Various Artists

Mistiquemusic V.A. Album Vol. 001 Comp

(Mistiquemusic; 2009)

By Jack Moss | 4 December 2009

These days it’s no stretch for any old Joe/Jane to exploit the digital revolution and make computer music: where once you needed a studio full of gear, the kind of commitment that immediately sorted the contenders from the pretenders, now you just pirate a DAW and find a decent laptop; where once running a record label required a physical office and staff along with manufacturing and distribution costs, now an e-mail client and a lot of hard disk space is enough. Though the argument goes that all this results in is a massive quantity of disposable music from a plethora of producers who have just as little talent as they do imagination—spend a few hours trawling through DJ Download or Beatport’s catalogue and you’ll get a sense of the tedious and soul-sapping task a DJ faces these days—without the ease afforded by digital music, a label like Mistiquemusic would never exist and would certainly never be able to operate in the way it does.

While lushly melodic progressive house seems to be about as popular as smallpox on the dancefloor, there’s no way a traditional label could start from scratch in 2009 and dispense release after high-quality release without compromising towards more fashionable and profitable sounds. Devoid of all those pesky overheads, Mistiquemusic can deliver exactly what the label owners desire and the tortured progressive faithful relish: beautifully produced sci-fi house music. The only problem is finding it on digital download sites.

Perhaps what makes the label so intriguing is that it represents a new breed of producers who are mostly too young to have witnessed the original boom and bust of a ‘90s club-centered landscape and who mostly hail from Eastern Europe, a relatively new frontier for electronic music. Displaced from traditional dance music powerbases and largely divorced from its past, they have an audible enthusiasm and energy undimmed by the now-embedded ideological wrangles of the scene. The fact that progressive house is now associated with the excesses of late-‘90s superclub culture is irrelevant to a fresh-faced bunch who never witnessed any of that historical cycle; in turn, their music brims with a naïve but winning self-belief.

Another advantage of cheap digital labels is just how prolific they can be. In Mistique’s case, we’re talking eighteen weighty releases in twelve months, including a full length artist album and this debut label compilation, bearer of possibly the most startlingly reductive title imaginable. (Let the music do the talking, indeed.) For most labels, the first compilation is generally a sampler, a collection of best existing tracks from the stable’s biggest names alongside a couple of tasty new cuts. Mistiquemusic, by contrast, have packed theirs with ten exclusively new productions, most from upcoming producers. Label owners Michael & Levan chip in an effective if perfunctory cinematic opener, but otherwise the label’s most familiar names are absent.

As you’d expect from such young blood, the quality is somewhat mixed. The breakbeat compositions from Mars Needs Lovers and D-Slide and Doxx are far too placid to work on a dancefloor and they never really achieve the kind of spine-tingling ambience that would give them undeniable home-listening value, while the offerings from Jasper Jinx, Roy Malakian, and Chris Drifter are packed full of clichéd tech house elements. They’re far from terrible, but at this point we don’t exactly need another batch of producers cramming detuned synth patches and white noise builds into every track.

In between these flawed pieces, the comp lives up to the Mistique billing. Toning down the label’s tendency towards whispy atmospherics, the likes of Solex and the Stain deliver gorgeously hypnotic grooves garnished with pretty nebulas of spacey layers. Irresistibly danceable and immaculately produced, they blur the boundaries in classic progressive fashion and could effortlessly slot into any number of different sets, whether you’re dropping deep house or melodic techno. For roughly half of Album Vol. 001‘s running time, we’re treated to a reminder of this much-maligned style’s potential and versatility, a reminder I wish a few more DJs out there would heed.

If the tone of this review seems harsh compared to the score, it’s only because Mistiquemusic has already set such collectively high expectations that anything even decent or passable feels like a disappointment. Critiquing a label compilation because it decided to give new blood a go and didn’t strike pure gold feels like kicking a charity worker because they happened to knock on your front door halfway through your favourite show, but here I am. All things considered, this is a solid compilation, but, honestly, you’ll want to download the highlights and forgo the rest. That’s just how it works nowadays.