DJ Shadow just played his first Essential Mix in 13 years. In light of this we look back at some of the Radio One show’s most essential Essential Mixes.
BBC Radio One’s Essential Mix was founded by Pete Tong in 1993. Tong has presented the show ever since, but ‘presented’ is a bit of a strong word, since the whole concept of Essential Mix is grounded in handing over the floor to one DJ for the entire two hour slot (4:00am-6:00am), where they are given the chance to display their skills in any way they wish.
Tong only invites top tier DJs onto the show, so getting an Essential Mix slot is an achievement in itself. Once they get on there, some take the opportunity to pay tribute to their influences, while others showcase a particular genre or time and place.
It would be impossible to pick the Essential Mixes which are categorically the best without re-listening to nearly two thousand hours of episodes, but we assure you these episodes are definitely worth your time. As the show’s title suggests, though, every single mix they air is essential.
Paul Oakenfold, December 1994
A good friend of Pete Tong’s, Paul Oakenfold was Essential Mix’s first guest DJ, and he has appeared on the show 35 more times. His mix from December 1994, though, is widely considered not just his best, but the best Essential Mix of all time; it was voted as such by listeners in 2000. Fifteen years have passed since then, but this mix still more than holds up.
Pete Tong introduces Oakenfold’s set as a way to bring the atmosphere and feeling of Goa (the ultimate place to be for dance fans in the winter) to people who could not be there, Tong included. Clearly, it worked. Tracks from Mr. V, Saint Etienne, Salt Tank, and even selections from Vangelis’ Blade Runner Soundtrack brought the Goa spirit into listeners’ homes in the UK.
Flying Lotus, 2008
“Something a bit left from an experimental producer,” is how Pete Tong introduced this two hour masterclass in mixing hip hop, electronic, jazz and beats. Flying Lotus was still making a name for himself at this time, with his days as a Grammy-winning producer for Kendrick Lamar ahead of him, but his talent as a DJ and selector was evident in this compelling mix.
Opening with an extended classical orchestral piece from his own great aunt, Alice Coltrane, and featuring tracks from Slum Village, Busta Rhymes, Hudson Mohawke and Bjork, the mix is dramatic, eclectic and exciting. Everything you would expect from Flying Lotus.
Kerri Chandler, 2006
It is clear from his gushing introduction that Pete Tong was delighted to secure Kerri Chandler for an Essential Mix appearance. Tong hails Chandler as “a pioneer of deep house and the killer bass line.” Expectations were high, but Kerri Chandler did not disappoint. His mix featured some of his best solo productions and remixes, plus tracks from Louie Vega, Phortune, Those Guys and Johnick among others. For the entirety of this mix, the beat never stops.
Joey Negro, 1996
Joey Negro’s record collection is legendary. Pete Tong calls him a ‘trainspotter’ in his introduction, referring to his uncanny ability to identify samples and extremely obscure records by ear. This is no surprise when listening to Dave Lee’s first Essential Mix (of two so far). Negro’s selections draw heavily from his disco/funk influences, with tracks from Thelma Houston, Roy Ayers, and Funkshun amongst others. The more obscure tunes make this mix what it is. What you are hearing is the sound of many years’ crate digging paying off.
DJ Shadow, 2003
Our fifth and final essential Essential Mix comes from the man who prompted this article. DJ Shadow’s return to Essential Mix would not be generating so much buzz were it not for his supreme performance the first time around. Tong introduces it as a “truly red hot” mix by “simply one of the world’s greatest music producers.”
DJ Shadow then takes us through an unrelenting mix leaning heavily on hip hop at the beginning, but branching off into classic funk, classic rock, folk, pop and indie rock throughout. The DJ didn’t take the word ‘mix’ lightly, combining acapellas, instrumentals and snippets into his own unique constructions. The tracklist for this mix was so eclectic and diverse that many have spent years struggling to piece it together.