VA: Live And Remastered
Ministry of Sound

If Ministry of Sound's massive, five-CD box set Live And Remastered sounds like it's of another time and place, it should: all five DJ sets are actually sets laid down twenty years ago and digitally cleaned up to match current sound standards. What's significant about 1991? It was then that the South London venue opened its doors as an alcohol-free nightclub dedicated to house music (on September 21st, 1991, to be precise), making 2011 a significant milestone in Ministry of Sound's ongoing story. The release is obviously a time capsule of sorts, one capturing house music as a fresh and developing form and, not surprisingly, the vibe is largely joyous, even rapturous throughout. Drum machines, pianos, and soulful vocals appear repeatedly, as the gentlemen behind the decks—house godfathers Larry Levan, David Morales, Kenny Carpenter, Todd Terry and, finally, Ministry of Sound co-founder Justin Berkmann—move the mixes along with dispatch.

The late Larry Levan is first out of the gate with a driving, seventy-minute mix that oozes funk and soul as it tears through cuts by Ceybil (“Love So Special”), Soft House Company (“What U Need,” “A Little Piano”), 4 To The Bar (“Slam Me Baby”), Crystal Waters (“Makin' Happy”), and others. Goosed by an insistently honking sax riff, a jazzy trumpet solo, and sizzling hi-hats, Robert Owens's hot-wired “I'll Be Your Friend” roars with bass-thumping fury, while Sounds Of Blackness's “The Pressure” wails in its own impassioned way, especially with a hyperexcited diva leading the gospel-tinged charge. Turbocharged to the max, the material is anything but restrained, and the mix won't win any awards for subtlety (especially so during the orgasmic, adults-only mix of “Slam Me Baby”). Even so, it doesn't take much to be seduced by the swinging grooves and serpentine bass lines that power the mix as unstoppably as an army platoon—consider the delicious breakdowns in “Slam Me Baby” and “Makin' Happy” as sufficient proof.

Morales' jacking mix kicks neatly into gear with a grooving Tony Humphries rerub of Planet X's “Once Upon a Dancefloor” before the call-and-response of Black Sheep's roof-raiser “Strobelite Honey” hits. Morales' steamy set thunders its way through 4th Measure Men's “4 You,” Inner City's thudding “Pennies From Heaven,” The Daou's “Surrender Yourself,” and Degrees Of Motion's euphoric “Do You Want It Right Now” before easing out via Chez Damier's “Can You Feel It” and Mission Control's “Outta Limits.” Twenty years is a long time—an incredibly long time by electronic music standards—so it comes as a bit of surprise to discover that some material, while occasionally raw, hardly feels like it's aged. Linden C's hard-hitting “Deep Beats Vol 1,” for example, sounds like it could have been created by some old school-lovin' producer yesterday, and the exchange between the, ahem, guest and the clipboard-wielding doorman is as hilarious today as it must have been when it first appeared. For the record, the promo provided for review included only the first two of the five mixes, so no comment can be made on the other three. It's a safe bet, however, that they're of a piece with the Levan and Morales sets; a scan of the three absent mixes' tracklists indicates that pieces by Todd Terry, Saint Etienne, Chaka Khan, Natalie Cole, and Deee-Lite appear, which offers some hint of how they might sound.

November 2011