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Motor City Drum Ensemble/Various – DJ-Kicks review

Originally conceived in the late 1990s when mix CD series were ten a penny, Studio K7’s DJ-Kicks compilations rival Fabric’s similarly epic sets for quality and diversity. There are, of course, differences, most notably in outlook. Despite an early contribution from techno legend Stacey Pullen, the first decade of DJ-Kicks was typified by contributions from such downtempo artists as DJ Kam, Kid Loco, Thievery Corporation, Rockers Hi-Fi and Stereo MC’s. Although the series has moved on since then (see sets from Tiga, Chicken Lips and the Glimmers), DJ-Kicks has always been about more than bare club hits. One of the series’ best assets is the scope it offers DJs to move in different directions and step outside of their comfort zone. It’s little surprise to find that this latest instalment, mixed by Motor City Drum Ensemble man Danilo Plessow, gives a far better insight into his many musical inspirations than his own productions ever could.

Plessow is a more versatile DJ than many give him credit for, but his celebrated productions rarely stray from the confines of a signature sound that mostly touches on warehouse-friendly retro-futurist house and comfortable deepness. Sure, it’s a good sound, but it doesn’t suggest that his record collection boasts some notably weird and wonderful nuggets. Or, for that matter, that Sun Ra and Loose Joints are as big an influence on his studio work as Mr Fingers and Basic Channel. All of these artists make an appearance on Plessow’s DJ-Kicks mix, alongside plenty of other well-picked audio surprises.

If the mix had a theme, it would be the fusion of the organic and the electronic – music made with machines versus music made with traditional instruments. It’s a theme that’s visible from the word go, when the crackly jazz and blues of Sun Ra and Electric Wire Soul blend seamlessly into the dubwise techno movements of Basic Channel. Or, a little later, when the impeccable 21st century soul of Peven Everett slips into some heavyweight jazz-house and the classic Chicagoan deepness of Mr Fingers. Throughout, there’s a laidback, groovesome feel that’s as effortless as it is enjoyable. Plessow himself sums up the mood perfectly on the traditional ‘new’ DJ Kicks track, “L.O.V.E”, which pits his traditional deep house muddiness against live keys and bass. It’s one of his most interesting, detailed and well produced tracks to date.

There are, of course, some great deep house and techno moments included – see Tevo Howard, Robert Hood, Latecomer etc – but these largely take a backseat to the German producer’s other musical passions, from Afrobeat and leftfield disco to proto-house and IDM. If anything, they provide a kind of fail-safe aural glue, a digital pulse to draw all the other disparate elements together. That it all makes sense musically and flows brilliantly is testament to Plessow’s immense skill as a DJ. Whether the beats were played by a drummer or programmed into a machine, they can inspire and move you all the same. As a result, Motor City Drum Ensemble: DJ Kicks is as enjoyable a DJ mix as you’re likely to hear all year.

Matt Anniss