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Levon Vincent
Fabric 63 Angus Finlayson , April 24th, 2012 12:37

Whither the Mix CD in 2012? The purpose of the format has always been slightly unclear to me. Viewed as a collection of tracks, a mix is just one among the dazzling array of potential configurations on offer - and surely a large part of dance music's appeal lies in its mutability. Why invest your time and money in a fossil when there are living, breathing animals out there on dancefloors and on the airwaves waiting to be discovered?

The problem has only been compounded in the internet age, when scores of podcasts and promo mixes are released into the ether on a weekly basis. Any argument in favour of the commercially released mix tends to fall back on notions of posterity and fixity - notions that seem like an increasingly hard sell to an emergent generation who can knock back six hours of new music a day without even scratching the surface of what the net has to offer. And while the Fabric mix series is definitely couched in these terms - it's seen as a career-defining moment of validation, admission into one of dance music's few bona fide halls of fame - it takes a very special mix indeed to remind us that the whole endeavour is of any real value at all. Fortunately, Levon Vincent's Fabric 63 is just that.

For those who've seen the New York-raised, Berlin-based DJ perform, the tone of this mix might be a little unexpected (even if the content isn't). Catching Levon live can be as unsettling as it is enjoyable. What he refers to as the "performance aspect" of his mixing usually manifests itself as a kind of disk jockey iconoclasm: records are thrown on with only a few beats' notice, destabilised through bold cuts and crossfades or hinted at puckishly before being jammed into the foreground; the mood swings wildly between NY jubilance and something altogether darker. Caught at the right time and on the right soundsystem, Vincent can make the friendliest old house records sound terrifying, hyperreal - as if he's unlocked some latent power locked in the vinyl, letting loose the spirits of house music's past to run rampant through the crowd.

By contrast Fabric 63 is, in the man's own words, both "streetwise and elegant" - a thoughtful, considered affair built around a distinctly hands-off mixing approach apparently inspired by Vincent's New York forefathers. There's certainly a sort of reverence on display here, which may on paper seem like a disappointing climbdown from the giddy heights Vincent can achieve. In reality though, the two aren't so far apart - what's retained is a sensitivity to the dynamic contour of the records at hand, an apparent desire to showcase their idiosyncrasies as much as their points of commonality. In an era when many are resorting to new technology to exercise godlike levels of dominance over the music they play - beatmatched, levelled out, in some cases pre-arranged - Vincent is happy to let the grain of his records do the talking, following them wherever they choose to go. Here, that means creating a sympathetic platform for a collection of tracks with more than enough personality to stand on their own.

Either way, it's clear that this mix was never meant to be about showmanship. Put simply, it's a masterful cross section of a scene of rare vibrancy. Vincent and his New York cohorts - featured here are Jus-Ed, DJ Qu, Anthony Parasole, Fred P aka Black Jazz Consortium, Joey Anderson and JM De Frias - have proven themselves to be masters of collective creativity: the knack of contributing to a coherent group aesthetic without ever shedding one's own distinct identity. You'd be hard pressed to confuse the producers featured on this mix: Joey Anderson's tense, brooding, tunnel-vision affairs thrive on furtive piano gestures and clots of dissonant synth; Jus-Ed's 'Blaze (Do Dah Dab Mix)' is the airiest thing here - a glimmer of sunlight in a forbidding landscape - while DJ Qu's 'Times Like This' pushes deep into the dark without losing that distinctively sensual groove. Each has their own voice, and yet they all share an ineffable richness, an ear for unusual detail - the humanly flawed along with the humanly beautiful, or what Vincent refers to as "New York mysticism".

While there's plenty to get excited about in these producers' contributions, though, the real star of the show is Vincent himself. A high profile mix was never going to be complete without plenty of his own productions, and Fabric 63 doesn't disappoint. There are familiar classics, clearly deployed with that skin-tingling moment of recognition in mind (it seems odd to call the melodic hook on 'Polar Bear Make Nice With That Sealion' "anthemic", but in this context it definitely is). More exciting, though, are the exclusives which are - as you might expect - unfailingly superb. Running the full breadth of Vincent's range, from the sweaty stomp of 'Fear' to the cosmic synth melodics and dextrous bassline of 'Rainstorm II', it's these more than anything that make Fabric 63 worthy of repeated (read: obsessive) listening. It's rare these days, in the dance music world, for a producer to have such a distinctive voice - but it's rarer still for that selfsame producer to keep the quality control so stratospherically high.

And all that without resorting to flashy pyrotechnics. In fact, delayed gratification is a defining feature here. Take JM De Frias' 'Intrinsic Motivation', which hovers in febrile stasis while we wait for a kickdrum that never comes; that is until the vast, creamy sub-thud of 'Stereo Systems' hovers at the edge of hearing, retreats and then returns in full force - an obscenely gratifying sonic experience. It's not just in Vincent's mixing either: daring levels of structural restraint are often hardwired into the tracks themselves. 'Fear' cruises along relatively innocuously, crisp claps marking the passing of time, until a late drop reveals what we've been building towards all along: namely a mean, serrated bassline that's equal parts cheeky and funky as fuck. Later on, muted pads so immobile we'd pretty much tuned them out break off into a Messiaen-like flurry of bright, dissonant colour. It's these little touches - often neglected on the first, second or third listen - that gradually become defining features, testaments to the artist's supreme craftsmanship and fertile imagination. They serve as reminders that, as far as Levon Vincent's concerned, we still haven't got all the answers - and at this rate, we likely never will. I can't think of a better endorsement of a producer so clearly at the top of his game right now.