Various Artists

Detroit Beatdown

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The seed for the Detroit Beatdown compilation was planted by Beatdown Sounds, a website that offers mixes and information from producers and DJs based in the Motor City. As for the term "beatdown," it was coined by Eddie "Flashin" Fowlkes as a way of describing the downtempo dance productions that came from the city. With the line between techno and house as blurry as ever, Fowlkes' descriptive term has caught on, evidenced by the title of this compilation -- it fits both the music and the city itself. In 2002, Third Ear came around and presented this two-disc set featuring exclusive tracks from almost every major producer that falls into the category (Kenny Dixon, Jr., Terrence Parker, and Rick Wade are MIA, for instance). This release clues in non-Detroiters to several producers who surface rarely in two senses -- not only are the releases few and far between, but the pressings are very limited. Plenty of house fans will recognize the likes of Fowlkes, Theo Parrish, Alton Miller, and Mike Clark, but it's safe to say that names like Delano Smith, Norm Talley, and Malik Alston will be new to most -- a shame since Smith, for instance, has been kicking around as an influential DJ since the late '70s. Despite the fact that these tracks are thrown under one umbrella, the sounds are just as varied as the personalities of the producers. One could split the tracks between those that trade on raw, almost crude sounds and those that sound more like immaculately produced modern jazz, but there are several shades between both camps. It becomes apparent with a cursory listen that these gents are DJs first and producers second, since many of the tracks play out like miniature sets with a couple movements. Parrish's "Falling Up" is the finest of the 14 tracks, an exemplary slice of his genius that effortlessly slides back and forth from sick bass thrums to a cluster of keyboard notes that continually repeat by slightly overlapping. Not everything is pure gold, but there's enough quality here to make one consider how unfairly the popularity scales are tipped toward techno. As for who is the most beatdown here, that award has to go to Rick Wilhite for "Ruby Nights," a track that makes you feel as if Foghorn Leghorn is dribbling a 50-pound lead basketball off your dome.

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