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There's a reason that dance music compilations do good business. For starters, most club/dance music acts struggle to maintain any kind of ongoing presence, and only 10% of the artists probably last long enough to release their own studio albums. It's also the sort of music that lends itself extremely well to the format compilation. Tracks are often collected by theme (trance, funky house, electro-house or whatever), can be mixed or unmixed and nearly always offer exceptional value for money, based on the number of different songs that you get.
The Very Best of Euphoric Dance Breakdown (EDB) started life back in 1999, when the big tunes were all trance and when the title actually meant something. Originally released on the Telstar label, these were somewhere between underground and very commercial, but had that euphoric, uplifting trance sound very much in common across all the tracks. The early EDB series were renowned (and treasured by many) for a solid mix, packed with good tunes. Sales volumes were such that in the mid 2000s, the format was bought out by the Ministry of Sound (MOS) label, which continued to release one or two compilations under the same name annually, and has done pretty much ever since.
When MOS took over the series, there was a marked change. For starters, the new format often extended to three discs, rather than two. But more fundamentally, the overall sound and content of the compilations changed quite significantly. The title started to have less significance, as the compilation became more of a general dance music compilation and often distanced itself from the euphoric sound that had perpetuated the original volumes. The mixed format became more of a 'non-stop' format, with each track marginally still running into the next, but not really conforming to any definition of a true mix. The new format now also included a selection of new music and older classics, as if to attract as wide an audience as possible.
For many listeners, this was a disappointing move and as soon as MOS took over, the series effectively lost a huge following. Very mainstream, commercial tastes in dance music have meant that unlike many, I've continued to follow the series. The 2010 edition is currently available as a three disc boxed set featuring sixty tracks (twenty per disc) largely in a mixed format. There's a download available via www.amazon.co.uk that also features sixty tracks plus three full-length mixes. This is arguably better value (you get the full length version of each track, plus the mix and it's usually a pound cheaper) but the track listing is marginally different. Curiously, the 2010 album is not available to download at the iTunes store, unlike the previous two.
This review reflects the physical format.
Like previous volumes, EDB 2010 positions itself clearly as "serving up the biggest upfront hits, trance anthems and all time classics in one essential package." Upfront is a horrible word that gets thrown around the world of dance music far more than it should. It basically means 'latest release' but because that doesn't sound particularly cool, DJs and music labels have instead opted to use an entirely new word. Anyway, that aside, the description is reasonably accurate, although the arrangement of the tracks is, at times, a little odd.
Disc one is, indeed, the 'upfront' one, largely comprising the newest tunes. The majority have only very recently been released (if at all) but the mix is peppered with songs from much farther back in 2009, which feels slightly out of sorts with the description. The second disc is the trance anthem one and stays fairly faithful to this, albeit in a very commercial way. The larger part of the material here is commercial, vocal pop dance/trance and a long way away from the more euphoric material that perpetuated the earlier volumes. The third disc is the one that is supposed to contain the all time classics. There are certainly a selection of old school anthems here that will go down pretty well with any crowd but there is also a good helping of more recent material, some of it relatively obscure. This makes disc three a bit of a mixed bag, in all fairness.
Certainly, at face value, however, there's a strong range of material here that would appeal to many tastes. It's time, however, to look a bit closer at the actual mixes, methinks.
Disc One - That 'Upfront' Mix
Disco one opens strongly with a string of commercial successes. The ongoing, insatiable appetite for electro house, grime and R & B continues here, with a number of notable hits. The disc loses its way as it proceeds though, verging briefly into trance territory and then swinging back towards more progressive house and a less accessible sound. The mix is, generally, short on familiar, commercial vocal hits and despite being the most 'current' of the three discs, it's easily the least accessible to the average audience. The mix falters terribly at track five too, when it all sort of stops just to allow Calvin Harris's I'm Not Alone to start up. The inclusion of Dizzee Rascal's Bonkers is tiresome too - it was on the MOS Clubber's Guide to Summer 2009, so quite why it's supposed to be 'upfront' I'm not entirely sure.
Riverside (Let's Go) features a (naughty) sample from Tupac Shakur ("Riverside mother f****r!") overlaid against a hypnotic bass line and a mad instrumental. It's a reworking of a new track, originally from a Dutch DJ now credited to Samson, Sidney and Wizard Sleeve.
Nick Douwma is better known by his DJ name (Sub Focus) and a remix of his most recent single Could This Be Real is featured here. It's a significant deviation from his drum and bass roots - an inoffensive and catchy house number, replete with an old school piano riff and an uplifting vocal. It comes into its own when the dub-style bass line kicks in - the slightly dirty sound pitches it alongside other tracks pretty nicely here.
Time for a mash up next, fusing LMFAO's I'm in Miami Bitch with Chuckie's Let The Bass Kick. It's a glorious fusion of rap, twisting synths and a good solid beat. It's just the right side of commercial, but dirty and naughty enough to feel just a bit forbidden.
Tiesto's last album Kaleidoscope has been criminally ignored in the commercial sector and the latest single, Escape Me, is featured here. Avicci's At Night Remix respects the song's trance roots, but transforms it into more of an electro house number, retaining CC Sheffield's growling vocal to awesome effect.
Anyone who has even the remotest knowledge of television will have heard of the hit show Glee. Music from the show is extremely successful at the moment, notably the cast's cover of a track by Journey called Don't Stop Believin'. Inevitably, even the clubs aren't safe from this and so the Weekend Warriors arrive here with their own cover. It's cheese-tastic (although not as much as the Glee Cast), vocally sounding a little like the original and retaining a very retro, 80s sound to it.
Back in 2006, Icelandic group Sigur Ros had a top ten hit with a weird song called Hoppipolla. In 2009, British DJ Chicane transformed the song into an ambient, trance house tune called Poppiholla. It's sublime; a very simple piano-led instrumental, amidst swirling synths and a gentle, but progressive beat that somehow manages to be chilled and uplifting at the same time.
Finally, rounding the disc off is a great track from Fatboy Slim. I've never been a big fan of Slim's material, but I love Star 69, particularly the Ronario Remix featured here. It's an exercise in truly dirty electro house, all pulsating bass, spaced out instrumentals and filthy lyrics. It's a great workout to end the mix on.
Disc Two - The Trancey Bit In The Middle
The second disc is really the only one that for which the 'euphoric' tag could fairly be applied. The pace here is pretty frantic and the mix is a reasonably consistent selection of trance, pop/dance and house tunes. It's extremely commercial however (fans of the original series will find this very mainstream indeed.) Nearly every tune here features a vocal, so fans of instrumental house and trance are largely not catered for here. The age of the tunes varies quite widely; some of the songs here are reasonably new releases, whereas other go back eight or nine years.
This disc suffers most from the 'label favourites' - commercial acts or particular songs that regularly feature across the board on several Ministry of Sound compilations. Euro-pop singer September, for example, has featured on six different MOS compilations in the last two years despite only really having one commercial success with Cry For You. Fragma's Memory appears on three compilations alone. For Agnelli and Nelson, it's a strange anniversary - their tune Embrace featured on the Euphoric Dance compilation back in 2000 and now, ten years later, features here again. Chicane is the only artist to feature twice on the same album, with Autumn Tactics on disc two and the aforementioned Poppiholla on disc one.
This is still, however, the strongest and most consistent of the three discs, with some belting classics and uplifting highlights here. This is one of the only places on the entire album where the mix is a little creative too - JDS's Nine Ways blends extremely effectively into Dee Dee's Forever.
Ascension's For a Lifetime was first released back in 2002. It's a gorgeous vocal trance workout, with fabulous, ethereal vocals from Erin Lordan and a pulsating, steady bass line. The remix comes from Oceanlab (otherwise known as Above and Beyond), which pretty much guarantees this as an anthem.
Fragma's Memory is a great tune, another example of why it's quite puzzling that they never really had any commercial success after Toca's Miracle. Memory's plodding Euro dance beat combines extremely well with a poppy, clean female vocal. The mix here is very commercial - the stronger, darker hard house remixes are, perhaps, a little more interesting.
Stand up for a rousing cover version next please. Starting Rock take on the 80's classic Don't Go by Yazoo and produce something really quite brilliant. Diva Avari's vocal is similar enough to Alison Moyet's to be sympathetic but that pounding bass line is nothing like Vince Clarke might have chosen. This is probably the album's finest BGT - Big Gay Tune - and we love it!
The album's crowning glory must, however, be Modal's You're Not Alone. Originating back in 2004 this is a heavily synthesised number with a gorgeously simple female vocal. There's something space age about this tune and it's highly infectious.
Back To The Old School?
As ever, disc three should really be called the 'anything else' disc. It's supposed to be old school classics, but in all honesty, they run out around track eight, before a mish mash of different sounds follow, some good and some not so good. As a mix it suffers from this terribly. Some tracks simply stop before the next one starts, as though the mixer just decided that he wouldn't bother but the massive fluctuation in sounds and styles doesn't help this. Arguably, whilst the older tunes are classics in their own right, some have dated rather badly in comparison to the material on the other two discs (and compared to some of the songs here) and this is easily going to be the lesser-played of the three discs in most collections.
Curiously, once the disc gets 'bored' of the old school stuff, there follows a selection of more upfront (there's that word again) funky house tunes that would arguably have sat better at the end of disc one (and would probably have cheered that entire mix up).
Legato's Bonedigger (Beanflicker) is a triumph. A raucous mixture of disco beats and horns there's a very curious 'I really wish I was a...' vocal sample that's sure to raise a few smiles. The 7th Heaven Vocal Mix (featured here) is very accessible.
It's hard not to highlight the Freemasons wherever they appear, and this is not exception. The debut single Love on My Mind is featured here, still resplendent with Amanda Wilson's vocals and the retro-disco funky house sound still sounding fresh even though this track is now five years old.
If you want old school, how about the Nightcrawlers' Push The Feeling On? This is the original MK vocal dub mix, often copied afterwards (the Nightcrawlers made a whole out of it) but nothing is better than this subtle little house number. Everything about this song is infectious - the weird sampled male vocal and that instrumental solo. A veritable classic!
Another cover version to round things off comes from Kurd Maverick, whose retro-modern electro cover of New Order's Blue Monday sits well alongside the other electro house tracks here. This is not the sort of song you can get wrong really, but Maverick brings it back up to date with a storming beat and cunning use of all the original sounds for which we love the original.
These Euphoric Dance Breakdown compilations are a bit of a mixed bag but sell well to the mainstream. The series fares pretty well against the main competition:
Clubland' - too much towards the hardcore/happy house crowd and arguably too repetitive
Hed Kandi - strangely enough, a handful of tracks on EDB have appeared on the Hed Kandi series, but HK tastes are quite selective. Fans of either series might not be interested in the other.
Ministry of Sound Clubber's Guides - are too patchy. They tend to have some really good stretches and then some real dross. The series is arguably not commercial enough.
The EDB series works well in its own right and this is as good as any of the post-MOS releases have been. Arguably, this could be stripped down to a two-disc volume that might be punchier. There's a risk that three discs waters it down too much and I'd prefer to see some better mixing in place. But this is great for accessible, no questions asked club music and there are more than enough anthems here to justify the price tag. Discard the dross and enjoy the rest I say!
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Riverside (Let's Go) - Samson, Sidney & Wizard Sleeve
2 Won't Go Quietly - Example
3 Could This Be Real - Sub Focus
4 Let The Bass Kick In - Chuckie & LMFAO
5 I'm Not Alone - Harris, Calvin
6 Bonkers - Dizzee Rascal & Armand Van Helden
7 Wile Out - DJ Zinc & Ms. Dynamite
8 Escape Me - Tiesto & C.C. Sheffield
9 ANYway - Van Helden, Armand & A-Trak
10 Don't Stop Believing - Weekend Warriors (1)
11 Poppiholla - Chicane (2)
12 Supafly - Fugative
13 Cruel Intentions - Simian Mobile Disco
14 I Said - Deadmau5 & Chris Lake
15 Corrected - Mason & DMC/Sam Sparro
16 No Superstar - Remady
17 She Came Along - Sharam & Kid Cudi
18 Boogers - MYNC & HCCR/Jose Nunez
19 Reaction - Gold, Alex
20 Star 69 - Fatboy Slim
Disc #2 Tracklisting
1 Now You're Gone - Basshunter & DJ Mental Theo's Bazzheadz
2 Adelante - Sash
3 Sun Rise - Angel City
4 Listen To Your Heart - DHT & Edmee
5 Autumn Tactics - Chicane (2)
6 For A Lifetime - Ascension (2)
7 Out Of My Mind - Lasgo
8 Embrace - Agnelli & Nelson
9 Reason - Ian Van Dahl
10 Nine Ways - JDS
11 Forever - Dee Dee (1)
12 Memory - Fragma
13 Until I Die - September (2)
14 Feel The Love - DJ Sammy
15 Pacific Melody - Airscape
16 Light A Rainbow - Tukan
17 I Can't Sleep - Commander Tom & Oliver Cats
18 Don't Go - Starting Rock & Diva Avari
19 You're Not Alone - Modal
20 Tik Tok - Scarlet (3)
Disc #3 Tracklisting
1 Power, The - Snap (1)
2 I'm Gonna Get You - Bizarre Inc.
3 Far Out - Sonz Of A Loop Da Loop Era
4 Sound Of Eden - Shades Of Rhythm
5 Push The Feeling On - Nightcrawlers (1)
6 Keep Warm - Jinny
7 I Believe - Happy Clappers
8 Peace (In The Valley) - Johnston, Sabrina
9 Jump 'N' Shout - Basement Jaxx
10 Just Another Groove - Mighty Dub Katz
11 Real Life, The - Raven Maize
12 Time Is Now, The - Moloko
13 I Feel For You - Bob Sinclar
14 Love On My Mind - Freemasons & Amanda Wilson
15 Bonedigger (Beanflicker) - Legato
16 Shine - Booty Luv
17 Keep On Rising - Carey, Ian & Michelle Shellers
18 NYC Beat - Van Helden, Armand
19 Blue Monday - Kurd Maverick
20 Twilight - Adam K & Soha