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It began in Japan with a nasty flu spawned in an overflowing crowd at the countdown party. Right off the bat, 2003 had all the makings of a year that would never get off the ground.

The horizon was already darkened by war clouds, threats of terrorism, killer respiratory diseases, an unending recession. Each new exposure of the flu thinned the indoor party crowds a bit more and evoked mild concerns about SARS.

Spring brought rain showers instead of hope for a fresh start.

Fortunately, the music itself was not in short supply. And what sets 2003 apart from any year prior is the quality and quantity of compilations that hit store shelves.

Whereas 2002 saw a stack of quality single-act albums — “Sexperimental” (S.U.N. Project), “In Panic” (Exaile), “1200 Micrograms” (1200 Mics), “Private Collection” (Yahel) and “No Rules” (GMS) to name only a handful — 2003 was mostly a collaborative effort.

A string of quality compilations is what fueled the party in 2003, starting with “Holographic Memory” (released April 25).

Then came “GMS — The Remixes,” “Magnet” by Dino Psaras, “Eclipse” and “Zero-1,” “French Power,” a second “Holographic Memory,” the double-CD “b trance” and several more.

Although we didn’t get a new GMS album of original tracks in 2003, Riktam and Bansi were able to release magic material what seemed like every other month.

New artist combinations became all the rage as well, especially among the Spun crowd in Ibiza — “vs.,” “&” and “plus” on track lists were HUGE this year. Check out Miko’s “X-Wave 2.” For this nine-track trip, he teamed up with SAFI Connection on four numbers, two with Melicia, and one each with Dynamic, Echolek and Audio Active. (The online samples are oh-so tempting.)

NEW RELEASES

“Tweakers,” compiled by DJ Paul Taylor (released Dec. 24, SOLCMC- 029)

Not since “1200 Micrograms” (September 2002) has the sound of one release spread this fast and far in such a short amount of time.

“Tweakers,” the latest masterpiece from Spun Records, has been so prolific on Tokyo dance floors since its release on Christmas Eve that tonight’s Sirius party at Ariake Differ featuring DJ Paul Taylor — the man who compiled “Tweakers” — almost seems a bit retro one month on.

Yeah, almost. This is Paul Taylor we’re talking about, a DJ of more than considerable talent and experience. It will be a significant set, and the Tokyo crowd has been going nuts over these tracks.

“Tweakers” is Taylor’s third compilation, following “Time and Space” parts 1 and 2 for Sound Sorcery (now Maia Records) in 2001/2002.

This release was, according to Taylor, an attempt to diversify the Spun Records sound a bit — still full-on but not just the Ibiza sound.

“I wanted to put together some tracks that I would usually play in a 4 a.m. set,” Taylor said in an e-mail interview. “I guess some people would say the tracks are a bit darker. I feel that it’s just another side of the Spun spectrum.”

Averaging 145 bpm, “Tweakers” is a prized collection for serious psychedelic trance-heads. Solid front-to-back, this compilation is a must-have. Each of the 10 tracks has been “tried and tested on a lot of dance floors — and they all work.”

Taylor himself is in on two numbers, joining Wizzy Noise and Joti on the fast melodic trip “Headhunter,” and on the Funny Farm “24 Track Mind” (teamed with Bushman and Celli).

“We did the Headhunter track in the summer, and it did seem like a good blueprint sound,” Taylor said. “But the other tracks each have their own story.”

After gathering a few tracks to start with, Taylor went to Israel to hunt down a particular sound that he felt was missing. “I really did get lucky on the Sub 6 vs. Pixel and Exaile tracks.

“Back in Ibiza, I went through the final choices with Riktam and Bansi and ended up putting two more GMS tracks on it that had become available. And they just made the whole thing gel together.”

While admitting that it was “actually a very easy compilation to put together,” Taylor said the biggest challenge in assembling a specific compilation is always getting the production sounds to match. “Even though you may find several tracks that have the right vibe, they won’t sit right unless they are of the same sound quality. In the case of ‘Tweakers,’ all the tracks had to come to par with the GMS monster production.”

The result is a very high quality production that never gets tiresome. This is exactly the kind of energy needed to get you through until 5 a.m. Or through the night writing music reviews.

Although not yet available on the Spun Web site, samples of three tracks in Real Audio can be found at Solstice Music. Spend three minutes with the title track. You won’t regret it.

Exaile, who added the high-energy smash “Radio Edit” to this release, will join Taylor on Saturday night, along with Paranormal Attack and DJs XP and Tokage. Tickets are 5,000 yen at the door. Reach Ariake Differ by the Rinkai Line (Kokusai-tenjijo Station) or Yurikamome Line (Ariake Station).

“Destan,” and “Standard,” compiled by DJ Kemal (released Nov. 26 and Jan. 21, Festa Trystar)

The smile on Kemal Basmaci’s face grows every time he mentions his infant daughter, Destan. It’s no surprise that he named his first compilation after her.

“Destan” is the result of a year’s work and a successful pairing with label Festa Trystar, which had enough confidence in Kemal to push ahead with the just-released “Standard.”

If you’ve caught any of Kemal’s DJ sets over the past few months, then you’ve already received a taste of both compilations. “Often unbridled” is an irresistible description of the crowd reactions to his bouncy-spacey 145’ish mixes of late.

Kemal was previously A&R for Tokyo’s Arcadia Music. He has an established track record for introducing new talent to Japan, among them SAFI Connection, Silicon Sound and Miko.

Now head of Zodiac Music, he has delivered new Israeli sensations Synthex and Dynamic for tracks on both compilations.

“Destan” rings up a nice outdoor party memory with its dark basslines and memorable vocals. “Standard” has a brighter, more melodic vibe to it, perfect to keep the crowd moving this winter. These two do play nicely together, however.

Kemal was surprisingly candid when I asked him about putting two versions of SAFI Connection’s “Black Box” on “Destan.” “It was a package deal, and I really like both versions. The effect is quite fun.”

The next Zodiac party, Legend, is Jan. 30 at Club Atom in Tokyo’s Shibuya. Atom customers normally get a more epic trance-style mix, but Kemal has put together a sharp lineup for a night of full-on psychedelic trance on the 4th and 5th floors. The 6th floor will be ambient.

Fifth-floor DJs are Gao, Xayla, Kemal and Shu-1. On the 4th floor will be CP-Room DJs Go, Bosch and Yuta. Kemal plays the following night at Ark Studio in Shibaura (also known as Cube 326).

Admission for both is 3,000 yen at the door, or 2,500 yen with a flyer. The party at Ark Studio continues Sunday morning with DJs Xayla, Seven and Kemal.

COMING UP

Next time, we’ll review a hot compilation from Bionics Records “Direct Out,” preview the February offerings by Wizzy Noise and Space Tribe and look at how Japan’s top organizers did in the 2003 season.

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