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6th Borough Project - One Night in the Borough

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Artist: 6th Borough Project

Album: One Night in the Borough

Label: Delusions of Grandeur

Review date: Aug. 10, 2011

What is it about disco edits that people love to ignore?

Maybe it’s that disco was conceived in and for a party atmosphere, and a CD of someone blending other people’s 4/4 glam jams together as you stare out the window of a bus just doesn’t carry the same allure, the same critical weight as other mixes. With original disco LPs, you have the unending quest for newness sated by an artist generating new material, providing an all-original framework in which to work and be analyzed. With original mixes that span a wide range of genres or styles (I’m thinking Fabric or Berghain here, but you get the idea), there’s the surprise of a DJ mixing a song from one end of the sonic continuum with another from somewhere unexpected. Song selection gets some of the attention, but a new mix ultimately is about defining the personality of the player; it’s about who’s behind the decks as much as it’s about what’s on them.

Disco edits, in theory, subvert both paradigms. The newness isn’t really newness at all, but a looped drum break or a tweaked vocal or a prolonged guitar pluck. The medium doesn’t change, either; the songs adhere to familiar hi-hats, unsurprising bongos and swooning strings. There’s only so much a DJ can do to pinch some personality out of an assemblage of songs relying on consumers’ thirst for happiness and willingness to embrace the vapid. It’s what makes disco great and not great. That’s a humbling position to be in as a DJ, not to mention frequently unrewarding.

You’re eating grilled cheese, in other words. The difference between the greatest disco edit you’ve ever consumed and the worst is separated by the age of the cheddar and the size of your grin. Who cares, right? And yet, over the course of the last six or seven years, disco edits have proliferated at an unprecedented rate, thanks to both technology’s unwavering democratization of process and the disco edit as a kind of gateway. You don’t have to cut tape or run through your bin for source material anymore, you can just splice it together with Ableton or Sound Forge or Vegas and a few choice mp3s.

Edinburgh’s 6th Borough Project tries its hand at the disco edit in spite of this, through a filter heard all over dance music right now: ’90s deep house and R&B. Both of these guys are veterans – Craig Smith has been DJing for two decades and is Irvine Welsh’s favorite DJ, while Graeme Clark has been experiencing recent success as The Revenge. The two have been working together on and off for 12 years – but their finesse had only been applied to EPs until now.

Smith says the whole point of this project is to contemporize tracks that influenced them so they can use them in sets. In that respect, One Night in the Borough succeeds. This sounds like a modern disco edit vis-à-vis dance music’s recent fetishes. There are the minimal clicks that kick off "B.U.R.T. (The Journey)" and the hollowed-out punk-funk drums of "Endless Nights" and the airy house of "Changin’," and their modest ambition is worth noting in context. It doesn’t sound like it’s doing much with source material from the first Five Boroughs, but as an update on a tired take, it hits where it aims.

It’s after the first listen that the enthusiasm falls away. Repeating the experience, one finds the transition in pace and sonic dynamism from the upbeat first half (firmly rooted in the organic instrumentation of pure disco) to the narcotic second half to be exhausting rather than invigorating. There’s less at work after "Back to Me" and it’s no fun being caught in that slow grind of indecision (or the decision thereof, as is more likely).

"Nothing is original. All human expression is really just endless variations," says a Jim Jarmusch clip on "Deep C." This is the most telling moment on One Night in the Borough: Smith and Clark are experienced enough to know what they’re doing and clever enough to know when they’re strangling their palette for the sake of the overall experience. "Deep C" even comes right at the apex of this transition, a brilliantly subtle touch.

"There are only a limited number of stories you can tell," the clip finishes, "but there’s an unlimited number of ways to tell the same story." When you tell the story of what the 6th Borough Project is doing, therefore, you’re telling of disco edits that don’t sound like disco by the end. When you tell of how they’re telling that story, it makes things more interesting… but not interesting enough. I can’t bring myself to love it without wishing for more, for newer, for realer… a conversation I’m not sure any LP of disco edits is prepared to see through. The cycle continues.

By Patrick Masterson

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