There is a certain irony here... The life of the big super club brands has been in question for years, and yet when you go into your local supermarket you are guaranteed to see a slew of branded compilation CDs. Staring out at you en masse, filling the music compilation section, it is hard not to left wondering if Ministry of Sound's CDs have outlived not only the era of super clubs, but the era of CDs themselves. Plastic shiny discs. Perfect for the car. Ideal as a present. Totally benign and universally relatable.
It is with this world that Ministry of Sound's Underground 2015 album enters, a cardboard package complete with two whole circles of plastic-coated metal full of music. As I contemplate what from the plethora of technology in my house will actually still take the data from these discs and convert it into sound waves, I consider for a moment how this package feels. And my conclusion is: empty. Underground 2015 feels physically empty.
When I pored over every detail of Ministry of Sound's albums in my youth I remember all the details: the fluorescent jewel cases, the detailed liner notes and aspirational photography, the textures, the credit card sized guides to clubs and nightlife. Perhaps some of Ministry of Sound's albums still have all of this, and teenagers still revel in them sheer exuberance of the production... Perhaps Underground 2015 is simply too 'underground' for all that... Yet it feels considerably more likely that somewhere along the way the super club mix CD shed all that weight just to stay alive. Another example of simple pleasures the digital world has robbed us of. Your pocket now contains far more information about nightclubs than you could fit in a million wallet-sized pieces of folded paper, but there was something more fun about having something to look at in your hands as you listened to the music contained on those old albums.
Whilst the packaging feels lacklustre against the backdrop of my memories, the music on Underground 2015 is both generous and far classier than most things that featured on the MoS label at its peak. They still release a whole range of populist albums - music to run to, music to chill out to - but this is something a little more authentic. The two-discs contain forty tracks of house, tech-house and techno, bubbling with bass and spitting with acerbic treble.
The highlights are numerous - Denney's appropriately low-end Low Frequency throws bass and high-hats against an appropriately instructive vocal sample. Dusky's Skin Deep is a thick and heavy UK garage influenced cut with a swirling break that serves to give the album a far bigger highlight than you expect just four tracks in.
A series of tracks on disc one create a momentary soul movement, spanning Claptone's remix of Gregory Porter's Liquid Spirit, Enzo Siffredi's Sometimes (which borrows from the same material as Moby's Honey) and Larry's Garage by Juliet Sikora. It is a highlight, off-setting the taught and restrained electronic production with loose and soulful elements.
George Fitzgerald's Full Circle featuring Boxed In opens the second disc with an introspective piece of electronic soul. A few better known tracks feature in its wake - a recent remix of Jon Hopkins' excellent Open Eye Signal also by George Fitzgerald and the Tale Of Us & Mano Le Tough remix of Caribou's starry-eyed Can't Do Without You both stand out. Caribou's inclusion actually somewhat breaks the flow - it is just so recognisable and big in comparison to its surroundings here.
Recondite's Levo creates a stark and dramatic atmosphere, Dense & Pika's TEX is darkly alien and Kölsch does his thing and brings the album to a suitably climatic conclusion.
In comparison to some of Underground 2015's highlights there are chunks that feel insipid in comparison. Seth Troxler and Sasha both feel irrelevant in comparison to some of the younger hands on show. A fair portion of the album feels unnecessary and Underground 2015 could have been a great single disc album... Instead we settle for a good two-disc release. There is lots here to enjoy given it comes from such a label with such a mainstream reputation.