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  • Filed under: Review
  • 07/21/2011

Motor City Drum Ensemble DJ-Kicks

It almost goes without saying, but if there's one thing German producer Danilo Plessow (a.k.a. Motor City Drum Ensemble) can do, it's sound like he's from Detroit. The Cologne resident has largely come to renown off the strength of his Raw Cuts series, which managed to sound so close to mid-'90s Moodymann that it purportedly earned Plessow accolades from Kenny Dixon Jr. himself. It should come as no surprise then that Plessow's entry in Studio !K7's venerable mix series, DJ-Kicks, sounds the way that it does. Which is to say that it sounds a lot like the kind of mix that a person infatuated with the sound and style of Detroit might make—though not in the way you might expect.

It would have been all too easy for Plessow to focus his mix on the contemporary Detroit house artists that he strives to emulate, but as he's said many times in interviews, his interest in the city of Detroit, and music in general stretches much further back than the days of house and techno. This mix stands as a document to back that statement up with diverse selections that touch on such disparate genres as Afrobeat, cosmic jazz, and IDM. It is this willingness to explore deeper roots and to incorporate the canon of his (and his idols') influences into the structure of the mix that makes the whole thing such a fascinating and enjoyable listen.

Of course, while song selection goes a long way, it isn't everything. A large part of an enjoyable DJ mix is in the ability of the DJ to creatively blend and layer tracks together in unpredictable and novel ways. Plessow does it with the kind of knack that, no doubt, comes from his razor-sharp sampling ability. High points on the mix come in the form of extended blends that at times blur into the territory of tasteful mash-up. The mix starts on this note with Electric Wire Hustle's "Again (Scratch 22 mix)" lending low-end muscle to Sun Ra's ethereal "Door to the Cosmos" and then goes on to peak many times with plenty of "why didn't I think of that?" moments, such as a layering of Robert Hood's "The Pace" under Loose Joints' "Pop Your Funk."

Probably the most anticipated moment on the mix is the preview of Plessow's latest track, "L.O.V.E." It's a soulful house song of the moodiest order, with Rhodes chords and pleading vocals met by a driving rhythm of swung-out hats and kicks on the one and three. It's a great tune that fuses the sampling acuity of Raw Cuts with the more synth-heavy work of tracks like "Lonely One." "L.O.V.E." is good on its own, but it's made better by Plessow's unexpected blend into the geometric churn of Aphex Twin's "Actium." The two flow into one another with an almost intentional ease, a testament to good programming. And it's well-thought-out mixes like this that populate the entire set. Sure, it's not exactly rocket science, but the ability to create intense and memorable moments from the interval between two records is a core part of the mystique of good DJing, and this mix stands as a reminder of that basic fact.

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