Ben Watt’s Buzzin’ Fly label has been a deep-house institution for years. Since the (we hope not permanent) hiatus of his Everything but the Girl project with life-partner Tracey Thorn, Watt has enlisted a global group of knob twiddlers to help his internationally renowned record label fill the void left by the absence of his partner’s voice. Thorn released an excellent solo album earlier this year with the help of producers extraordinaire like Ewan Pearson, and Watt continues his upward climb into the dance-music elite. And with successful Buzzin’ Fly club nights in the U.K. and worldwide, the bug is bigger than ever. But somewhere along the way, it seems to have lost a bit of its soul.
The first three Buzzin’ Fly mixes managed to throw in Afro-Latin grooves, soulful female crooners, delicate Rhodes chords, and driving synths all in one seamless set. Watt has always done an expert job of gathering a diverse range of new and veteran artists, allowing the label to represent the full spectrum of deeper house. Buzzin’ Fly’s fourth mix is in an entirely different place than the previous three, taking elements of minimal techno, trance, and electro. The results are mixed. By this point, the Fly has nearly forsaken its deep-house roots. With only eleven tracks total, each one is given plenty of space, but with tunes like “Just a Blip,” Watt’s own attempt at minimal production, that space would have been better off filled. The dark, progressive vibe of Abyss’s “Mind Games” further sours the mood.
There are moments of respite. “Magnetic” by Manoo and Francois A uses lush arpeggiated synths for a soulful take on trance and techno, and the Green Men give big room synth stabs some warmth on “Blink,” but those moments are too few and far between. Even the usually excellent house sounds of Jimpster can’t save the once hauntingly beautiful “Sad Piano” by Justin Martin. On his remix, Jimpster takes away all the emotion and gives it a cavernous, hollow feel. Buzzin’ Fly Volume 4 seems to be a clear example of an established artist changing with the times and incorporating current trends. Only this time, too much of the original identity was lost.