’m always stricken by pangs of inadequate jealousy whenever I notice someone who is the same age or younger than me and still manages to be clearly much more talented and successful (not that many people manage this, and even if they do they’re not going to be as good-looking). I have a real problem with Michael Owen, for instance. Alexander Kowalski is a year older than me though, so he’s alright, even if he does share a name with one of the most pointlessly cool characters in film history. Really though it doesn’t matter, because while this young German is ridiculously, stupidly, offensively gifted, what he does with his talent is so ruthlessly wonderful and effective that I don’t begrudge him for a moment. Well, maybe just one moment. Plus it has to be noted that Kowalski is plying his trade in the world of faceless techno, so even if he did wander around being smug we wouldn’t know, because no one would ever notice who he was.
It’s difficult to write about dance music for several reasons, primarily because it’s meant to be danced to rather than thunk about, and also it generally has little in the way of lyrical insight to offer, plus… drugs… yes… Not that I take drugs. I don’t even go out dancing very often either, but that doesn’t stop me jittering around the house like Sam Bloch on heat every once in a while.
Rich like Kruder Dorfmeister, intangible like Orbital and kinetic like, I dunno, early Chemical Brothers, or Leftfield when they were good, or Medicine8, or any other really good house you care to mention, Kowalski eschews gimmicks in favour of a merciless focus on shifting molecules; there’s no such thing as microhouse in this world, no room for fannying about cutting up snippets of radio samples and vocals or the sounds of people having their bowels removed and re-arranging them into fractious postmodern mortician’s melodies. His productions are kept detailed enough to open up your head, synths and acid weighing heavily on your eyelids all the while, synaesthetic patterns dancing for your ears, but the absolute key to Kowalski’s genius is the 4/4, 130bpm pulse that perpetually convulses your shoulders and abdomen, drags your hands up and makes them switch and twitch like psychotic puppeteers. He works it from the off like a serial killer works a [insert preferred instrument of death], melding basslines that roll like the kinds of waves surfers love to look at but not ride, never having to resort to a breakbeat or fill, because if you use a simple 4/4 well enough you don’t need to.
Of course there’s nothing on Response that’s as good as “Voodoo Ray”, but if Kowalski was that great I’d really hate the guy, so it’s probably for the best. Shut up and dance.
Reviewed by: Nick Southall
Reviewed on: 2003-11-04