In early 1996, during the midst of Paris’ infamous – and much-chronicled – “French Touch” revolution, a budding DJ/producer from the local party scene, Gilbert “Gilb’r” Cohen, decided to launch his own label. While the imprint’s first two releases would stick rigidly to the filtered, disco-heavy house style dominating Parisian dancefloors at the time, it wouldn’t be long before Cohen’s label would begin living up to its’ name: Versatile Records. In the two decades since, Cohen’s imprint has remained deliriously difficult to pin down.
This, of course, is to Cohen’s great credit, and that of his longtime friend, Chateau Flight production partner and fellow Versatile veteran Nicholas “I:Cube” Chaix. For any label, especially one founded – initially, at least – with the dancefloor in mind, the easiest thing to do is to carve out a niche, and stick rigidly to a formula. Taking a more open-minded path, as Cohen has done, is fraught with danger; even if your releases are uniformly strong, you run the risk of being ignored.
Sadly, at times Versatile has been a little overlooked and under-appreciated, but Cohen has carried on regardless, releasing increasingly diverse, unusual and, more often these days, experimental music that defies easy categorization. Finally, after 20 years, he seems to be getting the dues he deserves for the label.
For a label such as Versatile, encompassing 20 years of eclectic electronic adventures in one two-disc package was always going to be tough. Such is the widescreen scope of the label’s 100-plus 12” singles and 30 (or so) album releases, it would be impossible to accurately represent the Versatile catalogue over the course of two CDs. Instead, Cohen and Chaix have joined forces to select tracks they think best represent the imprint’s ethos and output; Chaix’s picks focus on Versatile’s first 10 years, with Cohen drawing on the second decade (interestingly, he’s mostly chosen cuts from the last three years).
Understandably, Cohen and Chaix’s productions – as solo artists, with others, and together as Chateau Flight – are dotted throughout, and offer a neat summary of the label’s continuing evolution. The collection opens with Cohen’s head-nodding 1998 hip-hop hook-up with Pepe Bradock, “Versatile”, swiftly moves on to Chaix’s 1997 deep house-jazz fusion classic “Mingus In My Pocket”, and closes with two more immaculate solo productions (DJ Sotofett’s thrillingly out-there “live jazz” remix of Cohen’s “Foliage”, and the poignant waltz of Chaix’s “A Walk With You”). In between, you’ll find a trio of Chateau Flight tracks (amongst them the lusciously sweet South African house of “Kolongo”, and the deep techno wonder of “Rituel”), and countless remixes by one, or both, of the label stalwarts (the decidedly cosmic, chugging, 2008 Chateau Flight Dub of Quioxte’s “Before I Started To Dance” being a particular highlight).
Happily, the duo’s choice to largely ignore better-known label classics and “big tunes” also pays dividends. Few, for example, will remember the rush-inducing Motor City positivity of Future Beat Alliance’s slept-on 2003 cut “Fake Love”, or the deep electro brilliance of Delit-K’s vintage “Best Before Date See Base”, yet both are stunning. Even Cohen’s picks of more recent label releases are hardly what you’d call ‘obvious’ (Bufiman’s madcap, Clav-happy, disco-funk banger “Running (The Chase)” excepted). True to form, Cohen’s contemporary picks are often eccentric and experimental, touching on Arabic acid, Terry Riley-inspired ambience, krautrock soundscapes and off-kilter electronica. Given the label’s journey over the past 20 years, we wouldn’t have expected anything less.
1. Gilb’r + Bradock – Versatile
2. I:Cube – Mingus in My Pocket
3. Chateau Flight – Kolingo (Love)
4. Chateau Flight – Autotrak
5. Quixote feat. Lisa Li-Lund – Before I Started To Dance (Chateau Flight Dub)
6. Manu DiBango – Soul Fiesta (Chateau Flight Rework)
7. Future Beat Alliance – Fake Love
8. Headcore – Cage
9. Chris Prolific – Crumble Beat
10. I:Cube – Un Proton pour Toi, Un Proton pour Moi
11. Deli-K – Best Before Date See Base
12. Chateau Flight – Rituel
13. Joakim – Peter Pan Over The Bronx
14. The Maghreban – Smack Beats
15. Bufiman – Running (The Chase)
16. New Paradise – I Love Video
17. Hanaa Ouassim feat. Turzi, Judah Warsky, Dj Gilb’r – Madad
18. The Explosion – Disco Blind (Edit)
19. John Cravache – Le Désir de Rester Petit (Cubo Remix)
20. King Ghazi – Shamaleh (Gilb’r Main Mix)
21. Zombie Zombie – Watch the World from A Plane
22. Gilb’r & DJ Sotofett – Foliage (Dj Sotofett’s Live Jazz Mix)
23. Jonathan Fitoussi & Clemens Hourrière – Moonish Landscapes
24. I:Cube – A Walk With You
25. Etienne Jaumet – Midnight Man