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The Party Sound Heard 'Round the World

L.A. is the latest stop featured in the 'Global Underground' series of electronic music albums.

March 10, 2001|DAVID PIERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Andy Horsfield sometimes wonders whether he did something special in a previous life to deserve the one he has now.

The 34-year-old Englishman travels to exotic locations around the world with superstar DJs in tow to throw huge parties, then puts together a compilation CD based on the trip. His 19-album series is titled "Global Underground" and has sold 1.5 million albums worldwide, almost half of them in the U.S., he says.

"I have to pinch myself and ask if it's all real," he says with a smile.

Horsfield's series, which is released by his own Boxed record label, mostly employs big-name British DJs who champion the trance and progressive house sounds that have reigned at the biggest dance clubs in Europe and the U.S. for the last two years.

The concept is simple: After throwing a party with music designed to reflect the flavor of the host city, the DJ returns to England and records a condensed set reminiscent of the one he spun there.

The latest CD in the series is devoted to L.A. The compilation features John Digweed, who also put together tributes to Hong Kong and Sydney. His L.A. mix was inspired by his sold-out show at the Mayan Theatre last October.

"To get that kind of crowd on a Monday is fantastic," Digweed said while in town recently to put on another dance party at the Mayan. "They were all there to hear that music. It wasn't like a normal Saturday night out for a drink. That's the kind of crowd I like to play to. You get the true music-heads."

Horsfield, a portly and gregarious figure, says that last fall's party at the Mayan was the best he's had since "Global Underground's" first gig in 1996 in Tel Aviv.

"There are few places in the world a show like that can happen," he says.

In his return to the Mayan, Digweed spun for another raucous, sold-out crowd. Seamlessly sewing together tracks, he selected tunes that were large on bass and full on repetition. Call it nouveau minimalism. The changes in sound were so subtle that people went into a frenzy when a new drum or cymbal was introduced to the beat. And there lies "Global Underground's" success, critics say.

Horsfield and Todd instruct their DJs to meld records that are indicative of their DJ sets and musical tastes. As a result, the tracks are more cerebral than the usual dance party compilations.

"When I make a mix, I want the energy to increase gradually so it entices the listener," says Digweed, who has been established in England for years and now has a higher profile stateside thanks to an appearance in the rave-themed film "Groove."

"The reward is playing totally unreleased and unheard-of tracks and getting the same reaction an anthem would," he adds. "What Andy and James are doing is a lot more colorful than just having a bunch of Top 20 records. There's a lot more care and passion in what they do."

The dark tribal beats on Digweed's latest contribution separate it from the trance and progressive house styles that dominate the "Global Underground" series, and which have become mainstream America's electronic music of choice.

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That sound is scorned by many in the electronic music community because of its crossover appeal, but Horsfield says he has no illusions about finding depth in the music he promotes. "Global Underground" is more of a hedonistic movement than a spiritual one, with a Web site proclamation, "Don't take life too seriously."

It was five years ago that Horsfield and business partner James Todd decided that combining their two passions of clubbing and traveling would make for a far more original compilation series than the ones they found on the market.

But you can't help rooting for the pair. They refuse to move from Newcastle to the more glamorous London because of their affinity for their hometown. They're soccer-loving lads. And best of all, they're competing against compilations released by British corporate dance clubs such as Ministry of Sound and Cream.

Horsfield and Todd's only weapon against the major labels is their friendships with top DJs such as Paul Oakenfold, Darren Emerson and Nick Warren. Horsfield and Todd knew them before they became superstars in Britain, so making a mix for "Global Underground" was like friends helping one another out, Horsfield says.

In turn, the DJs appreciate how the compilation humanizes them. They have their pictures placed on the CD sleeve, and they choose the records they want to mix.

Raymond Roker, publisher of the electronic music and hip-hop magazine Urb, says: "I think what they've [Horsfield and Todd] done is not only capture the moment and sound, but also the moment in space where you are. 'Global Underground' has been really good at picking the DJs at the right time and the scenes at the right time."

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