Various Artists, DJ-Kicks: The Exclusives

Michaelangelo Matos

By Michaelangelo Matos

on 03.06.12 in Reviews

It probably stands to reason that since every volume of Studio !K7′s DJ-Kicks series has had the exact same title since it began in 1995 (they don’t use numbers, a la Fabric) they didn’t bother differentiating the second edition of DJ-Kicks: The Exclusives, released in 2012, with the one put out in 2006. Both bear the same title. But there are many differences between the two, starting with the key one: The 2006 compilation was OK, and the 2012 one, excellent – maybe even definitive in itself, in a way that’s separate (but equally important) from the DJ mixes they excerpt.

A second volume of an iconic DJ series’ originals that bests the first

One of the tenets of the DJ-Kicks series was, from the beginning, that participants had to include an exclusive, previously unreleased track of their own as part of the mix. An early hint that this might have some effect other than to clean out the participants’ vaults a little came from Carl Craig’s volume in 1996, the series’ second, which featured an cut just called “DJ Kicks (The Track),” which became better known as “At Les” – one of Craig’s best-loved tracks.

But it’s really been over the six years covered on the 2012 edition of The Exclusives that the mixes have become something like reliable DJ-hit machines. The talent pool the series calls in is impressively wide, and its tendency toward people with indie crossover appeal – Gold Panda, Four Tet, Chromeo, the Juan MacLean, Hot Chip, Apparat – tends to mean some songwriting smarts come into play. That means a lot of these tracks sound definitive.

A few: MacLean’s “Feel So Good” is a slightly cooled-down “Happy House.” Motor City Drum Ensemble’s “L.O.V.E.” is a ’70s-redolent sound collage a la golden-age hip-hop, only done as churning house music. Hot Chip’s “My Piano” gets my vote as the one time they truly sound lost in music. Gold Panda’s “An Iceberg Hurled Northward Through Clouds” stutter-steps through a struck-percussion maze with loads of breathing room.

It happens to come along at a time when everyone is their own compiler and DJ-mixed sets are fast becoming the domain of any and everyone with a SoundCloud account. But The Exclusives (v. 2012) works as a Dummy’s Guide to a highly thriving half-decade of electronic dance music –like a right-now version, dare I say it, of Amp.