I’ve has had a few remix albums in the past, but up until master groove circle said albums were all largely in-house productions. By contrast, this new release is almost entirely done outside of the I’ve umbrella. Did Geneon do the right thing with the shift in focus for master groove circle? Read on to find out…
Various – master groove circle (2008, Geneon)
1. KOTOKO – Suppuration -core- (G.M.S Re-mix)
2. TRILL (Shiva Joerg Re-mix)
3. kicks! (SINE6 remix)
4. KOTOKO – リアル鬼ごっこ (Ben Watkins from JUNO REACTOR remix) (Real Onigokko)
5. 川田まみ (Mami Kawada) – IMMORAL (SORMA No.1 Re-mix)
6. 島みやえい子 (Eiko Shimamiya) – WHEEL OF FORTUNE (運命の輪) (SINE6 remix) (Unmei no Wa)
7. 詩月カオリ (Kaori Utatsuki) – Change of heart (soyuz project remix)
1. KOTOKO – Re-sublimity (Shiva Joerg & HARD STUFF remix)
2. 島みやえい子 – ひぐらしのなく頃に (SORMA No.1 Re-mix) (Higurashi no Naku Koro ni)
3. 川田まみ – radiance (JOY BASU Re-mix)
4. MELL – Red fraction (G.M.S Re-mix)
5. UZU-MAKI (EAT STATIC Re-mix)
6. MELL – no vain (G.M.S Re-mix)
7. 島みやえい子 – ひかりなでしこ (Eric Mouquet from Deep Forest remix) (Hikarinadeshiko)
It’s hard to imagine exactly who the target audience for master groove circle was supposed to be. With most of the remixers’ connections to I’ve tenuous at best, it certainly can’t be aimed at the collective’s die-hard fans. Similarly, a lack of visible promotional push along with the album’s release would seem to dispel the idea of some kind of big mainstream crossover effort. The most likely explanation would seem to be that master groove circle is an intended sort of follow-up to the “verve-circle” trance compilation albums released on Kazuya Takase’s “FUCTORY RECORDS” (pronounced ‘factory’) label, which themselves featured remixed tracks from the I’ve Girls Compilation albums from time to time. While the latter theory does hold the most water relative to the other possible explanations, it still begs a good number of questions: why, for instance, would a follow-up to the verve-circle albums only have a grand total of some three arrangers in common with the compilation series’ production lineup? And, for that matter, why would Geneon, a studio already losing money like crazy thanks to poor marketing decisions, decide to waste its money on something as essentially fringe as a 2-disc counterpart to a series of indie-label trance compilation albums?
Whatever the target audience, though, it’s hard to imagine master groove circle being much of a hit. The lack of finesse with which the album’s band of outsiders tackle their assigned remixes suggests not quite as much apathy as it does genuine hatred of the source material being worked with. Witness, for example, the Ben Watkins (one half of Juno Reactor, a group popular for their film-score work for the Matrix movies and approximately nothing else) remix of KOTOKO’s formerly-brilliant Real Onigokko: seeing how the original’s strength was largely due to an explosive, passionate vocal performance from KOTOKO in the chorus, Watkins saw fit to do away with the chorus entirely. Of course, he doesn’t do this in a way that might leave any degree of ambiguity regarding his feelings of unearned contempt for the listener, oh no. He lets the verses play through up to the pre-chorus, until it gets right up to the original’s cliffhanger power chord that leads into… nothing. Such a tactic might be forgiven if used as a sort of ‘delayed-gratification’ technique, holding out on the big climax until using it explosively at the very end, but Watkins wouldn’t stand for such pedestrian nonsense, not at all. The hanging power chord hangs right up until the song’s anticlimactic end, left in as a tease but nothing more.
Watkins isn’t the only one whose hatred of the I’ve girls’ exceptional choruses shines through in their remixes, either. A memorably awful remix of UZU-MAKI’s album-making title track robs the song of its brilliant chorus as well, favouring instead tin-can drumming and endless repetitions of the intoductory guitar hook. Not to say the mixes that keep chorus intact are generally any better, though: SINE6’s pan-happy mutilation of Virgin’s high! B-side “kicks!” even attempts to play the song’s chorus as a climax of sorts, an effort that might be inspiring were the results not so thoroughly mediocre. (It is worth noting that both of SINE6’s contributions to the album suffer from the same problem: if I had to give him one word of advice, I would tell SINE6 to consider a new line of work without hesitation as he clearly isn’t cut out to make electronic music.)
However, the worst offenders on master groove’s twin discs come in the form of I’ve’s own Tomoyuki Nakazawa and Kazuya Takase, recording under the ‘HARD STUFF’ moniker for the first time since 2003. With a little help from giant sword-wielding trancemonger Shiva Joerg, the pair turns the stunning ‘Re-sublimity’ into background music for the world’s lamest computer-rental commercial. The original song was impressive primarily due to Takase’s masterfully layered arrangement that laid the perfect backdrop for KOTOKO’s fantastic transition from screechy denpa pioneer into the realm of a mature artist. Re-sublimity is possibly the most common “first” cited amongst I’ve fans, and it’s hard for one to hear the song and imagine it not leading to a love affair with both singer and arranger. It was an uncharacteristically mature major debut for KOTOKO and Takase both, and undoubtedly amongst I’ve’s best work. So it is without a fraction of pleasure that I report the remix entirely devoid of these wonders of the original I’ve described: stripping the arrangement down to nothing but the piano riff from its introduction and running with it for 7 minutes, the remix spits in the face of the original’s perfection and refuses to apologize. The arranger credit only makes the experience that much worse: the apathy that led to the rest of the album’s mediocrity can be easily explained away as a result of unfamiliarity with the material (or, as in the case of SORMA, a shocking lack of talent that has been proven time and time again), but coming from the heart of the collective it gets a little harder to swallow. With their remix, one only has to assume that they genuinely thought this sounded good: a possible sign that the good men making up I’ve’s production staff have slowly but surely lost their fucking minds.
Not that all of master groove circle is a total travesty, however. I’ve’s longtime companions G.M.S. provide a perfectly passable remix of fan favourite Suppuration-core- in addition to their previously-released Red fraction mix (a highlight of the set even with it having been heard already) and a not-bad retooling of MELL’s “no vain”, while the sole Kaori Utatsuki remix on the set reveals an unexpected strength in the matching of her vocals with heavy electronica, suggesting a possible new direction for Utatsuki and making soyuz project’s “Change of heart” the remix of the album far as I’m concerned. Former KOTOKO touring guitarist Joy Basu’s contribution to the set isn’t terrible either (words I never thought I’d catch myself saying), with his guitar-heavy remix of Mami Kawada’s “radiance” succeeding largely on account of some creatively-utilized vocal effects. Basu’s unnecessary guitar noodling throughout the song renders it a step below the masterful original, but considering the quality level of its surroundings I’m about ready to nominate the man for sainthood on account of his mix. Rounding out the short list of ‘alright’ songs is I’ve’s second trip down the world-music path with Eric Mouquet of Deep Forest, the pleasant (albeit dead boring) Hikarinadeshiko. Seeming more like a bonus track than a part of the album, the Deep Forest mix nevertheless is saved from the fate of the rest of the album largely on account of actually succeeding at what it is it’s attempting to do. Which is more than I can say for a lot of the songs here.
While master groove circle isn’t a complete wash when all things are considered, the good bits taken altogether still wouldn’t be enough to fill even one of its two discs. Perhaps the best words to describe the set would be “failed experiment”, as it’s undeniable Geneon was trying something with master groove circle – something that didn’t exactly work out the way anyone involved with the release would’ve wanted it to, undoubtedly, but something alright.