“It was such an intense time, when I think about it,” Jan St Werner of Mouse On Mars reflects, halfway through a marathon two-and-a-half hour conversation about electronic music in early 90s Cologne. “I’m getting all psyched up again.”
Given the previous hours’ tales — converging paths, jerry-rigged record stores, anarchic institutions, synthesis below the sidewalk, twenty-four hour commune life, the city’s plenitude of possibilities, a world where day blurs into night and then back again — you can’t blame him. This is the story of a fevered time in Cologne, the German city that came to be known, for almost a decade, as one of the world’s electronic music hotspots.
“It was really a weird, experimental vibe,” he continues, “chilled, not hysterical. It was not a ’68 vibe — ‘we have to fight the forces of evil’ — because back then you still had this super-conservative Nazi structure that was in Germany for decades.All of that new music, fuelled by these ideas of Stockhausen or Can, was against that really hardcore reactionist vibe in Germany. And these people really had to fight and come up with really extreme concepts. But then throughout the eighties, the new visual arts and experimental music and industrial and punk came in, and then in the 90s it cooled down, it was much more relaxed. No one was very busy or hectic or stressed out, people did their stuff very calmly, [on a] slow path.”
Indeed, if anything characterises the electronic music scene in Cologne at the time, it’s a paradoxical sense of “unhurried urgency” combined with both a throwing-off-the-shackles and an awareness of an electronic music tradition that threads back to Stockhausen. What happened in Cologne in the early 90s came about through a constellation of micro-events, with the seeming improbability of these intersecting lines leading to an anarchic, improvised community that saw DIY actualisation as an everyday pursuit.
As with all great cities that reach a moment of maximum creativity, many of Cologne’s key figures actually came from outside of the city. Jan St. Werner and Felix Randomiz, for example, were both from a relatively small town, Bamberg, on the other side of the country. But these musicians fell into place around a constellation of record stores: Normal, which stocked mostly indie rock; Groove Attack, for drum’n’bass, hip-hop, and dance music of all shades; Delirium, the formative home of Kompakt; and A-Musik, the experimental music store and eventually record label that grew from Georg Odijk’s distribution service. Its first home was a spare room in the basement flat shared by Odijk, Werner and Marcus Schmickler. “The room that had stored all the records from Georg had an extra entrance,” Werner says. “You would walk down this little staircase and then be in this room, and we convinced Georg to open that door two days a week. He was like, ‘I don’t want people in my room,’ and we were like, ‘Look, we need to file these records anyway.’ Eventually he agreed, and that was the moment A-Musik was born. Two days a week we would open the door.”
Across the way, Delirium was growing under the watchful eyes of the nascent Kompakt collective – figures like Wolfgang and Reinhard Voigt, Michael Mayer, Jürgen Paape, and Jörg Burger. “Köln has been the city of producers and labels and has a long tradition of electronic music,” says Wolfgang Voigt. “For us, we understood techno as a new international, non-verbal musical language without any cultural borders or hierarchy. And like there has been a Berlin or Frankfurt or Detroit or London dialect of this musical language, we wanted to add the Köln dialect.” For a time in the 90s, that dialect was about minimalism – stripping techno back to its bones, working with as few elements as possible to extract maximum impact from minimal means, moving the dancefloor further into experimental zones. At the same time, Kompakt grew from rave, acid, sawtooth techno and pop cultures.
While each store and musical collective had its own territory, there was plenty of communication between the various enclaves, facilitated in part by events like Ingmar Koch’s Liquid Sky club, where Frank Dommert eventually hosted Selten Gehörte Musik. (The event was named after a series of records by German experimental artist Dieter Roth, often accompanied by figures like Oswald Weiner and Hermann Nitsch, which are now being reissued by Berlin’s Tochnit Aleph imprint.) Selten Gehörte Musik – ‘seldom heard music’ – would eventually become an A-Musik motto. Meanwhile, Werner and co. were heading to Groove Attack to pick up drum’n’bass, hip-hop and rare groove (A-Musik filled in the gaps stocking the weirder end of drum’n’bass) and the relationship between Delirium and A-Musik led to further cross-cultural exchanges. “The Kompakt guys started coming by,” Werner recalls. “I remember Riley Reinhold coming in and asking about all this weird electro-acoustic music, Bernard Parmegiani and [Iannis] Xenakis. It was just DJ tools, so he would mix these weirdo sounds into minimal techno because it would freak people out on the dancefloor.” Frank Dommert summarises these relationships as “very friendly and from very close different worlds. We used to know each other and we used to hang out. Riley Reinhold invited me to DJ at one of his parties, for one of my first DJ sets. Georg was also invited a couple of times, back in the days when they used to have ambient rooms at techno parties.”
Kompakt, meanwhile, was slowly shoring up its vision of an international brand of minimal techno. “When we talk about the electronic music revolution of the early 90s in terms of techno,” says Voigt, “there have been no Köln-specific reasons for us for being part of it. Techno at this time was a very exciting, new and fast-growing worldwide movement. Techno affected a certain kind of people, music producers all over the world, and so it was in Cologne and with Jörg and me.” And yet there is something specific to these productions that lends import to their geographic provenance. “We created more and more a specific ‘Köln-spirit’ style of this music,” says Voigt, “which later got known worldwide as Cologne minimal techno.”
By the mid-90s the scenes had broken cover. Mouse On Mars, Microstoria and Frankfurt’s Oval were leading the way internationally for the A-Musik scene, and the impacts of the reductionism of Voigt’s Studio Eins and Freiland productions were ricocheting through the techno fraternity. In some circles, consternation started to set in. “Eventually there were people moving into Cologne to show their music, start a label,” says Werner, “and I remember I spoke to Georg and Frank and [said] this is kind of smelling like Seattle [laughs]. We’re becoming the Seattle of electronic music.” The city moved in and branded the disparate scenes via the Sound Of Cologne compilation series. Anarchic spaces started to become more formalised; Kompakt moved into bigger premises, as did A-Musik, and Mouse On Mars became even more internationalist in their approach. “It became more professional,” Werner says, “which was very healthy, because people could focus more, lose less energy – less hangovers mixed with trying to run a record store and a label at the same time. [Whereas before] you didn’t know anymore what was what, and when to do what, and what time of day it was.”
Still, as we explore the times through our conversation, Werner seems a little nostalgic for the individuality of those days – an uncommon moment for an artist who rarely enjoys looking back, more often focusing on the present and future. “I was just high from this interconnected weird archive. It was like a living archive. There were so many weird, interconnecting, absurd combinations, but they were lovely. It was this very, very special time.” There are many artists we have not been able to cover here: other significant figures like Josef Suchy, Harald ‘Sack’ Ziegler, Jürgen Paape, Institut Für Feinmotorik, Don’t Dolby, Blutsiphon, Dr. Walker, Khan, Zen-Faschisten, Donna Regina, Matthias Schaffhäuser & Ware Records, the Karaoke Kalk imprint (Senking, Kandis), and the early years of Markus Detmer’s Staubgold label (Reuber, Klangwart). But here are 21 records, representing just the tip of the iceberg, that begin to map out the incredible creativity, hybridity and fluidity of Cologne’s electronic music scene in the 90s.
Thanks to the interviewees, Felix Göllner, Ken Li, and Jon Abbey.
Frank Dommert’s debut album, released in 1990, was one of the first significant volleys from Cologne in the new decade. His history stretched back through the second half of the eighties, as he’d already released a number of cassettes via his label Entenpfuhl, and had collaborated with Hirsche Nicht Aus Sofa (H.N.A.S.), the Aachen-based surrealist-noise-junk outfit led by Christoph Heemann and Achim P Li Khan. Their connection with English cut-up/industrial project Nurse With Wound (NWW’s Stapleton released an early H.N.A.S. album on his label, United Dairies) can be heard in Kiefermusik as well, a disorienting collage which, as Dommert says, “is pretty much a [LSD] trip, intentional and in a large portion, unconscious.” Dommert’s music has a peculiar logic to it that marks it out from the pack, though, perhaps due to his growing fascination with “Art Brut and naïve stuff”. Kiefermusik is simultaneously a rough-as-guts album of collapsing architectures and an intelligent, sensitively sculpted masterpiece of editing, with Dommert winding a psychedelic spool around loops that could spin out into eternity.
Time Tunnel Volume One
On the other side of the fence, there was the exhilarating rush of Cologne acid and rave, with artists like Wolfgang Voigt, Jörg Burger, Cem Oral, Ingmar Koch and Andreas Bolz pumping out focused, monomaniacal 12” singles. A double-CD compilation, Time Tunnel Volume One is a particularly good listen if you want to get to grips with what Voigt and Burger, among the most significant figures in the Kompakt dynasty, were up to in that weird historical sweet spot, somewhere between the explosion of rave culture and the blossoming of experimental, conceptual electronica. Among the many gems (an early appearance for Voigt’s Mike Ink alias; ditto Burger’s The Bionaut, and excellent collaborations between the crew) I’ve always been fond of Vinyl Countdown’s ‘Cure’, a prototype for the ultra-minimalism of Voigt’s later music: three elements pirouetting in concert, pegged to the ground by a fierce, unrelenting kick drum.
Jan St. Werner & FX Randomiz
Probably the earliest readily available example of music from both Werner and Randomiz (though Werner released a few limited edition cassettes around the same time), Slow is a particularly surprising listen if you thought Oval, their peers down the road in Darmstadt via Frankfurt, held the rights to exploiting the CD glitch. Werner and Randomiz were school friends from Bamberg, and while Werner had moved to Cologne to study, Randomiz was in Regensburg, studying law. Werner helped liberate Randomiz from this career: “I said, ‘Just come [to Cologne] and we’ll spend two weeks recording stuff, we’ll shut the rest of the world out.’ We basically went so deep into this idea of destruction that we started to destroy the media that was playing the tapes. We were bending the tape recorders and we scratched the needles on records, and we really got into this thing of manipulating the CD player, skipping it backwards and forwards, scratching the CD.” It’s no wonder The Wire’s Rob Young once described Slow as “an outstanding pre-Oval example of capsized sampling virtuosity.” It’s as gorgeous as it is unsettling, pulling material from Werner’s tape archives and subjecting them to heavy stress, yet retaining a core musicality that sometimes has the album, as on this first track, ‘Fucker’, sounding not entirely unlike another Cologne album, Pol’s Transomuba (1994), which similarly edits together materials to create an unlikely landscape, a kind of wild-style ethnic dub. But Slow pushes things much further.
Nephology: The New Religion
Air Liquide, the duo of Cem Oral and Ingmar Koch, released a bunch of techno/trance/acid sides across the 90s, the best of which came early in their history. Their first three albums – Air Liquide, Nephology: The New Religion and The Increased Difficulty Of Conversation – all share extended cuts of blissful ambient trance which extend out horizontally, rolling endlessly forward, such as ‘The Clouds Have Eyes’, which shudders and vibrates like cells in the bloodstream. In many ways, though, Oral and Koch were just as important as connecting forces for the Cologne scene, with the latter’s club, Liquid Sky, one of the most significant places for Cologne musicians, artists and fans to meet. Werner recalls: “He would show up at A-Musik, and he was this huge very friendly bear, who would want to have everyone at his parties, so he’d be like, ‘Yeah, we’re doing another thing, you should come by and play your weirdo music.’ For him it didn’t matter what we were doing, he just wanted everyone to hang out somehow, and touch some of the gear that he had connected [laughs]. He always had these endless jams of endless arrays of hardware stuff, and he was super happy if everyone would stand there and twiddle some of those knobs.”
(Odd Size, 1994)
Kontakta’s only album is an undersung effort of collectivist improvisation. They were almost a supergroup of the Cologne underground, numbering among their ranks Hans-Jurgen Schulz (aka Hajsch) and Monika Westphal of PFN (and the Quiet Artworks label), C-Schulz and Markus Schmickler of Pol, Frank Dommert, and Georg Odijk. Developing from jam sessions in 1990, Kontakta were a short-lived outfit, but on Kontakta they evidence an advanced grasp on improvisation, moving as one through long, deep-breathing passages of drone, distant foghorn peals arcing through the sky as the friction of metal-on-metal screeches out in an echo chamber. Close to the visionary pursuit of David Jackman’s Organum, and more minimally detailed than groups like Morphogenesis, this is essential listening for anyone deep in that world. And if you’re particularly interested in this side of the Cologne scene, it’s also worth checking out the Brüsseler-Platz 10A-Musik records, and Dommert and Odijk’s collaborative 12” as Ziel, which they released on their Sieben label.
Mouse On Mars
(Too Pure / American, 1994)
Mouse On Mars, the duo of Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma, did more than most any other group to put Cologne’s electronic music on the map. Finding their way onto English post-rock label Too Pure after sending a cassette to the members of Seefeel, Mouse on Mars’s output has mutated multiple times across the past two decades, but back in the mid-90s they were making pop-not-pop electronic music, rich with melody and glowing with texture; songs shape-shifting across multiple time zones. But much as Mouse On Mars always had an internationalist outlook, Vulvaland is very much a Cologne record, particularly in its sense of serious play, its love of throwing curveballs at the listener, finding a meeting place where Brian Wilson gets dubbed out by King Tubby while burying Cluster’s electronics kit in the sandpit.
‘Elli Im Wunderland’ is the most ravishing song on the album, bursting with floral and fungal life, its opening, clattering drone coming from a children’s instrument that Elli, aka Elena Poulou, then a member of Zen-Faschisten (the commune group who lived in the apartment below Werner’s) and now in The Fall, loaned to the duo. “It’s a metal thing, you pump it and then it swirls and does this kind of hum,” Werner laughs. “It spins and people get dizzy from it, kids get a bit dizzy, but they have this soothing sound. She had one of these things, and I was really mesmerised by it, so we borrowed it and we made one track on Vulvaland, called ‘Elli Im Wunderland’ – that’s basically dedicated to her.”
Lush Life Electronica
In the early 90s, in response to the explosion of electronic music in Germany, EMI relaunched its Harvest label, previously the home of prog/psych rock artists like Pink Floyd, Edgar Broughton Band, Kevin Ayers and Roy Wood. Newly revitalised, the label was pretty much taken over by Ingmar Koch and Jörg Burger, who released both their own music and those of their immediate peers, like the Voigt brothers, through the imprint. Some astounding (and quite uncommercial) electronic music made it out via Harvest over those few years, but among the most compelling albums were Burger’s releases as The Bionaut and The Modernist, where he let his love of pop show via textured electronica. The title Lush Life Electronica sums it up perfectly — here was electronic music in service of beauty and voluptuousness. Songs like ‘Lush Life Electronica’ and ‘Vitagraph’ were moistly melancholy, suspended in a glorious hush.
(L’Age D’Or, 1995)
The musical project of contemporary visual artist Kai Althoff, Workshop always had quite a heavy conceptual bent, alongside a love of the roughness of krautrock and a fondness for the liberations of the dancefloor. They released six albums, eventually hooking up both with Mouse On Mars’ Sonig label and David Grubbs’ Blue Chopsticks imprint, but Talent stands as their signal album. It’s a voracious set which sees Althoff busting awkward moves on the ‘floor, as on ‘I Wish I Had You’; a remix by Whirlpool Productions amplifies this instigative funk. As with many Althoff projects, including his more recent solo albums under the name Fanal, Workshop somehow manages to balance the absurd and the profound, the clumsy and the graceful – in this respect, they remind me of The Red Krayola. And from all accounts, their live performances were a trip. “They played a couple of amazing shows with lots of people on stage,” Dommert recalls fondly. Werner adds: “Every Workshop show was a spectacle. It was insane. It was kinky and weird and it was krautrock and it was non-music and it was noise.”
‘From: Disco To: Disco’
(Ladomat 2000, 1996)
With ‘From: Disco To: Disco’, Whirlpool Productions, the trio of Justus Köhncke, Hans Niewandt and Eric D Clark, had that most unpredictable of things – a genuine hit on their hands. It’s not such a surprise when you hear the track and immediately cotton on to its wayward charm, arpeggios flying around the room while someone plunks out loose, slippery chords on a Fender Rhodes, Clark improvising his way around a playful vocal. It’s as undeniable as it is unexpected, and shows Whirlpool Productions at the height of their game. As with Workshop and Mouse On Mars, but in subtly different ways, Whirlpool Productions balanced seriousness with playfulness, bringing pop music into electronica’s equation, perhaps a result of their connections with the visual arts – indeed, Köhncke would eventually record an album with Workshop’s Kai Althoff under the name Subtle Tease. “They were a little bit closer to the Groove Attack scene” Werner says, “but their house music was weird and new and different. ‘From: Disco To: Disco’ was odd and lovely.”
Marcus Schmickler had already been involved in a number of projects – Blockwart (with C-Schulz and Georg Odijk), Marcgraf, the Nach Schweiz cassette with Frank Dommert, and Pol. But in the mid-90s, Schmickler initiated two projects – Pluramon, a kind of fictionalised group making austere post-rock, rather like a restrained take on Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock – and a series of compositional albums, the first of which is Wabi Sabi. The monstrous title track often gets all the attention, perhaps for the way it realises an updated perspective on Xenakis’s La Légende D’Eer, but I find myself returning more often to the shorter, denser ‘Param’, which floods the sensorium with tightly wound orchestral textures. Its impressive architecture, and the overarching sense of Schmickler living a fugitive musical existence, is only amplified when you hear about his Kaspar Hauser Studio, hidden away in the industrial compound where his father then worked: “[It] was a secret place where people were shifting metal back and forth,” Werner laughs. “I think you probably even went through the office of his father to get into his studio. It was totally weird.”
(Harvest, 1996 / Matador, 1998)
One of the all-time classics of its genre, [Las Vegas] is the perfect meeting place of Jörg Burger’s pop lyricism and Wolfgang Voigt’s conceptual sturdiness, right down to the song titles borrowed from Roxy Music (‘Avalon’, ‘Do The Strand’, ‘Love Is The Drug [Paris Texas]’). It’s a slow build of a record, the better to recline in its gaseous textures – indeed, in some ways [Las Vegas] feels of a piece with the debut GAS album, which Voigt released in 1996 on Mille Plateaux, though the latter plays out with the melodic melancholy of [Las Vegas] reduced to just trace elements. (And before you ask/complain, yes, the GAS albums should probably be in this list too.) The most perfect moment on this album, though, is ‘Twelve Miles High’, a 10-minute meditation on modern motorik music, somehow navigating between the quiet ecstasies of some of the Chain Reaction label’s releases, and the spangling play of light that permeates Burger’s most limpid/liquid productions. It’s a mix that could go on forever.
(Mille Plateaux / Thrill Jockey, 1996)
When Jan St. Werner met Oval, he immediately connected with the one of the group’s members, Markus Popp. “He was a super-intense character,” Werner says. “We really clicked and wanted to dig deeper into sound and come up with a different idea of what a band was, or a collaboration.” That idea first showed its tentative face to the world on Init Ding, their 1995 album on A-Musik/Mille Plateaux/Thrill Jockey. But by the following year, they’d found their feet, and the glassy, laminar electronics that comprise snd still make for their strongest showing. At its best, Microstoria’s music effects an unusual sensation of suspension, as though you’re moving between the cables, caught in a web of electronic echolalia; sometimes, it’s like digital detritus, a hard drive crash in slow motion, or the quiet murmurings of a circuit board in the dark of night.
Schlammpeitziger is the solo project of Jo Zimmermann, one of the musicians from Cologne who has done the most, aesthetically, to bridge the divide between the dazed electronics of the post-krautrock era – see solo records by Dieter Moebius, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, and Michael Rother – and the advances of the Cologne school, all framed within a specifically playful aesthetic that has his albums feeling like Borgesian books of impossible possibilities. Pitch-wheel keyboards warp their way around clacking rhythms as Zimmermann coasts the dinkiest of single-finger melodies out of his kit; as with much of his music, Spacerokkmountainrutschquartier is a joyous, mysterious listen, like opening a series of music boxes and letting them play out in fragile concert. But there’s a steely rigor to Zimmermann’s vision, too. He sits nicely alongside Master’s Cosmic Music, the project of Vinicio Brunori who released a split album with Schlammpeitziger on Gefriem, and the legendary Die Welttraumforscher, as an artist who works the wonder of the everyday into his electronic compositions. If you want a good overview of his music, you could also try the Collected Simplesongs Of My Temporary Past compilation on Domino/Thrill Jockey.
(Studio Eins, 1997)
You can only have the real Studio Eins experience if you submit to the 10 colour-coded 12” singles that Wolfgang Voigt released across 1996 and 1997, but if you want to dip your toes in the water first, the Studio Eins CD compilation is as good a start as you could find. For Studio Eins, Voigt reduced techno to its barest elements: the thump of the four-to-the-floor, ticking percussive fills, and woozy, warping bass motifs. That it’s so compelling, even in its most minimal state, is testament both to the canniness of Voigt’s compositions, and to the appealing dry tone he’d achieved on these productions. In a contemporaneous interview with Angbase magazine, Voigt replied the question, “What is making music about?” with a simple, seductive answer: “Filtering out meaning to the benefit of absolute explosive force.” He certainly achieves something close to that with the extreme minimalism in the Studio Eins series. The following series, Freiland, was, if anything, even more reduced, if not quite as successful in its pursuits.
Goflex, FX Randomiz’s only solo album to date, is perhaps the masterpiece of Cologne electronica. You can hear his incredible facility with synthesis and technology in the richness of the textures and the compositions, but also an ear for warped, notched melody, along with a unique understanding of spatiality and arrangement – witness how ‘uv W’ appears to move across multiple distinct planes at once, from the urgent rustlings that make up the track’s rhythm to the intertwining melodic structures that wheel and wend throughout. It’s certainly one of the most endlessly replayable of the electronica albums that were released in the mid to late 90s, possibly the genre’s peak. After this, Randomiz released one 12”, ‘Stack’, on Mouse On Mars’ Sonig label, and a few collaborations, with Schlammpeitziger (as Holosud), C-Schulz (including their plunderphonics duo The Allophons), Jan St. Werner (as Dü), and DJ Elephant Power (as Bass Jog). Time for another full-length?
Wolfgang Voigt’s Profan label was a catch-all for both his and his brother Reinhard’s most experimental urges, and the label’s back catalogue from their first era, between 1993 and 2000, is one of the most oddly destabilising bodies of music in the techno corpus. Much of the interest rests upon their embrace of the extremities of minimal practice (see, for example, Reinhard Voigt’s dark, dank Pentax project), and a fascination with counter-rhythms, explored most effectively on the M:I:5 singles released on Profan, some of which appear on the Maßstab 1:5 CD. There’s an astonishing tension built here between the interaction of simple elements – due to the unexpected collisions of their cross-rhythms, the kick drum thud that underpins the tracks is repeatedly undercut, left wanting. It’s music that makes little sense on first encounter, and listening back to Maßstab 1:5, parts of it still feel oddly alien, as though it’s been beamed out and then back by satellite.
Thomas Brinkmann’s series of 12” singles, released across the late 90s on his Max and Ernst labels, offer fascinating diversions on the relationship between music, technology and mathematics. On a song like ‘Anna’, much of the rhythm is seemingly built by the crackles and notches that pock-mark vinyl, with Brinkmann using the very materiality of the carrier format as part of the compositional process. The complementary rhythmic forces are simple – a tight bass drum, a hollow clang, understated percussive clatter – but they unite to effect maximum impact; there is always something surprisingly seductive about Brinkmann’s most minimal productions, even as they evince a stentorian bread-and-water regime upon the body of techno. It’s also worth listening to his more conceptual works under the name Ester Brinkmann, his series of soul-sampling re-ups as Soul Centre, and a few coolly delivered remixes for and collaborations with Marcus Schmickler on his Marc Ushmi project, one of which has Brinkmann under the most fabulous pseudonym, Tom Assman.
Fackeln Im Sturm
An absolute monster and one of Voigt’s masterpieces – so good, he seemed unable to resist releasing it under three pseudonyms (Dom, Grungerman and Wassermann) – “Fackeln Im Sturm” is also one of his most successful attempts to bring German schlager (light, sentimental ‘hit songs’) to bear on his music. The vocal sample comes from Juliane Werding’s cover of The Band’s ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’, called ‘Am Tag, als Conny Kramer starb’ (you can see a live version of it here). In his Angbase interview, Voigt refers to a process of “[putting] German cultural history […] under the microscope, to reduce the original material back to its basic aesthetic structures and to put it into a new context from there.” And indeed, ‘Fackeln Im Sturm’, which loosely translates to ‘flares in the storm’, does just that, using samples of the Werding cover as fleeting transmissions, boiling them down to their essence. But the real motivator of ‘Fackeln Im Sturm’ is the way Voigt hammers a springy, unrelenting rhythm into the very ground, while setting a flock of backward drones whirring across the middle. At the right volume – very loud – it’s devastating.
U.O.A.A. Shake It
(Ladomat 2000, 1998)
A great release from the underrated Ladomat 2000 label, Zimt’s ‘U.O.A.A. Shake It’ is notable not just for being one of 1998’s club hits in the city, but for being one of the first productions from both Michael Mayer, now a major DJ and one of the heads of Kompakt, and Matias Aguayo, who released one stunning album on Kompakt, After Love, with Dirk Leyers before going solo and hooking up with the Cómeme crew. Much like some of the other records that spun out of the Profan/Kompakt axis in the late 90s (see, for example, Forever Sweet, a collaboration between Mayer, Reinhard Voigt and Tobias Thomas), ‘U.O.A.A. Shake It’ embraces the minimalism refined by the Voigt brothers, and then spins it out into a more populist framework, with Aguayo’s sweetly sensual vocals breathing down on the beat, while weird quacks and faux-horns act as punctuation. It’s a weirdly compelling track, and one of the early hints that a new wave of producers was entering the Kompakt orbit.
(Mille Plateaux, 1999)
While Wolfgang Voigt gets most of the plaudits, I will confess to an incredible soft spot for his brother Reinhard’s productions. In their own ways, Reinhard’s are every bit as exploratory and quixotic – sometimes, more so – and while his releases under his own name often cleave to tracky techno stormers (an entirely admirable pursuit), with other projects like S.R.I., Kron, Pentax, Sweet Reinhard and Sturm, things get wiggier. The two Sturm albums Reinhard Voigt released with Mille Plateaux are blurry beauties, perhaps similar to the GAS albums in their reliance on string-based textures and a muted pulse, but where GAS aims for grandeur, Sturm feels more humbled, more quietly questing in its intentions. Sturm’s sequel, Sturmgesten, is one of the most maddeningly minimal sets I’ve ever heard, compelling in its monomania, but Sturm is the one to go for. At least one wag has observed that Actress’s recent releases sound like chips off the Sturm block. They’re not wrong.
C-Schulz & Hajsch
C-Schulz & Hajsch
To end, an album that seems to wrap up much of one era of Cologne music – the only collaboration so far between C-Schulz & Hajsch, two mainstays of the Cologne scene: C-Schulz for a series of gorgeously unpredictable albums, Hajsch for his Quiet Artworks and Urthona imprints, and a small but impeccable body of recorded work (both solo and with PFN). C-Schulz & Hajsch is a gem of electro-acoustic construction; a muted, at times sombre affair that explores similar terrain to international operatives like Small Cruel Party, Hands To and G*Park. The arrangement and editing is impeccable, injecting subtle drama into field recordings, with desolate tones singing out from the insides of out-of-tune instruments, and sudden (yet unabrasive) cuts to harmonium drones and wistful guitar minimalism. C-Schulz would go on to make records with FX Randomiz; little has been heard of Hajsch since.