et Physical are a funny institution. If you asked me off the bat what the most interesting, influential label in European house music was, my brain would reach for Playhouse. But thinking about the sheer depth and impact of releases that Get Physical has marshalled during its five-year career, you’d have to wonder. Moving effortlessly between different idioms of dance, their formula of incredibly low friction, high impact, fully functional “body music” has indisputably changed the meaning of housing. I always feel like drawing in architectural references with Get Physical—M.A.N.D.Y, Booka Shade, and DJ T’s label seems to follow the logic of Le Corbusier through sound: Get Physical’s house has built a machine for dancing in.
Like the Modernist architect, Get Physical has its bastard offspring, its mutants, its decadent degradations. I say this not to level a criticism against the label—nobody can control the influence they have—but to illustrate both how familiarity breeds contempt and that imitation, however flattering, can be the watery death of something formerly potent and unique—especially in the event that one begins to enact a process of self-imitation.
Get Physical were DJ Magazine’s Label of the Year in 2005, and have been de facto ‘ruling’ the difficult place where credible musicality meets unquestionable dancefloor effectiveness. It’s territory that’s tough to claim, and more difficult still to hold. Here’s where this compilation comes in.
So, what’s on offer? Two CDs, one collecting new, unreleased tracks by all the familiar names, and a second compiling remixes that have been farmed out to people of varying talents: it boys, has-beens, and never-weres—even Moby. Yes, Moby, kids. Is this a cynical play for the rockist crossover market? Who approached whom? I wonder…
The remix CD opens with Herbert’s remix of Chelonis R. Jones’s “I Don’t Know,” cutting up the vocals and housing the percussion. It’s not that irritating (for a Herbert record) and finds the talented egomaniac going jack to basics, which is timely. Hot Chip’s mix of “No Stoppin’” wheels the synths onto center stage, offering up a Casio symphony with something of the Juan MacLean quirk, and just a follicle of Bela Lugosi’s eyebrow. Then there’s the “Larry Gold” string version (real strings) of “Night Falls,” which is (somehow) less symphonic in the original, at least in its effect. Go figure. Henrik Schwarz pulls out a very spacious version of “Vertigo,” with a long, decaying underflow of Basic Channel-ish atmospheres. Fujiya and Miyagi sound more derivatively krautrockin’ than usual in delivering their remix of Lopazz’s “Migracion,” dusted with an icing of J-girl vocals, in the spirit of Damoko Suzuki perhaps. Then there’s the Moby mix of “Les Djinns,” which yanks the original (apparently Beatport’s best-selling single ever) out of the Maghreb and flings it right into the Northern Lights with a trance throwback that borrows more than a little from the Knife’s Silent Shout—but weren’t they shrieking back at ‘90s trance themselves? Struggling with the signifiers, I nonetheless find myself enjoying this track…a lot. Should I seek help?
So much—so very much—for the remix CD. By comparison, the disc of originals seems neater, quieter, more wieldy than the Santa’s sack of remixes. But there’s still a lot to receive here, and more than a little to be thankful for: Booka Shade’s “Unhealthy Pleasures” is yet another of their tracks that appears to have little happening (always the frictionless surface) but retains immense replay value. Chelonis R. Jones offers more rogue creativity, freak alienation, and a grooving backtrack, while M.A.N.D.Y square against Booka Shade to re-bless Laurie Anderson’s immortal “Oh Superman.” But to these ears, it’s the big-room boom-boom tracks here that bring the blood-sugar up: Lopazz’ INXSive “The Fact,” Riton vs. Heidi’s fat-clappin’ “To the Gum,” and even Williams super-crispy “Illegal Ninja Moves.”
Gosh, what a lot of territory covered, what a lot of modernist dance. Somehow, the overall effect is one of far too much, achieving too little. Stuffed full of luminaries re-appropriating already-successful tracks, this is a feast, but one that marks a threshold of bloating and stagflation—this is Get Physical, “the dancing machine,” getting fat, its bodycode breaking down into the flabby shadows of its former selves. Having gone from inventing a sound to ruling the clubs in the space of five years, this accumulation of sound and vision would do well to digress, disband, get a lap-band, or risk ripening into a musical Orson Welles. Listen to Olivia Newton-John and Get Physical, before it’s too late.
Reviewed by: Peter Chambers
Reviewed on: 2007-06-08