Over the past eight years, Carmine Conte and Matteo Milleri, AKA Tale of Us, have built their reputation with big remixes—most notably for Mano Le Tough—and as purveyors of imperial superclub techno. The sound is accessible yet moody enough to stay out of the mainstream, and is now codified with the record label and party series Afterlife for which Tale Of Us have gained a huge following in Ibiza and beyond. In this light, their latest mix, fabric 97, feels timely. The results are likely to please fans of what Tale Of Us play all summer long at Privilege. But the CD feels like a missed opportunity. A fabric mix can be a tabula rasa, an invitation for established DJs to make their mark in revealing or unexpected ways. Tale of Us do neither here, pushing the artists on Afterlife without taking many risks.
Following Endless, their beatless debut LP on the storied classical label Deutsche Grammophon, fabric 97 goes back to the duo’s tried-and-tested formula: brooding, gothic techno to soundtrack a journey inwards. Recondite’s fittingly titled “Saudade”—a uniquely Portuguese type of melancholy—sets the tone with warped, aching synths before the loping march of Trikk’s “Metala” ups the ante. It’s the first of many incremental movements over the mix’s long, slow build, evoking an inexorable shuffle towards a kind of narcotic oblivion, an indistinct (albeit not unpleasurable) shroud of wistful keys and foreboding beats.
The older tracks stand out most. On DJ Koze’s 2011 remix of Efdemin’s “There Will Be Singing,” the drama is heightened with monastic chanting, organ synths and a monologue on the meaning of art that leads into the elegant, galactic textures of Reference’s “Ghetto Nebula.” It’s a notable shift, and the first track that might actually move hips. Elsewhere, Patrice Bäumel’s “The Hatchet” is bound for after-hours ubiquity in the coming months, its industrial clatter and death rattle inviting the accompanying hiss of a smoke machine. The plaintive vocal on “Lifetime,” by Mathame, is the mix’s most compelling, but like Bäumel’s before it, it’s an unreleased track that already sounds familiar. The overwhelming feeling is of having heard all this before.
The mix’s climax arrives via Adana Twins’ “Sequenze 01.” It’s a bona fide belter, all squalling, pitch-shifted synths and a beat insistent enough to rouse the most resolute of wallflowers. But it’s a rare punch in the face amid a lot of amorphous mist. Tale Of Us’ Renaissance compilation was much better—although tapped for the label’s less proggy Mix Collection series, there was enough colour, shade and melody to keep things interesting. And their 2015 Essential Mix, while similar to this one, was bouncier, brighter, less monotone. These tracks would still go down a treat at an Afterlife event, of course. But the mix rarely challenges or surprises in the way that great fabric CDs can. At best, fabric 97 is overly cautious; at worst, it feels like brazen PR, or evidence of Tale Of Us’ limited palette.