Friday, September 14, 2007

Kompakt action

This time of year is always busy for techno’s renaissance label, Kompakt, the Cologne-based Empire founded by Michael Mayer, Jürgen Paape and Wolfgang Voigt. It’s around this time that they unleash the latest in their mammoth double CD “Total” compilation series – this year its “Total 8” – and throw a big bash at Popkomm and the C/o Pop event in Cologne. This year they follow it all up with a secondary strike from two of the label’s biggest artists, working under the combined moniker of Superpitcher, Michael Mayer and Superpitcher release “Save The World” next week, but more of that later.

“Total 8” has been the subject of some critical griping amongst the indie community and admittedly it’s a somewhat hit and miss affair. But there are plenty of reasons here to seek out the best of it. Jürgen Paape brings classic stalking and stabbing Cologne techno restraint to "Nord", while Robert Babicz’ remix of label star Gui Boratto’s "Mr Decay" bounces with the kind of irrepressibly groovy micro-twitches you’d expect from Spanish producers like Alex Under.

There’s nothing from indie darling The Field but the label’s acclaimed shift into gently sombre emotional terrain is represented instead by The Rice Twins. "Can I Say" already pegs them as potential crossover darlings with its elegant rethink of trance’s cruder emotional touch points. Amongst the record’s less inspiring moments, Aril Brikha’s overrated tribute to Berlin’s great techno shrine "Berghain" is wheeled out, but a more fitting tribute to the drama and dynamics of that legendary dancefloor comes from DJ Koze’s wonderful "Mariposa". Building through quietly intense swathes of noise that merge the functional drone of machines with the unexpected melodies they might sing as they work, it comes on like a symphony of engines learning to take their first graceful flight. Hear it in Berghain and you might fall over.

Supermayer’s “Save The World” is a step into new terrain for the label, Mayer and Superpitcher shaking off the confines of the Cologne sound to stretch out into more organic textures, live instruments and groovier disco territory, all whilst maintaining the label’s trademarked restraint. Superpitcher brings club dynamics to Mayer’s deft control of texture and the pair of them may be just the men to graft new, more organic sounds onto the over-familiar minimal framework and find something new within. They still find time for a few straight-up Kompakt-style bangers – “Saturndays” is as good as any club 12” released so far this year and “Planet Of The Sick” and “Two Of Us” won’t upset the purists. Elsewhere though, there are a few surprises, foremost amongst them the “Billy Jean” reconfigurations of “The Art Of Letting Go”.

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