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Various – In The Dark: The Soul Of Detroit review

In The Dark is a reality, a small example of how music music and cultural activity thrives in Detroit,” says Still Music label boss Jerome Derradji in his sleeve notes for the imprint’s first compilation. “Every day and night, through the hands, ears and mouths of essential creators, the future of Detroit’s music is being shaped. All we can do is listen and dance in the darkness of a sweaty club.”

Derradji penned those words back in 2005, on the initial limited CD release of In The Dark. Seven years on, those words seem just as pertinent as ever. Derradji has his critics, but in compiling In The Dark he gathered together a collection of music – mostly previously unreleased – that perfectly summed up the contemporary Detroit electronic music scene. It’s great testament to his skill as a curator that it still sounds so fresh and essential all these years on.

This reissue is timely, not least because many of the producers featured have since gone on to become household names in the underground house scene (or, in the case of veteran soul singer and keysman Amp Fiddler, way beyond). We’ve come to cherish the hissing, ocean-deep grooves of Marcellus Pittman, but when “A Walk Through Osaka” was first unveiled, it seemed like it had been beamed down from another planet. The same could be said for Rick Wilhite, whose star has been on the ascendancy since he contributed five tracks to In The Dark. These cuts are amongst his finest productions; there’s the sketchy, cheaply made soul/deep house fusion of “City Bar Reopen Live Dancing”, the heavenly deepness of “Magic Water”, and two collaborations with Detroit legends. On the first, “Bosmos”, Wilhite joins forces with Moodymann himself, Kenny Dixon Jnr, and delivers a clattering chunk of intoxicating deepness built around a nagging piano line. On the second, “Cosmic Jungle”, he indulges in an epic voyage of deep, percussion-laden discovery with Sherard Ingram, better known as DJ Stingray. Wilhite also makes a contribution to “In The Dark”, in many ways the album’s centerpiece. Produced alongside Raybone Jones and Marcellus Pittman, “In The Dark” is fuzzy, twisted and casually wonky – all disturbed noises, relentless rhythms and off-key chords. Yet for all its wonkiness, it still drips soul from every disturbed groove. That’s the essence of Detroit’s music scene; even at its most challenging and abstract, soul is key.

There are plenty more thrilling Motor City moments elsewhere. Keith Worthy and Malik Alston, two lesser-known Detroit names, brilliantly meld piano jazz to jacking analogue house on the super-deep “Ecoutez”. Delano Smith, then less of a household name in deep house circles, delivers a spinetingling piano house jam in the shape of “Hot-N-Funky” (think Mr Fingers given a royal kick in the bojangles), while beatdown innovator Mike Huckaby displays his jazz knowledge with the shuffling, percussion-laden beauty that is “Melodies From The Jazz Republic”. That it’s not the best track on the compilation says much for the quality of the material on offer. And so it goes on, throwing up memorable surprises at every turn. This repackaged edition of the album comes bundled with a 30-minute DVD featuring interviews with many of the protagonists. It’s almost as essential as the CD itself, offering an insight into a scene that often remains a mystery to all but those within it.

Matt Anniss

Tracklisting (CD & Digital version):

1. Courtney Jack – Everybody (Amp Fiddler Remix)
2. Malik Alston – A Walk Thru Oska
3. Keith Worthy & Malik Alston – Ecoutez
4. Rick Wilhite – City Bar Reopen ‘Live’ Dancing
5. Delano Smith – Hot-N-Funky
6. Rick Wilhite and Kenny Dixon Jr. – Bosmos
7. Patchworks – Sugar (Amp Fiddler Remix)
8. Rick Wilhite – Magic Warter
9. Mike Huckaby – Melodies From the Jazz Republic
10. Raybone Jones, Marcellus Pittman, Rick Wilhite – In The Dark
11. Rick Wilhite, Urban Tribe, S. Ingram – Cosmic Jungle