The clichés about DJ mixes are well worn. It's a journey, it's educating the listener, it's telling a story. All those descriptions, hackneyed though they may be, apply to Erol Alkan's new 'Bugged Out' mix and 'Bugged In' selection, but they don't come close to capturing the indefinable magic that makes it sing. That comes from the sixth sense all great DJs have, the unconscious force that draws them to the next song, somehow knowing it will fit with the previous one even though it might seem unlikely. Call it musical clairvoyance, seeing into the sonic future. And no-one has the gift more than Alkan.
It's there from the start on CD1 of this two CD set - one side club-oriented, one aimed at home listening. He opens with the pulsing bass and twangy guitars of 'To Our Disco Friends' by Smith N Hack, a track that's ten years old, but which sounds bang up to date. He follows it with 'Sensation' by legendary Chicago house DJ Ron Hardy, then 'Gridlock' by In Flagranti. Who else would put those three tracks together, spanning three decades in the process? No-one, that's who.
Erol mixed the set live in a couple of takes, no computerised beat matching or studio trickery. Why? "For me, that's what DJing is about, spontaneity, mistakes, records trying to keep up with one another" he says. It took just two takes, as he was nearing the end of the second, the sub bass of Spandex's 'The Bull' shook the speaker off the mantelpiece of his music room at home and sent it crashing to the floor, leaving a deep dent in the floorboards. "I just thought, It's going so well I'm going to carry on," he laughs. "I didn't want to detract from capturing that moment. That's where - for me - the electricity lies: in the moment, not crafting something that's perfect on a computer." Of course, it's not the first time Erol has released a Bugged Out compilation. The current mix comes eight years after 2004's landmark 'A Bugged Out' mix, which defined the then nascent electro house scene, featuring music from the then relatively unknown Justice alongside Steve Bug and Roman Flugal. However, Erol feels that it was the second disc, the 'Bugged In' selection, that made the most impact. "The club mix was fine, it was representative of me evolving at that time, but it was the more gentle - and far more musical - mix that seems to have stayed with people over the years." The reason is simple enough. Erol is an obsessive crate-digger, both real world and virtual. He spends thousands of hours searching for lost gems. And his knowledge of music is encyclopaedic. He was keen that the 'Bugged In' disc have a similar impact this time round and spent time searching for the right songs. "The internet means that everyone has access to the same records these days, however many there are out there, there are a hundred times more which have yet to exist in digital form" he explains. "The only way to stand out is to find tracks that people have forgotten about, music which is off the beaten track. Then you have to assemble them into something that works as a whole."
It certainly does that. The 'Bugged In' disc is a revelatory listen. It starts with 'Don't You Know' by the Jan Hammer Group. Yes, that Jan Hammer, the one who composed the Miami Vice Theme. "That's what many people know him for, but in the late '70s he was considered the top electronic musician in the world," says Erol. "It's a beautiful record, and miles away from what people would expect from him." It's followed by 'Leipzig' by Matthew Herbert, which he describes as like "an electronic version of 'A Horse With No Name' by America, but documenting a trip to a night club rather then the desert." Perhaps the most surprising track is 'Major Tom (Coming Home)' by The Space Lady, an electronic cover version of Peter Schilling's 1983 hit song performed by a Los Angeles busker and sourced by Erol on cassette. How's that for hunting down an obscurity.
Looking at the two CDs as a whole, Erol sees them as a statement of where his head is currently at. "It's an exciting time right now," he says. "It feels like the year 2000, just before electroclash happened. Not the sound of the music as such, but the way that all these different strands of music are coming together."
It's an interesting thought. As a taste maker, he's uniquely placed to make such predictions. Either way, his 'Bugged Out' mix is an exhilarating document, club music at it's most urgent and irresistible, the 'Bugged In' selection is after hour sounds at their most dreamlike. No-one else DJs like this.