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Compilation of the Month: Special Request ‘DJ-KiCKS’

UK rave specialist Paul Woolford, aka Special Request, pens a love letter to all the club styles that have fed into his sound over the years on his ‘DJ-KiCKS’ mix for !K7

Under his Special Request alias, Leeds DJ and producer Paul Woolford has specialised in exploring various manifestations of UK dance music. Albums like ‘Soul Music’ and ‘Zero Fucks’ for Houndstooth, and EPS such as ‘Modern Warfare’ for XL, found him focusing on roughneck jungle, but others, like ‘Bedroom Tapes’ and ‘Vortex’, have drawn on home-grown electro and golden- era Warp-style IDM for inspiration. All these styles and more feature on Special Request’s ‘DJ-KiCKS’ mix, which finds him also taking in the techno and house he’s reserved for projects and appearances under his own name.

Those expecting the tear-out Amen breaks of his most famous moniker will get them, but not till the end. Instead, Woolford builds a mix that acts as a love letter to all the forms of club music that have fed into his sets and productions over the years. Opening with the warm gospel house of Alicia Myers’ ‘Right Here Right Now (John Morales M+M Remix)’ might feel like an anomaly, but it makes perfect sense when you consider that Woolford has a long history with house, dating back to his remixes for Murk and Liberty City.

Building into the piano-laden cosmic disco of Melbourne artist Harvey Sutherland and Morgan Geist’s distinctive analogue synth funk, the mix takes a left turn with the mystic synth eddies, questing bassline and propellant electro beats of new Special Request track ‘Vellichor’ (a word meaning the strange wistfulness of visiting a used bookshop). Classic Virgo house track ‘R U Hot Enough?’ gets a spin, before we’re immersed in archetypal IDM classic ‘De- Orbit’ by Speedy J, with its rolling break and interlaced bleeps and melodies, and AceMo’s 2020 bassline-driven gem ‘Sequence Of Life’.

For every new track, there’s a lesser-heard classic, with tracks from μ-Ziq and Psyance leading up to the compilation’s heavier denouement. To kick off the final segment, he gives FC Kahuna’s chill-out classic ‘Hayling’ the Special Request treatment, accompanying its amniotic pad tones with chopped-up jungle breaks. A second μ-Ziq track, ‘Twangle Frent’, is transformed into a hyper emotional roller, its circuitous bleeps spinning over kinetic breaks, while Galaxian’s ‘Glasgow To Detroit’ becomes a hyperactive tempo bridge to faster material. Blissfully melodic remixes of Tim Reaper shape-shift into Amen powered, screw-face Reese bass workouts. The final track is a beatless Special Request collaboration with 96 Back, with addictive Oberheim bass and a brooding atmosphere, suggesting things unresolved.

The variety of styles on this mix is in line with Woolford’s diverse output, and especially his previous mix compilations. The 2012 mix ‘The Lab 04’, released under his own name, similarly darted between house, techno and IDM, using tracks by Shed, Mr Beatnick and Aphex Twin, while 2017’s ‘FABRICLIVE 91’ found ways of knitting together techstep, industrial and electro perfectly, in a manner few others would even attempt.

Putting together this latest ‘DJ-KiCKS’, Woolford looked back to early editions, which sparked his imagination when they were first released. “This mix was a real labour of love,” he says. “I’d had it in my mind since the mid-’90s when I heard Carl Craig and Claude Young’s instalments, so when it came around, I just got lost in it all properly.” You can hear that love and dedication come through in the seamless transitions, and the way in which certain sounds or ideas recur.

Woolford skilfully finds the common ground between his disparate musical sources, showing that while the tempos or beats might change, the same emotions, transcendent energy, joy and heartbreak are threaded through all the best dance music. Special Request’s ‘DJ-KiCKS’ deserves a place next to other classics in the series.