DJ-Kicks – James Holden

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Want the honest-to-God truth? Trance hasn’t been worth a damn since 1993.

Somewhere between DJ Tiësto and Paul van Dyk, somebody mistook the subgenre’s hypnotic aesthetic for monotonous drones and repetitive pounding. Ever since then, simply mentioning the term can cause sideways glances and sour expressions. Those protective of the DJ-Kicks series might be on edge gazing upon the track list that James Holden has put together.

Although many of the artist names may look unfamiliar to most club goers, there is a method to Holden’s madness. Connecting seemingly disparate dots, the Border Community label head gets trance back in touch with its psychedelic origins and techno’s propulsive rhythm. Quite often, the beat takes a back seat to a series of loops, whirrs, and arpeggios, recalling the early works of Tangerine Dream and Giorgio Moroder.

The debt that techno owes to new age music is rarely mentioned these days, but Holden’s choices give weight to that belief through his segues and track selection. New age meets experimental rock head-on in his remix of Mogwai’s “The Sun Smells Too Loud,” an exercise in tribal drums and distorted frequencies.

Holden’s own “Triangle Folds” threads tonal patterns in and out of opening and closing filters, inverting the melodies to great effect. Before long, the beat works its way past the analog warmth with cuts from Legowelt, Walls, and Lukas Nystrand, encouraging the body to get loose along with the mind. As the freedom dance of Nystrand’s “Never Fail” melts into the ecstatic synths of Didier Pacquette’s “Arwen, Namarie,” it is clear that James Holden has crafted one of the most experimental, challenging, and rewarding mixes within the DJ-Kicks series to date.