The Juan MacLean: DJ-Kicks (K7)

John MacLean likes to get confrontational about dance music. Which is understandable: He’s a straight dude who came to house via indie and noise and he seems bugged out that others are doing the same. So he tells interviewers about how hipster kids dance wrong out of discomfort, how the heavy electro/Ed Banger side of house is just a way of maintaining segregated sexuality on the dancefloor, how journalists only pretend to like certain token artists so they can hide their intrinsic homophobia. It’s strident stuff, borne out of years of discovery and elation and frustration, and whether or not any of it goes deeper than setting up and assaulting strawmen, it at least comes across as the worldview of a man who still feels compelled to defend his own house music cred.

But none of those statements speak as loudly as his actual mixing does. MacLean’s installation into the long-running DJ-Kicks series is all the proof you really need of his breadth of knowledge and ability to craft a good set– all-vinyl, one take, no computers. Condensing 18 tracks (including a couple of well-timed reprises and callbacks) into a 72-minute stream of constantly shifting grooves without losing the fundamental euphoria of the original tracks’ momentum isn’t something that comes easy to bandwagoneers. And MacLean goes past tastemaker collection-flaunting into something deeper, a mix that sounds like its heart’s been beating for 20 years.

That’s no small feat considering how many of the tracks here are less than five years old. There’s always been a pocket of house that skews classicist– MacLean and some of his fellow DFA pals amongst them. And it says something about the grip that label holds on the imaginations of the indie-dance set that the mix opens with the Ian Breno dub of “Happy House” (retitled “Feliz Casa” here), then segues into Still Going’s bass-reverb monster “Spaghetti Circus” and makes both tracks sound like they’ve been a part of the house continuum for a few decades rather than a few years. Even across regions and scenes– Giom’s deep house cut “I Know You Were Right”, the Paradise Garage-evoking “Planets (The Revenge Lost Groove)” from 6th Borough Project, the progressive house bliss of Danny Howells’ “Laid Out (Fully Horizontal Mix)”– there’s a vintage commonality. And when a ringer like Theo Parrish’s dub of Rick Wilhite’s 96 anthem “Get on Up!!” actually does show up, it fits perfectly.

Sweetening the deal is the amount of unreleased material in the mix, much of it contributed by friends and like-minded artists. “Take Me” by Australian DJ A+O, re-molds the rubbery pulse and elastic bassline that Detroit techno classic “Nude Photo” popularized, yet it transcends superficial nostalgia with a stunning vocal hook. At the other end of the spectrum is “Like a Child”, recorded by Juan MacLean keyboard player Dennis McNany under the assumed name “Jee Day”, which layers shimmering, reverbed vocals onto a pseudo-acid bassline to immense effect. And then there’s the final peak, “Feel So Good”, a new Juan MacLean track that builds off a supple drum loop from the late Jerry Fuchs and a coolly detached vocal from LCD Soundsystem’s Nancy Whang. All this is the kind of stuff indie-dance fans have good reason to go crazy over, and no cultural anxiety should keep them away from it. A truncated, looped refrain from Florian Meindl’s “Here Today Gone Tomorrow” comes at an early peak in the mix– “house sees no race, creed or–“… fill in the blank with whatever you want after that, because MacLean’s set sounds truly universal.

Nate Patrin, April 28, 2010

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