Flash-back to 2003(ish), I'm spending my weekend in the great British countryside at Homelands festival - a now defunct franchise that was one of the best dance music festival alternatives to the ever-indie-focused Glastonbury. Not content with two-days of dancing in a field, a few friends and I decided to drive to the coastal town of Southampton to jump on a boat the next day and see James Zabiela do his thing, whilst we nonchalantly sailed around the harbor.
This was at a time when CDJ's were only just becoming the norm for mixing, and James was one of the only DJ's doing anything better than looping a few Defected vocals... James had turned the CDJ's into a performance of its own, combining additional effects units, Kaoss Pads, (likely) prototypes from Pioneer, and his electro-acid techno. It was in retrospect, one of my favorite DJ experiences, watching someone behind the controls up close, swaying back and forth (from the boat, of course).
James duly continued on his upward trajectory and is now one of dance music's most celebrated technical DJ's. His 'Alive' mix CD from 2004 contains one of my all-time favorite transitions - those goose-bump-inducing moments that stick with you forever as an aspiring DJ - when the slow-burning synths of Underworld's 'Dark & Long' gradually grew under the electro-tinge of Rob Mello's 'Fantasize (No Ears dub)'.
Since then, mirroring a general trend across the industry, DJ "mix CD's" have taken a back-seat to the onslaught of streaming activity and the newfound ability for anyone to upload mixes to Soundcloud or Mixcloud. The commercialization of mixes became less desirable to labels and curators when faced with the fact DJ's could upload something on a whim for their audience to hear in a matter of minutes. For free, with no licensing concerns.
The Balance Series, however, have stuck with their guns with a steady churn of quality CD-first mixes over the years. The Australian based label, helmed by Tom Pandzic, has played home to one of my all-time favorite mixes in 2003 (James Holden's Balance 005) as well as notable mixes from Joris Voorn, Nick Warren and Danny Howells amongst many others. All this to say very simply, two of my favorite musical entities have now combined, with an added ASIP dimension...
James Zabiela's latest addition to the series is a welcome return to the art of the mix CD. For those that grew up listening to Sasha, Digweed and the Global Underground series, you'll know just what I mean.
After an arduous year spent compiling, the deserved result is an intertwined journey of the many varying aspects of electronic music - a blueprint for what a truly passionate and time-inducing mix should become. Add to that, the technical wizardry (and added restraint) of Zabiela, and the seamlessness and innovation contained across the two 'Acts' is impeccable.
"Some people know me for my technical noodling but this really had to be about the music, whilst still challenging myself technically. My focus was very heavily on melody and combining songs that would have ‘conversations’ with each other." - James Zabiela
This approach is perhaps best highlighted for those of us who may recognize ASIP's very own Merrin Karras within the tracklist. Brendan's track, 'Void' forming a euphoric moment of progression when paired with the heavy-hitting broken beats of Pev & Kowton.
You'll also hear tracks in here from Goldmund (Helios) and Steve Hauschildt for example, but whether you recognize them amongst the many edits, layers and transitions, is another question, often serving as intros or melodies amongst a greater sound.
James' mix also serves as a great snapshot in time for me personally. Not only am I extremely happy to see ASIP artists being picked up (or even listened to) in this capacity, but the great variety of labels and artists that are featured here are a perfect example of the type of music I'm enjoying these past few years. The previously mentioned artists of course, alongside music and artists from Northern Electronics, Mule Musiq, Traum (see Traumbient), I Love Acid, Delsin... I could go on, but then I'm just describing 90% of the track list.
A big thank you to James for digging deep, looking beyond the norm and spending the time to curate such a considered and insightful journey, whilst capturing the very essence of electronic music over the past few years. Perhaps, this mix will serve as a pivotal moment in time, when the need for something greater then a streamed mix compiled in a couple of weeks, plays a back seat to a physical mix obsessed over for many months. The bar just got put back up.
James Zabiela / Balance 029 : Tracklisting
1. Sapphire Slows – Silent Escape [Mundus]
2. Kornél Kovács – Szikra [Studio Barnhus]
3. Barry Lynn – Alpha Tauri [Touch Sensitive]
4. Earlham Mystics – Truth [Notown]
5. B12 – Untold [Central Processing Unit]
6. VC-118A – Face the Waves [Lunar Disko Records]
7. Grandbrothers – Bloodflow [City Slang]
8. Sad City – Steady Jam [Emotional Response]
9. Talaboman – Safe Changes [R&S Records]
10. Francisco Branda – Hyena [Traumuart]
11. Ecco Foul – Gloss [Ecco Foul]
12. Pye Corner Audio – Dead Ends [I Love Acid]
13. HOLOVR – Into Light [Further]
14. Debussy – Reverie 68 [Second Story & Appleblim Rework) [Decca]
15. Island People – Distance 7 [Raster]
16. Oddhoody – The Deep [Electronic Tapes]
17. Merrin Karras – Void [A Strangely Isolated Place]
18. Pev & Kowton – Junked [Hessle Audio]
19. Davis – Plenitude [Live at Robert Johnson]
20. Ozel AB – Positronic Dreams [Workshop]
21. OOBE – Crush Mind [Blueberry]
22. Courser – Distances [Electronic Emergencies]
23. James Zabiela – Vines [Balance / Born Electric]
24. AAAA – Jazz D [Omnidisc]
25. ARCHITECTURAL – Cubismo 8.2 (Lost in Buenos Aires I) [Architectural]
1. Goldmund – Thread [Friends of Friends]
2. Earlham Mystics – Waters [Notown]
3. Steve Hauschildt – Horizon of Appearances [Kranky]
4. Radio Slave – Children of The E (KiNK SP1200 Mix) [Running Back]
5. Avalon Emerson – The Frontier (High Desert Synthapella) [Whities]
6. James Zabiela – X-Ray [Balance / Born Electric]
7. Mak & Pasteman – Pulses [Mak & Pasteman]
8. Pisetzky – Vahana [Just This]
9. Lanark Artefax – Touch Absence [Whities]
10. John Beltran – Under This Sky [Delsin]
11. Lawrence – Simmer (Lake People Remix) [Mule Musiq]
12. Solitary Dancer – Paradise Found (Rapture Version) [Graded]
13. Chambray – Cerulean [Ultramajic]
14. Silas & Snare – Memories [Brotherhood Sound System]
15. Redlight – City Jams [Hot Haus]
16. Lake People – Delusive [Mule Musiq]
17. Truncate – WRKTRX 3 [Truncate]
18. Rod – Pull (with Christina) [Klockworks]
19. Plant43 – Frozen Monarch [Frustrated Funk]
20. Sinfol – Crystalline featuring Barbara Ford [Anagram]
21. Steve Parker – Acid Planet [Planet Rhythm]
22. Fabrizio Lapiana – Far Away [Figure Jams]
23. SHDW & Obscure Shape – Augen der Nacht (Ryan James Ford Version) [From Another Mind]
24. Benjamin Damage – Montreal [R&S Records]
25. Mark Henning – Expander Six [Soma]
26. Special Request – Carex Vesicaria [Houndstooth]
27. Wata Igarashi – Lucifero [Midgar]
28. Paper Dollhouse – Crayons [MoonDome]
29. A Sagittariun – Vanishing Point [Hypercolour]
30. Anthony Linell – Fractal Vision [Northern Electronics]
31. Hans Berg – In Dreams [The Vinyl Factory]
32. Sine Sleeper – Closing [Traum Schallplatten]
33. J. Mono – Sspses [Dalmata Daniel]