There’s something to be said for understated house music. No matter if a name is attached to a track or the DJ doing the mixing, a low-key set that starts slow and minimal and gradually builds momentum
communicates a higher level of skill: a DJ who doesn’t lay out all of his tricks in the first 10 minutes, and instead leads listeners and clubgoers to anticipate something more.
John Digweed’s four-disc Live in London compilation does just that. Although initiating a set with a bang (or bass drop) catches listeners’ interest, an early high point often means a DJ has nowhere to go. After all, once you’ve reached the top, it’s all downhill from there. Essentially, this surge-to-the-apex format dominates festival and many club sets these days, and hearing a DJ ease the listener in, with just a minimal, lightly percussive beat, is practically an anomaly.
Released through Bedrock Records, Live in London was recorded live at the Bedrock Anniversary party at Fire & Lightbox. Encompassed within 50 tracks are a range of styles, focused primarily on underground house with a handful of Digweed’s own Bedrock artists included. This compilation isn’t a “put your hands in the air” and “drop the bass” type of format, à la Ultra or Hed Kandi. Rather, the careful selection of tracks, atmosphere, and pacing all stay far away from the too-well-known and frenetic.
Beginning with Eagles & Butterflies’ “Kolleckt,” disc 1 has a spacey, hazy opener – a barren base laying the foundation for gradual accumulation and crescendo of sounds. Repetition characterizes the first few tracks on this disc, all of which are stripped down to the barest of musical elements.
Within this collection of tracks, Digweed displays his expertise in putting together a minimal setlist. The beat flows, with subtle instrumental elements weaving in and out: the occasional synth, the ebb and flow of low-key percussion, and the selected vocal line.
Digweed, as well, shows that remaining relevant is not synonymous with selecting and mixing the latest singles in your set. His inclusion of Jozif’s “Twilight (Edu Imbernon ’96 Mix)” hints at 1990s synthpop, at a time in which the genre was gone from U.S. airwaves and fading in Europe, but within the set, the track doesn’t stick out like anachronistic kitsch. Rather, the older synths and sequencer rhythms blend in with a steady beat, harking back, within a familiar format, to the clubbing glory days of the 1990s.
Digweed, you can tell, took a high level of care when putting together the entire collection. Vocals have an unassuming quality, almost miasmic and far from anthemic as you can get. Similarly, each track seamlessly connects to the next, each pieced together to create an atmosphere. Now considered a veteran house performer, Digweed has little to prove, yet within this compilation, he displays that refinement goes a long way: It’s “Here, listen to this sound,” as opposed to the heavy, aural assault of synths and heavy bass emanating from the speakers. It’s a gradual, atmospheric buildup, of sounds compounding to sounds over several minutes.
For the club kid getting a fix from the latest Ministry of Sound or even a Cream Ibiza compilation, Live in London has the feel of an afterhours mix. For the rest of us, Digweed’s flirting with nearly-monophonic textures and simple percussion encompasses everything right about electronic music: that perfect party record that doubles as a chill-out disc.