’ll admit that I was initially a bit surprised by the format of Kompakt 100. Aware that the Cologne label was preparing to celebrate its 100th release in grand fashion, I anticipated something like a “Kompakt Total x 2” release featuring 20 or so new tracks. Instead, we get two discs of 21 remixes, with roster artists reinventing their favorite tracks from the label’s catalog. Information accompanying the release eschews the normal hyperbole, instead astutely characterizing the collection as an “encyclopedic overview” that showcases Kompakt’s genius for “constantly re-defining the limits of techno music.” Certainly it is comprehensive, in spite of the obvious limitations imposed by a two-disc span, as well as a representative overview of the label’s styles and artists. Based on the evidence, there’s no exaggeration in claiming that Kompakt has continually redrawn the techno landscape with each new permutation. Upon due reflection, the remix concept now strikes me as ideal. Kompakt honors its past by focusing on its classic catalog, yet the label’s present (and, by implication, future) is celebrated since the remixes are such fresh and radical reinventions.
What qualities make Kompakt’s “Cologne sound” so distinctive and identifiable? Imagination, for one, as the artists are infinitely resourceful at finding ways to spin new compositional and melodic variations while keeping the 4/4 groove firmly in sight. While the label’s sound is advanced and sophisticated, it’s relatively conservative. No Kompakt track will likely be mistaken for one from Raster-Noton or Orthlorng Musork, for example. And Kompakt tracks will rarely be called minimalistic, as expansive arrangements imbue the imprint’s music with rich dimensionality. Yet there’s no denying that the label is also adventurous, as shown by its Pop Ambient and Schaffelfieber branches. Kompakt resolutely goes its own way, its focus too strong to be jarred by trends that arise elsewhere.
The tracks compiled on Kompakt 100 typically find a perfect middle ground between retained traces of the originals and new facets generously supplied by the remixers. Consequently, we get double versions of Superpitcher’s “Tomorrow” so distinctly handled that, aside from the vocal elements common to both, they’re virtually two different songs. Naturally, every fan will be tempted to decry the omission of personal favorites; mine would include Jürgen Paape’s “So Weit Wie Noch Nie” and Michael Mayer’s “Love Is Stronger Than Pride” and “Speaker.” But fixating too greatly on what’s absent seems misguided, as even the most perfect collection must operate upon a fundamental principle of exclusion. The more enlightened listener, on the other hand, will revel in the wealth of electropop, schaffel, techno and ambient glories that are here.
The set opens in ambient mode with The Orb, whose version of Ulf Lohmann’s “Because Before” is even more beautiful and grandiose than the original. Lohmann’s up again next, this time his “Because,” given a slinky boogie treatment by Thomas/Mayer. Sascha Funke takes Thomas Fehlmann’s “Radeln” for an irresistibly smooth ride through lush microhouse climes revisited in Jonas Bering’s crystalline, spectral version of Dettinger’s “Intershop.” Another highlight is SCSI 9’s transformation of Lawrence’s “Teaser,” which becomes an almost unrecognizable facsimile of the moody original. The seesawing strings and sampled vocals in Lawrence’s version intermittently surface but, in SCSI 9’s hands, “Teaser” develops a propulsive, bass-driven dance groove.
Though many of the tracks feature vocals, two particularly stand out. Never, for example, has German electropop sounded as delectable as it does in The Modernist’s buoyant version of Justus Köhncke’s “Weiche Zäune.” Even better is Köhncke’s and Meloboy’s radical overhaul of Freiland’s “Frie,” here rechristened “Frei/Hot Love” and turned into trashy Euro-pop whose soupy strings ooze just the right amount of kitsch. The vaguely nasal vocal sounds like a sober and well-behaved Liam Gallagher, although it’s a stretch to imagine him singing lines like “Well, he ain’t no bitch and I love the way he twitch.” Perhaps the best track of the lot is Kaito’s magnificent treatment of Superpitcher’s “Tomorrow.” Kaito adds layer upon reverberant layer to the original’s vocal, hi-hat showers, and bubbly bass lines, elevating the song to a higher plane on which it becomes mesmerizing, anthemic trance.
Naturally, the collection isn’t without its flaws, although they’re generally minor missteps. The elephant noises that DJ Koze adds to Reinhard Voigt’s “Zu Dicht Dran,” for instance, hardly elevate the track above the original. But such blips in the continuum are infrequent. In general, Kompakt 100 is a bona fide event, celebrating not only the label’s deep catalog but the very fact of Kompakt’s existence as a label, shop, and distribution company. Kompakt has reconfigured deeply our conception of what techno is and what it can be, and its music has consistently forged bold and unpredictable paths. No matter how incomplete it might be, Kompakt 100 provides a marvelous sampling of the label’s incredible riches.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM'S ALBUM OF THE WEEK - JUNE 28 - JULY 4, 2004
Reviewed by: Ron Schepper
Reviewed on: 2004-06-28