hen 2 Many DJ's As Heard on Radio Soulwax, Pt. 2 first hit hard drives and stores, it set off a wave of fads (electro-clash, punk-funk, eclectic mix cds) that have yet to cease—most significantly because it merely reaffirmed what we already knew. Great party and dance music knows no genre, no racial dividing line, no artificial distinction between "real" and "electronic." The trend also reconnected with the roots of DJ/dance music culture—look at the playlists of the earliest club-based disc jockeys (Francis Grasso, David Mancuso) and hip-hop architects (DJ Kool Herc, Flash, Afrika Baambata) and you'll find rock mashed up against funk, Kraftwerk, early electro, soundtrack tunes, and reggae. This second installment in the Misch Masch series (the first came courtesy of Tiefschwarz) is a potent reminder of this, spread out over two CDs—the first a mix by Freeform Five mainman Anu Pillai, the second an unmixed collection of Freeform Five's remixes of other artists.
The mix CD portion of Misch Masch is a helter-skelter sonic assault that roundly ignores the late-90's trend of "progressive" DJs who take you on a "journey," which mostly seems to involve traveling through some microgenre of pasty bedroom electronica to ultimately arrive exactly where you left off. Pink Grease, Diplo, Aphex Twin, Lindstrom, and Funkadelic all rub shoulders in a steamy meltdown of ass-slapping, bassed-up beats, jagged guitars, electro throbbing and funky drumming, all set at breakneck speed: 28 tracks in 77 minutes. Gloriously, Anu seems genuinely more interested in stimulating your privates than his own, banging down booty track after ridiculous booty track—mostly obscure or made by Anu himself—but rather than coming off all crate-digger and hipper than thou, they merely serve to elucidate the fact that Freeform Five are in their own damn territory.
Being in your own territory is one thing, but to be elevated beyond being mere iconoclasts to true icons is another thing entirely. This is where the second disc comes into play—just as Tiefschwarz' 2004 entry in the series, the remix collection amply illustrates how one artists' reworking of anothers' songs can still be a revelatory experience. The tracklisting reads like a summation of the classic anthems and artists of the past few years. Isolee's "Beau Mot Plage," Annie's "Greatest Hit," Felix da Housecat's "Rocket Ride," X-Press 2/ David Byrne's "Lazy" and the reissued Philly Soul gem "Are You Ready for Love" by (gasp!) Elton John certainly rank amongst the most significant dance singles of the new millennium. To have remixed all of them is surely something no other bedroom jock can claim. To have actually brought something interesting to the plate in each case is almost beyond belief. Add Mylo, Alter Ego, and N.E.R.D. to the list of artists in question and you're dealing with some serious big-time shit indeed.
Worth the price of admission all by itself is Isolee's "Beau Mot Plage (Freeform Five Reform Parts I and II)," which kicks off the second disc. One of the truly genius house tracks of the past ten years, "Beau Mot Plage" is a minimal, moody, funky monster of a song that became a sleeper hit in 1999/2000. Improving on this would be one hell of a job, but Freeform Five deliver not so much a remix as a complete transformation, with layers of added percussion, vocalists singing the original synth melody, jazzy beat-splicing and somebody playing a mean-ass flute over top of the whole thing. To boot, the players manage to add an enormous amount of music to the recording, without ever losing the lean, sinuous magic of the original. Across the rest of the second disc, the "Reforms" range from similarly radical (Elton John's deep Thom Bell-produced Philly Soul cut from 1978, "Are You Ready For Love" retains only the vocal and the timing, gaining a jacking disco-rave backdrop) to the slightly more subtle (Mylo's "Musclecars" gets some added guitar and various dubbed-out effects). Others fall somewhere inbetween- Felix Da Housecat's "Rocket Ride" is stripped apart, reassembled and given a killer acid bassline, Annie's "The Greatest Hit" gets its' heat turned up several notches, and even N.E.R.D.'s "Lapdance" sounds loads less annoying after a few swipes of the Freeform brush. The recipients of these re-imaginings seem duly impressed- David Byrne was apparently so taken with the Freeform Five take on he and X-Press 2's Ibiza-bomb "Lazy" that the version performed in his live set is adapted from it, and Mylo has included their remix of "Musclecars" on subsequent pressings of his album.
Music writers bleat every few minutes about how a given artist will 'save' dance music or rock music or what have you. I don't believe any kind of music needs to be saved, but if it did, I would gladly nominate Freeform Five as a group that might be up to it. Now, all we need to figure out would be exactly what the hell it was they were saving.