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VINE VOICEon 3 September 2006
James Holden At The Controls is a breath of fresh air in a market saturated by mix CDs. Both discs are equally imaginative and sound like nothing else I have ever heard (and I listen to a lot of music).

Holdens tastes have changed from his forray into progressive trance and the Border Community boss serves up downtempo grooves, wierd glitchy electronica and techno with beautifully programmed mixing and effects. He takes less obvious classics from Plastikman and Aphex Twin and adds them to an overwhelming wall of fuzzy sound and harmony. CD1 is slightly more downtempo and could even be a very original electronic take on the traditional Ibiza sunset grooves one would hear at Mambo or Cafe Del Mar. The essence is the same, blissed out grooves and melody. CD2 is slightly more dancefloor orientated with 4/4 beats, funk and uplifting synths.

This is an excellent achievement which has made me feel like buying his Balance mix from a few years ago.

Like this? Try: Nathan Fake - Drowning In A Sea Of Love
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on 8 April 2006
back in 2003, when Holden first started pushing minimal techno in his sets and production work, it was a startling and brave thing for a 'progressive' DJ to do. Of course, now that no longer stands out, with Sasha, Digweed and all their various proteges having followed him with declarative mixes stating their "new" direction. But trust the incurable individualist Holden to shock us all again.
This is not your typical DJ mix. Most jocks will somply throw out a set of genre-specific tunes, with a token 'leftfield' track to close. At The Controls goes at it upside down, and lets the IDM, indie and post-rockish cuts from the likes of whisky-soaked Scots depressive Malcolm Middleton, Massive Attack and so on set the tone. He weaves in a few - yes - minimal techno cuts, including some sterling productions from the man himself, but never has his sights set on the dancefloor - which is good, because my livingroom doesn't have one of those.
Both sets are moody, glacial and lush. This is the sound of a man unafraid to alienate his audience once in a while. It doesn't quite reach the heights of his earlier Balance mix, but comparing them almost seems disingenuous. Still, if you're looking for some crude floor fodder, then the umpteenth Ministry Annual is over there.
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on 16 April 2006
One of the things that put me off the whole 'prog' house/trance scene around three years ago was the way in which people would think they were moving the scene into new waters because they'd come up with some half baked technological idea to make matters 'interesting'. Cue mix CDs by the likes of Sasha and James Zabelia that became far more about the equipment they were using than the music they were playing (NB Sasha: Ableton/Maven will not make a dull tune more interesting, it'll simply allow you to drag it out for even longer).

I purchased "James Holden At The Controls" on a whim in a kind of "I wonder what he's up to these days" fashion (the same mentality that saw me buying "Fundacion") and it's a blast. Not because it was "Mixed live with Prototype DJ Control Surface by Iter1, U-Control, Casiooh-La-La 3.1417 etc." but because tune-wise, it rocks. Press releases and reviews have tried to make out what a big deal it is that artists as diverse as Plastikman, Massive Attack, Harmonia, Malcolm Middleton, Aphex Twin, Fennesz etc. could share space in the same mix, but the reason it works is because Holden's mixing doesn't treat it like it's a big deal at all. Rather his penchant for psy-trance melody, big bassy drones and Krautrock repetition holds the mixes together, finding a common thread in such supposedly disparate genres.

On disc 1, Holden also explores diversity in tempo, an area hitherto uncharted in most 'prog' mixes. In fact, for the first eight tracks, one could almost be forgiven for thinking they'd bought a Global Underground "Afterhours" compilation by mistake, such is the plodding tempo from which proceedings are kicked off. But this is all part of Holden's great ability to build, and when his own "Lump" brings in some hefty bass synths the mix really kicks in. Harmonia's 70's Krautrock piece "Watussi" mixes in sublimely with Holden's up-to-the-minute production "10101" and Border Community label mate Nathan Fake (with a little help from Apparat) contributes some intense '80s electro synths to the proceedings before the mix blisses out with it's melodic peak - Lucky Pierre's stringtastic "Angels On Your Body".

The more upbeat disc 2, in comparison, is somewhat front loaded. The first six tracks are sublime, covering all bases from stomping electro to drum-led shoegaze, early Aphex Twin and futuristic broken beat without mixes being jarring nor smoothed over to the point of inconsequentiality. However, Holden's minimal reworking of Black Strobe's "Nazi Trance F**k Off", good as it is, seems like something of a modest peak and AFX's melodic synth noodlings and creepy vocal samples are somewhat tacked on at the end, despite being not quite impactive enough for "One more tune!" status.

Despite these flaws though, Holden's put together a commendable 2 disc experience here. The tracks are melodic enough to engage you but with enough nooks and crannies to warrant repeat listenings. The mixing is spot on - forget the equipment, there's a human quality to the way these tracks were put together. In the immortal words of Andy Weatherall, electronic music should be about music "made with machines, not by machines" and as long as Holden keeps injecting that human quality, dance music will always have an ace up its sleeve.
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on 6 April 2007
I bought this album thinking it was more of a progressive trance album, I was rather disappointed initially. However as I listened to this CD either in work or in the car it really grew on me. I began to appreciate the skills of Holden involved in mixing an album that contained such irregular and 'alternative' beats. The tracks are excellent, not something I normally would listen to but when mixed like this I love it. I would like to see Holden mixing stuff like this live on the decks in some dark smoky club!
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on 3 April 2006
I came across James Holden through a track used on a Sasha compilation, Holden and Thompson "Come to me", (excellent!),and I had to investigate further, I came across the "Balanced" mix by James Holden, wonderful dark mix! Which led me to this, It is totally not what I expected! but better! a real journey, what the Matrix should have been, a mind-blower. I am a big fan of the likes of Sasha et al, now I am defintely a big fan of James Holden! I am not one to say go out and buy it, but in this case I have to make an exception!
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on 9 April 2008
I bought this about a year ago have haven't stopped playing it since. I loved it so much I went and bought a midi controller and spent hundreds of pounds (perhaps thousands) on software, samplers, and a new computer. Side 2 is my favourite, it starts off beautifully smooth but goes absolutely berserk with the synths firing all over the place and into the audience on 1939 and Solemn Thirsty. It's just so exiting I have trouble concentrating when driving the car with this going mega loud. And Sun Spots really gets into your brain sounding like bits of cork and wood twisting into each other, it's so intriguing and weird, pure techno fusion.

It's not perfect, side 1 is just fab but fizzles out halfway through, and some of the plastically Euro disco tracks on side 2 could have been better. Still, I've been completely compelled by it, so much I went and bought all his other stuff but nothing can match this.
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on 17 April 2006
I bought this album on the back of James Holden's outstanding Balance mix CD. This appealed to me as I have been losing enthusiasm for mix CD's in general as the majority of DJ's either tread a tired and well worn path with them or lose the plot entirely by trying too hard to be different.

What Holden has achieved here is blend together a collection of tunes that will challenge your normal dance music conventions. Stuttering beats and techno bleeps sit alongside chiming guitars and ethereal ambience. Then just when you think you have got it all worked out, Holden throws in a couple of cheesy 80's sounding synth work outs. Yet at no point does the music become cold sounding and soulless which other mix albums so often do as the DJ throws in a few leftfield tracks just for the sake of it. And that is the key here. Holden obviously has genuine love and affection for these tracks and yet unlike say the 'Back To Mine' series, he could not care less how cool people will think his taste in music is.

Don't get me wrong though. There are tracks here that you would expect in one of James Holden's live sets, yet it's not long before the pace is dropped back down a peg or two with a more 'intelligent' sounding tune.
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on 10 April 2006
This mix album took me a bit by surprise as I was expecting something along the lines of his Balance CD. Instead it's a more laid back affair. Things do pick up a little on the second CD, but it's not a "banging" CD. If you are looking for that, then look elsewhere.
If this all sounds negaitve, it isn't meant to. On the contrary, this is a brilliant and original CD. One of the tracks on the first CD is from 1974!! The inclusion of Xtal, one of Aphex Twins many beautiful pieces, was an inspired choice. It also contains some of the Border Community stalwarts like Nathan Fake and Petter.
He really is "pushing things forward" (cliche, I know) with his music. This mix is in line with that. Fantastic overall, and one of the best mixes I've had the pleasure of hearing in years.
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on 19 February 2017
I am very pleasd
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on 22 May 2006
ok, I must say I hate trance music, I always have and always will... to me trance music is evil and must perish because there's far too many djs doing trance music compilations and the music is not relevant anymore, it's stuck on repeat since forever.

That's why I loved this cd, cause it feels like trance music yet it's inventive and really progressive, the fact is you could really call this progressive trance music and for once be right!
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