Forgive me for stating the obvious, but it’s been a strange and messy decade for house and techno. Exciting, certainly, but also at times exasperating: the proliferation of bad, dull and indifferent dance music has proved at times to be overwhelming, while the number of records that took risks and tried out new ideas seemed to dwindle.
Rather than trying to squash and smooth the story of the 2000s into a coherent master narrative – which, even if I could manage it, would be subjective almost to the point of obsolescence – I’ve decided instead to simply pay tribute those ten producers who I believe have played an especially significant role in shaping house/techno music and aesthetics over the past ten years.
In choosing my ten, er, ambassadors for this sound we all know and love I have of course had to exclude a great number of others, for reasons of varying validity. For starters, I’ve skipped over umpteen producers who, in the commerical and numerical sense, have been far more influential than any of those I’ve ended up selecting, but whose work doesn’t stand up today, if it ever did – your Booka Shades, your Tiefschwarzs, that sort of thing. Others – I think in particular of Mathew Jonson – impressed massively with their early output but failed to keep the quality up as the decade grew old.
It’s been a strange and messy decade.
Every artist included here – though you may beg to differ in some instances – has held onto their integrity, and resisted selling out, even as their popularity has grown. In a way I’ve afforded integrity more value than originality; after all, house and techno’s period of pure future-rushing innovation ended before this decade even started. For me, great house and techno has become less about producers making giant leaps into the unknown, and more about them refining an individual sensibility, of developing a sound which is rigorously and irreducibly their own.
Some producers I include in this selection might just as easily appeared in a ’best of the 90s’ feature, but have produced enough powerful work in this decade to merit an entry for the 2000s, and conversely there are a number of producers – the likes of Wolfgang
Voigt, Robert Hood and Carl Craig – who have massively informed the
sound of the 2000s but whose best work came about in the previous decade. I’ve also excluded producers from outside house/techno circles who, for me, have been just as important as any of the following in terms of changing the way I think about dance and electronic music – the likes of Horsepower Productions, .SND, Shackleton, DFA and Fennesz. Most regrettably, there are at least a dozen inspirational artists who I simply couldn’t fit in due to space constraints: apologies to Isolee, Surgeon, Terrence Dixon, Regis, Lawrence, Theo Parrish, Patrice Scott, Lindstrom and the rest.
Great house and techno has become less about producers making giant
leaps into the unknown, and more about them refining an individual
Dance music of all kinds is as much about the individual track, the fleeting moment, not to mention the un-plannable confluence of chemical and musical rush, as it is about the sustained and measured achievement. Nonetheless, it’s sustained achievement which I celebrate in this piece. At the risk of sounding grandiose, I think everyone featured in this run-down could be justly described an auteur – an artist with a unique and expansive vision – and the power of their work has already proven to be cumulative, to deepen and develop with time. Everyone here has, in dance music terms, produced a substantial body of work; for better or worse, none are fly-by-nights or one hit wonders. As such, what you’re about to read is only part of the story.
It’s true that I haven’t given a shit about an Âme record since about 2005, but I can think of no act that defined the whole tenor of house/techno in the mid-2000s quite like Kristian Beyer and Frank Wiedemann. This German duo provided a parallel story, an alternative, to the “minimal” explosion, and reinstated values that had all but disappeared from high-visibility European 4/4: namely warmth, melody and the churchy (cf Joe Muggs) emotional architecture of Detroit techno and early 90s house. In short, Âme brought about the return to “deep” – a micro-cultural migration that has proved both a blessing and a curse.
After Âme, Detroit techno ceased to be a meaningful descriptive term and more of a construct, a loose signifier. Detroit was now “Detroit”, and suddenly every house-producing fucker on the planet was referencing the Motor City in track titles, in interviews, in some cases everywhere except their actual music. OK, so when it comes to dance music Detroit has long been about feeling as much as geography, but in this decade it got out of control: any record with mellow synth-pads was now being termed “Detroit”. Even the real Detroit was susceptible: around 2007 Carl Craig started sounding more like Âme than Carl Craig.
Âme brought about the return to “deep” – a micro-cultural migration that has proved both a blessing and a curse.
But none of this Âme intended; they’ve always gone about their business quietly and with more dignity than most. Though they unwittingly laid the groundwork for a whole generation of dull producers to flourish, their own productions – at least in the early days – stand up. That’s the real reason I include them here.
Âme’s sound is opulent; rich and polished at times to an almost sickening degree. It’s a pornographic, heavily made-up take on deep house and techno, with a big debt to the high-fidelity nu-jazz of Compost and Sonar Kollektiv (the scene that really birthed them), and for this reason the pleasure it afforded us was often guilty. ‘Rej’ might have been their biggest hit, but for me it also signalled the end of their most impressive burst of creativity, and perhaps simply due to over-playing it sounds insufferably pompous to me now anyhow. If you want to know why Âme deserve to be counted among the decade’s most important producers, you need only listen to ‘Shiro’ – the B-side to ‘Mifune’, released in 2004. At once totally indulgent and thrillingly expedient, it remains for a stirring example of how good swellingly over-produced 21st century house can really be. Âme have never bettered it, but then nor have any of their offspring.
1. Ame – Shiro [from 'Mifune' 12", Sonar Kollektiv, 2004] (listen above)
2. Truby Trio – Universal Love (Ame Remix) [Compost 12", 2004]
3. Ame – Rej [Innervisions 12", 2005]
See also: Carl Craig, Dixon
Gerard ‘Convextion’ Hanson is so diligent in his desire to make music that upholds the grand machine-soul tradition laid out by Juan Atkins and James Stinson (and, in a very different way, Basic Channel) that there are occasions when he frankly outdoes and exceeds their achievements.
Convextion makes machines sing.
The self-titled Convextion LP of 2005 is a modern classic, but diehard fans will assure you that the finest Convextion productions are to be found on his 90s single releases, especially those early 12”s which were released in highly limited editions and achieved legendary status almost before the wax had cooled. Convextion has remained prolific, but he’s not profligate, and he continues to favour the short-run pressing. As a result, each of his records carries a special weight, an special value; every missive from his studio feels like a stop-the-clocks event. And you just know that Hanson has put the time in: without exception his productions are consummately arranged, produced and mixed down. It’s this earnest craftsmanship – working in tandem with an un-learnable flair for melody and emotional connection with his listenership – that makes Hanson such a formidable fixture in the post-modern techno firmament. Apart from anything else, most producers wouldn’t have the balls – let alone the skill – to make techno as extravagantly musical as Hanson does; like all the great electronic artists, he really makes those machines sing.
1. Convextion – Spice Tea [from Untitled 12", Downlow, 2002] (listen above)
2. Convextion – Equanimity [from Convextion LP, Downlow, 2006]
3. E.R.P. – Vox Automaton [Frustrated Funk 12", 2007]
See also: $tinkworx, Terrence Dixon, Arne Weinberg
It tells you something about the nature of house and techno that an artist making music as determinedly avant-garde as Ricardo Villalobos can enjoy the level of celebrity status that he does. It may have died down of late, but at one point Villalobos’s every move was fauned over and analysed by message-boarders and gormless afterparty-monkeys around the world. But we mustn’t concern ourselves too much with the fact that the poor guy inspires a repellent, idiocratic cult of sycophants and simperers; what will endure is his music, and my, what music it is. Villalobos has changed the very grammar of house, breaking down its traditional narrative structures and remoulding it as something altogether more languorous and elongated (these days impractically long tracks are commonplace – Radio Slave’s
version of Hell’s ‘The DJ’ is a recent example – and we have
Villalobos to thank, or revile, for this). In his weaker productions – and DJ sets – that languour has spelt drool-inducing boredom, but when he hits perfect pitch the guy is incomparible.
Genuine what-the-fuck moments were in short supply in 2000s house music, but Villalobos kept ‘em coming.
One thing that ‘lobos is abundantly talented at, and which I admire him greatly for, is nicking things – a creative sampler extraordinaire, his unusual sources can bring about outright dancefloor pandemonium: few would have the idea – let alone pull it off – to build a 7am dancefloor track around a Christian Vander-arranged children’s choir version of ‘Baba Yaga’ (as on ‘Enfants’) [the piano line isn't courtesy of Nina Simone, as I thought it was - thanks for the call-up, Oswellm]. Even fewer would think to dress the dazzling arpeggios of Philip Glass’s ‘Floe’ in sticky house beats (‘Mormax’), or to riff on a plangent Balkan horn theme across two whole sides of vinyl (as on the infamous ‘Fizheuer Zieheuer’). Genuine what-the-fuck moments were in short supply in 2000s house music, but Villalobos kept ‘em coming.
The aforementioned tracks are all essential, as is that perfectly modulated remix of Depeche Mode’s ‘Sinner In me’, but Villalobos’s creative star burns brightest in his three long-form releases. Alcachofa is perhaps the most satisfying, and features the noir masterpieces ‘Easy Lee‘ and ’Dexter’ as well as the exuberant, grin-inducing ‘Waiworino‘ (another inspired steal, this time from Polish bassist Krysztof Scieranski). Then there’s the amorphously groovy Cadenza double-pack, Achso, and the perennially underrated Perlon set, The Au Harem D‘Archimede, both of which re-imagined house as a kind of atomically disturbed electro-acoustic jazz. People will listen to these records in 50, even a 100 years and still be dazzled, make no mistake. Whereas most experimental techno has a metallic and clinical air to it, Villalobos’s is remarkably organic and tactile; his tunes have warmth, and they have soul, and they’re righteously funky. But yeah, he’s made a lot of shit too.
1. Villalobos – Easy Lee [from Alcachofa LP, Playhouse, 2003] (listen above)
2. Villalobos – Fizheuer Zieheuer [Playhouse, 2006]
3. Unknown Artist (Ricardo Villalobos) – Mormax [from For Disco Only 2 12", For Disco Only, 2005]
See also: Luciano, Dandy Jack, Thomas Melchior
JAMES M. STINSON (R.I.P.) and GERALD DONALD
Hardly an invention of the 00s, Drexciya – James Stinson and Gerald Donald’s most famous and compelling project – was conceived way back in 1989. Stinson tragically passed away in 2002, but both he and the still very much active Donald nonetheless cast a long shadow over the decade. The Detroit duo’s generously funky masterpiece Neptune’s Lair was released just before the cut in ‘99, but in 2001 came the Warp-signed Lifestyles of The Laptop Café. One of Stinson’s most personal and affecting works, this album – credited to The Other People Place – is arguably the most achingly romantic record in the whole techno canon, and was followed by the similarly divine Sunday Night Live At The Laptop Café 12″ (Clone, 2002). Arriving the year of Stinson’s death, the Drexciya set Grava 4 was a far more minimal and hard-edged record than its predecessors, and a painful reminder of the still-developing talent we lost when Stinson yielded to his fatal heart condition.
Lifestyles of The Laptop Café is arguably the most achingly romantic record in the whole techno canon.
Though the aquatic mythology of Drexciya has given way to other preoccupations, Stinson’s partner Gerald Donald has continued to fight the good fight, releasing music under a bewildering array of aliases, and inspiring a new generation of artists – not just techno producers, but those from other spheres like bugged-out hip-hop scamp Rustie and d’n'b futurists Instra:mental.
Gesamtkunstwerk, the 1999 collection of tracks by Donald’s still extant Dopplereffekt, was a cornerstone of the 2001-3 electroclash explosion, both in terms of its sound (caustic, bone-dry electro) and it’s aesthetic (dead-eyed and sexualised). But by the time people like The Hacker and Hell were ferrying this brand of priapic machine music to its garish manifest destiny, Europhile Donald had already moved on. His 2002 outing as Arpanet, Wireless Internet, is particularly praiseworthy – the album that Kraftwerk might have made about the new digital age were they not so justly happy to dine out on their back catalogue. The warmth and wryness of 2001’s Japanese Telecom LP Virtual Geisha was something of a red herring, giving way to 2003’s Linear Accelerator – with tracks like ‘Niobium Resonators’ and ‘Myon-Neutrino’, Donald established a thematic interest in partical physics that has persisted to this day. By the time of 2007’s Calabai You Space, Donald had entirely left behind the dancefloor – if ever it was his chosen métier – and was now pursuing something akin to the radiophonic experiments of the 1960s, but more stern, a kind of “hard” sonic science fiction solemnly hymning new frontiers. The solipsistic 2000s was a decade where conceptualism – at least that not of a hackneyed and embarrassing kind – was hard to find in electronic music, and as such Donald deserves credit for continuing to make techno and electro about something other than itself. Even though his most recent work – collaborating with Victoria Lukas as Zerkalo – has been a trifle disappointing, its agreeably po-faced theatricality is to be applauded.
Donald deserves credit for continuing to make techno and electro about something other than itself.
Of course, the most remarkable thing about both Donald and the late Stinson is their unfashionable preference for anonymity, or at least partial concealment. In an environment where artists and producers are expected to tweet and have Facebook profiles and allow themselves to be interviewed by any cunt with an e-mail account, Stinson (until his death) and Donald have managed to remain elusive and set apart. Donald recently consented to an interview for The Wire, only to talk obtusely about physics and give next to nothing away about his music. Long may that mystique remain untarnished.
1. The Other People Place - Let Me Be Me [from Lifestyles of The Laptop Cafe LP, Warp, 2001] (listen above)
2. Drexciya – Powers Of The Deep [from Grava 4 LP, Clone, 2001]
3. Arpanet – p2101v [from Wireless Internet LP, Rephlex, 2002]
See also: Urban Tribe, Legowelt, Aux88
What to say about Alex ‘Omar-S’ Smith that hasn’t already been said? Long a favourite of serious house heads, his Fabric mix CD – essentially a “best of” comprised of all Omar-S productions – dropped in early 2009 and introduced his sound to a whole new audience.
“Underground music is for people that’s not lazy.” - Omar-S
Few house producers working today can claim to have an aesthetic as instantly recognisable and down as Smith – while inspired by the deep and soulful sounds of Chicago and Detroit gone by, his best productions are ultra-raw and wigged-out, the influence of video games and heavy industry unmistakeably apparent – as a tongue-in-cheek etching on one of his records affirms, we’re dealing with nothing less than ‘The Motown Minimal Sound’. So while there are moments of breathtaking prettiness in the Omar-S catalogue, most notably on his biggest hit, ‘Psychotic Photosynthesis’, other tracks – like ‘Busaru Beats’ (released on Theo Parrish’s Sound Signature) are boldly rough-hewn and abstract. The very best tracks combine the sweetness and the harshness – I think of ‘Oasis 13 1/2′, ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Strider’s World’ – into proper stripped-down headfuck music that’s nonetheless melodic and elegantly arranged. Smith claims not to spend a lot of time writing his tracks – he boasts that ‘Psychotic Photosynthesis’ was bashed out in a matter of minutes – which perhaps goes some way to accounting why his tunes sound so intuitive and alive. In his wake, a number of US house producers making tough, ballsy house and techno – among them Jus-Ed and Levon Vincent – have flourished.
100% independent and uncompromised, Omar-S is an inspiration to anyone who believes in gen-u-ine D.I.Y. quality.
Oh, and in a world of Beatport-neutered producers entirely bereft of personality and self-possession, Smith’s confidence and plain-speaking is as refreshing as a mouth full of Trebor: “Punks are going to keep talking about all these old-ass people from the last goddamn 35 fucking 40 fucking years in the underground – fuck those guys – it’s all about the new guys’ shit.”
The best place to buy Omar-S 12″s is still from the man himself, with early releases boasting hand-written labels from their maker; 100% independent and uncompromised, he’s an ongoing inspiration to anyone who believes in gen-u-ine D.I.Y. quality.
“People are fucking lazy,” he told me in an interview at the beginning of the year, “You know
what I’m saying? Underground music is for people that’s not lazy.
You’re supposed to be into this type of music and to find out what’s
good and what’s sweet as fuck and what’s different. That’s what
underground period is for – underground cars, fucking underground
fucking clothing lines, all types of shit, that’s for people that’s
fucking different from mainstream. Mainstream you don’t look for shit,
it’s all fucking garbage.” Quite.
1. Omar-S – Strider’s World [from Just Ask The Lonely LP, FXHE, 2005] (listen above)
2. Omar-S – U (vocal version) [from Fabric 45 LP, 2009]
3. Omar-S – Psychotic Photosynthesis [FXHE 12", 2008]
See also: DJ Jus-Ed, Rick Wade, Theo Parrish
SMITH N HACK
Erik Wiegand first came to the world’s attention when he collaborated with Berghain regular Fiedel under the name MMM. In 1996 they released Soul, a split LP with Surrogat, following it with ‘Donna’ – one of the most ebullient and effective electro-techno tracks ever. His solo recordings as Errorsmith are rather more bizarre; on the face of it the first self-titled Errorsmith EP is academic rhythmism in the vein of .SND and Raster-Noton, but it has a fatness and mischief arguably absent from that venerable stable of digital minimalists. EP 2 is where it all comes together for Errorsmith, eight ultra-dry, min-to-max percussion tracks design to provoke as much as please. The cover art depicts a yellow wellington boot captured mid-stomp, a fitting visual corollary for the sounds within.
“I like the loop because it holds the tension for so long.” - Sound Stream
Wiegand’s friend Frank Timm, meanwhile, arrived at a similar head-space via his own route. Timm’s productions as Soundhack are less punishing than Errorsmith’s but no less mind-bending. You simply must own the aptly named Soundkit EP, which re-imagines the DJ tool as a kind of angular action-painting. Timm’s love of disco and funk couldn’t be more apparent, his tracks are more about groove than abrasion; and that disco-funk impulse finds its fullest expression in the seminal Sound Stream 12″s – looped-based house bangers precision-tooled to stimulate maximum dancefloor hysteria. In a decade where disco re-edits were ten-a-penny, Sound Stream’s
distinctive, painstakingly honed and rounded edits were a breath of
fresh air, falling somewhere between the experimental reductions of
Errorsmith/Soundhack and the exuberant French filter-techno and
chop-house of Thomas Bangalter and Pepe Bradock.
“I often just get hooked on single parts and sample them,” Timm explained in an interview with Resident Advisor earlier this year. “‘Motion’ was more like an edit. It’s just a loop which then gets chopped up a bit. I like the loop because it holds the tension for so long, it’s very trippy.
“It’s kind of how [house] started…The first re-edits in Chicago, for example, looped bits and extended them until they developed a hypnotic quality. I think Ron Hardy initiated that. He rode a loop for several minutes and after a while it just sucked you in. This repetition also goes back to James Brown. His band played a riff for a while, then a break came on, and then it started all over again.”
In Smith N Hack’s hands, repetition really is a form of change.
When Timm and Wiegand teamed up as Smith N Hack, inevitably there were fireworks. Their 2002 LP Tribute is your best starting point, a 2×12″ collection of freewheeling funk samples tightened and looped into grids so rigid it’s actually kind of insane. They basically nail souped-up, spacey electro-disco on the ‘Space Warrior’ 12″ and their version of Herbert’s ‘Moving Like A Train’ – admittedly weakened by excessive play – has to rank among the most inspired remixes of the past ten years.
Across their various projects Wiegand and Timm ask all kinds of difficult and inarticulable questions about what funk is, what groove is, at the same time zoning in on its very essence: repetition. Indeed, try listening to this marvellous body of work without thinking of Eno’s famous tautology – for in Smith N Hack’s hands, repetition really is a form of change.
Sound Stream – Love Jam [Sound Stream 12", 2006] (listen above)
Smith N Hack – To Our Disco Friends [from Tribute LP, Smith N Hack, 2002]
Soundhack – Funkyrule [from Soundkit EP, Soundhack, 2002]
See also: Akufen, .SND
I wasn’t sure about whether to include DJ Koze in this list to begin with – I can’t say his recent solo productions have floated my boat. But he’s been such an undeniable presence in house/techno throughout the decade, and his 2004 Kompakt cut ‘Brutalga Square’ is responsible for one of its seminal dancefloor moments, so I think his place here is well-deserved.
Stefan Kozalla embodies one of the key currents in 2000s electronic music – the Kompakt-stewarded re-calibration of micro-house or click-house into a kind of neat and trippy global pop for the iBook/latte generation. He (unwittingly) helped set the agenda with his seminal mix CD Music Is Okay (2000) and refined it on its 2004 follow-up All People Is My Friends, proving – with no small amount of flair – that dance music could be at once minimalist, fanatically detailed and fruitily melodic. Arguably it was Koze who created the conditions for The Field, Matias Aguayo, Pantha Du Prince and other laptop romantics to shine in this decade.
Arguably it was Koze who created the conditions for The Field, Matias
Aguayo, Pantha Du Prince and other laptop romantics to shine.
It’s telling that Koze’s origins are in hip-hop, and that his first successful musical venture was a pop – or should I say “pop” – group, the rather erratic (shit?) International Pony. This has no doubt informed his work as a solo producer, giving him the skill-set and balance to create work that’s radical but still broadly accessible.
It’s this year’s remix collection, Reincarnations, that makes the most condensed and convincing case for Koze as auteur. The sheer breadth and depth of his imagination comes across in the disparate tracks, and his ability to actually render and realise his outlandish musical fancies is simply astounding. One minute he’s delivering respectful, spectral edits of vintage pop by Wechsel Garland and Hildegard Knef, the next he’s out-math-rocking Battles (‘Atlas’) and turning Matthew Dear’s ‘Elementary Lover’ into a sunny-day symphony of nifty edits that would put Kieran Hebden to shame. And that’s before we even mention the recent remix of Noze’s ‘Dance Avec Moi’ [not 'We Can Dance'!], which turns jazz inside out in a way that Matthew Herbert only ever hinted at. Koze has become one of the most in-demand remixers in the world because he always – always - makes his client sound at least twice as good as they are.
The kaleidoscopic remixes are among the brightest tracks in the Koze oeuvre, but his bread and butter is taut, sinewy minimal techno: tracks like ‘Hicc Up’ and the breathtaking, aforementioned ‘Brutalga Square’. Whether making techno, house, ambient, schaffel, hip-hop or whatever, Koze brings a colour and a character and a distinctly European pop nous to the table that is most welcome. I suspect his best work is already behind him, but I wouldn’t bet on it…
1. DJ Koze – Brutalga Square [from Speicher 20 12", Kompakt, 2004] (listen above)
2. Matthew Dear – Elementary Lover (DJ Koze Remix) [from Don & Cherri 12", Ghostly International, 2007]
3. Matias Aguayo – Minimal (DJ Koze Remix) [Kompakt, 2008]
See also: Lawrence, Isolee, Matias Aguayo
T++ / MONOLAKE
When I found out that T++, real name Torsten Profrock, was a junglist by heart, I was initially surprised – but then I heard his remix of Monolake’s ‘Polaroid’ and it made total sense. Though revered more in techno circles than by a d’n'b scene that generally clings to stylistic orthodoxy, there’s a cyclical, non-linear quality to Torsten Profrock’s breakbeats that aligns more neatly with rolling British soundsystem rhythms than with the locomotive pulse I associate with his native Berlin and the Hardwax store where he works. And though T++’s music is clearly more experimental and adventurous than most any dance music out there, it’s still made with clubs and soundsystems in mind; it’s through them that it comes to life. His shit really, really needs to be listened to loud.
Again, like so many of the best producers in this list, T++ holds something back: his public profile is discreet and his releases are pressed in small quantities. As such, when they’re gone, they’re usually gone – good luck finding a copy of any of his self-released 12″s for less than £30. Of those frustratingly rare records, it’s hard to pick highlights – but the squashed techno-funk of ‘Space Pong’ and its beautifully flexed B-side ‘Space Break’ are personal favourites, as is the swinging future-hardcore of ‘Worn Down’ and its warped 2-step B-side ’100 Bar’. These tracks are almost heartbreakingly well-engineered, Profrock teasing funk out of the most brittle and corroded rhythms.
These tracks are almost heartbreakingly well-engineered, Profrock teasing funk out of the most brittle and corroded rhythms.
Since 2004 man like T++ has been part of Monolake, investing Robert Henke’s ever-evolving project with even more charm and sense of purpose. Henke has spent a large part of this decade on gallery and installation work, but that’s not stopped him getting round to making one of the finest techno albums of the decade, Polygon Cities - recorded with Profrock in 2005, its steppers’ bias and jaw-dropping mastery of space and weight has proved a big inspiration to British bass-fiends like Appleblim and Peverelist, and the former recently put out a pair of killer T++ loops via his Apple Pips imprint.
The relationship between Henke and Profrock is likely to continue its blossom, if the recent ‘Atlas’ and attendant T++ remixes are anything to go by. Years after their first groundbreaking contributions to the Chain Reaction stable, they remain a massive inspiration: making advanced art-techno sound vital and highly fucking danceable. We need them.
Monolake – Polaroid (T++ Remix) [DIN, 2001] (listen above)
Monolake – Invisible [from Polygon Cities LP, Monolake / Imbalance Computer Music, 2005]
T++ – Worn Down [Self-Released 12", 2007]
See also: Shackleton, Peverelist, Mika Vainio
Ostgut-Ton, like Innervisions, M-nus and Kompakt before it, Ostgut-Ton was – or rather is – one of the decade’s most “fashionable” labels, and the club which birthed it, Berlin’s Berghain, its most celebrated raving destination. Certainly to begin with, Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann’s productions were refreshingly scuffed and hard-nosed – as on 2006′s ‘Dawning’ 12″ and even more recently the 2008 double-pack Scenario - but there’s not been a great deal of development since. Dettmann’s work in particular more and more resembles a 90s Tresor record denuded of melody and drama, while Ben Klock’s One album for me had its virtues but ultimately failed to deliver on its dubstep-influenced promise. Len Faki produced one of the decade’s most explosive 12″s in ‘Rainbow Delta’, but easily the most successful creative voice of the Ostgut fold has been mild-mannered Rene Pawlowitz, AKA Shed.
Shedding The Past is about the death, and the troubled after-life, of techno.
Shed’s 2008 Shedding The Past LP was initially met by indifference and distrustby man, but it’s aged incredibly well over the last eighteen months. Better than that: it’s one of the most coherent and effective techno albums of recent years, not least because it’s about “the end of techno”, or more accurately techno’s trouble after-life – at once acknowledging that this music will never be the uncategorisable, earth-shattering creative force that it was in the early 90s, and at the same time dispensing with – shedding – that baggage. It’s a brave and heavy-hearted album, and its almost casual mastery of contemporary rhythms – from ultra-linear, Berghain-smashing 4/4 (‘That Beats Everything!’) to louche, emaciated breakbeat (‘ITHAW’ and ‘Estrange’) via something approaching dubstep (‘Another Wedged Chicken’) – is remarkable, as is the twilight glow of its drowsy synthetic melodies. This is techno haunted by the past but unafraid to move forward.
What makes Shed stand out is his spirited engagement with the breakbeat.
Really, though, my heartfelt admiration for Shed flowered when I twigged that it was he behind the acclaimed WAX and Equalized white labels emanating from Hardwax. As I said before, one of the things that make Shed stand out is his spirited engagement with the breakbeat – something which has been crashingly unfashionable since the very start of the 00s – and nowhere is this more apparent than on the glorious A-side to Equalized 002. The other Equalized and WAX cuts – uniformly excellent, but without Shedding The Past‘s sense of ennui – take the lean dub-house example of Maurizio and run with it. With his dubstep-oriented Dub Shed 12”s and Burial-esque remix of Taho from earlier this year – not to mention an ongoing string of productions for Styrax Leaves, Delsin and his own Soloaction imprint – all devastating, I expect Shed only to grow in stature in the coming years, even as Ostgut inevitably slips from the favour of techno’s fickle chattering classes.
1. Shed – Estrange [from Shedding The Past LP, Ostgut-Ton, 2008]
2. Equalized / Unknown Artist (Shed) – EQD 002 Side A [Equalized, 2009]
3. WAX / Unknown Artist (Shed) – WAX 1001 Side B [WAX 12", 2008]
See also: 2562 / A Made Up Sound, Andy Stott, Surgeon
Metro Area – the NYC duo of Morgan Geist and Darshan Jesrani – debuted in 1999 with a self-titled 12″ led by the effervescent ‘Atmosphrique’. The eponymous 12″ series is now up to volume 7 and keeps on coming, with the best of volumes 1-5 collected in 2002 on the beyond essential Metro Area LP.
Perfect in concept and in execution, the idea of Metro Area was essentially to make a series of techno-savvy disco dubs. A simple premise, to be sure, but Geist and Jesrani fulfilled it so consummately that they ended up creating an entirely new kind of music: a mix of house, boogie, techno, electro, R&B, disco and lavishly orchestrated pop that distanced itself from opportunist re-edit culture and instead went about creating music as soulful and musical as that which had inspired it in the first place.
Perfect in concept and in execution, the idea of Metro Area was essentially to make a series of techno-savvy disco dubs.
The rolling ‘Miura’ is Metro Area’s best-known track, a crisp and skilful melding of low-slung beat-programming and gliding Philly-style strings, but it’s just the tip of one big Titanic-thumping iceberg. The synth-led ‘Proton Candy’, from Metro Area 6, is so perfectly arranged that it actually conjures pathos out of a fucking cowbell, while the piano-augmented, elegiac ‘Caught Up’ is the track I’ll listen to when I’ve really made it and am looking out over moonlit New York from the balcony of my penthouse apartment, sipping champagne with Frasier and Niles.
Geist and Jesrani’s is music that doesn’t benefit from over-analysis, and all I really want to do here is to impel you to listen to Metro Area if you haven’t already. Please, please do – at its best it really is the most sumptuous and satisfying shit in the world. If I could save only one record from this decade, Metro Area 3 might just be it. My second choice? Er, Metro Area 4.
Metro Area – Caught Up [from Metro Area 3 12", Environ, 2001]
Metro Area – Miura [from Metro Area 4 12", Environ, 2001]
Metro Area – Proton Candy [from Metro Area 5 12", Environ, 2004]
See also: Daniel Wang, Kelley Polar