At this point, nobody questions Oneman's qualities as a DJ. They are obvious, even without a prestigious club and label like Fabric commissioning number 64 of its Fabriclive series from him. Those who follow Steve Bishop appreciate his nervous technique (mixing tracks every 50 seconds), his musical eclecticism (seamlessly going from 80s new jack swing to grime while lighting a fire with two stones), and his contacts within the broad English scene, which allow him to have all the year's hits first (with the permission of Jackmaster, who is more widely known internationally). Is that what we'll find on this “FabricLive 64”? It's not, I must warn you. It's not Oneman at his best here, but these also aren't the usual circumstances that Bishop plays his tunes under.
There will be people attracted by the name signing this mix, and there will be people who listen to it because it's part of a legendary series within electronic music. To the former, Oneman might sound a bit limited; to the latter, this could be one of the most enjoyable sets of the year, especially if they're particularly keen on British sound. And that dichotomy between not disappointing loyal followers and taking the opportunity to draw some new fans is a constant with this kind of recorded sets sold as a product. So I'll try to ignore my profound fanaticism for Bishop and not feel hurt because the only grime we hear in the 67 minutes of this set is a slowed-down version of Youngstar's “Pulse Y”. Or because he's only gone back to the good old days to recover UK garage; which in itself is a good thing, because of the tracks he chose (Tuff Jam remixing Ce Ce Peniston, Steve Gurley's rework of Basement Jaxx…), but not very typical of Oneman, who always picks old material from different styles.
In any case, the selection features some vibrant parts where he combines relatively unknown tunes (Fis-T's “Night Hunter” is one of those tracks many DJs should dig up again for their sets) with anthems from the past three years of British club music: SBTRKT's “2020”, Joy Orbison's “The Shrew Would Have Cushioned The Blow”, and Girl Unit's “Wut” remixed by Claude Vonstroke. All of that, mixed with the gems you have missed for whatever reason (Doubleheart's “Salsa” reminded me that one should always be on the lookout for Nonplus releases) and with songs that will most likely end up being among this year’s best dance songs: Joy Orbison's “Ellipsis”, and Pearson Sound's “Untitled”. Yet even though the selection of dance floor time bombs is impeccable, something is missing, a spark that makes you stop what you're doing and pay attention. It lacks spontaneity, one of Oneman's major virtues in a club. At the same time, that's something you can hardly ask of the man, for obvious reasons.
The 24 tracks go by in long mixes, not too complicated but very clean. The little imperfections of a live set, the playing with the faders, the mixing of anthems from yesterday, today and tomorrow at breakneck speed, which is what sent Oneman to the major leagues: there's no trace of all that here. And, even though there are some real gems, it's sorely missed.