Four terrible mistakes Defected made with the new Heller & Farley compilation

As a lover of house music from the 1990s, I was quite excited to learn about this new 3-CD compilation featuring 30 classic tracks and remixes by a duo that showed unremitting creativity and care when making music.

Heller & Farley recorded some classic tracks back in the day, and it’s great to see them being brought to a new audience, but while the project should be applauded, there are three things that really ruin it for me, three mistakes that could easily have been avoided.

The three CDs are packed pretty full, but it’s not worth including a track unless you’re going to use the full version, the one originally conceived and preferred by Heller & Farley.

For example, CD1 track 4: Jasper Street Co. ‘A Feelin’ (Heller & Farley Project Remix). This runs 11'09", which you might think is enough for most people, but the original was actually longer, 12'23", and it’s available digitally, so why not use the full version? The answer is almost certainly because the shorter one is more common, and they just didn’t look.

Another more glaring example is CD1 track 6: Junior Vasquez ‘Get Your Hands Off My Man’ (Fire Island Dub 4 Junior). A shortened version (6'35") was on the CD-single back in the day and has featured on a few compilations since then, but the full version, the one that came out on vinyl, is actually almost twice as long: 12'14".

So half the mix is missing here! There’s a second breakdown that listeners of the compilation won’t hear. It’s like showing people a movie and closing the cinema half way through. A little more research and this could have been avoided.

You’d think record companies would keep their masters safe for later use, but you’d be wrong. In some cases - especially for house music in the 90s, when many labels considered the genre just a marketing tool not to be taken seriously - the original digital copies are lost forever.

When this happens and you’re preparing a compilation, there’s little choice but to use a vinyl copy and clean it up as best as possible, removing all the clicks and scratches so it sounds as good as it can. Any mastering company can do this, and there are a number of specialised applications that do a fine job of making old vinyl sound fresh again.

But Defected couldn’t be bothered

Track 5 on CD1 is Tension ‘A Place Called Heaven’ (Fire Island Mix), and as soon as you listen, it’s obvious that the sound is muddy and there’s a lot of background noise. This track was recorded from vinyl, and that generally wouldn’t be a problem… if it wasn’t available on CD anywhere.

But it is.

A compilation called The Real Deal was released in 1994, and it included the track in its full version. Even if a new digital master can’t be found now, this CD is still the best source.

It would have take Defected 10 seconds to find a copy, and £3 to buy it. In fact, it took me less than 20 minutes to find a lossless file of the 1994 compilation on the web.

Take a listen to the sound comparison below with a clip taken from the Defected comp, followed by a clip from the 1994 comp. Defected’s has heavy compression and noise reduction that loses a lot of detail in the sound (it’s all muddy) and makes the treble whistle. It sounds like a terrible mp3, and especially awful when compared to the clean version.

But it gets worse

The standout track for me on the compilation, the one I was looking forward to getting in cristalline digital format is on CD2: The Believers ‘Who Dares To Believe In Me?’ (Roach Motel Dub).

This is a true classic that was only ever available on vinyl. It’s been lost to the world since 1994 because Ministry of Sound licensed the original from Strictly Rhythm in New York, and then commissioned new remixes for the UK. Once Ministry’s license ran out (probably about three years after their release), Strictly officially owned the new versions, but as they didn’t have the masters and hadn’t paid for the remixes, there wasn’t much they could do with them.

This explains why this particular remix has been unavailable for over twenty years, and why I was so excited to finally get it on CD.

I didn’t stay excited for long

Not only is this track obviously ripped from vinyl, displaying the same problems as the one above - muddy audio, background noise, whistling treble, heavy compression - it’s also clear that the vinyl in question is completely knackered. The sound quality is absolutely atrocious.

Even if no-one can find the masters (which is understandable), there are mint copies on Discogs that could have been ripped, declicked and remastered to sound almost undistinguishable from a proper master. It would have cost a tenner. Instead, Defected have tried to make do with a worn out piece of old vinyl that’s obviously been played relentlessly for over twenty years.

It sounds shite

I can’t tell you how disappointed I was. This is sheer laziness, and a wasted opportunity.

I loved this track when it first came out. It was a bona fide hit, you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing it, and eventually, inevitably, we got tired of it.

Ultra Flava came out in 1994, and was re-released a few years afterwards. Twice. There are 20 different mixes already available. Does the world really need any more?

Apparently Defected thinks it does. A 2016 version appears on the compilation, and predictably it isn’t very good. My guess is the boys were cajoled into making it. Ominously, the Defected site says:

Further classic Farley & Heller productions will be remastered and reissued as House Masters singles in early 2016

You’ll find those here. Thankfully it seems they are not expanded with new remixes or ‘remastered’ from a battered piece of vinyl found in the attic, indeed some of the re-releases include mixes that have never been available digitally before, which is great news.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for Ultra Flava - many of the original remixes from the 1990s are still vinyl only (and twenty year-old vinyl at that). It would have been great to see those re-released instead of redundant new versions with trancey keyboards for the youth of today. Some things are best left alone.

Defected have undeniably put together a great project, but for me it is irremediably marred by these problems. Sloppiness, laziness, assuming that most people won’t notice or don’t care…

When you’re catering to a niche market like this, attention to detail is important. What’s the point of resurrecting lost classics if you’re going to mess them up?

And it’s especially galling because it could have been avoided, if only a true lover of house music had made the effort. These tracks deserve better.

P.S. If you want an example of a classic house comp done right, try the new Mood II Swing triple CD from Strictly Rhythm.

UPDATE 6th April 2016

Wow — talk about a cockup. Putting a mix from completely different remixers on the CD compilation is more evidence of how little attention anyone was paying (the download version contains the right mix, so someone did notice eventually).