Class of ’99, Vol 14

It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.

—Miles Davis

Not everyone understands house music, and it’s certainly not for everyone. Critics complain that the genre is formulaic, repetitive, and nondescript—admittedly valid criticism. This is because house’s form is defined by the DJ format. A cohesive mix requires a certain amount of uniformity and compatibility between records, so house tracks are almost always organized on 16 bars in a steady, unchanging 4/4 rhythm signature. They tend to be minimal, because fewer notes mean fewer opportunities to clash with adjacent tracks.

I think it’s really important to match records in key, which is a challenge because a record’s pitch changes when you adjust the tempo. Ideally, you want to create some kind of harmonic progression, rather than just mixing a whole set in the same key. But you can’t usually transition from one key to another because two simultaneously-playing records are going to have overlapping key signatures. Sometimes, you can blend in a track that’s a perfect 5th of the last one, or a perfect 4th, and everything will just line up. Or, you can overlay a relative minor or major. Sometimes, you can cut the bass from one record, while the bassline of the next record inverts the root of the first.

I have always committed to diatonic mixing, which most DJ’s didn’t care about and which was prohibitively difficult. As a vinyl DJ in the late 90s, I spent most of my time testing records against each other, and giving up in frustration. Today, we have software that tries to detect key and which allows us to run through a lot of permutations very quickly. But when I listen to old mixtapes from the vinyl era, one DJ that stands out to me as exceptionally committed to harmonic mixing, and that DJ is Miles Maeda.

I always admired Miles Maeda’s technical proficiency and his meticulous attention to detail. My DJ friends all considered him a “DJ’s DJ” because of his dedication to his craft. Luckily, he has remastered and digitized most of his old tapes, most of which are hosted on his website, and which include gems such as Star (’95), Isness (’96), Done and Done (’96), Easy (’97), Painting (’97), Stand Right, Walk Left (’98), Us (’99), and Sunshower (’00).

Maeda is apparently a yogi now, and lives in Japan, but still Deejays as Total M. His 90s mixes are so well-selected, so well arranged, so timeless and perfect, so essential, they belong in The National Archives. This month’s mix is dedicated to my favorite DJ of all time, Miles Maeda.

Class of ’99, Volume 14: After All This Time...
Download the mix (MP3, 41 minutes, 95 MB)

About the cover

This image comes from an old VHS tape and features a raver chick rocking Minnie Mouse gloves and afro puffs, a Fine shirt, and a pacifier on the end of a lanyard. I don’t know why lanyards became such an essential accessory in the late 90s, but it seemed like everyone in Chicago was wearing one. The most popular lanyards has “WWJD?” printed on them, as in “What Would Jesus Do?”

Track List

Follow these links to read more about the selections:

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