All dance music compilations albums are the same. Tired collections of songs remixed for the 14th time by some unknown DJ under the banner of big brand dance label. Right? Well its not always been like that....
On the 14th of October 1994 a rather unique looking dance CD mix album hit the shelves. It was titled Renaissance: The Mix Collection and was mixed by a couple DJs called Sasha and John Digweed. Sure there were a few mix CDs available in 1994 but how many of them can you remember now and how many of them can you remember the first time you heard them....? Well, this one I can.
Back in 1994 I was just starting to get into the club scene and I was discovering the delights of The Tunnel and The Arches clubs in Glasgow. One night my flat mate at the time said "you gotta listen to this Jules". I remember him carefully unfolding the box and putting on the first CD. As the tracks started pumping out, I thought to myself that this mix CD was a little bit special.
Renaissance was special and it was special for a number of good reasons. The packaging for CD could have easily been mistaken for a classical music record with its Michelangelo inspired cover. The theme continued all the way into the packaging as it revealed the 3 mix CDs, coloured orange, green and blue. The CDs were mixed by Sasha and John Digweed, who were at the time of release, resident DJs at the club night Renaissance. The CD was to act as promotional tool for the club and was one of the first mix CDs to have dedicated and effective marketing campaign behind it. It also help send the two DJs, who had only recently become friends and working partners, into the stratosphere of the DJ world. It was a huge commercial success and it spawned many more Renaissance albums and a whole market of branded mix CDs from the likes of Cream and Ministry of Sound.
As I listen to the album again, it still has the power to stir. The albums starts at a modest pace with three remixes of the Leftfield track Song for Life. When For What You Dream Of is skillfully mixed in you instinctively reach for volume control and raise your hands in the air like it was 1994 all over again! I go all nuts again when half way through the CD Perfect Motion by Sunscreem comes on with its uplifting vocals and house beats. Towards the end of CD things really lift up with probably one of my favourite tracks on the whole album, Not Over Yet (Perfecto Mix) by State of Grace. Its uplifiting chorus reminds of all those nights spent hugging strangers in packed nightclubs in a state of musical euphoria.
CD2 starts of a little darker with claps of thunder and strange electronic noises with a track by Fluke called Slide. This then progresses in to a mix of progressive and deep house tracks with thumping baselines. By this time I half expect my neighbours to call the police who will come and arrest me under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. (For those that remember that far back it was a very controversial law which was often known as the anti-rave law).
For me, the last CD is my favourite. Opening up with a remix of the M-People track How Can I Love You More it swiftly changes tone with an excellent selection of deep house tracks including an excellent remix of Moby's Go. By the time the CD gets to the last two tracks I'm reaching for my bottle of water and chilling out with a vocal heavy track from My Friend Sam / Viola Wills.
Sitting back and relaxing it occurred to me that a mix CD released over 20 years ago would be worthless by now. Copies would be resigned to car boot sales and lofts across the country. I'm lucky enough to still have my copy. Sure, it's a bit worn, but the CDs play fine. But why do I consider myself lucky? Well, Renaissance: The Mix Collection has become a bit of a collector's item. If you wanted to pick up a copy today from Amazon.co.uk it will set you back nearly £90. Even a copy in good condition on ebay will set you back £45. There can't be that many mix CDs that can demand that sort of price.
Even now, this album is a masterpiece. Though it started a whole industry of big name mix CDs from big name DJs from even bigger brands, it still stands tall and masterful. In a world of electronically mixed CDs that are hard to tell apart from each other, Renaissance: The Mix Collection still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.
By Julian Baird