Alex Smoke
Sci.Fi.Hi.Fi. Volume 3
2006
A-



if you’ve heard Glasgow producer Alex Smoke’s Paradolia full-length from earlier this year, you might have expected something a bit different from his mix CD, Sci.Fi.Hi.Fi. Volume 3. Thankfully, “different” is exactly what Smoke delivers here; Smoke’s mix defies current trends in pacing, song selection, and general vibe, managing to sound simultaneously classic and contemporary. Smoke makes some adventurous moves—and in his deft hands they all pay off. While some programmers may drop an old-school cut or an extended down-tempo break here or there in their sets, Smoke takes things to a much higher conceptual level and succeeds brilliantly.

With a handful of exceptions, techno/minimal mix CDs are flat-out boring—you can literally start them at any point and end them at any other and likely not hear much difference in tempo, style, or mood. Smoke neatly avoids this pitfall in a number of ways, not the least of which is by starting with the tempo in the basement. Kicking off with Porn Sword Tobacco’s “Najat Library Card” (there is a sample that mentions “old school ways,” a significant bit of foreshadowing) and then quickly into the down-tempo space-dub shuffle of Burial’s “Gutted,” Smoke takes his time to get where he’s going, and he doesn’t rush the action—the album is about a third over before the tempo hits dancefloor range. You seldom hear this sort of dynamic move, especially not stretched over nearly 20 minutes. It’s this simple yet effective move that makes Sci.Fi.Hi.Fi. so rewarding as a start-to-finish experience—unlike a glut of other mixes out there, this one has a distinct beginning, middle, and end.

But of course if the journey from start to finish isn’t a worthwhile one, the album would hardly work, and it’s what Smoke does within the mix that matters. Following his opening salvo, Smoke heads straight for the Berlin-Detroit axis, reaching into the crate for two classics from the Basic Channel camp, “Radiance I” and the Maurizio-produced “Starlight” from Model 500 (Juan Atkins). Despite the massive influence these sounds have had, you seldom hear them nowadays, thanks mainly to the stigma that if a DJ doesn’t play only the very newest tracks, he/she must somehow be out of touch. Smoke neatly sidesteps this stereotype by mixing the tracks with modern fare like Gaiser’s remix of Troy Pierce’s “25 Bitches.” He weaves between songs, styles, and eras so well, you’d hardly know that some of these tracks are more than a decade old. In fact, even if you do know, he moves so smoothly that you’ll hardly care.

The crate-digging isn’t confined to the mellow material at the beginning—Smoke drops in classics from Robert Hood (The Vision’s “Detroit: One Circle”), Transmat veteran Aril Brikha (“Aqua”), and Thomas Brinkmann (“Xenia”) once the tempos start to kick a bit more. By the end of the set, Smoke is into his own catalog (“Pingu” and “Always & Forever”) and other “modern” selections (Claro Intelecto’s 2003 “Peace of Mind” is mixed with Musica Charlista’s 2006 “Juan & Alex”), but by this point the dates mean nothing. By fearlessly crossing boundaries of time and tempo, Smoke has achieved a timeless mix that can be enjoyed as a full-length album rather than as just another club set on a CD in search of a club.



Reviewed by: Todd Hutlock
Reviewed on: 2006-11-17
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