Throughout his career, Nick Warren has been identified under many roles for his unique, forward-thinking style: pioneer, innovator, and even a forefather of the modern underground sound. Today we road test his long awaited PledgeMusic mix CD incarnation “The Soundgarden”
Soundgarden CD 1 begins with some darker ambient undertones, and in my mind, perhaps a little darker than usual for Warren’s more ambient side. Historically, I tend to associate the eeper pads and textures that have been a hallmark of his sound with a more light-hearted mood, even implying a chill out vibe, and often evoking feelings of relaxation (which has generally been a perfect setup by Nick to more groovy, house rhythms and an excellent method of warming up the psychology of a dancefloor). There is a tinge of the cinematic here in this first track as well, with soundscapes and swelling synthetic tones that are very well mixed into the variety of texture that one can perceive. Particularly, off the bat, producer Clara Moto does a fine job here of not overkilling on any one element. Everything has it’s place rather well.
This first track on the mix is Moto‘s “Holy,” and with the introduction of the beat, the focus fades away from the large sonic metaphorical landscape, that has just been painted for us, taking a turn towards a more minimal elemental sound, that instantly hits close to home with Hope Recordings fans. The simplicity of several synthesized elements carrying into the background, to me, conjures up feelings of the mid 2000s, and is almost reminiscent of the classically addictive beats that were made popular by the likes of Booka Shade, such as “In White Rooms,” as well as by compilations like Digweed’s Transitions 2. The elemental simplicity is strong and catchy. There is also a speck of tribal, with the low tom giving a very organic feel to the bass frequencies. Low key, and appropriate. I interpret this as a hint of deep house as well, which is in my view also placement on Warren’s part as an intentional foreboding of what’s to come.
“Heaval” by Dextro sheds a trancier feel and returns to an emotionally ambient sound, only to surprise you with the sudden outburst of full-on live instrumentals, once again bringing back a cinematic quality, and evoking some emotionally deeper rock undertones that harken to influences from everything from R.E.M. to the modern indie-folk sounds, that have generally penetrated into darker rock moods. The piano and guitar effect mixing, with delay and reverb washing over the track, gives such a spacey, ethereal feel, and, finally, the strong homage to vintage with pronounced tape emulation that in particular brings out the string section so poignantly just glosses over the edgy feel for what is in my mind a grand slam of emotional work.
With the final interludes fading from the guitar and piano and the rise of some noise atmospheres and pads around them, Warren transports us to an interestingly human sound. Samples of children playing in the background, and the rise of a new piano solo highlight the instrumentally minimal yet always powerful work of Nils Frahm. Frahm’s work here, entitled “Says,” has an interesting evolution as well, for whereas it starts out purely experimental, it also contains reference to an unmistakably trance-influenced sound. The square synth arpeggio that filters in and out throughout the piece provides an almost tense movement, reminiscent of longer epic buildups in classic melodic songs. With the pressure mounting, Frahm finally lets go of the inherently organic nature of the track and goes full force into an electronic interlude that is purely heartrending. Rising arpeggiated scales surrounded by warm pads and tones, all grounded by the piano that has laid the foundational framework of the track, which returns in a rise of glory here, is just brilliantly crafted.
At the seeming climax of this rise in melodic bliss, Warren takes us for an unexpected turn, with the breakout of Mono Electronic Orchestra‘s “Low Ball” in a true DJ’s “drop” fashion. Darker, noise-oriented pads once again return, and the lead synthesizers we were becoming accustomed to previously have now been replaced with 16 bit and 8 bit style Linn-oriented sounds, often used in classic Science Fiction films and television to emulate computer processing sound effects. The slow introduction of dissonant chords in lighter pads, background delayed sounds, and a looming, darker bass line, lead up to the introduction of a simple yet powerfully built breakbeat, centered around several mid bass saw synths that carry the dark feel forward…
The steady beat now established segue ways once again via a gradual breakdown into “Alice Enters,” from producer Olafur Arnalds, which again brings back a piano motif, clearly now a centerpiece of Warren’s intent for this mix, and reintroduces organic, live instruments with a piano/string coupling that harken on the more modern classical sound.
Next we see one of my favorite transitions of the mix so far, with Warren’s subtle yet powerful addition of the horn here laying an excellent textural feel to the movement of the mix that in my mind defines it’s vibe at this stage. It is this emotionally moody horn that comes to define Verche‘s “No One Left Behind” (Reprise), the next piece in the mix. The centerpiece horn is excellently rich in timbre and provides a mid range undertone, that combined with the string and vox pads on the high end, replace the live instrumentation from the previous song, for an interesting and beautiful transition from the organic to the artificial, in a texturally silky, smooth way that deserves both credit for it’s mixing and arrangement.
Purl‘s “Essence” also similarly fades itself in, but the contrast between it and the previous track is much more stark. Almost immediately, we see the emergence of a new breakbeat, and a total change in timbre with the introduction of new ambience, which was previously much more organic, to a markedly harder synth based texture. The background vocals that are also introduced now add a really excellent touch production-wise as well as contributing to groove movement and track ambience. It takes a moment to adjust to the change of pace here, but once you get into the groove, there’s several fun new elements introduced that are really quite enjoyable.
“A Forest,” by group Of Norway, once again calls in a darker mood. An instrumental bass, some muted guitar picks, and a lovely string ensemble background created a texturally looming soundscape that draws you in…
“Curiosity Calling” by Nuuda as Warren introduces for the four-to-the-floor beat for the first time and this is the perfect time to ask you to do it, taking the mix into taking on a completely new life. In this track, we also get our first taste of glitchier tech house, techno, and progressive percussion, along with grungier synth-based pads, and a mood, for the first time, based almost solely on the kick drum percussion groove for movement.
The mix transitions quickly into Purl‘s “Is,” and, in seamless fashion, introducing a new raw elemental combination of kick, percussion, and pad…
With the breakdown of the beat, we are once again introduced to a new melodic tone: this one highly distorted and featuring vinyl-emulation effects to give it a very retro feel. Fait Du Prince‘s “Wintersonne” starts us off with this retro melodic feel, but swiftly brings back the beat and delves into some gritty, melodic material with the ever-present lead riff now accompanied by several other supporting synths. It has a melodic techno feel to it in many respects: focusing on a simple minor progression, leaving the percussion minimal to serve a simple and supporting roll.
Our first feel of a housier, groove oriented bassline comes into play with “One More Day To Regret,” by Black 8. Aside from the novel introduction of a bass that plays such a larger part in the song compared to previous tracks, we are once again given a melody driven primarily by an acoustic guitar, this time of a Spanish background with a distinct tinge of Flamenco evident here as well. Also because of this, it is evident that another one of Warren’s motifs in CD 1 is clearly the use of acoustic guitar and live instruments in a markedly electronic atmosphere. In that regard, his track selection so far has been spot on, as the tracks that feature these combinations have been done so tastefully and appropriately, not letting any one element take over too much of the space in the mix.
Jon Sine‘s “Out of my Mind,” featuring Alex Easdale, now throws us full-on into the realm of deep house, with a groovy vintage-influenced saw bassline, 80s retro horns, and spacey vocals that are rich in effect processing and take center-stage in the song.
The final track of CD 1, Antu Coimbra‘s “El Jardin De Mis Suenos,” brings back some interesting motifs (more bird and nature effects!) that have been present throughout the mix, and solidifies it with quite an addictive bassline hook that makes for, in my mind, a thrilling finale. All the elements capturing the performance of the past hour and 15 minutes are here in full force: the nature sounds, the square synth arpeggios, the lush pads, the strings, and the experimental oriented synth riffs. The track also pays homage to, although probably should not be considered genre-wise, some of the more melodic progressive sounds that Warren is so well known for in Way Out West. It is in fact quite a chock full piece of music content-wise, and there’s a lot happening simultaneously, which is why credit should be properly given to the producer here, because to be able to balance such a plethora of sounds well enough in a mix so as to not be confusing or convoluted is a grand demonstration of skill, and Coimbra should be commended for it.
The second disc starts off with a similarly emotional tone, albeit in a more robust sonic environment, with the introduction of percussion right out of the gate, as well as some generally harder synth sounds compared to what we’ve heard so far. Peet‘s “Fear of Andrana” is first on the mix, and has quite an interesting taste with it’s unique mixture of hard edged percussion and saw synth lead riffs.
The transition from this into Niko Mayer‘s “Anunnaki” is particularly strong on Warren’s part, as Anunnaki builds on a similar premise as Fear of Andrana but adds in groove complexity, with steady percussive rhythms using heavily processed drum samples, in this case with a slight inclination towards industrial, and a groovier, more dynamic bassline. The melodic synth riffs are present here as well, which adds for nice continuity thematically, and with the opening up of the pads to a brighter frequency range we get a housey vibe and another sense of “stepping up” from where we started mixwise. Motif-wise, the presence of live strings is also important to notice mix-wise for Nick Warren, as it’s now appeared quite often throughout this mix and is in my mind one of the highlights of track selection for this entire compilation.
“We All Shine On,” from Simon Shackleton, takes it up a notch yet again, with a decidedly more electro feel than the previous tracks. The beat is catchy, and the combination of different synths used almost percussively makes for a cool, smooth sound that manages to avoid coming off as dated and provides the listener with a fresh experience. A standout track.
The mix takes a markedly deeper turn with the introduction of Stas Drive presents Quattar – “Arjuna.” An interesting combination of deep, tech, and progressive elements, this track is one of the few out there at the moment I can say has successfully combined all 3 of these genres and done so in a simplistically pure manner. The groove is undeniably tech, the synth stabs and ever-present cowbell decidedly deep, whilst the pads and effects are modernly tech-progressive. Stas has been an artist I’ve been a huge fan of for some time, and with every new track he’s come more and more into his own. One of his strongest pieces to date.
The pace skyrockets in this next track when Warren drops a well-placed bomb on the mix in the form of Kassey Voorn‘s “Voices,” which is a stellar piece of deep progressive work. The bassline is, quite simply, beyond addictive, and the percussion is all but perfect in it’s carrying of the solid groove. Given Kassey’s long and illustrious history of producing club bangers, it comes at no surprise at all that the elements here fit together perfectly to create a powerful, dark experience that makes you want to think, dance, and rock out: pretty much all at the same time. The breakdown is an intense energy builder that is excellently timed to create epic anticipation, and the beat drop that follows delivers the perfect release and brings you right back to dancing. Hard to resist the flow on this one.
“Glass House,” from Peter Matko & Gregory S, continues on this tangent, with thumping dark bass, trippy percussion, and excellent synth modulation that represents the culmination of modern synth experimentation. The groove is trendy, the vibe holding a perfect tension between energetic and mellow, and once again the sonic placement of sounds is all perfect.
You can tell Warren has really entered into his element mix-wise by this point, as he’s reached what I like to call “the DJ’s threshold of flow,” and the music has now taken full control (DJs all know and love that ultimate feeling, when you’ve finally hit a point with your mix where the crowd is 100% with you, and the vibe has been built so well that you can just let the music flow from there: it’s a feeling of escape where, in fact, the music is in control, and you are merely a mediator between a higher positive energy and your audience).
The energy continues, with “Paper Girl” by producer Tero Civill, which drops yet another dark, energetic progressive bassline combined with ethereally dark melodies, compliments of excellent background swell pads that appropriately are filtered and automated to “open up” into the mix at just the right times. The Juno-inspired synth line, heavily delayed and rightly placed, adds a great touch to the feel of the song. If there’s anything a producer can take away from Soundgarden, it’s that restraint in placement and timing can often be so much more effective at conveying a deeply emotional theme rather than resorting to overt and aggressive riffs to carry a song. It should always be about the bigger picture.
Mono Electric Orchestra makes his second appearance on the album now with “Uno Momento,” once again delving into a darker mood emotionally and this time displaying a much edgier sound than the more ambient vibe from their previous track on CD 1. With an addictive breakbeat groove, an excellently tweaked saw synth lead that’s frequency modulation matches the melody perfectly, and some slightly more robust pads, this addition is another great piece of dark, melodic work from Barry Jamieson under his new alter ego.
Continuing with that sound is James’s Monroe‘s “Ambientworkx XIII,” which follows in the same thematic footsteps as Uno Momento, relying on a steady breakbeat rhythm that appears and disappears appropriately, while moving between periods of lighter, more uplifting progressions, and contrasting them with a return to a dark, minor, almost sad underlying theme. Warren seemingly chose this and the previous track to give an intentional pause in the momentum so far, almost bringing his crowd back to some of the earlier work on the compilation and providing a contemplative rest musically from the four-to-the-flour beats that had so far dominated CD 2. It’s an interesting choice, but one that he pulls off with grace and style, and is in my mind reminiscent of the longer ambient interludes that he, Sasha, Digweed, and many others were known to do in the late 90s during more downtempo sets.
We return to a more fast-paced beat with Khen‘s “The Lighthouse,” which picks up where the housier, more progressive tangent on CD 2 left off. Khen is another progressive producer who has been turning so many heads lately, with masterful productions on some of the biggest labels in the business, and a dark yet melodic sound that is so intoxicating on the dancefloor. This new track is no different, with a beautifully hard hitting saw synth mid bass, coupled with some beautifully arpeggiated mid synths that together combine for an excellent melodic twist, that creates for a highly tense breakdown, followed by a monster drop back into the unrelenting, groovy beat. Everything, once again, just fits together so well.
Simon Shackleton returns as well with “Getting Closer,” his second appearance as well on the compilation, and once again Warren diverts from a progressive sound into a deeper, techier feel that, timed as well as it was, hits really nicely at this point in the mix. The electro homages in here are once again really cool without sounding dated, and the bassline is highly addictive and groovy, giving just enough of a progressive tinge to allow for this to be a smooth transition from the previous track but also different enough to throw in a new flavour and change up the mix in an appealing and positive way.
The final track on mix comes from another favourite producer of mine, Dark Soul Project. This track, entitled “Al Sur,” is actually not entirely what I would expect from him, having followed his work since nearly the beginning, and I was again pleasantly surprised on this album. A lot of the familiar elements from Dark Soul are in fact there, such as the use of saw synth swelling pads, trancy-like melodic riffs that periodically come and go throughout the arrangement, and highly processed piano stabs that add tasteful melodic variation. While his recent work has also shifted towards a much techier percussive presence, this one is a little more restrained than his usual hard, chunky toms, hats, and tambourines, and while it still is undoubtedly techie in vibe from a groove standpoint, it sounds much more cutting edge in presence. It’s purely magnificent. His strength as a producer is at it’s apex here.
I also feel that once again, Nick Warren was attempting to throw us a finale track he felt really captured all the essence of the mix itself, and given Dark Soul’s abilities to successfully combine elements from various genres (of which I think here is probably an example of some of their his work ever), this track really brought together the whole mix and drew it to a highly satisfying conclusion.
If I was to summarize what Soundgarden really stands for in the modern underground world; my first thought is, you just don’t see compilations like this coming out all too often any more. The intense level of thought and scrutiny in track selection harkens back to a time when compilation albums were still made to be journeys, and this is, in fact, quite the journey. It contains music that pulls from so many various styles and influences, as I have attempted to show here, and with the thematic elements throughout the mix becoming more and more visible as one continues through the songs, it’s hard to argue otherwise that what Warren did here was to put together a consciously sound, well thought out mix that aimed to convey an appreciation for the quality music that has come before us and exemplify the artists and producers who were capable of creating modern, cutting edge material that brings these qualities to light for a new generation.
There’s nothing in here that risks sounding too dated, yet the influence of the past is unmistakeable. Furthermore, Nick Warren wasn’t afraid to step outside his own sound and choose tracks that surprised us here, attempting to tie in a diverse sonic community under the common ground of quality and craftsmanship. While there were a few certain elements that I did not 100% connect with, overall, there is no doubt in my mind that Nick Warren has triumphed in this mission.
All in all, this is one of the best compilations I’ve heard in a long time, and because of it’s diverse creativity and high production value, it’s an absolute thrill from start to finish. Die hard Nick Warren and Global Underground fans are sure to be drooling all over this package for a long time to come 8.5/10