The Fabric compilation series has arguably become the most respected showcase of dance music’s finest DJs and producers, a journal of the current acts making waves in clubs worldwide. I was therefore horrified to discover that this latest instalment has been put together by a name I had never even heard referred to in passing; the musical geekery on which I pride myself was shaken to its very core. An almost hysterical Google search ensued, which revealed, to my infinite relief, that Omar S is a figure very few people seem to be familiar with. Though his label, FXHE Recordings, is now in its eighth year, he has apparently only given two known interviews. There is no Omar S MySpace, and the FXHE website is a sparse, no-frills platform for selling vinyl and mp3s. Unlike most of the artists Fabric choose to record mixes, who tend to have bookings most nights of the week, Omar S doesn’t play a huge number of live sets, and spends his days certifying parts for Ford.
Working for a major car manufacturer and producing techno makes Omar S, from my perspective, the most stereotypical resident of Detroit imaginable. However, whilst in terms of the former he is very much a part of the city’s tradition, his music is a distinct and personal interpretation of the Detroit sound. Using the aged drum machines and synths which created the revered punchy percussion and soulful melodies of techno’s forefathers, Omar S’ productions combine organic, nostalgic elements with modern production values and an innovative outlook. This fusion of old and new is epitomised in the track ‘Oasis 13 ½,’ in which the dominant, bleepy melody, reminiscent of modern deep-house, is complimented by a subtle, repetitive piano riff which sounds more like something from the early nineties.
Choosing to put together a mix comprised solely of his own music is a daring feat, particularly for someone without a massive reputation or fan-base. Thankfully, due to the enormous range of material Omar S has made (he has had over 100 releases to date), things stay varied. The stand-out track on the CD is ‘Strider’s World’, an epic example of progressive house. A slightly sinister, repetitive bassline rolls along under intricate patterns made up from a variety of video game-style samples, building up to an angst-filled crescendo. ‘1 out of 183 beats’ could easily be categorised as minimal techno, full of subtle melodies formed from percussion and strange, psytrance-esque noises. Both of these tracks clearly draw a lot of influence from current producers. At the other end of the spectrum is ‘Day,’ a decidedly old-school affair which uses a funky bassline, a breakbeat and a vocal sample from The Supremes to devastatingly bouncy effect. The mix ends with ‘Set Me Out,’ essentially a soul tune with a 4-4 beat, again displaying Omar S’ versatility as a producer.
Unfortunately, the structuring of the mix as a whole is somewhat questionable. Good music and variety are pretty reliable guarantees of a quality DJ set; unfortunately it’s far harder to make hopping between styles work, and one gets the impression that Omar S has simply picked which of his tracks he wants to showcase then put them together without a huge amount of thought. The result is a mix which fails to sustain energy and lacks a sense of progression. One of the best things about Fabric mixes is the focus on the art of DJing, there is little impression of this here. That said, the high quality of Omar S’ music still makes this well worth a listen. In the current general climate of throwaway dance music designed for instant gratification, it is good to be reminded that a lot of thoughtful, innovative material is still being made.