VA: 5 Years of No. 19 Music

Undoubtedly, No. 19 Music is strongly associated with Art Department—how could it be otherwise when the Toronto-based electronic music imprint is run by Jonny White, who partners with Kenny Glasgow in Art Department? Yet while the group's music has appeared on the label, so too has the work of many other artists. Compiled and selected by White himself, the release's fourteen exclusives, then, serve not only to celebrate the label's five years of existence but to help spread the word about its roster, too.

It's not hard to understand why Art Department & BLUD's “Who is Jake Holmes” was selected as the comp's opener, given how incredible it is. If anything, it's so strong it threatens to make everything that comes after seem secondary. Opening with a prototypically dark and sexy Art Department pulse, the tune, a standout in the group's recent sets, derives its primary kick from the incorporation of Robert Plant's “Dazed and Confused” wail and the raw guitar textures that similarly echo across the track's bass-throbbing swing.

As if to emphasize how critical Art Department is to No. 19 Music, the collection follows the opener with another track by the group, “Insomniac,” though one that remixed by Eric Volta presents an altogether different side than “Who is Jake Holmes”: the sombre “Insomniac” not only includes the sound of Glasgow's unmistakable voice, but complements his haunting vocal with an atmospheric and synthesizer-heavy arrangement that's worlds removed from the take-no-prisoners vibe of the opener. One more Art Department-related cut follows, this one a solo White affair called “Rainsong” that was, in fact, the first release to appear on the label and here appears in a punchy, uptempo house version that remixer Mood Edit (aka Adam Marshall) fashioned around the time of the cut's 2009 creation.

While No. 19 Music focuses on house and techno, it's not so focused that room can't be made for the occasional left turn, a case in point “Nasty Boys” by Wolf & Lamb vocalist Aquarius Heaven and French outfit dOP, which, in a real head-turner, overlays ghetto-tinged skank with sleazy MC turns. The music's funkier side also gets showcased during Lauren Lane's “Was In Luv,” whose thudding groove is offset by falsetto-laced vocals. In addition, Louie Fresco powers “Dez” with a lithe funk-house pulse, Maher Daniel soothes with the warm, synth-sprinkled breeze of “Emotional Content,” and Clayton Steele serves up a hypnotic, Crosstown Rebels-styled workout in the form of “Window Pain.”

If there's one thing that repeatedly asserts itself, it's how body-focused the label's underground electronic material is. It's solidly crafted, of course, and forward-thinking, too, yet nevertheless fundamentally geared to get bodies up and moving. Thudding, low-riding bass lines and slinky house beats form infectious undercurrents in virtually all of the compilation's tracks, and consequently 5 Years of No. 19 Music comes across as a thoroughly dancefloor-oriented collection. And at ninety-five minutes, the set clearly offers a more than generous overview of the label's style and content.

July 2014