The primary drama of erstwhile Detroiter Jimmy Edgar's career is the conflict between his mind and body, the cognitive versus the carnal. This is a guy who started spinning at raves at 15 and signed to Warp before he was 20. He can write a lurid IDM-indebted synth-pop song in his sleep. In recent years though, he's moved on from productions that rely as much on image and personality as they do on whip-smart production (e.g. "I Wanna Be Your Std," "This One's for the Children"), and is now focused on creating the DJ tools needed for his 100-plus gigs each year. His latest offerings are largely coming to light via his own Ultramagic imprint and these keyed-up tracks, many of them previously unheard, are the focus of Fabriclive 79. More a showcase for the direction of Edgar's production than a confirmation his status as a party-starting DJ, the mix admirably displays his virtuosic skill, but falls short of achieving a full, ecstatic liftoff.
Terrence Dixon's "The Electric" begins the mix, which makes sense, as Edgar consistently refers to his childhood in East Detroit as having a formative influence on his musical taste, though he's long since abandoned the D for NYC, Europe, and now, LA. Still, it's not long before the Ultramajic selections come in and essentially dominate the mix. Edgar's label often focuses on music that combines refined techno structures with skittery ghetto house drums. As such, his collaborations with Truncate and DJ Rashad—both of which feature on the mix—make perfect sense, as does Edgar's selection of an old-school cut from DJ Godfather & DJ Starski (more on that later). Still, the first half of Fabriclive 79 has a very tool-y quality to it, and the thing about DJ tools is that they're meant to get the selector from one place to another, and that's it. In other words, Edgar is serving up some great functional dance music, but not the sort of thing that many people would be likely to trainspot. That being said, Crystal Bandito's "EEE Walk" and Edgar's own "RS2000" do come close to properly standing out, the two sounding like alien adaptations of Lyn Collins' immortal "Think" break.
Things do heat up considerably when Edgar allows himself to indulge in some chord-driven rollers. (Again, for a guy who posts videos of himself shredding live boogie and R&B on his Facebook page, Fabriclive 79 is a very minimal set.) Forthcoming Crystal Bandito cuts "Be with Me" and "Feel So Free" are top-notch pieces of muscular, jacking modern house, and even better, they're free of the compression issues that often plague similar tunes. At the same time, when these tracks are compared with DJ Godfather & DJ Starski's "Another Freaks"—a pitched-down, quasi-sexual rhythm track that shares a lot of DNA with Edgar's current output—the new tunes don't quite stand up. There's nothing wrong with the production technique, it's more that Edgar and his Ultramajic cohorts can't quite seem to recreate the unstudied and instinctual looseness that's present in the vintage selections. It's as though Edgar is still the cerebral kid at the ghettotech party, someone who's a bit too concerned with figuring out the filtering effect on the 909 to get lost in the sheer dumb fun of the music.
In fairness, Edgar has delivered a slew of mixes over the years, and long ago proved his mettle in the live setting, so it's hard to fault him for doing something different and using his Fabriclive turn as a chance to lay out the Ultramagic modus operandi. Some listeners might have preferred a showcase of his mixing prowess and obscure track selections, but the Ultramagic material on offer here does contain its fair share of bangers, some of which will surely get plenty of play in the year ahead. Edgar has spent most of his career trying to be horny and smart at the same time, so it makes sense that his label would strive to combine the precision of German techno with the libidinous drive of acid and ghetto house. Fabriclive 79 has its moments, but it also indicates that Edgar is still searching for the right balance between these two poles. There's little question that he's a prodigiously talented producer; it's just that when it comes to his music, he's still struggling to completely let go of his inhibitions.