Dance music needs people like Armand Van Helden, a New York maverick who has developed a healthy habit of unpredictability in his approach to making music. This approach comes across sharply in his first ever mix compilation to see general release in the UK.
Of course Van Helden is most commonly known as the man behind arguably the best single of 1999, the disco-swiping houser You Don’t Know Me, but he has also produced some memorable remixes for Tori Amos, CJ Bolland and NuYorican Soul.
So for him not to have released a mix album is surprising, and he claims on the introduction that he initially rebuffed the approach from Southern Fried, as he didn’t see how the New York sound could be captured in the course of a single CD. Obviously he then gave it some thought, and the result is a wide ranging set of tracks from the ’80s, ’90s and present day.
It’s also the perfect platform from which Van Helden can showcase his new solo material. There are three new productions here – first up the forthcoming single Hear My Name, a great piece of filtered vocal house. Then it’s My My My, with a more funk-rock sound coming through, and finally the euphoric Let Me Lead You which has one foot firmly in the ’80s Into The Groove sound.
The ’80s (and ’70s) are plundered for some of the best, most “student disco” moments on this disc with Soft Cell‘s Tainted Love, Yazoo‘s Don’t Go and Ram Jam‘s peerless Black Betty strutting their stuff in and around the newer material. It all sounds a bit random but is not in reality. Van Helden’s superb mixing pulls this together, and none more so than in the lead-up to Black Betty from AB/DC’s high octane This Feeling.
Amongst the many unashamedly good time party moments is Van Helden’s mix of Heavy Rock‘s minimal house tune I Just Want To Be A Drummer, where a hilarious vocal says, “My cat wants to be a DJ,” then, “My goldfish wants to be a DJ,” before declaring, “I just wanna be a drummer!” Top stuff and with this being a compilation of surprises, one of the biggest is saved till the end with the playout of the old Yes chart-topper Owner Of A Lonely Heart, surely one of the most unlikely appearances on a DJ compilation.
This is a great party CD, showcasing the club sounds of New York but also injecting some much needed originality into the mix compilation market. Even at this stage it’s safe to say you won’t hear many more original sets this year.