By Abel Folgar
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If the DJ is a god to some, the mix CD is his communion. Sometime between the personal mixtape compilations of the 1970s and the omnipresent podcasts of today, the DJ mix became an artistic medium on its own, a work that showcases the arc of a dance floor's heavenly journey. The best DJ mixes are ambitious, epic, and exotic, but podcasts now flow like water from the web. Quantity, currency, and convenience trump quality. Street-corner mixtape entrepreneurs are long gone, and illicit DJ mixes today are digital kudzu. It's almost sacrilegious.
This state of affairs has made it difficult for the pious business of commercial DJ mixes, a nearly 20-year-old endeavor. The pressures of trying to sell something people can get for free has forced DJs to dig deeper, go longer, and produce each compilation as a pièce de résistance. The Bay Area-based house music DJ known as Kaskade has entered the fray with a conventional but nonetheless well-orchestrated mix, The Grand, released March 24 via Ultra Records. The spinner says it's designed to stand the test of time.
"It's so easy to find mixes online," says the 36-year-old, who was born Ryan Raddon. "But if they're putting it out in the marketplace as opposed to a podcast, it seems a little more thought goes into it. With The Grand, ten years from now, you can take it off the bookshelf and put it into the CD player."
The LP's one-disc format makes it a little ho-hum in the age of three-hour epics offered by the likes of overseas labels such as Renaissance, Toolroom, and EQ, but Kaskade weighs in with a hefty 18-track list. And oh, what angelic tracks they are. Gone are the days of Kaskade's West Coast smooth house (in the vein of Miguel Migs, Naked Music, Om Records, et al.). That's for the best: Though rooted in Chicago post-disco, Nuyorican soul, and elements of jazz, smooth house often felt more Kenny G than Giant Step.
With his latest, Kaskade has completely freed himself from the self-reverential, spliff-haze downer of deep house and turned instead to the breezy, momentous, saccharine sound of trance. But the album is no glowstick festival; Kaskade cringes at the T-word. "Trance doesn't ring true to me," he says. Even so, the compilation offers up big-room mainstays such as vocalist Jes ("Imagination") and producer Deadmau5 ("Move for Me"). With its vocal-driven anthems, The Grand is superclub-sized pop sure to melt female fans.
The expanding dimension of his sound is proportional to the growth of his audience, Kaskade says. "A big room to me used to be 300," he says. "Now, it's not unusual to play in front of 40,000 people. Trance and progressive definitely are those sounds that are epic, and I think my realm of house music sounds very grand. That's how I came up with the name."