Tag Archive: Germany


Kirsty’s Reviews

Release of the Month

Apparat – “Krieg Und Frieden” (Music For Theatre) (Mute)

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Sebastian Hartmann’s theatre production of War and Peace (Krieg und Frieden); commissioned by the German arts festival Ruhrfestspiele featured a specially composed score by renowned electronic artist Sascha Ring, aka Apparat, using a minimal ensemble of orchestra parts (cello, violin), voice and synthesizers. Apparat and two members of his live band, Philipp Timm and Christoph Hartmann, spent four weeks constructing and condensing the essence rather than the narrative of Tolstoy’s detailed depiction of Napoleon’s ill-fated 1812 invasion of Russia. The score was then adapted for this recorded version.

“Krieg und Frieden” begins with a stirring blast of noise that bleeds into track two’s set piece: a weeping cello that stands on a bed of flowing atmospheres, widening the electronic panoramic view until it sounds like a brewing storm of static and resonating strings. The mostly instrumental collection is occasionally punctuated by Apparat’s frail and mournful voice, underlining the prevailing mood of desperation.  Pitched high, Ring’s voice repeats the phrase “deserted holes, deserted eyes, deserted souls, deserted lives”, on the percussive ‘Light On’ and aches forlornly beneath piano and percussion the colourful and outstanding ‘A Violent Sky’, which breaks through the chaos with a clear tone. ‘Austerlitz’, the site of one Napoleon’s greatest victories is depicted in War And Peace as the first challenge to face the aristocratic characters. Apparat’s rendering of the events begins with haunted scraping sounds and a low rumble that swells into a theatrical wave of dread and sombre melody.  There are two versions of the “Kreig und Frieden” theme. Both are beautiful and emotive, with the Pizzicato’ version taking on a classical form of plucked harp and violin whilst the second is stripped back and centres on the delicate sounds of a child’s wind-up music box and glorious violin. ‘Tod’ (meaning death in German) is filled with disturbing fuzzy atmospheres and reverberating guitar that simultaneously returns thematically to the start of “Krieg und Frieden” while being a fulfilling conclusion.

Apparat achieves a composition that although loyal to War and Peace’s thematic core doesn’t require the listener to have prior knowledge of the book to enjoy and absorb “Kreig und Frieden”’s poignant beauty. In doing so he has overcome a potentially off putting record by focusing on emotional strength rather than a strict narrative interpretation of his source material. A listener’s attention is held from track to track because each one plays with emotion, moods and passion, pushing and pulling you into different areas while as a whole everything blends and flows together seamlessly. It is a testament to the creator who for years has given his audience many releases to get excited about and with “Krieg und Frieden”, Apparat has created another breath-taking addition to his name.

Listen to ‘A Violent Sky’ below

Function – Incubation (Ostgut Ton)

Function (Dave Sumner), a member of highly regarded techno collective Sandwell District, which also includes the nebulous cast of Regis, Female and Silent Servant, presents his hugely anticipated debut album “Incubation” after 10+ years of releasing acclaimed 12”s. In 2010, Sandwell District released the brilliant “Feed-Forward”.

Opening “Incubation” is ‘Voiceprint’, a large scale vista of gyrating ambience and delicate beats filled with delayed percussion, tense droning bass line, effected snatches of vocals and a gorgeous twinkling motif. For the final 30 seconds it drops vertically into a surging, unsettling bass drone and a chilling rattling sound which leads into the nasty scraping sounds of ‘Against the Wall’. It recalls elements of classic techno with its unrelenting hi-hat patterns skipping over a resonant bass line as sweaty beats smack against a cavernous concrete wall. ‘Counterpoint’ is a Jeff Mills-indebted sci-fi soundtrack of fast legato synths, wheezing minor key synths and beatless, slow moving atmospherics. The use of suppressed vocals embellishes the undercurrent of tension, a common thread throughout “Incubation”. Fifth track ‘Incubation (Ritual)’ is filled with elegant, held A#m synth chords sliding through a thudding bass line giving a cleansing feel and a sense of lightness that balances the mysterious tension of previous tracks. A personal favourite since its first appearance in 2011 on Function’s “Ember” release for Sandwell District is the expansive and evocative ‘Inter’. Bright, delicate A# major synth chords glide above a bass drum that feels like the track’s beating heart. A beautiful synth melody, mirrored by a warm bass line, lifts the track to a greater level as crystalline cymbals wash through like waves.

‘Voiceprint (Reprise)’ is the meat of the album. Gasps of reverberant vocals ring out above shuffling percussion and pounding bass drum as a light cool-toned synth melody sings its way through the track. Claves echo infinitely, this small percussion instrument has never before sounded so foreboding. The rhythms give the impression of ceaselessness, feeling as if it’s moving in circles rather than pushing forward. The listener feels almost weightless, suspended by rotating claustrophobic atmospherics as the track dissipates under vaporous melodies. The final two tracks, while sufficient, don’t add anything to the album’s whole and dilute the impact of ‘Voiceprint (Reprise)’. Disappointingly, the last piece ‘Gradient I’ isn’t special enough to finalise “Incubation” so the album does drift off in the listener’s memory.

As would be expected from veteran producer Tobias Freund, ‘Incubation’ is extremely well crafted with exceptional clarity and depth of sound. It feels full of space both texturally and technically. Showing Sumner’s wealth of experience is his use of keys, D minor and major, A minor, A# minor and major, and nuanced textures and tones that cleverly link each track together and instil “Incubation” with unity. Sumner has eloquently communicated his aim to create “one endless piece to be listened to straight through … so everything is connected and there are reoccurring themes throughout the album.”

Objekt / Cosmin TRG – The Green Series 002 (Bleep)

The second release in Bleep’s The Green Series is the pairing of Objekt and Cosmin TRG, who each delivers a slice of exhilarating, thundering techno, mastered at Berlin’s renowned Dubplates and Mastering. A reverberating bass drum creates the scene for Objekt’s ‘Shuttered’ as heavy percussion locks into a flowing groove above. A searing pad snakes in the background while snatches of low voices and high-pitched delayed noises interplay to disturbing effect. A thin, high synth builds momentum until dropping dramatically into ‘Shuttered’’s main groove with the new addition of a complex interchange of heavy duty percussion and light gasps of noise. Cosmin TRG’s ‘Auster’ begins with a thunderous low end that kicks in the chest, scratching percussion and ticking hi hat layer. A thick bass line and bluish synth motif double each other with the melody line rising in intensity. Zapping effects and wheezing, hollow noises. Its belligerent, thrilling pace and sheer force of bass frequencies confronts the listener. This couple of killer techno tracks from two producers known for their unwavering high quality output is well worth checking out.

Liam’s Reviews

Disappointment of the Month

Atoms for Peace – “AMOK” (XL)

Atoms for Peace’s debut album has been marketed as that of a supergroup, one that came into being after Thom Yorke put together a band to tour his solo album “The Eraser” (2006), however the resulting album “Amok” often sounds more like another Yorke solo album. This a little disappointing as the many tracks that had been circulating on internet promise and interviews promised a project that represented all the group’s members. The dynamics of many of the aforementioned tracks are also very similar, which I immediately found overly repetitive and grating. The much discussed afrobeat influences only crop up on two tracks the brilliant opener ‘Before Your Very Eyes…’ and ‘Stuck Together Pieces’ which boasts the album’s tightest beat and some great slinky bass guitar. I would have liked have more afrobeat inspired tracks as these were among the highlights of “Amok”. Other highlights include ‘Judge Jury Executioner’ with its funky but understated bass line underpins click and clacking electronic drums and Yorke’s moaning reverb heavy harmonies before an acoustic guitar and his lead vocals leap into view and push the track onwards into the verse and chorus sections. The single ‘Default’ and ‘Ingenue’ are also good tracks but also suffer from sounding like Yorke solo tracks. All-in-all “Amok” is a disappointment after much hype had surrounded the band and their purposed direction.

Inc. – “No World” (4AD)

“No World” is the debut album from Inc. two R&B session musicians who decided to give it a go themselves. 4AD signing the duo makes sense as they match the Timbaland and Justin Timberlake beats and production with guitars, pianos and other sounds that recall the labels most famous acts e.g. Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil. These combination positions the duo alongside another up-and-coming R&B duo AlunaGeorge though Inc. definitely use their R&B expertise to create an authentic sound. The album opens with the sparse R&B beat and alien bloopy synth melody of ‘The Place’ recalling classic Missy Elliott tracks. The reverberate picked electric guitar of ‘Black Wings’ is the first sign of the classic 4AD influences and also features a great chorus that recalls 90’s Prince. Next up, ‘Lifetime’ with its double time beat and heavily reverbed synth atmosphere topped off with a Timberlake style vocals shows off the duo’s vocal variety. ‘Five Days’ is another early highlight with its insistent beat, deep bass line and resonate synth lead dovetailing nicely with the soft and subtle male vocals. Later on with get another twist on the Inc. formula with ‘Desert Rose (War Preyer)’ and it warped guitar, distant reverberate drums and whispered vocals somewhere between Prince, Timberlake and D’Angelo. With “No World” Inc. have created a debut album that both demonstrates their vast experience in R&B and shows they can twisted the genre into new shapes. “No World” is an accomplished piece of work from an act well worth checking out.

Lapalux – “Nostalchic” (Brainfeeder)

The debut album from Lapalux fits into the genre of glitch-hop but also separates its self from the serious and technical genre by taking its cues from glitch-hop heavy weight Prefuse 73 and another contemporary producer Teebs. Those producers both manage to create music oozes charm and are melodic in nature; this is why “Nostalchic” is a joy to listen to. Throughout the album the atmospherics synths utilised often recall Oneohtrix Point Never but Lapalux is no rip off artist blending these synths with pitched shifted vocal samples, alien saxophone, cutting hip-hop beats and soaring female vocals. The album opens with the gooey synths and pretty melodic figure of ‘IAMSYS (Tape Intro)’ before swiftly moving onto the album’s first single ‘Guuurl’ with it’s splashing synth pads, reverberate melody and twisted vocodered vocals producing the feeling of a summer evening spent on the beach with the sea lapping at your feet. ‘Kelly Brook’ sees a sparser take on the Lapalux sound before the introduction of guest vocalist Jenna Andrews on ‘One Thing’ on which she’s surrounded by curving synths sounds. ‘Swallowing Smoke’ shows that Lapalux can handle house music to changing to a four to the floor beat to back its rich synth pad and glassy synth arpeggio. Lapalux shows off his variety again on ‘Without You’ a torch song featuring the dark and smoky vocals of Kerry Leatham backed by a minimal synth pad and hip-hop beat. ‘Straight Over My Head’ brilliantly combines dub effects with production that recalls early Kanye West and ‘Dance’ takes a spindly synth melody and boxy beat and matches them with the vocals of Astrid Williamson whose pitch shifted to the point where she sounds like Anthony from Anthony and the Johnsons. ‘The Dead Sea’ and ‘Walking Words’ both recall classic Prefuse 73 but with a smoother sound and with the melodies front and centre and the album closes with ‘O.E.A. (Tape Outro)’ a reprising of the opener with Kerry Leatham on vocals. All-in-all “Nostalchic” doesn’t disappoint and is an excellent debut album from an artist who deserves the widest recognition possible!

Foals – “Holy Fire” (Warner Bros)

“Holy Fire” is both Foals funkiest and most rock album to date. The funk grooves comes from the band themselves while the huge rock production job comes from working with Flood and Alan Moulder who’ve created huge sounding rock records for the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins amongst others. It seems as though the band have loosen up too, they no longer disrupt the rhythmic flow or off set their melodies with odd notes and this makes for stronger chorus that surge out of the speakers. Usually I’d find this a negative thing but on “Holy Fire” it allows Foals to embrace a pop sound that they pull off with aplomb. Maybe on their next album they can experiment with a mixture of their melodic and rhythmic approaches to date. Atmosphere and space are also key to the album’s sound as Flood and Moulder create tones and texture for the new emotional space that the band explores across “Holy Fire” e.g. ‘My Number’ bitter declaration of romantic independence where  previously the band sought eternal partnerships. The band’s usual instrumentation of drums, bass, synth and guitars expanded on “Holy Fire” to included vibraphone, marimba, strings, cowbell and a lot of other percussion instruments adding more variety of texture and rhythmic interplay than any previous Foals release. Foals have come a long way since their initial singles first caused a stir back in 2007 and with this album they’ve delivered music once lives up the reputation they’ve gained in the international music press. Where they could so easily have slipped into hollow epic rock parody they’ve expertly found they can balance catchy melodies, atmospherics, grooves and emotional depth, this album comes highly recommended.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – “Push the Sky Away” (Mute)

On their fourteenth album deliver both their most tender and most salacious album since “The Boatman’s Call” (1997). The album begins with the gently echoing marimba and a deep slow moving bass pulse of ‘We No Who U R’ Cave sings with authority and combines well with female backing vocals and the whine of Warren Ellis’ violin. There’s a slight change of tone on ‘Wide Lovely Eyes’ with nervy guitar dominating Cave’s sleazy tale. The tempo is upped on ‘Water’s Edge’ a chugging bass figure dominates before Ellis’s violin and Cave’s vocals command your attention, stuttering drums join in as the track progresses bringing with sporadic piano riffs.  The epic sweep of single ‘Jubilee Street’ provides the album’s centrepiece starting with just a simple beat and sparse guitar melody then track evolves bringing in a beautiful swell of strings around two minutes in before an acoustic rhythm guitar, treated backing vocals and Ellis’ whining violin join the fray. The song is perfectly paced and balanced building the epic feel as the song progresses. ‘Finishing Jubilee Street’ more or less where its name sake left on off a creepy picked guitar/violin melody starts the song off before slinky guitar echoes out sporadically, the drums plot a simple beat and a female backing singer joins Cave, a recurring motif throughout the album. All in all Cave and his Bad Seeds have created an album of 9 ballads that both utilise classic Cave traits and open up new avenues for him to explore.

Release of the Month

Jamie Lidell – “Jamie Lidell” (Warp)

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Jamie Lidell’s new self titled album may just be his best yet. It’s packed from start to finish with tracks that are suffered to gills with funk. This is however no ordinary funk, Lidell has never been one to do things the usual way, the high point of his career prior to this album was “Multiply” (2005) a collection that combined classic soul and funk chops with the forward thinking electronic glitches and edits of his label Warp. The first single from this album ‘What a Shame’ certainly promised a repeat of this direction, with its stretched grainy vocals and chopped up drums and though these and other similar sounds crop up throughout the album it’s definitely a funk album, just a freaky funk album! The album opens with the Gliding pitching synths and hard hitting drums and probing funk synth bass of ‘I’m Selfish’. It’s followed  by the huge pop of ‘Big Love’ its comes on like 80’s Prince with neon synths. ‘Do Yourself A Faver’ starts off with Thick synth bass and ghost delayed synth melody before evolving into a slice of classic George Clinton electro-funk! ‘why_ya_why’ updates New Orleans funk for the 21st century with stride piano is combined with crunching, head nodding beat and squelchy synths and some excellent horn blasts, the lines between organic and electronic are blurred. ‘So Cold’ and ‘Don’t You Love Me’ stand out from the rest of album with the former offering up Icy lead synth and pad open but contrast it with the huge rush of the chorus, the later is slower number with 80’s ballad stylings which picks up the pace and reintroduces the funk elements around halfway through. Its genuinely hard to fault Lidell on an album that superb from start to finish, a true funk masterclass.

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1. Voices From The Lake – Voices From The Lake (Prologue)

This is an album that has stayed with me since I first listened to it in the freezing early months of 2012. As the year has once again reached the months of dark skies and chilling air, “Voices From The Lake” remains a favourite and a release whose place in pole position for album of the year was never in doubt. The work of Donato Dozzy and Neel is both beautiful and lucid with deep ambient atmospherics and an exceptionally crafted piece of sound design. Listening to “Voices From The Lake” is an immersive experience as the deep wells of ambient sounds develop and unfold at their own pace. Textured beats and unhurried rhythms pour forth with a hypnotic flow, creating an intoxicating sense of tranquillity. Drones and gently pulsing bass drums lead us into soothing pillows of thick ambience against a humid backdrop. The pair’s reworking of the previously released ‘S.T.’ is a revelation. After 30 minutes of bubbling and pulsation, the album’s first proper bass line emerges underneath a gently ascending and descending chord progression, creating the album’s biggest moment of impact while remaining airy and translucent. Rhythm, texture and atmosphere are the key components of “Voices From The Lake”, creating an enveloping physical presence that asks contemplative concentration; a meditative state of listening. Its patterns shift and morph in minute detail, so subtly and patiently that it gives the album an unusual feeling like it is floating while simultaneously surging from the depths of a dense forest. The construction is painstaking, so much so you can’t tell where one track begins and another ends yet, surprisingly for something that has been put together so intricately, it contains warmth that feels inviting and effortless. “Voices From The Lake” is a unique, entrancing release that supplies the closest aural equivalent to waldeinsamkeit since Pantha Du Prince’s “Black Noise”, my top-ranking album of 2010.

2. Shed – The Killer (50 WEAPONS)

“I hate guitar music…because guitars have been out there for hundreds of years now, and I think it’s enough.” Shed (Rene Pawlowitz) the stern-faced German doesn’t care for much, at least that is what his interviews in English depict and with “The Killer”, the producer delivers the tracks on his third album in true German attitude: to the point, straightforward and no bullshit. “The Killer” doesn’t introduce listeners to anything new but by his own admission he doesn’t aim to. For him the best techno was released in the ‘90s and he finds the genre as it is currently, boring. Pawlowitz testifies, “I guess by about 1995 techno stopped being new or innovative and since then it has stayed the same. That’s why I like the past so much, nowadays there is no big change in techno.” What “The Killer” does do is stand as the most visceral and powerful techno album of 2012. Pawlowitz brilliantly drags tracks away from being simple genre exercises by burying nuances and his enigmatic personality among the flashes of brutal intensity. The insistent breakbeats and searing, sinister synths that make up the sadistic throbbing of ‘I Come By Night’ would become tiresome in another producer’s hands but Shed’s nuances are there in the background with the addition of delicately fluttering synths that weave through the track. Making “The Killer” all the more interesting are the feverishly repetitious melodies that flourish underneath the deep, pounding drums, crackles and ambient noise. They are omnipresent yet only really reveal themselves after several listens. Again Shed has pulled the magician’s trick of hiding them in plain sight. Dreamy melodies float through ‘Silent Witness’, Pawlowitz upturns typical techno arrangement by forcing the drums to follow the lead of the billowing melodies on ‘You Got The Look’ and rapturous techno beats are suspended by melodious atmospheric synths on the floating ‘Phototype’. “The Killer” and its producer are refreshing in their directness and techno purity and it is Shed’s individual blend of brutality and subtlety that makes “The Killer” one of the best albums of 2012.

3. John Tejada – The Predicting Machine (Kompakt)

The Austria born, L.A. based producer runs wild, excitedly and purposefully pulling sounds from an assorted catalogue of eras and styles for ‘The Predicting Machine” as it cycles through ten tracks that fluently weave lean electronics and pounding, yet sparse, beats with Tejada’s famously emotionally resonant melodies. It covers a lot of ground yet perfectly summarises his deeply focused approach to production and when it comes to effortlessly and beautifully conveying emotion in music no one gets close to John Tejada’s finely tuned melodies or his instinctive musicality. “The Predicting Machine” moves with pace through sculpted bleeping hooks and thick ambient fogs that rise from aquatic grooves, a Kompakt schaffel-inspired rhythm makes several appearances and the percolating tech house that made Tejada’s name features on the knowingly titled ‘A Familiar Mood’. A moment of magic occurs when the opening bars of the anthemic ‘The Function And The Form’ begin. Its fizzing melody and growling bassline lifts “The Predicting Machine” up a level and the incredibly rich modular synth textures and sparkling arpeggios surrounding it play out joyously. Throughout “The Predicting Machine” long gleaming melodies and spiralling arpeggios mingle with wet, elastic rhythms and effervescent clouds of synths. Every one of his tracks is an inviting and wondrous soundscape filled with luxurious and elegant detail; pure Tejada.

4. Sigha – Living With Ghosts (Hotflush)

After a bundle of 12”s for Scuba’s Hotflush label Berlin-based, UK-born DJ and producer Sigha (James Shaw) delivers his debut album “Living With Ghosts”. The album’s twelve perfectly balanced techno and ambient productions fuse his love of classic techno with the genre’s contemporary sound that is owned by Germany’s capital and over the course of “Living With Ghosts” Sigha shifts between brooding subterranean techno soundscapes and fluid emotive strokes. Album opener ‘Mirror’ slowly introduces the listener to the show with an unhurried sketch of quietly grinding austere noise until the second track ‘Ascension’ kicks in with a throbbing techno beat that almost suffocates its undulating synth. The addition of subtle changes to the rhythm and percussion in the final third takes the track close to breakbeat territory. For the last 30 seconds the drums suddenly drop out to a soft drone that acts as a palette cleanser; refreshing the listener for ‘Puritan’’s 6:40 minutes of a wonderfully unrelenting, thudding 4/4 groove and gossamer synths. A highlight is ‘Scene Couple’, its wet licks of acid rise and swells with force yet feel restrained and intricately textured; a track that will be killer on dancefloors for months to come. Sigha cleverly uses two tracks, ‘Suspension’ and ‘Delicate’, to allow the listener to come up for air, making it even more potent when they are thrown into the techno waves again. Their carefully weaved layers envelop in silky ambience; adding an extra stunning dimension to the release. Hypnotic beats punctuate an enthralling windswept soundscape in the nine minute ʻTranslateʼ. The elegant ‘Aokigahara’ rounds off the album in a ten minute beatless wall of foggy ambience that swathes and soothes the listener. Like “The Killer” by Shed, “Living With Ghosts” is a techno record that contains countless moments of experimentation, depth, subtlety and exhilaration across a format that can be the downfall for many producers who are used to delivering 12”s.“Living With Ghosts”, with its commitment to the motifs of UK and Berlin techno, is a skilfully paced, cohesive, complex and compelling album.

5. Marcel Dettmann – Range EP (Ostgut Ton)

As with last year’s “Translation” and the recent “Landscape” EPs Dettmann’s “Range” shows that though the scale of his material is narrow his resolute, glorious techno still contains many shades within their concrete canvas; 50 shades of grey so to speak. Swirling atmospherics introduce the EP’s title track as an unsettling drum pattern ploughs through sullen, foreboding terrain. The pulsing bass drum on ‘Iso’ only just holds the track together as a dense assortment of spiky and hissing sounds ring out and dissipate above cavernous and unsettling held chords. It feels like it’s on the brink of collapse and reaching out from the depths of this instability comes ‘Push’’s barely discernible pitched down voice intoning variations on the track’s title above a rhythmic dry-hump made up of deep bass thuds, whooshing hats and skittering percussion; a standout. Final track ‘Allies’, which was an important inclusion in Ben Klock’s recent, wonderful “Fabric 66”, is an excellent example of Dettmann’s skill. Essentially a single harmonically-rich chord repeats infinitely while razorblade hi-hats and jacking snares alter every single bar. As with most of his unforgiving slabs of techno, he builds and builds the pressure to almost uncomfortable levels without gifting the listener with any real sense of climax or release. “Range” will still be a favourite on dancefloors twelve months from now.

6. Orcas – Orcas (Morr Music)

Named after the mammal native to the Pacific Northwest where Rafael Anton Irisarri (The Sight Below) and Benoit Pioulard hail from, their collaboration as Orcas blends poignant, twinkling pop songs with shuddering masses of electronic sounds; a fusion of song-writing with ambient minimalism that stands somewhere between the piano-based modern compositions of Peter Broderick, the Field’s highly emotive techno and GAS’ subdued beats and stately atmospheres. ‘Pallor Cedes’ sets the tone of the self-titled album with rising and falling drones and a clipped guitar rhythm sitting under softly picked acoustic guitar and Pioulard’s aching repetition of the phrase “like coming up for air”. “Arrow Drawn”’s clever use of vocal double tracking and harmonies slowly seep into the listener’s ears as quiet acoustic guitar and piano merge into ‘Standard Error”s floating loop of sighs. Calling to mind GAS and Irisarri’s work as The Sight Below is “Carrion”, an unhurriedly evolving hymn that encompasses a distant beat, echoed piano parts, an irregular guitar chord and Pioulard’s gauze-covered sad-eyed voice. A standout is their sublime cover of Broadcast’s ‘Until Then’, a poignant tribute to the untimely passing of singer Trish Keenan. Continuing the album’s use of piano, the track is built on a close-mic’d delicately played piano which frames Pioulard’s reflective vocals. Across the album Benoit Pioulard’s vocals glide along amid quiet piano and guitar notes and backing textures that rise and fall in gentle interplay, vinyl crackle and natural reverb adding an important touch of atmosphere. “Orcas” is a beautifully dignified album that summons a sense of space, understated progression and emotional depth.

7. Deepchord – Sommer (Soma)

Deepchord (Rod Modell) is an artist that continues to reinvent and diversify within the dub techno/ ambient techno genres. “Sommer” (summer in German) has lighter, more ethereal feel than Modell’s previous output but his characteristic manipulation of space and time remains. Effect-heavy textures, sliding and shifting rhythmic elements and intricate production details create a constantly evolving almost vaporous tapestry. Field recordings made on a beach close to Modell’s home generate a balmy atmosphere that breathes underneath the light-footed percussion and bass pulsing from the speakers. Like “Silent Harbour”, “Sommer” creates evocative sound passages. Beautiful, humid atmospheres are drawn in ‘Glow’, ‘Wind Farm’ and ‘Cruising Towards Dawn’, dark fluid journeys are traced with ‘Flow Induced Vibrations’ and ‘Gliding’. The listener travels towards the sunny getaway that ‘Amber’, ‘Benetau’ and ‘The Universe As A Hologram’ propose. The album is an amalgamation of deep, warm organic atmospherics and dance music creating a mood evoking the relaxed warm summer evenings the title alludes to.

8. Christian Löffler – A Forest (Ki)

The forests of Usedom, north Germany in which Christian Löffler lived during the making of the album are the backbone of “A Forest”. Over the twelve tracks that make up the album a rich yet spacious tapestry gradually unfurls as we see an entrancingly atmospheric representation of dense woodland. Warm, organic samples of wooden percussion are underpinned with fragile synth melodies; the chord progressions recall John Tejada’s melancholic, sunset-tinged tracks combined with Pantha du Prince’s percussive rhythms, dense textures and obsessive attention to detail. Although the 4/4 bass drum dominates rhythmically it remains unobtrusive, lying low in the mix beneath hypnotic, dreamlike moods. The three vocalists on “A Forest”, Gry, Mohna and Marcus Roloff, are a new dimension to Löffler’s productions and imbue the album with an even greater emotional resonance. On ‘Swift Code’ lyricist and poet Marcus Roloff’s German spoken word passages alternate between implicit and explicitly threatening verses, Mohna’s  dreamy, fragile voice on ‘Eleven’ is surrounded by buzzing noises and distant bass frequencies. In one section her looped voice sits between chopping hi-hats and a bass line that rolls back and forth like sea waves. The beautiful ‘Feelharmonia’ features the Danish singer Gry whose mournful voice is embraced by shuffling percussion, syncopated drums, tapping wood blocks and a bouncing synth pattern. “A Forest” is a standout in its wonderfully elegant and atmospheric beauty.

9. King Felix – SPRING EP (Liberation Technologies)

This “SPRING EP” by King Felix (Laurel Halo working under a name taken from a previous EP) carries on the thread of the “Hour Logic EP”, notably the accelerated beats and ecstatic cries of ‘Aquifer’. The first three tracks, ‘SPRING01’, ‘SPRING02’ and ‘SPRING03’, are reconfigurations of the same instrumentation and theme, one that heavily references early nineties Detroit techno, in particular Drexciya’s underwater world and the sheen of early Model 500. Their rhythms are restless and shuffle constantly. Halo races the drums forward then scales them back to allow piercing synths to sit atop. The vast organ samples that screech through the opening of ‘SPRING 01’ are anchored by a visceral beat and razor-sharp synth textures. Only on the dramatic ‘SPRING03’ does she let a percussion-filled, 4/4 techno beat dominate. The final track, ‘FREAK’, is a collage of drones. Its sagging bass line looms underneath a quivering synth pattern and Halo’s submerged voice which merges into stretched-out chords. “SPRING EP” is coloured by its immediacy, moments of frightening suspense and an almost aggressive purposefulness. Though the four tracks string together as a narrative arc each presents a different personality and it is Halo’s ability that imbues the collection with cohesion.

10. Claudio PRC – Inner State (Prologue)

The young Italian’s debut album takes us into the abyss. It is a minimalistic world of profound and effortless deep, hypnotic techno and one that is filled with thick atmospheres, foggy dubs and unrelenting beats. Claudio’s love for techno and production skills is displayed with confident poise. In his own words, “In most of my tracks, the electroacoustic side plays the more emotional role, where the atmosphere created by the sound research and processing are my means to tell a story, while the rhythm reveals my natural matrix of energy I use to give life to these stories.” Opener ‘Echoes’ is a pitch black techno track with a relentless bass line that fold into waves of static and hi-hats. Intense, snapping percussion tops a droning bass line and cloudy textures in ‘Transparent’ and beat-less ambient track, ‘Leave’, provides a reflective moment before ‘Radial’’s vitriolic beats kick in. With “Inner State”, Claudio PRC has shown great potential while Munich-based Prologue maintains its output of high-quality techno releases.

Continuing from the opening section of Three Decades of Techno, the second will focus on techno’s development in Detroit and Germany during the 1990s and cover a selection of the artists and labels that made it happen. This was the decade when techno was both consolidated and fractured. As a musical form its identity and popularity strengthened, spreading to Europe and developing in the hands of the second generation of Detroit producers yet techno, the idea, became increasingly difficult to classify. Its precarious nature and dispersal across countries evaded definition. Its accidental formation resulting from an infrequent overlap of geography, technology, time and individuals, the division into subgenres and reactions to reactions can make the genre’s pinpointing its history challenging. This piece should provide a compact timeline of techno, clarify how new artists expanded the music and idea of the genre and why this matured so neatly in Germany.

Germany’s techno scene was conceived while the country began to redefine itself in 1990. With Detroit techno serving as their main influence and Berlin as the natural capital, Germany’s youth built their first dance music scene. The no-man’s land that sandwiched the Wall still existed after its collapse leaving many buildings uninhabited during the year-long reunification process; as such the unclaimed and derelict spaces served many with the opportunity for club locations. Dimitri Hegemann and his Interfisch label peers found a series of underground rooms punctuated with iron bars in the redundant Wertheim Kaufhaus (once the largest in Europe), next to the Potsdamer Platz artery. The group took on their newly discovered space and named it Tresor (meaning vault or safe in German). Hegemann recalls in Dan Sicko’s expert book ‘Techno Rebels’: “We were the place where East and West kids came together, musically. We found our style – it was definitely orientated towards minimal Detroit sounds, and then after a year and a half we had our own crowd.” Hegemann also felt a need to strengthen the connection between Berlin and Detroit. Tresor released several works by Detroit artists, starting with Underground Resistance’s project X-101 and the 1993 compilation ‘Tresor II: Berlin-Detroit: A Techno Alliance’, distributed in the US by Nova-Mute (a sub-division of Mute) was the catalyst for plans to open a sister venue in Detroit, which eventually died out.

The genre’s etymological origin and its sound distilled from factories, intellect and subtly expressed emotions naturally found a home in Germany. The country’s decades-long utilisation and innovation of technology and industry, its rich artistic history and, importantly, its predilection for looking to the future, made Berlin Detroit’s European counterpart. By the mid-1990s, the city was getting closer to strongly defining its own techno identity as the Detroit-Berlin sound bled into each other. The controversy, however, over techno’s heritage – whether it stemmed from tekno (its spelling with a k being a joke illustrating the hard, industrial style popular in the Netherlands and Belgium: ‘That record is tekno with four ks!’) or Detroit’s techno – occasionally kicked up though its Detroit origins won out eventually, with people accepting the ‘techno’ spelling and soft pronunciation.

Hugely important in the timeline of the genre is Hard Wax, a record shop at the core of Berlin’s techno scene. With a high regard for Detroit techno and its principles, Hard Wax is known for being central to one of the most important happenings, not just in Berlin but for the entire genre. Mark Ernestus, the shop’s owner, and Moritz von Oswald formed the seminal Basic Channel whose slim but revered catalogue subtracted all but techno’s most essential ingredients then reconstructed them to merge Jamaican dub, 4/4 bass drum pulses and dissonant synthesisers buried by rippling delays, even the releases’ distressed artwork mirrored the murky, tense tracks. Their pioneering work would go on to inform the work of Monolake and Hard Wax associate Pole, who, alongside Basic Channel, both form an important family from which minimal techno was born. In this article I explore these artists and minimal techno further.

In 1993 Wolfgang Viogt, his brother Reinhard, Jörg Burger and Jürgen Paape, who were later joined by Michael Mayer, opened Delirium, a techno record shop in Cologne. Combining the shop and distributor with a few existing labels and event organisers, Delirium became Kompakt 5 years later. Though their dominance took hold fully in the 2000s and will be discussed further in the last chapter of Three Decades of Techno the label’s importance for German techno in the 1990s needed to form part of the second chapter. In opposition to the typical cold precision of Berlin techno, Kompakt’s musical signature of blending texture and techno’s rhythmic intensity with rich ambience has been consistently heralded. Similar to Hard Wax, Kompakt provided a community by releasing and distributing German artists’ material into the 2000s aiding the genre’s  evolution and giving artists an identity on home soil.

Meanwhile in Detroit, DJs such as Richie Hawtin and Carl Craig (a student of Derrick May) were introducing the next wave of techno to fresh audiences. Mirroring the move from DJing to production made 10 years previously, Hawtin established the record label Plus 8 with John Acquaviva, after being unable to break into Derrick May’s Transmat label. Their third white label release was stamped with the phrase ‘The Future Sound of Detroit’, which projected the idea of Detroit having a regional sound character. This backfired however as established artists and the African-American community saw Plus 8, run by two Caucasian men, cashing in on a status others had built. The indignation and suspicions surrounding the now-renamed white label release ‘Technarchy’ ironically made it one the label’s best-selling, shifting around twenty thousand copies. By mid-’91, Plus 8 had matured considerably and released its first compilation ‘From Our Minds To Yours, Vol. 1’ and their ability to deal with the early faux pas and erudite business acumen would be integral for the label’s success.

American independents pursued Cybersonik (who produced Technarchy), a collaboration between Hawtin and his friend Daniel Bell, seeing them as a compliment to the noise and industrial acts on their rosters. Hawtin and Bell declined offers after realising their intense and drum-machine driven sound was unintentionally being perceived as aggressive. Stunned by the discovery, which was reinforced by news that their tracks were being played at a notorious anti-Semitic dance/football club in Rotterdam, the two the two dissolved the project and Hawtin explored his interests in the studio further, resulting in Plastikman, who ventured out with the four-album arc released on Plus 8 between 1993 and 1998, with a resurrection in 2003. He used the pseudonym to describe the pliable, bouncy noises emanating from his TB-303s and celebrated Kraftwerk’s influence with his use of the Germanic k in his song titles (‘Helikopter’, ‘Spastik’, ‘Kriket’ etc.). As a reaction against hardcore techno, Plastikman’s ‘sound’, which arguably ran parallel to Basic Channel’s, was more atmospheric and distinctly slower and deliberate yet thrillingly intense and emotive.

Through continuing the techno characteristics of employment and abuse of technology, stark aesthetics and unrestricted emotions etc., Hawtin, one of Plus 8’s most successful artists, has built a dedicated fan base with continent-spanning acclaim and his influence on techno in the 1990s and 2000s as Plastikman and the leader of loved/loathed M_nus label is incalculable.

Germany’s newly established sound/s and continuing confidence marked the start of techno’s decentralization. As pioneers existed in Detroit, figureheads like Hard Wax, Tresor and Kompakt and their associated DJs and acts emerged to push the genre forward and add their own interpretations and each sound. Predictions of where techno would go next as it spread from nation to nation, how the genre and the Detroit sound could evolve and where the next artists and labels would emerge from were impossible to make.

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