Growing up in the Tri-State area, it was easy to think I was in the center of the world. Film, books, the news, and a particularly strong late-90s run for the Yankees all seemed to indicate my birthplace was the cornerstone upon which the modern world rested. Getting into dance music, however, forced me to reassess these thoughts; as I came of age well after Giuliani ruined the city’s nightlife and amidst an ever-worsening problem of gentrification that heralded an exodus of artist communities. It’s not that no one here who loved dance music, but it just didn’t feel like a whole lot was going on, creatively. Enter Jus-Ed and his rag-tag team of dyed-in-the-wool house heads, and all of a sudden the city had it’s own sound again: gritty, stubborn, and, most importantly in an era of throwbacks, contemporary. Levon Vincent has been the most visible of the group, and when tapped to put together a Fabric mix he chose to represent this core group of producers, some of whom have moved to Berlin, but most of whom still live in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut. The same water that makes our pastrami and bagels so renowned seems to have an effect on our house music as well, as Fabric 63 catches a group of musicians at the height of their powers.
Much has been made of the technical decisions that went into the mix, such as Levon’s adoption of David Mancuso-style mixing by riding the pitch without touching the platter (whenever Mancuso actually mixes, that is), and indeed, any warbles inherent in vinyl mixing are absent from the CD. Similarities to other DJs end there, however, as the flow of the CD is rather unorthodox, to the point where my first couple listens were rather confounding. Some transitions, such as the one between Jus Ed’s “Blaze” (Do Dah Dab Mix) and JM De Frias’ “Intrinsic Motivation” blur the lines between tracks enough to create a labyrinthine atmosphere, while the tribal thump and vibe of DJ Qu’s “Times Like This” storms in with little warning. The mix’s first 15 minutes build and then drop out to a simple (but perfect) kick drum in Levon’s “Stereo Systems,” and the mix ends with the beatless pads and pianos of Black Jazz Consortium after one of its more peak-time cuts (“Rainstorm II”). Anyone who has seen Levon DJ in the past couple years knows his playbook lacks any established notions of how a house set should flow, and its these surprises, twists, and turns that make his sets both challenging and rewarding.
So while Fabric 63 is fascinating on a technical level, it’s the tracks themselves, some of which are left to play out for quite awhile, that make the CD such a standout edition of Fabric’s long and impressive run of mixes. Joey Anderson’s tripped-out paranoia house gets two well-deserved inclusions in the form of the windswept, detuned opener “Earth Calls” and the pounding “Hydrine,” while Anthony Parasole finally delivers his first solo production in the form of jabbing, excellent “Tyson.” Then there are Levon’s cuts, seven in total, four of which are brand new. Saying that they’re strong would be obvious, as the mix’s centerpiece “Double Jointed Sex Freak II” is, for my money, one of the best house records of the past 10 years. But the new cuts are some of the most meditative and atmospheric Levon has ever pressed up. The aforementioned “Stereo Systems” is a spacious stunner, simply pairing a fathoms deep kick drum with twinkling, rhythmic treble sounds, while “Fear” reflects upon the rough percussion and vast surroundings that are typical of Levon until a gritty slap-bass line stomps in with little warning around the halfway point. But the highpoint of the mix, and indeed one of the best tracks Levon has ever done, is certainly “The End,” which for the first couple minutes is almost audacious in its minimalism. Soon shards of a bass line appear, and then, all of a sudden, the track blossoms with melancholy pads and ricocheting rhythm structures that threaten to derail what is an incredibly pretty song. It’s quintessential Levon Vincent, matching the cold grit of the streets of the five boroughs with the humanity you find therein, but “The End” is most crucially a departure, demonstrating that he is an artist loathe to stand still.
It’s hard to think of many other examples of dance music where the sound design is quite so considered, but on Fabric 63 heady sonic compositions, propulsive dance tracks, and “emotive vibrations” (to use one of Fred P.’s track titles) are mashed together and distilled into a truly potent concoction. On my first couple of spins through this CD, I wasn’t sure I liked it — not because it wasn’t good (the tracks are of indisputable quality), but because as a whole it was challenging in a way that few mixes are. Not in an obvious “here are some noisy drones” way, mind you, but in a way that seemed to question the typical structures used in house music. After spending some time with it, nursing it like a bottle of fine grappa, Fabric 63 reveals itself a a timeless piece of music, and a high point in one of the most beloved CD series in dance music. Rare is the musician who can operate squarely within a genre and yet be something of a revolutionary, but Levon is that person, with a record crate full of wonderfully confounding dubplates and the skills to put them together in a most superbly nonsensical way.