations I don't already own. The same thing happens every summer - I get bored of re-listening to the same few trusty Sasha/Digweed/Dave Seaman mixes and convince myself that something more obscure and decidedly less classic is what I need.
Qattara were a short-lived and vaguely remembered trance duo, comprised of the vaguely remembered Alex Whitcombe and the decidedly more well known Andy Cato, who at this time was best known as progressive house producer Big C but went on to worldwide fame as part of Groove Armada. In all honesty, I have absolutely no idea how much these two DJ'd back in 1997, but they certainly weren't in the progressive elite. Consequently, this is one of those slightly odd '90s compilations that are put together by part-time DJs who were probably quite rough behind the decks, and find some... interesting routes between tracks on studio compilations.
Big C's mix on disc one is particularly strange. The tracklist lists Collapse - My Love as a "Link" rather than giving it a proper track number, and David Holmes' remix of Smokebelch is played twice, the second time listed as a "Reprise". I've never seen either of these terms used on a tracklist before, and to be perfectly honest it's extremely rare to hear a DJ play the same mix of the same track twice in the same set, especially at random points as it happens here. You occasionally see a DJ open and close a CD with the same track as a framing device, but the deployment here of Smokebelch seems to do nothing more than fit the tracks together harmonically.
The first six tracks of the set are all oldies that would have been extremely played out even by 1997 - classics don't come much bigger than Papua New Guinea, Chime and Energy Flash. (If you didn't immediately know the artists based on those track titles, consider yourself a newb and trudge shame-faced away to Discogs. Don't come back until you can tell me the difference between drum 'n bass and jungle.) From there, there's a cheesy ambient interlude courtesy of Collapse, then we move into some contemporary chunky progressive trancey-house, with lots of uplifting pianos and outdoorsy ethnic samples. Then it goes back into Smokebelch and gets funkier and more heads-down for most of the remainder.
Whitcombe's disc follows a similar pattern, and the weirdness here is less to do with unusual deployment and labelling of tracks and more to do with some mixing that is extremely rudimentary. There's another barrage of classics to open on, this time slightly more obscure. Now, old tracks are pretty tough to mix, and I've mixed the gorgeous Spooky rerub of Dr Atomic's Schudelfloss first-hand, but one thing you cannot excuse on a studio mix is key-clashes, especially from a DJ who also professes to be a musician. And yet the mix into Schudelfloss is just plain out of key. Okay, often you can get away with the bass being slightly out of key, but strings and pads almost always sound sour, and Schudelfloss opens with what should be a gorgeous nimbus of ethereal pad work, but in actuality sounds like a sharp downpour of acrid cow's piss, because it's all completely out of key.
Having fucked up the mix on one of my all-time favourite tracks, Whitcombe then bulldozes out of Visions Of Shiva's early '90s trance delicacy Perfect Day into Sasha's stomping remix of Horse - Careful, thus categorically ruining any flow he may have fashioned. From there he proceeds to build up a set of pretty well known progressive trance. Café Del Mar, Forbidden Fruit, Set In Stone, Hidden Sun Of Venus... all very standard for 1997. The closing stretch does reveal some rarities, which is why I bought this damn thing - I'd never heard the Outdare remix of Dum Dum's One Earth Beat before, and I actually like it almost as much as the First Life remix Sasha and Diggers used to cane. 7th Sense - Himalayan Dub is also a nice closer to an extremely uneven ride.
On the face of it, this compilation is a good mix of classics I already know and love, and some lesser known remixes and rarities, which should amount to a perfect, unchallenging sunny day listen. Sadly, some weird and duff mixing from Whitcombe and some bizarre programming from Cato turns it into a somewhat frustrating ride. To be perfectly honest, I don't even think this was mixed live on the decks - there are definite traces of editing and a few transitions that sound suspiciously digital. Either way, on a studio mix you should get the basics right - if you can't find a way between two tracks, don't just throw the crossfader and certainly don't clash the keys on your prettiest and best tracks. I know there's a relevant audience of about five people in the world for what I'm about to say next, but if you've seen this compilation before and thought about buying it... it's not really worth the £10 you'll pay second-hand. The tracks are good, but you'll already know most of them, and there's probably a Sasha set somewhere you haven't downloaded yet.
Genre: '90s Progressive
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 6/10