Monday, May 19, 2008

Energy Flash column #4, SonicNet, October 2000

by Simon Reynolds

Imagine, if you will, a dance record that everybody liked. A tune that was massive in all sorts of divergent and seemingly incompatible scenes. A track that simultaneously worked as a rave anthem, a club classic, an underground monster, a mainstream chart smash. Impossible, you say, no way not in this post-rave era of micro-scenes, niche markets and endless genre subdivision.

Timo Maas' remix of "Dooms Night" by Azzido Da Bass is that impossible crossover track, the border-crossing smash of the year 2000. Massive in Ibiza, Spain, this past summer, it still rules the pan-European trance scene. Fatboy Slim has declared "Dooms Night" his favorite track of the year, and it was the anthem of Berlin's Love Parade (Westbam, the German equivalent of Paul Oakenfold, opened his set with the tune).

But as well as with the whiter-than-white trance, big-beat and progressive scenes, Maas' remix has scored hugely with urban audiences. "Dooms Night" was ubiquitous at this year's Notting Hill Carnival in London, a million-strong Caribbean street party traditionally dominated by black sounds such as reggae, soca, jungle and garage. The track has been embraced by London's two-step garage DJs as if it came from their own ranks, and has even been cited as a seminal track for the two-step breakaway genre called "breakbeat garage." London's pirate radio stations are rocking a number of two-step bootleg versions of "Dooms Night," including a dancehall-flavored one called "Punanny Da Bass" and another that mashes the track together with the booty/bounce/bass hit "Whoop, There It Is" by Tag Team.

The story behind the remix itself is kind of bizarre. Maas, a well-regarded but not huge progressive trance DJ/producer from Hanover, Germany, got the commission from Azzido Da Bass' record company, Clubtools/Edel (Edel being the parent label and roughly equivalent to K-Tel), and was paid the far-from-princely fee of 5,000 deutsche marks (approximately $2,200). All that his remix shares with the original Azzido track (by all accounts, a pretty negligible piece of work) is a small sample of the flatulent, elephantine bass sound first heard on Mr. Oizo's "Flat Beat", one of 1999's mega club hits owing to its use in the cult "Flat Eric" commercials on European TV.

Maas' remix came out in the summer of 1999 and didn't cause much of a stir initially. Gradually, its reputation spread, winning converts across the post-rave spectrum. To date, it has sold 80,000 copies and been licensed to 40 compilations. The single is about to be re-released in Europe with several re-remixes, all based on Maas' version rather than the original track. One revamp features Slarta John, the deranged-sounding ragga MC, on Basement Jaxx's awesome "Jump 'n' Shout."

Although "Dooms Night" is almost certain to be a top 10 pop hit in Britain and Germany, and a massive club track across the world, Maas won't see an extra cent from all the hoopla. Don't shed too many tears for him, though. Thanks to the track, he's one of the most in-demand DJs and remixers on the planet (Madonna reportedly has asked for a remix). Already a prolific fellow he's produced and remixed nearly a 100 tracks in the past three years. Plus, he's just got residencies at superclubs Twilo in New York and Cream in Liverpool, England. So the guy's not exactly starved of cash.

But what, you ask with mounting frustration, does "Dooms Night" actually sound like? The easiest way to hear it in North America is Timo's Music for the Maases, where the DJ builds a double-CD mix almost entirely out of his reworkings of other artists' tunes, plus a few of his own productions (under such aliases as Orinoko, Mad Dogs and Kinetic A.T.O.M, as well as his own name). "Dooms Night" is actually pretty hard to describe, precisely because it's so transgenre and in-between-sounding. The rhythmic feel merges the funkiness of breakbeats with the hypnotic, frictionless glide of trance. Chugging along at around 130 beats per minute, it actually sounds like a marauding, slightly overweight monster negotiating treacherous terrain (the beat seems to slip and stumble and stagger while remaining determinedly on the warpath). The two hooks are a continuous, uninflected whump-whump-whump acid riff set against a thick, squelchy, sculpted fart of a bassline, creating an off-kilter tension that's funky as sin. There are lots of clever production nuances that emerge with repeated listens, but its core of sheer instant-ness will hook you first time around.

"Dooms Night (Timo Maas Mix)" is an all-things-to-all-people kinda deal, versatile in its applications. Clinical yet dirty, dark but in a joyous, life-affirming sort of way, capable of working as both a run-of-the-mix DJ tool and as a peak-of-set T.U.N.E., it could be a brand-new genre birthing itself, or just a one-shot masterstroke. Judging by Music for the Maases (groan-worthy title, eh?), the rest of Maas' work isn't quite so amazing. He calls it "percussive wet funk" and it sounds like a more muscular, in-your-face version of the "progressive" style Sasha & Digweed play--the output of such outfits as Hybrid and Breeder, or, indeed, Sasha's own productions "Rabbitweed" and "Belfunk."

Maas' "Better Make Room" (released under the name Mad Dogs) has amazingly intricate drum & bass-style rhythm programming folded into the progressive trance matrix, and throughout the double CD his production is relentlessly sharp. It's pumping, meaty stuff, for sure, but it's also a tad hygienic, and has the typical downfall of progressive, Sasha-style music: a peculiar textural sameness, like the palette of timbre colors is restricted. Mind you, on a massive Twilo-esque sound system, this stuff makes the earth move, I'm sure.

Thing is, Timo Maas doesn't need to make another record as fabulous as his "Dooms Night" remix. It's his meal ticket for life, the laurels upon which he could rest in perpetuity, if he wished. Most producers never come close to making something so undeniable. Like Josh Wink with "Higher State of Consciousness," or Joey Beltram with "Energy Flash," Timo Maas' place in the Rave Hall of Fame is assured.

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