Alex came down last weekend and after the pub we went back home and listened to some records with Sarah. I had the remote for the stereo. I wanted to play them all the freshest, funniest tunes I’d found lately but it’s not a great idea to give a drunk guy control over his own CD-Rs, and things took a turn for the inevitable. A track would get thirty seconds, less maybe, and then I’d look over at the others and think, nah they’re bored, and jump on, hey no listen to THIS one!. But it was still a good evening. The next night we ended up drunk again and this time went home with Tim and I was all ready for a similar routine – a bit shabby for my guest, though, to listen to the same fractions of songs a second time, but a solution was to hand. You see Trevor Jackson, from Playgroup, had pre-done the whole thing for us! Geezer!

This is what Party-Mix means – that enthusiastic check-it-out vibe, that intoxicated lack of patience. Trevor Jackson takes 200 of his favourite records and mixes them all up over the course of an hour. That’s about 18 seconds per disc. Inevitably the mix lacks a spine – there’s no rhythmical pattern you can follow, and probably it’s too jumpy and disjointed to dance to – but it’s surely coherent. We had great fun with it anyway, shouting out some names, groping for others, laughing at how brazen Jackson’s selections were – this is not a mix for obscurity-fetishists. “Oh no“, we chorused when Tears For Fears showed up in minute 42. Oh yes.

If you’re thinking “Osymyso” at this point you’re quite right. Party-Mix shares some of “Intro-Inspection”‘s listening logic, and plenty of its magpie lust for a shiny hook. Osymyso’s queasy quilt had a much wider range, though, showing you pop’s monstrous indifference to which of its products stick to your memory. You think you have taste, your synapses say otherwise. But Jackson’s mix odyssey wins one back for taste – it’s a sixty-minute advert not so much for a record collection as for a whole era. If you don’t come away from Party-Mix thanking creation, mammon, Kool Herc and Messrs. Roland, Fairlight and Korg for the 1980s, don’t bother playing it again. If you thanked them before – and most of you did, I think – lean back and enjoy being right.

What mark do you give the mix which has everything? Because Party-Mix does – almost every reasonably well-known, credible, danceable electro-poppunkfunk group from ’79-’90 are on it. Duran Duran are left off but the Human League aren’t. Liquid Liquid make it but so does the Egyptian Lover. “Rockit”; “Trans-Europe Express”; “The Message”; “Erotic City”; Spoonie Gee, The Slits, LFO and Scritti…this is the nu-canon, alright, but it’s jumping.

Jackson’s first killer realization is that the reason these songs are predictable, on every compilation, is that by and large they’re absolutely stellar. OK, everyone knows that. But Jackson then realizes that because you know and love them all already, twenty seconds is all you actually need to get the buzz off them and then onto the next. So the mix ends up populist in the best way – never predictable because the tracks switch so often, but never obscure either. Also, Jackson avoids the hooks you know you know – the vocals – and goes with the breaks and riffs you thought you didn’t. Listening to it you want to have as cool a collection as the Playgroup man does – and then you realise that you already do!

The records he’s working with are after all the raw stuff of our pop present. The early 80s were years where programmable machines completely shifted the sound and methodology of pop, and where rhythm moved to an equal footing with melody as hook-provider. Nearly every record Jackson selects was touched by one or other of these two trends, and nowadays they’re absolutely inescapable. These days, though, producers can be much more rhythmically intricate and texturally subtle, whereas if the tracks curated here share anything it’s a thrilling, rickety starkness in the sound and mix. Jackson’s attention-deficit mixing just pumps up this sense of risk-taking and discovery – with 3 or 4 new kicks a minute it’s as if the whole evolution of the Pop Now is being spooled in front of your ears at breakneck stop-motion speed; the lulls and the crap filtered out as the beat takes over the world.

So Party-Mix works as a history-lesson as well as a guessing-game and crazy-fun breaks workout. Can it do even more? Can it inspire, can we learn from it? Maybe. One thought that keeps recurring when I listen to the CD is – “why doesn’t someone do this now?”. I don’t hear 20 seconds of “Beatbox (Diversion One)” and sigh for days and causes lost. I think, “Yes! Music is so great!” and want to hear today’s pop – quite as exciting and even more diverse – being boiled down in the same way. I want to be reminded of where all these 80s ideas, desires and distractions went, and are still going.

More – I’m inspired to think of music today as something that can still fit together. The music Jackson is mixing blithely hops from one genre to another – electro-pop and post-punk of course, but also disco, hip-hop and soul – and between drastically varying levels of commercial success. What emerges is a bigger, broader picture – a new world of pop in its birth throes. Ten or twenty years on that new world has been well colonised, but it’s still exciting to look for the connecting threads, to re-imagine what our rhythms and machines might have in common now. And as Jackson demonstrates, the best place to do that remains the mix.