I was at baggage claim in San Francisco airport in November 2008, just about to embark on my first visit to the city, when I received a call from my agent, Matt Johnson, telling me that Huw Owen from the production company Something Else had been in touch requesting an Essential Mix from me for Pete Tong’s BBC Radio 1 show. December 13th had originally been suggested as the date of broadcast, but in the end we settled on January 17th, with delivery requested 5 days earlier on the 12th.
It was a busy time with the year drawing to a close, so I decided to get 2008 behind me and set aside early January to lock myself away in the studio and put the 2-hour mix together. This was just a few weeks on from the 5th anniversary of my DJ comeback, so I fixed on a representative selection of the biggest tunes I’d been playing during the past 5 years. It was quite a laborious process – before I could start the actual mixing part I had to edit every track, and in a coherent way, to a length of around 2 and a half minutes average, inclusive of mix in and out points. I had a pool of about 90 tracks that fitted the criteria I’d set, it wasn’t as straightforward as just editing the 43 tracks I ended up featuring – in order to have the necessary options once I started to piece the mix together I needed to have all these tracks at my disposal, just as I would have if I was out deejaying in a club, so the only thing to do was edit all 90 to the required length, even though I knew that only around half would make the final cut.
Once that task was eventually completed and all these bite-sized versions were all taken across into my laptop, enabling me to vari-speed them via PCDJ whilst I recorded across to my studio computer into Cool Edit Pro, I methodically jigsawed the mix together track by track, before adding overdubs (fx, samples, textures) in a similar way to what I do live using the Revox (reel to reel).
What resulted would prove to be one of the landmarks of my DJ career, bringing my name to the attention of a whole new generation of dance music enthusiasts, people who weren’t previously aware of me, or indeed many of the tracks featured in the mix. I was DJing in London the night it was broadcast and listened in my hotel room between 3am-5am before grabbing some sleep, oblivious to how much it was all about to blow up. Pete Tong, the same age as me and a direct contemporary of mine from the early ‘80s Jazz-Funk scene (he in the South, me in the North), introduced it as ‘probably the most overdue of overdue Essential Mix debuts in our history’.
The instant acclaim it received caught me totally unawares – I’d expected no more than a mixed response, given Radio 1’s ‘in new music we trust’ slogan of the time. I thought a lot of the audience would have been critical of so much older stuff being in the mix, music of the ‘70s and ‘80s providing the main source, so I was gobsmacked to discover the response was almost 100% positive. Further to this I hadn’t taken into account that within days (and in some cases hours) of it being broadcast it had been uploaded onto blogs all around the world. I just hadn’t considered the bigger picture with the mix going global, introducing many, many more people to what I’m about. Now, wherever I am in the world, people talk to me about the Essential Mix – it quickly become regarded as something of a classic, which is very pleasing on a personal level. You strive to make something special and always hope that people will connect with what you’re doing, but it’s a shock and a buzz, in equal measures, when it happens on this type of scale.
It would also highlight the ever-growing re-edits movement, as illustrated in this subsequent piece from Mixmag, where I highlighted some of the edits I included – by Danny Krivit, Situation, Dimitri from Paris, Todd Terje, Barna Soundmachine, Joey Negro and myself:
The following year there was a fresh wave of interest when it was chosen, as part of the Essential Mix 500 celebrations, as one of 10 classics spanning the show’s then entire history, which stretches all the way back to 1993. The selected mixes were:
30.10.93: First show, Pete Tong studio session.
18.12.94: Paul Oakenfold Goa show.
28.07.96: First live Ibiza show – Danny Rampling, Sasha, Pete Tong.
02.03.97: Daft Punk studio session.
15.06.97: David Holmes Funk & Soul mix.
02.05.98: Pete Tong, Sasha and Paul Oakenfold at first Creamfields.
31.12.99: Carl Cox Millennium Eve.
22.05.05: Sasha Maida Vale.
29.11.08: Flying Lotus
17.01.09: Greg Wilson
The BBC edited up a series of ‘Mini Mixes’ as accompanying downloads:
For the 5th anniversary in 2014, I deconstructed the mix for a whopping 277-minute podcast, featuring all of the source tracks in Essential Mix order, but this time unmixed and in their full-length glory, before they’d been truncated into the 43 parts that, with the addition of the fx, samples and textures, made the whole:
A gift that keeps on giving, in 2015 it received a further lease of life when it was selected by US magazine Rolling Stone as one of ‘The Top 25 Internet Mixes of All-Time’:
A week on Saturday (January 26th) I’ll be playing a special selection of some of the tracks included in the Essential Mix when I’m at XOYO in Shoreditch. Given I was in London the night it was broadcast, it seems fitting to re-visit the mix at one of my favourite spots in the city. Tickets for the event here: https://www.residentadvisor.net/events/1188378
Essential Mix Wikipedia: