Bittles‘ Magazine | Album Review
Before the term Trance became something to be pitied, hated and despised as well as the dominant force in dance music it was seen as a creative revelation that brought the emotion back to House. The adrenaline-fuelled head-rush of rave was coming to an end, hardcore had become just too hard and the club kids were craving something new with which to get their chemical kicks. By JOHN BITTLES
Trance came at just the right time to reinvigorate a dance music scene that had somehow managed to crawl up its own K-hole. This new style of music added a much needed melodic flavour to its processed beats. When combined with an almost religious spirituality that was perfect for ecstasy consumption and the hugging of complete strangers everywhere it was no surprise when it exploded the way it did.
One of the very first proponents of this new sound was Berlin-based record label MFS! Masterminded For Success was formed in 1990 as a way to tap into the burgeoning electronic scene by East German label Deutsche Schallplatten Berlin. When the parent company folded a mere three years later Mark Reeder and Torsten Jurk didn’t lie down and cry. No, they very wisely took out a loan and did everything possible to ensure that the label they loved didn’t meet a premature end.
All of which brings us to the rather fab X-Mix 1: The MFS Trip; a label compilation released in 1993 created to soundtrack the first in a series of computer graphic videos by video label K7. The album was compiled and mixed by the then relatively unknown Paul Van Dyk. Back then only house music train-spotters would have been aware of his role as one half of the wonderful Visions of Shiva project with partner in crime Cosmic Baby. Together they had created a couple of almost perfect club hits with Perfect Day and How Much Can You Take? Mr Paul Matthias of course would go on to become an international superstar with his feted DJ sets and hits such as For An Angel and Tell Me Why. The MFS Trip was his very first official DJ mix and as many people would claim (Me) it is something he has never bettered throughout his distinguished career.
The album opens with an intro by Alien Nation which sounds like some fucked-up version of a self-help tape. From here we shift seamlessly into the deeply chilled tones of Sky Soaring by Gemini 6. Diamond Bullet by Effective Force takes things deeper still with a dark and mysterious sound. Its horror synths mix perfectly with spooky samples and a low slung bass to create something that sends shivers up and down the spine and mark the band out as one of the most under-rated of the early nineties trance pioneers.
An ecstatic double dose of Cosmic Baby (truly one of the lost geniuses of early trance) follows with Cosmic Trigger 1 and Oh Supergirl. This is where the mix enters into sounds that would later symbolise the emerging strains of Trance. It is a shame that just a few years later Cosmic Baby would disappear up his own arse in a wave of pretentious neo-classical music that sounded like an old man having a coughing fit (although not as tuneful as that sounds). This is disappointing since when you listen to the album Stellar Supreme or Thinking About Myself you recognise immediately that this was one of the most talented producers of his generation.
It’s near the end of the mix where Humate’s Love Stimulation merges with Cosmic Baby’s Heaven’s Tears and the label’s biggest hit to date How Much Can You Take by Visions of Shiva that things really take off. These three tracks should be on everyone’s best dance tracks ever lists (should you make lists and all that jazz). Heaven’s Tears has a real emotional depth that catches at the throat even as it urges you to jack, while How Much Can You Take? is surreal and trippy, but with a killer melodic surge and a kick-ass beat!
But in all honesty there are so many peaks on here that to attempt to describe them all would be pretty damn futile. This is a record that you should simply allow to wash over you and take you wherever it has decided to go. The MFS Trip is one of the first mixes I ever heard that wasn’t just a collection of upfront tunes designed to make you dance and throw some shapes. With an emotional complexity and a huge variety of BPMS that must have been a bastard to mix, the album luxuriates in a rich and diverse world of sounds.
Like most dance music some of the tracks on here (Strobe Light by Voov) have not aged all that well. Others such as Oh Supergirl and High on Hope by Microglobe still sound as fresh and stimulating today as they did twenty years ago. As for Paul Van Dyk’s mixing; one must be aware that as a label showcase there are a lot of different tempos on here. This of course was created way before Traktor, Ableton and all that fancy DJ software that can erase any mistakes or irregularity of pace. Aural bores should heed that there is no fancy technical trickery on here; one track merges seamlessly into the next in the way that DJ sets do when all that is played is a bag or two of vinyl. You can almost hear the crackle of the needle as it moves relentlessly across the grooves. And for me at least there are few better sounds than that.
Having long been deleted, the album can prove somewhat difficult to locate in your local HMV or Saturn. In saying that though, it is easily found on Discogs, Ebay, Amazon and other soulless places where human interaction is seen as a luxury you can ill afford. I first heard it on vinyl! Perhaps not the best format for listening to a mix! Yet I used to slavishly play each side with an almost religious fervour. And when I finally got it on CD it took me a good few plays to get over the disappointment of not hearing the click of the needle after every five or so songs.
It seems a shame that this album has been almost forgotten since it is one of the truly essential mixes created throughout the short history of dance. It is something that will thoroughly reward the amount of time and effort you are willing to put in and is surely worth a few hours of anybody’s time. You may grow to tolerate it, like it, love it, or cherish it as the one thing that has brought a sense of contentment to your life. Something all great music should strive to do!
| JOHN BITTLES