Various - Toolroom Knights 3.0, mixed by Mark Knight

Image For Various - Toolroom Knights 3.0, mixed by Mark Knight

It’s still impressive how much of an iron grip Mark Knight and his Toolroom Records label have wrestled over dance music in recent years. This is a geezer with some serious ambition, but he also carries an understanding of club music that stretches well beyond the commercial sensibilities that have seen him take both his imprint and DJ career from strength to strength.

Toolroom is defined by it canvassing nearly every form of house music – from electro to tech, progressive, deep and funky – every release breathes authenticity, and its growing stable of producers keep on point with the rapidly changing trends. The only common thread is a tendency for upfront groove; that indefinable ‘Toolroom’ sound. Knight’s Toolroom Knights 2.0 compilation from 2009 was simply one of the best releases of the year, taking us on a journey that started deep and funky, evolved into smooth progressive before ending in ear-shattering peaktime tech-house. Are we ready for another slice? You betcha.

However, things are slightly different this time around. Rather than a comprehensive journey through house music like we saw on Toolroom Knights 2.0, this is a much more focused affair that dwells mostly in the realm of rolling, kicking tech-house. Mark Knight and his label are as diverse as ever, and you can’t fault the two discs for covering a lot of ground; it’s just that this time, there’s more of a streamlined approach to the energy. What we get with Toolroom Knights 3.0 is an extremely solid collection of tunes that somehow lacks the flow you’d expect, and hence doesn’t reach the same high standards.

However, that’s not to downplay the quality of Toolroom Knights 3.0, as there’s truly not a dud track on here, showing Mark Knight’s ear for a killer cut is still well and truly intact. The first disc begins with some deep and jazzy grooves from Sergio Fernandez, deep tech courtesy of George Andrews and Chris Special, as well as some quality tribal beats from Mark Knight himself, illustrating just how versatile he is as a producer. It’s a fairly “locked groove” affair for the most part, until the techy rhythms reach a peak with Hauswerk’s Clockwerk, and things are blown open with the looped vocal madness of Bass Kleph’s Hey Ya, with the Australian mainstay delivering one of house music’s most effective weapons from the past few months. Sharam’s gorgeously deep mix of King Britt’s Now keeps us on a high, before it’s brought back down again with Knight’s mix of Faithless’s Sun To Me, a predictable end to the mix that’s no match for his take on Music Matters that brought Toolroom Knights 2.0 to such a memorable close.

The second mix starts on more of a deep and funky tip, laying down some super sexy grooves from Loka, some hypnotic tech from Oxia and Eric Borgo, while things get heavy with Mark Knight & Funkagenda’s Shogun. The sultry grooves grow even stronger with Alex Tepper’s In, Out, Life and we’re taking to some wickedly deep places, before it builds to a glorious crescendo with Mark Knight and Wolfgang Gartner’s peaktime progressive bomb Conscindo. There’s some seriously excellent tuneage here, and it’s a little more consistent with the eclectic approach that you’d expect from Mark Knight, though it still never tips over the line into “superb”.

Toolroom Knights 3.0 is more a collection of upfront dancefloor weapons than a compilation that’ll have any kind of longevity, and unlike its predecessor it probably won’t be remembered six months down the track. There’s a slight predictability creeping into Toolroom’s output; a label having its own distinct sound can be a blessing and a curse, and a fair chunk of their releases fall into the “tough and techy” basket.

Still, electronic music has been largely lacking in ‘new’ sounds over the past 12 months, so it’s not surprising that we’re being served up fewer surprises. However, none of this means that Toolroom Knights 3.0 isn’t worthy of a listen. Instead of being defining, it falls into the category of being just another excellent tech-house release.

Toolroom Knights 3.0 is out now on Toolroom Records.