It's been 20 years since Glasgow's Soma Records released its first 12" and announced its presence to the world. Over the past two decades, the label has played a vital role in the evolution of dance music, serving as a steward of a more progressive, Euro-centric sound. Now, to commemorate its anniversary, the label has put out Soma Records 20 Years a three-disc retrospective that provides an accessible, DJ friendly entry point to its large discography.
Of the three discs, the first is easily the strongest with its 12 unmixed, dancefloor-ready tracks that span the history of the label, including the immediate highlight of Daft Punk's unreleased 1994 track "Drive." Originally intended to compliment "Rollin' & Scratchin'," "Drive" was shelved to allow room for the stronger (and now canonical) "Da Funk." Now, a full 18 years later, "Drive" shows off the abrasive sound of early Daft Punk, complete with a punishing drum pattern, harsh synth tones, overdriven guitar shredding, and an over-the-top vocal sample. The resulting effect is one of the duo's harshest and most lo-fi songs; it's something very different from the Daft Punk of Tron: Legacy, yet the track strangely foreshadows the "banger" electro house that was so popular in the mid-to-late '00s.
The 11 other tracks on the unmixed CD are standout cuts and their collection on one disc provides DJs a valuable resource of classic material: Funk D'Void's "Diabla (Heavenly Mix)" is as deep as it was back in 2001, Silicon Soul's "Right On, Right On" lends the compilation some disco muscle, and Slam's "Eterna" shows off the tasteful, progressive techno sound that lies at the heart of the label. In addition to these more well-known cuts, there are also some more challenging (but nonetheless excellent) choices in the form of Desert Storm's trance-inducing "Desert Storm," The Black Dog's off-kilter 3 a.m. banger "Cost II," and the hypnotic Euro-techno of Percy X's "X-Trak 1."
Complimenting the unmixed CD are two mixes that take the compilation in wildly different directions. While these mixes make up the bulk of the material, they largely serve an arbitrary function. Label dons Slam turn in a technically flawless mix that reworks Soma material towards a more contemporary, Berlin-influenced sound. Unfortunately, the mix suffers from its own perfection and is largely devoid of the inspiring and innovative moments present on the unmixed disc. Silicone Soul's effort does far better by focusing on combining tracks from the unmixed disc with selected highlights from the Soma back catalog to create something closer to a "suggested use" mix.