Jeff Mills - The Exhibitionist
Tue 17th Feb, 2004 Music Reviewsin
Jeff Mills... where do you start even weighing up the magnitude of this man, or the contribution he has made to the world of techno? Ask many a techno geek to rate their top five producers, top five DJs and top five mixed CDs and the name Jeff Mills would surely pop up in at least half of the lists, if not more. As a producer he is prolific, and forever changing his uncompromising aesthetic to look to tomorrow; from the gritty, grinding and tough minimal techno of Purposemaker to the more conceptual art works of Axis and Tomorrow. As an esteemed DJ he has turned the world of techno on its head many a time, and left crowds gob smacked at the lightning speed of his hands, his three-deck technical aptitude and his ability to morph an alarming rate of unsuspecting tracks into an opus of sorts. He has, in other words, certainly earned and commandeered our respect, appreciation and ears.
The mere musical direction and twists that his production has taken over the years is evidence that Jeff Mills isn’t one for resting still in one spot. The release of Jeff Mills’ latest project, ‘The Exhibitionist’, also shows that he has moved on. As an entirety ‘The Exhibitionist’ project includes Mills’ first ever DVD release, which exposes, in up close detail, his dexterity on the turntables and this very mix CD. And, as a mix CD, it has been welcomed with much anticipation. It has been eight years since his last mix CD: the seminal album that turned many a discerning electronic fiend into a techno head. Live at the Liquid Room, Tokyo. Given the influence and intensity of that mixed CD it is almost impossible not compare this new release to ‘Live at Liquid Room’. However, I think if we can try and erase those automatic comparisons from our minds when listening to this release then we’ll find yet another Jeff Mills audio slave to thrash on repeat.
In my eyes this is pretty vintage Jeff Mills. Sure, it might not be as innovative and fresh as some may have liked, but it this is classic Jeff Mills’ dance floor material, all the way. If I heard him play this on the dance floor I would still lose it, no questions. Anyone who has attended a techno event in Australia over the past one to two years would have surely heard half of these tracks played by local jocks. Surprisingly I don’t find this to be too much of a hindrance. It all boils down to the mix and combination, of which Jeff is an expert.
Starting with an introduction of what sounds like Mills’ ‘Entrance to Metropolis’ from his renowned re-scoring of Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis, which leads straight into one of my favourite Mills’ tracks, Condor to Mallorca. There are loads of classic Mills tracks to savor. The Bells, 4Art, Tango, Sugar is Sweeter and his remix of Sims’ Alarms all surface. Not to mention the few untitled tracks that appear and show that Jeff to still be busy in the studio, and there are some crazy tracks, too. ‘Untitled’ (Track 24) strides back to Mills’ of old. Minimal techno. While ‘Untitled’ (Track 32) is a beautiful washed over track with an emphasis on this underlying pattering that swells alongside the placid (almost inaudible) strings until it builds itself into a stripped back percussive frenzy, bleeding into Core by Samuel L. Sessions and back again to yet another ‘Untitled’ (Track 34) that surpasses all expectations with its liquid footsteps. See, never resting, constantly moving: that’s Jeff.
As the title suggests this is an exhibition, not only of Mills’ DJing skills or production, but also of a host of other techno auteurs that all lend themselves to what Jeff is trying to create and portray. The way ‘Condor to Mallorca’ splices into Oliver Ho’s ‘Organic Synthetic’, and the way that splices into Samuel L Sessions Dances D’Afrique within the opening four minutes of this mix is a fine example of what I am talking about. As is the way the beautiful Latino house sounds of John Arnold’s Respectful works into the infamous Millsian Tango while that runs alongside a Mills’ ‘Untitled’. There are too many great tracks to name yet artists such as Samuel L, Jesper Dahlbeck, Oscar Mulero, Ben Sims, Monika Kruse, Gary Martin, Paul Mac, Claude Young, Octave One and the Aztec Mystic (yes, Aguila, that beautiful follow up to Jaguar, mmm) should give a thorough indication of what Jeff Mills is working with and trying to ‘exhibit’.
This all sounds like peaches and cream, and those who have heard it are probably waiting for a comment on that infamous train wreck. Smack bang towards the end of Alarms you can hear it plain as day. There is no hiding it, nor does Jeff want to. The press release describes this as warts and all mix, and it is. Though I think if you pinched Jeff Mills you might find his human, and he might scream a little when you pinch him. Funny huh? And if you’ve ever witnessed him up close (or now I can say, if you have ever seen his DVD) you’ll know how hard and how far he pushes those three decks, and that music. For some this is no excuse, (horses for courses) for me this gives the mix a feel of spontaneity and live-ness.
Rather the insatiable track selection overrides any malaise. The mix may not be so forward thinking that it blows your brains out, but I have listened to it over and over again since I got it, and you know what? It makes me move. It makes me think about the builds and drops and the composition of the set. It makes me think about the man behind the turntables and the artists behind the tracks. It makes me swim in the sounds of techno. It nudges me to remember why I love this sound, and Jeff Mills. It does what it set out to do: exhibit. Jeff Mills has done his job.