20 years of Essential mixes: a kaleidoscope of sounds
December 14, 2013 2:40 PM   Subscribe

For younger fans of electronic music, the Essential Mix archive* is a time capsule that allows them to listen to sets that took place before they were born; for others, it’s a treasure chest of musical memories that allows them to re-visit the glory days. And what better way to celebrate 20 years than with a party? Rather than the usual broadcast from Tong’s studio, fans had the opportunity to join in on the fun at the Manchester Warehouse Project, with an absolutely stellar line-up pitting veterans of the scene back-to-back with rising stars.

* Not an official archive, but a link to the collection of Essential Mixes tracklists on MixesDb, starting with the first shows in 1993. Note: many (but not all) tracklists include embedded streaming audio, and if any of the tracklists look good, you can then hunt around for the related audio.

Pete Tong celebrated his personal two decade mark in 2011, but the Essential Mix program hit its twenty year mark earlier this year. This milestone also marks over a thousand mixes, easily over two thousand hours of music. So where do you start to listen?

MixesDB has a rating system, and here are the top-rated Essential Mixes, but there's a heavy emphasis on recent mixes. And if you're looking for recent fan favorites, Scrillex's recent mix was the most played piece of content in BBC Radio 1 history. Rolling Stone included a few Essential Mixes in their list of top 20 mixes of 2013 so far (up to July 1st), and DJZ looks back a bit further for their top 10, but that's just the last 3 years.

Let's take it back, way back, for the mixes that were selected or voted as the best for their year.
1995: Tony de Vit 08/01/1995
1997: David Holmes 15/06/1997
1999: Paul Oakenfold 20/06/1999
2000 Dave Clarke 16/01/2000
2001 Sander Kleinenberg 10/06/2001
2002 Sasha & John Digweed 07/04/2002
2004 Above and Beyond 06/06/2004
2005 Sasha 22/05/2005
2006 Trentemøller 15/10/2006
2007 High Contrast 07/10/2007
2008 Flying Lotus 29/11/2008
2009 Sharam 29/08/2009
2010 Swedish House Mafia 04/09/2010
2011 Above and Beyond 02/07/2011
2012 Nicolas Jaar 19/05/2012 (also available as the No BBC version)

Here are a few more recommendation lists, from Team Liquid, ilXor, and the previous Essential Mix posts on Metafilter: Celebrating Tony Wilson (August 26, 2007), every Essential Mix posted to imeem [the service is dead, but the recommendations stand] (February 23, 2008), There is not enough Africa in computers (April 12, 2010), No Records, No CD's, No MP3's: Beardyman's Essential Mix (January 23, 2011), Jamie XX's mix of gorgeous house, techno, disco and garage (August 27, 2011), New Year Eve music (December 31, 2011), mixture.fm [site is currently "in the works" again, but links to a few mixes] (May 10, 2012), Nicholas Jaar's amazing, eclectic mix (May 22, 2012), Mat Zo's Essential Mix (February 13, 2013), Gaslamp Killer's various mixes (February 17, 2013), and mixes from Catz n Dogz and friends (May 2, 2013)
posted by filthy light thief (34 comments total) 121 users marked this as a favorite
And if you was wondering where the intro vocal clip:
It was deep it was soulful, it was techno, it was disco, a kaleidoscope of sounds, it was truly underground. It was an essential mix in the cloud where we could dance and sing out loud. It was New York, Ibiza and Miami all wrapped up into one. I must have went to house heaven, because nothing’s that divine.
That's Roland Clark, as featured/sampled on a breaks track called "Divine" by Meat Katie and Elite Force, as found on Meat Katie's 2006 album, Vibrator.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:45 PM on December 14, 2013 [7 favorites]

posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 3:13 PM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Awesome, thanks filthy.

EDM noob question: if I listen to the original tracks from these sets on Spotify, how different will they be from the live mixed version?

(I sometimes find the crowd noise and non-optimal sound quality from live sets a bit distracting if I have EDM music on when I'm working...)
posted by dontjumplarry at 3:17 PM on December 14, 2013

dontjumplarry, the segues are sometimes what makes a mix, as DJs sometimes select segments of songs and leave out parts they don't like or don't flow well into the mix. And of course, there are a ton of special edits and remixes that producers do for their own mixes. But otherwise, a playlist of the unmixed tracks would give you the general feel of a set.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:19 PM on December 14, 2013

Great post!
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 3:27 PM on December 14, 2013

Yeah, just go ahead and repost half my FPPs :)
posted by empath at 3:44 PM on December 14, 2013

I listen to the Massive Attack mix all the time. These are all fantastic.
posted by Arbac at 3:51 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

EDM noob question: if I listen to the original tracks from these sets on Spotify, how different will they be from the live mixed version?

Hopefully the two experiences are very different! A good mix (and accordingly a good DJ) is so much more than the sum of its tracks. DJs also might use remixes/tracks that aren't released.

(I sometimes find the crowd noise and non-optimal sound quality from live sets a bit distracting if I have EDM music on when I'm working...)

BBC's Essential Mix is rarely recorded live. Instead of a crowd, you hear an obnoxious warped female vocal sample saying "EEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSEEEENNNTIIALLLLLL.....EEEEEESSSSSSSEEEENNNNNTIALLLLLLLL" in the mix every 5m. Always opt for the "No BBC Edit" version of a mix, e.g. Jaar's, when such is available.
posted by serif at 3:54 PM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh my word, I love this post! Been listening to EMs since I lived in London many moons ago, saw Sasha a bunch of times. Thanks!!
posted by northtwilight at 4:29 PM on December 14, 2013

One of my favourites: the Goa Mix by Paul Oakenfold
posted by srednivashtar at 4:34 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

That 1999 Paul Oakenfold set is my absolute favourite thing to listen to while writing. Thanks for this!
posted by 256 at 5:00 PM on December 14, 2013

I also want to throw my bit in for that 1999 P.O. set: stellar, ass-kicking beats!
posted by Chutzler at 5:38 PM on December 14, 2013

Thank you for posting this. I've been an on-and-off Essential Mix listener for the last ten years or so, but hadn't considered digging into the *first* ten years. A lot to chew on here, and I'm excited. Sounds like -- unless I'm mistaken here -- I should start with that Oakenfold mix? WINK.
posted by TangoCharlie at 7:45 PM on December 14, 2013

I can't remember when I first ran into that Nicolas Jaar mix, but the Angelo Badalamenti intro is so genius.
posted by gwint at 7:52 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hmm, my 1995 favorite is, and always will be Portishead. Just look at that tracklist!
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 8:11 PM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Put the the Dave Clarke one mix on and just noticed 30 minutes later in that I'm listening to something pretty loud and bangin. It's good.
posted by vicx at 9:51 PM on December 14, 2013

Thank. You.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 10:30 PM on December 14, 2013

Fucking hell flt, I still haven't gotten through everything in that Gaslamp Killer post from back in February yet.

I picked the Nicholas Jaar mix randomly to start with and it is amazing. Another fantastic post, thanks!
posted by mannequito at 12:26 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

This Goldie one from '96 hits all the right nostalgia buttons for me.
posted by juv3nal at 2:38 AM on December 15, 2013

Cheers filthy light thief, great post here! I missed that thread on ILM the first time around too but it isn't really the most comprehensive discussion by their standards. Maybe if I feel inspired I'll try to revive it, been lurking there a lot more often recently since reddit has finally and truly tanked (what seems like for good this time).

There was a time when I pretty much spent all my free time digging through the Essential Mix archives which had been posted on some other site, not sure where at this point. I've listened to pretty much all of them from the deep/"intelligent"/more mature end of the spectrum, I'll throw my recs out here:

- The most inspirational to me is probably the Tony Wilson mix posted up top. Both Pete Tong and Mike Pickering did a legendary job of honoring his legacy.
- London deep house don Ashley Beedle's 1998 Mix strayed from his familiar sound and into a choice selection of (somewhat) rare reggae classics.
- For a more recent mix with the deep house sound, but with a strong tech influence, Berlin duo Âme's Mix from 2006 is a finely honed walk through their influential sound and their influences.
- On the disco side of things, you can't do better than Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas' set from 2007.
- In terms of the past few years, the Jamie XX mix mentioned up top is definitely primo, as is last year's Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs Mix -- both of which lean towards the bass heavy deep house side of things.

While I'm usually a big fan of drum & bass, none of the Mixes from the millennial "belle epoque" really stand out to me. I'd say the sets from Grooverider, Goldie, and High Contrast are all not bad, but they can all do better. LTJ Bukem had a few different mixes close together in time which kind of run together in my mind, and same goes for FSOL (not d&b, but same era).

dontjumplarry: just a note that for many of us, "EDM" refers strictly to the corporate-friendly variety of music produced by Deadmau5, Skrillex, etc; and is not a catchall term to denote all of this kind of music. Many people just say "electronic music" instead.
posted by viborg at 4:20 AM on December 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

just a note that for many of us, "EDM" refers strictly to the corporate-friendly variety of music produced by Deadmau5, Skrillex, etc; and is not a catchall term to denote all of this kind of music. Many people just say "electronic music" instead.

I was going to say something similar, but you've managed to say it much more politely and less offensively than I would have, so well done. When I hear the term "EDM" I can't help but think folks are under the impression electronic music is some New Big Thing, not something with 40-plus years of history and diversity behind it.
posted by Jimbob at 11:30 AM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

As some one who has been around the scene for a while, we started using EDM as the catch all term in her mid 2000s so people would stop calling everything techno. I don't have any objection to people using it to describe all of it.

I also find it really weird that people describe deadmau5 and skillex as corporate friendly. They're both fairly legitimate underground success stories. They didn't make music for mainstream success. They just happened to be the ones that the mainstream glommed onto when EDM broke into the mainstream.

Same goes for people like darude and atb, the last time that EDM had a bunch of mainstream attention.
posted by empath at 11:47 AM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

A brilliant post! Favourited for some late night listening.

In the UK the phrase "EDM" is only really used to describe the electro-house and brostep favoured by Americans. I don't think I've ever heard anyone describe any UK dance music as EDM, and I think you'd probably get laughed at if you did. The term is far too American to be cool. Mainstream awareness of dance music has always been much higher here though (the essential mixes being testament to that - they're broadcast on national radio).
posted by leo_r at 2:06 PM on December 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

They just happened to be the ones that the mainstream glommed onto when EDM broke into the mainstream.

And which year did EDM break into the mainstream, then? [wonka.gif]
posted by Jimbob at 3:45 PM on December 15, 2013

In 1978, and 1988 and 1996 and 2000 and 2010-ish?

At least in the US, dance music was dead, dead, dead in the mid 2000s after the rave act passed and a bunch of major clubs shut down. It comes and goes in cycles.
posted by empath at 4:38 PM on December 15, 2013

Keep in mind that the last big go around for dance music was the trance explosion of the late 90s, and basically the only Dj left standing in terms of mainstream success from that era is Tiesto. And even at their biggest, they had nothing like the success that the big djs of today are having. Sasha, tiesto, etc, were playing to crowds of a few thousand in super clubs in major cities only, now the big names are playing in arenas and stadiums, and have residencies in Vegas where they're pulling down millions a year.

Granted the dance music festival circuit has been a thing in Europe for a while, but it's new for the US. There was ultra, and nothing else until very recently, and dance music was usually shunted off to a tent as a side show at rock festivals, if it was featured at all.

I saw Deadmau5 on his first tour of the US, and maybe 500 people showed up. It wasn't a sold out show by any means. If you think anybody was making trance music, especially in America in 2006 as a way to make millions of dollars or get mainstream recognition, you're crazy. It was a dead genre when deadmau5 revitalized it (among others).
posted by empath at 4:43 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Should have known that little aside would totally derail this thread. I didn't mean to piss all over anyone's favorite acts, sorry if it seemed that way. Personally I haven't heard much from Deadmau5 that even rises to the level of a decent John Digweed production of the mid-90s, but that's just my opinion.

As far as the term EDM goes, if your chosen nomenclature for a genre is not considered legitimate by a significant number of fans or artists of that genre, it probably doesn't work too well as a catchall description. It may be true that "corporate-friendly" wasn't the most apt term to use. However I could refer to many respected electronic music sources for news and reviews to clarify that EDM is not the consensus for use as a blanket term.

Here's the take from Fact Magazine, one of the more well-recognized sources of news on "underground" electronic music. Granted it's pretty vague about what exactly defines EDM, but in their view it has something to do with drops, and I guess by "euphoric peaks" they mean something like major-key arpeggios? Whatever it is that makes trance (and by extension prog house) "trancey". We can also refer back to ilxor, and again it's clear the consensus is that EDM is not a catchall phrase.

Both of those sources do suffer from a Eurocentric bias, it's true, and maybe it's because I pay a lot of attention to British media that I'm biased against the use of EDM as well. The interpretation of the term on Wikipedia is a bit less clear-cut but again they agree it's regionally based in the USA.
posted by viborg at 6:38 PM on December 15, 2013

[Relevant: Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Music (flash-based, auto-plays for a second, otherwise exhaustive and totally worth it. Not sure when it was last updated, though).]
posted by Chutzler at 7:14 PM on December 15, 2013

It may not be a catch all phrase now, but it was explicitly intended to be when it was first used. As far as I'm concerned, it's the only term that appropriately encompasses all of the various descendants of house and techno.
posted by empath at 7:41 PM on December 15, 2013

chutzler - thank you for Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Music. Its unbiased, objective, and rigorously impartial point of view is a real breath of fresh air. (/sarcasm) Regardless of the sometimes-hilarious, sometimes-obnoxious tone, it is fun to browse.

I still enjoy calling it all "techno," mostly because it annoys people who know better. Makin' friends!
posted by TangoCharlie at 8:57 PM on December 15, 2013

This is a beautiful post. :)
posted by zarq at 12:03 PM on December 17, 2013

Chutzler: Relevant: Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Music (flash-based, auto-plays for a second, otherwise exhaustive and totally worth it. Not sure when it was last updated, though)

Also relevant: Ishkur's Guide on Wikipedia, which notes that Kenneth John Taylor whipped together the first version in "about two weeks," and the current guideline is prone to include misinformation" because it is "heavily influenced by Taylor's own taste and understanding of the genres." In other words, it's one guy's entertaining attempt to map out dance music.

If you really want to weed through genres, Wikipedia has a list of electronic music genres, with 22 major genres or groupings (though I dispute separating Drum and Bass and Jungle as different major genres).
posted by filthy light thief at 12:23 PM on December 17, 2013

Oh my ghodz, Maya Jane Coles' mix is amazing, at least if you're a lover of bass and stripped down beats like I am. Seriously, SO GOOD. And I haven't noticed any promo spots reminding us that this is the ESSENTIAL MIX show, so it looks like she shared the version she sent to BBC! WOOT!
posted by filthy light thief at 10:58 AM on December 21, 2013

Lo, I am humbled. I probably should have vetted Ishkur's evidently already-infamous Guide before giving it such an air of authority. Wups.

At any rate, I still credit it with opening me up to all kinds of kickass jams in high school that I wouldn't have come across otherwise. Thank you, Kenneth John Taylor, whatever your merit.
posted by Chutzler at 9:59 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

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