James Holden may not be a household name, but to fans of adventurous, progressive electronic sounds, the British techno sorcerer and psychedelic shaman is renowned as a genius. So revered are his talents that he’s been tapped to remix some of pop music most eminent stars, including Madonna, Depeche Mode, & Britney Spears, though as this mix demonstrates, his tastes tend more to the cerebral than those associations suggest. Head of the zeitgeist-defining label Border Community which boasts fellow forward thinkers Nathan Fake & Extrawelt on its roster, Holden can count himself amongst that very modern breed of DJ with a special knack for layering the most surprising of records with an unparalleled musical ear. His status as a free-spirit unconstrained by genre or scene is now championed by independent stalwart !K7, who have called up Holden to deliver the next installment in their definitive mix series DJ-KiCKS. Holden’s masterfully eclectic mix includes the first solo Holden single in four years ‘Triangle Folds’, and his exclusive previously unreleased remix of Mogwai’s ‘The Sun Smells Too Loud’.
While many of these tracks would be an unlikely presence in a ‘club’ context, Holden wishes to make it clear that this is in fact dance music, even if it hasn’t yet been branded with that label. ”If you look at the tracks, you’d put them in different boxes,” he admits. ”It is loose and free, maybe more so than if you were playing in a club. But to me this is dance music.” And although Holden does find himself slightly liberated in the album format, it is true that the mix nonetheless beats with a vital lifeblood throughout. Just as the mechanical found sounds of Piano Magic gradually resolve into a tension-building toe-tapping rhythmic pulse, the rebranded reprise of Caribou’s ‘Lemon Yoghourt’ from the Canadian artist’s Manitoba / Leaf label days does suddenly seem very much in line with Caribou’s recently announced exploration of more dance-orientated tendencies.
Luke Abbott, the CD’s sole ambassador from Holden’s free-spirited Border Community family, channels the pagan heritage of the UK through the organic electronics of ‘Soft Attacks’, just as his Kraut counterparts and forbears Harmonia sought to do in Germany almost forty years before. Later, the DIY crowd-driven collaborative generative music of Los Angeles’ Lucky Dragons seems to hint at a flavour of Africa through their organic, primitive percussive motifs, and yet somehow the purist Brit-tech pounding of James Ruskin’s decade old ‘Definition Of’ seems to share the same primal swagger. The fact that hypnotic new Holden track ‘Triangle Folds’ forms the perfect segue between these two seemingly opposite poles might well lead us to conclude that this is the rough area currently inhabited by Holden’s production head – for the moment, at least.
Holden’s intricately detailed preparations for mixing a CD like this may initially seem a million miles away from the direct interaction with a sweaty dancefloor that is the DJ’s domain, as he first hooks his Traktor laptop up to an assortment of midi controllers (bespoke and otherwise) and his tube mixing desk before transferring all of his tracks into a decidedly un-rock-n-roll spreadsheet sorted by key and tempo. But this essential and somewhat nerdy technical grounding is actually what liberates Holden to let go in the moment, mixing and pitch shifting late into the night. As the sun rises the next morning, we find Holden still awake, playing live on his filters in a bid to forcibly insert the Brooklyn drone-core of the 20JazzFunkGreats endorsed SS Pyramid Snake into the long lost (but not forgotten, thanks to the tireless Mutant Sounds blog) euphoric synth-rock bombast of Didier Paquette’s ‘Arwen, Namarie’ in a single live take climax. ”It is all about catching a moment,” Holden explains, as the technical wizardry of the mathematician passes the baton to the on-the-spot musician, left all alone late at night to experience his own musical moment under much the same circumstances as the finished mix may eventually be consumed.
Holden’s latest mix CD missive is a musical manifesto that seems particularly well-timed, as the dominance of the minimal monolith finally starts to dwindle and the scenes of those previously neglected countries that have been out-of-shot for the past few years are bearing ripe fruit once again. The assembled gathering of drifters from across the globe represents Holden’s personal recommendation of where the flailing scene might best be driven next.