he men’s tennis tour has evolved to such a degree of specialization—power, specifically—that what tennis purists might agree is the joy of the game—the volley, specifically—is becoming a lost art amid unreturned serves and baseline play. The grass containing the baseline at Wimbledon, for example, has in recent years become yellowed and run over with the high amount of traffic along its length during tournament play. Quite simply, tennis has become less of a game of finesse and more of overpowering menaces that demand respect less because of their innate ability to outthink the other player and more because of their ability to stifle any response. For a long time, this was the state of German techno. Many of the artists pursuing their aesthetic visions blinded themselves off to the music of others, placing themselves as the center of the musical universe—sending 12” salvos of overpowering menace, less interested in the response of other artists than the response of clubgoers and record buyers. But with the success of Kompakt and related labels operating in Germany, techno has once again become a fertile genre, taking, learning, and expanding on what others are doing within and outside to push the genre in a myriad of different ways. Some would call this a flowering of the genre. Some would claim this most certainly its death. Either way, Salmiakki, Sami Koivikko’s latest full length entry into the Shitkatapult catalogue evokes a time gone by in professional tennis, but something entirely prescient in German techno.
Which, admittedly, is slightly amusing. Because Koivikko is Finnish. But, at the same time, it says something about the state of techno right now—producers from other countries are taking the sounds and templates and subverting them and augmenting them to their own conceptions of what this music should be. Koivikko, for example, takes the traditionally minimal venture of techno and adds stuttering melodics to it. “Materialist” is a good example of this, running a two note base alongside a fast moving rhythmic track, which all goes towards complementing the twisting and sinuous main melody. “Tyonimi” also succeeds here, providing a dub stained alternative to the more hard hitting “Materialist”, placing the listener in a disorienting sound world of shadow melodies and sounds that hint at harmonics but never blatantly state their intention. It’s the sound of a master of his machines at work, weaving disparate elements with one another, while never losing sight of the all important groove.
And this is what Koivikko does better than even some of his Kompakt contemporaries, who sometimes become more interested in the sound or style that they are attempting to conquer than the finished product. Where, say, the failures of Schaffelfieber could be attributed to an exploration of a nascent genre, Koivikko goes with what he knows and excels at—banging techno. There are, in fact, few missteps here. The only complaints that can be leveled are surface level and well known to the techno genre: the release is hardly suitable for home listening (when compared to its possible uses in the club), some of the tracks will make beautiful sense inside of DJ mixes but don’t emerge as singular highlights and the release fails to take the chances that could have made it something approaching a masterful piece of art. Instead, what Koivikko has constructed is an elegant response to techno and its adherents—an augmentation of the form, but not an innovation. But who needs Andy Roddick, when you can enjoy Tim Henman? Or more accurately: in a world so overpopulated with innovators, it’s rather nice to sit back and watch someone return the serve and be able to volley back and forth a little bit, don’t you think?