It's funny looking at the packaging now - all the 16th century paintings from the Sistine Chapel, famously created by Michelangelo, reflect this album as a part of musical history. It was the first ever music album to be fully mixed to the extent of re-creating a club experience - Technics MK2's and all, by a DJ (or 2 for that matter). Upon reading the story that's written across the flaps inside the packaging, we discover that this isn't your average annual of songs. It is, in fact, a reflection of the club night between the years 1992 and 1994, when Renaissance; a Northern club that was dogged with worry as to how successful it could be, was just getting started. So what better way to celebrate the change in dance-music than by releasing a fully mixed 3 CD album mixed by 2 young men... commonly known to each other as Alexander Coe (aka Sasha) and John Digweed?
Digger's was probably the luckiest DJ of his era. After sending a promo Tape of his work to the new 'Renaissance' club, that already had Sasha as a DJ, they were amazed by his technical skills. Hence, under 2 years later, he gets to mix the greatest DJ album of all time, only a matter of years after just being a mobile gardener to pay for his records. All I can say is wow.
Unlike any other album I've bought, Renaissance (I simply call it this for short, it was the first album after all) originally came in a wax-paper sleeve, which held together the gate-fold packaging that opens up into a long 4-squared section. Flaps fold over to cover the cd's, making it look very neat, whilst also cleverly holding the tracklisting for each cd when you flip it up. These CD panels then fold together, and form a book like opening, which has always reminded me of a bible! The package is quite simply, pride at its highest level, with no expense spared. You can forget about trying to find one with the original paper sleeve - I've only seen one on in the past 4 years.
But what about the music? 3 discs, separated with colours, house what is a complete and utter euphoric journey through. The reason this album is so beautiful is because, like The Mix Collection 2, it taps into your emotions like no other dance album to this date, let alone a standard single artist album. But what sets this album apart is that it covers the years 1992 > 1994, which allowed Digweed and Sasha not to simply present the newest material, but the songs that made the club so special - that being Italian House music (hence partly the name Renaissance - a time of change). The album starts so confidently and beautifully with 3 separate mixes of Leftfield's 'Song For Life', demonstrating Sasha's unique ability to 'rhyth-mix' using the hi-hats and mids of tracks. Starting off from a dream-like and steady mix, it moves seamlessly into a full beat and hair-raising rhythm with the second mix, and the eventually into the crazy big-beat third. To me, CD1 has always sounded like an introduction for the album as a whole, as it sounds the most progressive. 'VOAT' has a sublime piano rhythm that reflects a typical 90's sound with great vocals, and whats more, mixes into an even better song - 'Perfect Motion', which is by far one of the best songs on the album, with amazing lyrics and a memorable rhythm. As a DJ myself, it's impossible to stop listening to the seamless beat-matching between these tracks, and soon after I bought the vinyl myself! Talking of memorable, what about 'BladeRunner'? Probably the most euphoric song on the album, with amazing vocals, and a hair raising rhythm that just keeps building up! And if thats not enough, it mixes instantly with only a couple of bars into 'House Stompin', which again, is another totally classic track that will have you up on the floor, saying "That's it, i'm dancing!". This cluster of songs make up some of the finest house songs i've heard in my time, because its so simple and makes you want to get up and wave your hands around to the "House Stompin" vocal, or dream to the lyrics of Perfect Motion.
CD2, my favourite CD for its funkiness, has probably more stand out tracks; the most obvious being 'that one' - 'Not Over Yet' by The State Of Grace, which to me, sums up what Renaissance was all about at that time. It was a time of change, and its beautiful positive vocals and organ/piano rhythm is to die for at its 'original' vinyl speed (not modern classics album speed). 'She Holds The Key' after this track is without a doubt another stand out song, with yet again, amazing vocals. But the build up to this CD is cut short as the party is well and truly started with 'Slid', a genuinely funky song with a lovely rhythm and fun vocals. From here on, its euphoria all the way as piano and organ sounds create the perfect happy party atmosphere for the entire disc. This is probably my favourite, as it reflects how dance music was not just up there with 'the beats' if you like - it has variety in its sounds, from the bouncy and happy 'Lets get this party started' to the great vocals in 'She holds the key'. Its mixed with little progression, and is full of memorable rhythms, giving it a more bouncy/fun sound. And what better way to end the CD than Kym Mazelles "Was that all it was", with its super happy piano rhyth's and of course, amazing vocal.
Though I see the 2nd CD as my favourite, their is no denying that CD3 is, technically, the best structured mix you're ever likely to hear. 'How Can I Love You More' is an instant classic from 1994 - the mix here is alot longer than the original, but perhaps is better at gradually building up the momentum, rather than the snappier original. Whereas the original had a rhyth going all the way through, this builds up to the end. Moby's 'Go' is also on this album, which I have yet to hear elsewhere. For many other people too, this is another classic song, and again the mix used here is alot longer than the original. In an ideal world, I think the original mix of 'Go' would have been perfectly suited to not only the sound of this album, but for its length, and perhaps the mix included here is just a little bit drawn out and mellow. The CD continues to build up to a typical Renaissance end, with sublime mixing between the completely crazy, yet amazingly bouncy 'Bomb Scare' and the incredible 'Age of Love', which just had to be on this album for its Renaissance sounding vocals and rhythm (I think Sasha or Digweed would have shot themselves in the foot for not including it!) The "Come on, dance with me" vocals are probably the most memorable in my time buying dance albums, and are sampled for The Mix Collection 2 too, on track 2 of CD3. This track pretty much signals the end for what is, and incredible journey, as the vocals and electronic sounds of 'Its My Pleasure' make the album sound like the end of an epic film.
Is it the best then? Yes. Their has never been an album - club or mainstream - to capture the same character of its cover than this. One listen of 'Age of Love' perfectly captures a club which was like no other. The sad thing is, songs like this, and Perfect Motion, show now how such an amazing age for music withered away in such short time. In an ideal world, 'Renaissance' created a genre of dance music in the UK, for neither it is trance, house, or hard-core of the time, but Italian house music that we had never heard before, let alone in the Southern parts of the UK where the scene was alot less working-class, and alot more glammy. I may have stated on my review for The Mix Collection 2 that that was indeed the best, but to be honest, they are both there. Whereas the Mix Collection 2 is more mature, and has more stand out tracks, with an even beautifier (is that a word??) end, as 'No Other Love' mixes goose-pimply into Robert Miles one and only 'Children' (the original, I might add!), this first Mix Collection is much, much more fun and feel good, and should I even say innocent? The amount of vocals, the attention to detail, and variety of rhythms makes this a diverse album that just keeps taking you to another level. And this was only achievable on this album, as the songs capture a short period during 1992>94 when dance music had passion and variety. Luckily, Sasha and John Digweed were on hand to mix it!
My favourite part of the album? Undoubtedly the vocals in 'Perfect Motion'. They are simple and quite catchy, whilst being feel-good for that era. Like the album as a whole, it taps into your emotions and puts you on that 'euphoria' level that you simply don't get these days. 'Bladerunner' is another example - emotion fired vocals along with a classic rhythm. This album is likely to reflect the problem these days - dance albums are produced to sell. This is likely to be the finest example of a music album that's been mixed and compiled to perfection. It doesn't intend on being a tracklist of hits, or songs that the record company know's will sell. It is a piece of art, reflected in the images around the packaging. The reason they waited 2 years to make this album (between 1992 and 94) was so they could gather the right material, and then spend time practicing and working out the mixes. The album reflects how DJ's are under-rated by many who don't listen to dance music (because of the sheer rubbish these days) in that Sasha and Digweed have the musical knowledge to gather a large variety of music that captures a unique sound, and puts you into the Renaissance era, in the days of Michaelangelo. Sasha and Digweed are likely to be the best ever DJ partners, and their musical intelligence is reflected on this album - where to use long beat-matches, where to do simple switches, knowing that putting 'Age of Love' just before 'Its my pleasure' is perhaps the most climatic ending ever to album, with its sudden switch over (Apart from Digweeds emotional ending to Mix Collection 2, with 'No Other Love'- the unbelivable blend to Robert Miles original 'Children') that sounds like the end of a movie!
While I still retain this is the best dance album ever created (because it has. literally, been created) The Mix Collection 2 is without a doubt on the same level. It shows a different side to club, and with Digweed in charge, allows the album to be more emotional and 'club' based. In theory, you can only get the true Renaissance experience with both albums! But because this is the first, it still sells for more ebay, leaving Mix Collection 2 a bit cheaper!
This really is the bible (excuse the pun) of dance music, and you will not fully appreciate club albums until you get your hands on this. With regards to the newer Anniversary, 2 tracks have been replaced due to Copyright infringements, and the actually re-doing the entire mix on an Apple G4 was unnecessary. Though... Sasha is my total utter hero, and grew up near me, so I'll just shut up at this point!
What more can I say?.... This album just keeps getting better every time you listen to it. I should know - I listen to it everyday.