By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Mo' Wax import
Mo' Wax import
SINCE IT RELEASED DJ Shadow's 12-minute trip-hop Leviticus "In/Flux" back in 1993, the London-based label Mo' Wax has become the genre's most important syndicate of sound, the key source in defining the wicked beats and cerebral sample stylings that have become the essence of fin de siècle funk. Today, only moments after Shadow's Entroducing has inserted "trip hop" into the average pop fan's vocab of post-rock catch-alls, Mo' Wax comes out with this, the genre's first bonafide monstrosity: Two matching four-LP (or two-CD) sets containing more than five hours of futurist rare grooves authored by 38 artists (none of who are DJ Shadow), offering a constantly mutating Everest of post-rap cut 'n' paste.
Taken together (and who could be content with just one?), this is Mo Wax's Infinite Jest, a seemingly indigestible DJ collection that blurs the line between jazzy trip hop, hip hop, dub, electro-funk, techno, drum'n'bass, and ambient music to create a densely packed mix that's blessedly ambitious, utterly difficult, and unreasonably long. Rarely has listening to a bunch of pop records been as frustrating or, in a weird way, as rewarding.
Initially it's the stuff you've heard of that grabs you, like so-so re-mixes of the Beasties' "Flute Loops," and Massive Attack's "Karmacoma," or the Mamas and Papas sample at the opening of Attica Blues' "Sketch," or a loop of the Jungle Brothers' classic rap "Jimbrowski" that runs through their own "Ultimatum Ultra Mix." But go deeper and you unearth tension (DJ Wally's minimalist spookiness), complexity (the overlapping drum mix in Urban Tribe's "Eastwood"), elegance (the etiolating strings in Peshay's "The Real Thing" or the lone violin in Luke Vibert's "Sharp AZ"), oddity (Tortoise's art-funk groove relocation), and genuine funkiness (the recurring one-note bass loop in Midnight Funk Association's "Code").
Though it can be tiringly elusive, and despite the fact that even some of its sampled reference points--John Cage, assorted avant jazz, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts--can themselves be ultra-obscure, this set does the best it can to develop a logos all its own. Headz 2 successfully ties itself to a hip hop history that runs from groundbreaking DJ-only collections like the 15 year old, 20-plus volume Ultimate Breaks and Beats to Mo' Wax's own hugely influential compilations like Royalties Overdue and the original Headz, and to the genre-defining music of DJ Shadow and Tricky that this compilation doesn't need to include to validate its existence.
Sure it's a tough listen. Things fall into each other, genres get bent and reconfigured; music bounces off the walls, blends into them, moves through them, and pulls you along with it. After 20 hours of total immersion I don't know if I could tell the difference between any of DJ Krush's dozen-plus side-opening segues, or identify what makes the Prunes the Prunes and not U.N.K.L.E, or one of the other groups compiled here. I really couldn't care less--I'm too busy getting excited for the next 20 hours.