Fabric, the record label arm of the London club of the same name, has been releasing DJ mixes once a month since 2001. The series began as a way of showcasing the forward-thinking sounds of their house-promoted parties: the hip-hop and breaks of Friday’s Fabric, and the house and electro of Saturday’s FabricLive. Both club and label are consistently ahead of the curve — when Diplo blew up with MIA’s Piracy Funds Terrorism Vol. 1 in early ’05, he was already slated for a FabricLive mix in October. This rise to DJ superstardom is unusual for a Fabric artist; the label prefers to highlight DJs who fly just under the radar, in effect functioning as its own DJ, the sort who surprises you by consistently pulling choice obscure tracks from his crates.
Even in a series this stellar, missteps are unavoidable. Enter FabricLive 26: The Herbaliser. Jake Wherry and Ollie Teeba have put together 24 songs that a lot of people will kind of like. This mix won’t inspire whooping yells of excitement, the pumping of fists, or the aficionado’s stamp of approval and my favorite hip-hop gesture — the hand-raise timed to the nonchalant head nod. Let me be quick to say I don’t count myself among them; when it comes to hip-hop, I’m a moderately informed outsider. When I knew eight of the mix’s tracks straightaway, after a grandiose moment imagining myself among the nonchalant head-nodders, reality took hold and with it my skepticism at Jake and Ollie’s ability to craft an innovative mix. There are some quality tracks here, including two spacey funked-out tunes by the Herbaliser, a frenetic dance number by Basement Jaxx doppelgangers Bugz in the Attic, and James Brown’s smooth (though oddly placed) ‘Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing’. But randomly strewn reggae tracks, like bullets tearing through the album’s heart, prove fatal. The Herbaliser went wrong by trying to produce what they call a “real party mix” instead of maintaining the raw, edgy sound of their Ninja Tune records.
They would have done much better to follow the example of their label and put out, instead of music they thought people wanted to hear, music that would unnerve, surprise, and ultimately convert us.