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The Month In: Techno
Source: inform.com
Posted on: April 9, 2008 07:42 MST
Filed under: Electronic

Ellen Allien

Despite the proliferation of DJ sets available for free online, the mix CD refuses to die. It's tempting to say the format is healthier than ever. A few years ago, digitally mixed sessions were becoming so prevalent that traditionalist DJs made a big fuss of approaching their projects in real time, using vinyl. But a recent crop of house and techno mixes sound more like bedroom sessions than pro-studio endeavors, from the telltale crackle of dust-encrusted wax to the occasional warble of a disc being nudged back into tempo. (Looks like a whole generation of DJs has taken Matthew Herbert's suggestion to Let's All Make Mistakes to heart.) This is a good thing. If house and techno feel slightly stuck in a rut at the moment-- mulling over ideas, rehashing old styles, stepping tentatively but without a strong sense of direction-- at least these mixes make the most out of marking time.

A DJ of my acquaintance who routinely finds himself stuck playing to empty rooms for the first two hours of a five-hour session-- Barcelona clubs having the annoying habit of staying empty until well past 2 a.m.-- often brings along a mix CD to get the night started. He could do worse than to pop in Ellen Allien's Boogybytes Vol. 04, the latest installment of the Bpitch mix series (after submissions by Kiki, Sascha Funke and Modeselektor). Opening with an abstract, spoken word-ish track from AGF's 2002 solo debut, the session takes its sweet time getting started. Vera's "In the Nook", the first track with much of a pulse, imagines the Pied Piper playing Pan Sonic while meandering in long, loping circles down a country lane; Ricardo Villalobos' and Patrick Ense's "Fitzpatrick" is an exercise in deep breathing, and Melon's following "Nitzi (In My Mind, So Fine)" comes off like a series of breakdowns in search of a buildup. But what at first seems leisurely soon sounds directionless: By Sozadams' "Eyes Forlorn" things begin to trot along at a steady clip-- and then another overlong, unstructured breakdown blows out the tires like a particularly jagged pothole. Richard Seeley's "Juicy Vermin" finds the mix approaching cruising speed, but the bottom drops out yet again with the transition into Lucio Aquilina's "My Cube"-- a break so abrupt one suggests that two different sessions have been spliced together. One of the purposes of a mix CD, of course, is to brand, or re-brand, one's DJ style, and Allien is clearly in a period of re-invention; her forthcoming album Sool, co-produced by AGF, is almost cryogenically subdued, at least compared to the electro-infused shudder of her previous albums. The stubbornly minimal Boogybytes feels like a strategic maneuver as much as anything. The session warms up in the last third, with minimal-but-sensual offerings from Melchior Productions, Sasha Funke, and Gaiser, and it climaxes with its penultimate cut, a selection from Kassem Mosse's excellent Workshop 12-inch. It makes you wonder what a second hour of the same session might have sounded like, as Allien wraps it up just as she starts to get going.

As the title of Jennifer Cardini's Feeling Strange [Kompakt] suggests, it's not really business as usual either-- especially for one of Kompakt's most muscular jocks (figuratively and literally speaking). Like her labelmate Tobias Thomas, Cardini spends the first third of the mix reveling in warmup vibes, sticking to slower tempos and pneumatic house patterns. After dusky hush from the likes of Chloé, Adam Kroll, Maurizio, and Lawrence, the insistent arpeggios of Johnny D's "Manipulation" feel like a call to arms. Like Allien, however, Cardini occasionally errs on the side of caution; "Manipulation" turns into a mid-tempo cul-de-sac as it abruptly shifts into Khan's "On the Run (Kaos & Me Mix)". (Here, too, it seems like two sessions have been digitally joined.) Khan's deadpan electro-disco kicks off a brief old-school section that includes vintage (and vintage-inspired) house and acid from Mike Dunn, Compuphonic & Kolombo and Stefan Robbers and Baby Ford; then, with False's "Fed on Youth"-- which already sounds like a minor classic, only a year after its issue-- she shifts into minimal-rave territory with cuts from Alex Smoke, Onur Özer, and Reinhard Voigt. Finally, Cardini's short attention-span theater trots out a final act of electro and IDM from Principles of Geometry, Lusine, and Apparat. As with Allien's mix, you're left wondering, "What just happened here?" But Cardini's session is more likely to offer explanations.

Dinky's Get Lost 3 basically did; the third installment in Crosstown Rebels' mix series, its late 07 release was torpedoed by the bankruptcy of Crosstown's then-distributor Amato. As far as I can tell, the mix CD isn't commercially available anywhere. Let's hope that situation is rectified, because it's one of the more satisfying minimal mixes in a long while. Like Allien and Cardini, Dinky starts off restrained, but she infuses her set with an underlying sense of bounce, while keeping everything streamlined. Sticking to porous cuts that are pocked with empty space, her mix fuses at the molecular level, until it's almost impossible to discern what's being played at any given time. There's lots of pointillistic percussion-- stuttery congas and demure hand drums you could almost call "micro-tribal"-- and a teasing sense of melody makes itself felt with a dark, fluid sensuality. (Keeping up with the inadvertently female-dominated theme of this column, Dinky represents sister producers like Cassy and Chica & the Folder; its refreshing to see the walls of the minimal boys' club gradually cracking.) For those unable to find a CD or download Dinky's recent Resident Advisor podcast covers similar territory.

Ivan Smagghe's Cocoricò 03
[Mantra Vibes] is yet another franchise, this one following electro-house installments from Marc Romboy and Oliver Koletzki. Stylistically, it's hard to know what to call this one. There's an undercurrent of minimal-- as indicated by the presence of artists like DJ Koze, Villalobos, Joachim Spieth, and Stewart Walker (remixed by Touane)-- but instead of privileging minimal as an end in itself, Smagghe uses it architecturally, like a structure undergirdirding more eccentric fare. He never slips into the bleeps'n'bloops monotony that sometimes plagues the form, even if the middle third of his mix is defined by clean lines and small sounds. The opening triptych-- Battles' "Atlas (DJ Koze)", Runaway's "Alberg 30", and Shackleton's "Blood on My Hands (Ricardo Villalobos' Apocalypso Now Mix)"-- is simply masterful, blending rich timbres and wobbly, unfinished rhythms in a way that emphasizes all their peculiarity without sacrificing any of their groove. In the passage from his rickety opening section into the more streamlined energies that follow, it's as though Smagghe had flipped open the lid of a tramp-art only to withdraw a scale model of the Chrysler Building-- one hell of a conjuring trick. The mix's finale is a similar feat of transmogrification-- call it bionic origami-- that manages to unfold techno control into great big, raggedy post-disco from Partial Arts, Two Lone Swordsmen, Fred Hush & Noseda, and Runaway (Jacques Renault and Marcos Cabral).

Where Smagghe's mix has one foot in the bedroom and the other in the club, Oliver Huntemann's Play! 02 [Confused Recordings] couldn't be mistaken as anything other than the record of a wild night out. That's largely because the mix, recorded live at Paris' Rex Club, is augmented with a generous dose of crowd noise, thanks to the placement of microphones around the club. Rather than coming off as gimmicky, the shouts and applause fuse with Huntemann's insistent selections to create something genuinely exhilarating. It doesn't hurt that Huntemann favors big, ballsy tunes with energy to spare: his frequent breakdowns and buildups only serve to egg the crowd on, and one suspects that their cheers do the same to Huntemann. (Say what you will about the dire state of the dollar against the euro, but it seems like you can still get your money's worth at the Rex: From the sound of the crowd, they must mix some incredibly potent cocktails there.) The mix, peppered with cuts from Clé, Shlomi Aber, Martin Landsky, Eyerer & Klein and Huntemann himself, is an unabashed thrill ride, but it's not like he doesn't know how to be subtle-- rather than hitting listeners over the head, he seduces with bassy dropouts and tightly controlled syncopations before indulging in a white-knuckled crescendo. Electro-house occasionally gets a bad rep, slagged off as music for punters, but as it's presented here it makes no pretensions to be anything other than good, stoopid fun. You can practically hear strangers high-fiving each other as they stumble out onto the street. Kudos to whomever had the presence of mind to hit the "record" button that night; this one's a keeper.

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