Global Underground was THE premiere DJ mix series of the late 90s and early 00s, with mixes from Paul Oakenfold, John Digweed, Nick Warren, Sasha and more not only reflecting the club culture of the day, but influencing it. These CDs were often the only place to hear many of the tracks outside of the clubs. The longbox versions were heavily desired and sold out quickly. Then there came a sale, a slight name change and two four-year hiatuses in the last decade, making fans wonder if the series had run its course. But no – this is the same series, returning with one of its strongest installments to date. The longboxes have been replaced by a bigger, more expansive Collector’s Edition with art prints and a 110-page photo book with work from Dean Belcher. For those with modest budgets, there’s a (still impressive) Deluxe Edition, a vinyl edition and a digital edition, reminding us that there was no such thing as a digital version when the series began in 1996.
The label has been on a tear over the past five years with new series Select and Adapt, the latter boasting a prescient title. This year we’re not in clubs, but club music continues to blossom. As if recognizing the need to hear new music, Joris Voorn has packed over a hundred tunes in a two-disc mix, culled from what would have been a ten-hour mix had all the songs been played back to back. This means he has to mix quickly, and he does so seamlessly, matching keys, tempos and moods with only the one break between the discs. Over the course of 160 minutes, he takes us on what we always hope we’ll encounter: a journey. Yes, that’s a cliche, but few of us have been able to go on any physical journey this year, which makes the airport samples of the early minutes sound so bittersweet. Once upon a time, jet-setting DJs would hop on planes to play multiple continents in a single 24-hour period; those days are gone, or at least put on pause.
Playing the original versions opens our eyes to the variety of works. These are not all club tracks; some ambience is mixed in, although one might never know it from the mix. (One is simply titled “Ambient Fill”). Voorn also disguises which samples are his and which are found in the original mixes. It’s impossible not to hear the mix through the eyes of COVID-19, which adds resonance to the spare vocal snippets, as found in Voorn’s remix of Biosphere’s Black Mesa: the same thing over and over … worth living for and dying for … I have a vague idea I’d like to see the Pacific Ocean. The word entertainment occupies Floppy Sounds’ track of the same name, followed by a huge synth in the middle of Aisha Devi’s “O.M.A.” The best segment arrives at the end of Disc One, with a series of narrators speaking about their understanding of God across the remix of Artefakt’s “The Blue Hour.” But Disc Two provides a chill through the voice of Sean Connery in “Highlander,” part of C.J. Bolland’s “There Can Be Only One,” which was recorded in 1995; Connery passed away just before Global Underground: Rotterdam was released.
Here are some of the marks of a Next Level DJ: mixes that are more than the sum of their parts; an understanding of how songs relate to each other; emotional and intellectual heft; and originality. To paraphrase, if one were to purchase all 102 original 12″s (including those that don’t exist, as Voorn made them himself), one would still be unable to replicate this mix. A musicologist would have a field day deciphering the archeology, but it’s best just to let the music flow. After multiple spins, we begin to hear these as the definitive versions, to the extent that the originals often seem to be missing something. We were chuffed to see some A Closer Listen artists in here, including Linn Elisabet, Fennesz and Rone, but Voorn deserves the most praise. By this time next year, we pray that we’ll be back to some semblance of normalcy; at the very least, we hope the clubs will be open again, and we’ll be able to commune together. But for now, this is the next best thing: a DJ at the top of his game, music one can enjoy at home, and a taste of nostalgia from a label that existed before many of its current fans were born. (Richard Allen)