(MILLE PLATEAUX, 1999)
Pity poor Reinhard Voigt. The German producer is destined to remain forever in the shadows of his older brother Wolfgang Voigt, from whom he learned the electronic music-making ropes, and whose artistic achievements – it must be conceded from the off – comfortably exceed his own.
That isn’t to say that Voigt the younger hasn’t made some excellent records across a career spanning more than 15 years; quite the contrary, in fact. His early work sounds fresher than ever: the skidding, bumping techno and micro-house he made in the mid-late 90s as Klar, S.R.I. and Pentax, much of it released on Wolfgang’s seminal Profan imprint; and the psych-tinged, loop-oriented electronica from the same era which he recorded under the name Kron, confidently anticipating the Kompakt Pop sound that gained traction in the following decade. Alas, his solo and collaborative releases on Kompakt during 2000s were too often pedestrian – had they been anything more, he would’ve become a star (like Michael Mayer, like Superpitcher, et al), and his impressive output from years previous wouldn’t now be “lost” and in need of rediscovery.
It seems grossly unfair that Darren Cunningham should be praised as such a maverick, individual voice, and Sturm all but consigned to the minimal bargain bin.
Personally, I find it hard to imagine that Voigt will ever top the two albums he released under the name Sturm in 1999, on Mille Plateaux. The first of these, the self-titled Sturm, is the one that really deserves to be better known. Listening to it again recently, I was struck by its similarities to the albums of Actress – the same bleakly romantic atmosphere of isolation and sleep-deprivation, but most of all the same sonic language. Listen to any of the pieces on Sturm, but especially ‘Untitled I’ or ‘Untitled III’, and tell me they wouldn’t have fitted seamlessly into Splazsh or R.I.P. It seems grossly unfair that Darren Cunningham should be praised as such a maverick, individual voice, and Sturm all but consigned to the minimal bargain bin.
Don’t get me wrong: the appeal of Sturm isn’t purely that it’s “proto-Actress”; there’s much more to it than that. At certain moments I’m reminded of the hollowed-out trip-hop of another Kompakt artist, Dettinger (himself long overdue reappraisal), the clotted cold wave of Danny Wolfers’ Strange Life CD-Rs, the prismatic keyboard sequences and slo-mo drum patterns of Newworldaquarium, the autumnal tones of Lawrence/Dial, Wolfgang Voigt’s Love, Inc. and hell, ‘Untitled IV’ and ‘Untitled V’ even remind me of Belbury Poly’s The Willows. The tracks that conclude the album – the Dabrye-esque (yes, really) ‘Untitled VII’ and shimmering house chugger ‘Untitled VIII’ – are quite “up”, but for the most part Sturm is a thoroughly introspective affair.
If the dread term “smack-house” had existed 13 years ago, Sturmgesten would undoubtedly have been hailed as one of its defining works.
Sturmgesten, also released in 1999, takes Voigt’s vision of heavily sedated techno to its logical conclusion – it’s dubbier, sterner, more drone-oriented than Sturm; oxygen-starved as well as sleep-deprived. If the dread term “smack-house” had existed 13 years ago, Sturmgesten would undoubtedly have been hailed as one of its defining works. Heard as a standalone, Sturmgesten‘s magic is hard to fully grasp, if not to dimly perceive; for best results, I recommend treating it as the second half of Sturm, and listening to the two albums back-to-back, without pause. Sturm takes you to to the brink of the abyss, and Sturmgesten topples you over into it.
Wolfgang Voigt was always keen to position Profan, and later Kompakt, as “pop music, not intelligent techno”: a major ontological shift in the way we think about underground dance music, and one that reverberates to this day. Reinhard’s Sturm embodies the Voigt dream as exquisitely as anything his brother has ever produced – amidst even the densest passages of dark, trippy repetition, his natural pop nous asserts itself. To a casual listener, Sturm has no hooks whatsoever, but a trained ear will recognise it for what it is: a music that is all hooks, simply looped and detourned to the point of mesmerising, clock-melting abstraction.