December is an odd month for album releases. The music press and shops are focussed on looking back rather than forward. It’s album of the year time. If I look back the December Rough Trade albums (such as Golden Teacher and Jim James), they felt like oddities, stop gaps. Not all of them have been awful, but more often than not they are records that I haven’t returned to. It may be that receiving these albums when there is so much pre-Chrimbo stuff going on puts them at an immediate disadvantage.
So where does Mix Master Mike’s Conquest fit into this sequence?
Conquest is his first studio album in 15 years. Rough Trade have it on a lovely red vinyl, combined with a mix CD. It appears to be effectively a pre-release LP as there is very little out there to show it’s availability. It certainly isn’t on Spotify or Tidal.
Primarily known to more casual fans of hip-hop as the Beastie Boys go-to DJ in the latter part of their career, Mike is one of the most world’s most respected turntablists. He shares DJ Yoda’s predeliction for introducing little snippets of B-movie dialogue and self referencing shout-outs. We don’t have the subtle beauty of DJ Shadows work. This is turned up to eleven Saturday night music. The beats are often loud. The scratching is to the fore with big squelchy monophonic analogue synth riffs. I could imagine this going down a storm at the Glade stage at Glastonbury, a storming set in the vein of Fat Boy Slim that we enjoyed last year.
But it isn’t the end of June, 80 degrees with the school holidays approaching. It is a mild British winter, damp and grey. We’ve just exited the European Union, an act of ill informed vested interest national self harm. And Conquest does feel like a brief invigorating antidote. It puts a spring in your step, introduces a swagger as you trudge to the 7:31 to Moorgate . You may even start inadvertently air scratching (trust me, I’ve done it!).
If you want to get a feel for Mix Master Mike’s craft, this live video from a turntablist collective Scratch tour in 2005 shows the light fingered lightning skills that he employs. Shame about the geeky teenage crowd demographic.
Back to Conquest though. Whilst at face value this may seem to be a nostalgic trip back to 90s prime hip hop era, Mike is bringing something new to the party. Rude Killer features London grime artist Flowdan and the rhythm is recognisably British and adds a sense of variety. To cover the old school element, Channel Zektar has a guest spot from turntable cohort DJ Qbert and the bonus CD includes a collaboration with the late great Adam Yauch aka MCA from the Beastie Boys.
If you had asked me two weeks before Christmas about Conquest, I would have suggested I would be swapping it out back at Rough Trade. A month into 2020 though and I’m really starting to enjoy it.
It could be a keeper.