Essential Mix Review: Mat Zo takes us on a journey through the electronic cosmos
Following up an Essential Mix from the legendary Eric Prydz is no easy task, but if there’s anyone to do it, it’s 23-year-old Matan Zohar, better known as Mat Zo. Having made a name for himself in both the house and trance worlds with gorgeous productions such as “Easy” and “The Sky,” it’s easy to forget Zohar’s drum ‘n’ bass alter ego MRSA. With both aliases in mind, it was impossible to predict what Mat Zo had in store for his 70-track BBC Radio 1 debut.
After listening to the mix at least three times now, I can safely say: Mat Zo’s two-hour Essential Mix is an experimental tour de force in the art of genre fusion and progression — unequivocally one of the more impressive BBC mixes we’ve heard to date.
At the outset of the Essential Mix, we caught a few words from Zo in regards to the mix. One line in particular stuck out: “There are also new tracks that give me hope in the music industry.” Something about that line, that sentiment, dug into me. It brought to mind tracks like Flume’s “Insane” or Seven Lions’ remix of “The Great Divide” — tracks that evade generic conventions and inspire me to try my hand at production. Romanticized by Zo’s words, I hardly deciphered the sample that signaled the beginning of the mix.
“There once was a time before television, before motion pictures, before radio, before books. The greatest part of human existence was spent in such a time. And then, over the dying embers of the campfire, on a moonless night, we watched the stars.” – Carl Sagan
As an alien-like voice backed by luscious cosmic chords introduced the mix, the rhetoric of Carl Sagan slowly became recognizable. Mat Zo would go on to quote the famous astronomer/cosmologist countless times throughout the mix. A quick look at the BBC Radio 1 Player tracklist showed that Andrew Bayer’s “Let’s Hear That B Section Again,” was playing, but before I could even catch my breath, the mix had effortlessly transitioned into The M Machine’s blissful forthcoming original, “Tiny Anthem,” which inconspicuously led into Birdy Nam Nam’s “Defiant Order.”
Zo’s selection of majestic midtempo soon led to disco, then dark disco with Gesaffelstein’s remix of ”Helix.” Next, Zo did something quite extraordinary. As the tempo began waning, the broken beat and Player sample could be heard from at least 32 bars away. Zo was slowing the house beat down to drumstep tempo for Kill Paris’s soulful “Baby Come Back.” After a brief drumstep drop, Zo effortlessly brought it back up to house with Oliver’s “MYB.”
“Up there in the immensity of the Cosmos, an inescapable perception awaits us. National boundaries are not evident when we view the Earth from space. Fanatical ethnic, religious or national chauvinisms are a little difficult to maintain when we see our planet as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and citadel of the stars.” – Carl Sagan
Following “MYB” was a famous quote from Sagan’s Cosmos. Maybe it was the English Major in me, but I couldn’t help but feel an allegory developing. It’s as if, through the mix, Zo was using the Cosmos as a model — a space where there are no boundaries between genres; a space where our conception of music is limitless.
As I pondered this connection, Zo’s mix chugged along, powered by The M Machine’s “Luma” and a haunting remix of Depeche Mode’s “The Darkest Star.” As the tracks progressed, I felt myself being drawn deeper into the music, as if Zo’s mix exuded an enrapturing resonance (which some might call the Pryda effect). My stupor was broken only by a sudden onset of neurofunk. Awoken and alert, Zo dropped perhaps my favorite track of the mix: his unreleased, ethnic, trap-inspired “Caller ID.”
After a brief stint of lovely dubstep, catalyzed by Oliver’s “Mechanical,” Zo embarked on a torrent of feisty house productions. Alternating between harder offerings from Botnek and Zedd, and more trance-y outputs from Ferry Corsten and James Holden, Zo showed his extensive knowledge of dance music, even dropping Sander van Doorn’s 2007 “By Any Demand.”
“In this narrative, we had the options of “compassion, foresight, and reason. But instead, we listened to that reptilian voice within us, counseling fear, territoriality, aggression. We accepted the products of science; we rejected its methods.” – Carl Sagan
One hour and 23 minutes in, Zo’s mix took a dark, primal turn. A growing silence was followed by Sagan’s voice, more menacing than ever, denouncing the human race for rejecting science and falling prey to our more malignant reptilian instincts. Suddenly, the apocalyptic melody of Noisia’s “Could This Be” obliterated all else.
Just when I thought I had exhausted my supply of awe, Zo unveiled a mix of Daft Punk’s classic “Aerodynamic” with Eric Prydz’s grandiose “Mighty Love” and Boys Noize’s “What You Want.” I couldn’t help but grin uncontrollably as Zo flawlessly combined two legendary tracks with a darker Boys Noize remix.
“A new consciousness is developing which sees the earth as a single organism and recognizes that an organism at war with itself is doomed.” – Carl Sagan
Mat Zo’s mix ended just as beautifully as it opened. Sagan solidified Zo’s extended metaphor, calling for a planetary unification — which I interpreted as a harmony of genres and a union of electronic music (and all music for that matter) — before Zo dropped two of his most entrancing unreleased originals, “Hurricane” and “Fall into Dreams.” By the time the mix concluded, I felt a meditative calmness wash over my body. Zo’s mix was a journey to the farthest outskirts of the electronic universe, as he explored midtempo, deep disco, dark, minimal, progressive, and electro house, liquid drum ‘n’ bass, neurofunk, drumstep, delightful dubstep, techno, trance, and more.
While Prydz’s Essential Mix is perfect for its mesmeric blend of immaculately-mixed Pryda productions, Mat Zo’s Essential Mix excels in its track selection and genre diversification. The two hour mix is a wormhole into the mind of one of electronic music’s most forward-thinking artists. With a grand total of 70 tracks, Mat Zo crafted an exhilarating ride through genres as distant as the nearest star to the Sun. With deft transitions and a keen ear for progression, Zo’s mix was literally intoxicating. Add on thought-provoking samples from Carl Sagan and an overarching allegory and you’ve got the makings of one of the best Essential Mixes of the year.