ichie Hawtin’s Minus label has been, since its foundation, the foremost home of minimal techno in North America, and arguably one of the world’s finest. Home to such international luminaries as Matthew Dear, Marc Houle, Mathew Jonson, Troy Pierce, and Hawtin himself, the Minus roster is strong and relatively consistent.
In fact, much of today’s minimal movement is directly descended from Hawtin’s own work as Plastikman in the early 90s. Composed almost entirely on just a single modified 303, Sheet One, Musik, and a handful of groundbreaking singles—especially the still-potent “Spastik”—changed the face of electronic music for the following decade. The sounds were about as stripped-down as dancefloors had heard to that point, and yet they were composed with such a powerful and dynamic sense of rhythm and restraint, even the simplest change was thrilling. These sides were utterly hypnotic; the world is still catching up. Hawtin’s pedigree and reputation as an innovator has no doubt helped him build a most respectable roster for Minus and its parent label, the still-functioning Plus 8, attracting the best and brightest from the global techno community.
That said, none of the artists on Minus have come close to eclipsing Hawtin’s status as leader. On the label’s first compilation, Minimize To Maximize, Hawtin kicked things off with “Circles,” a mesmerizing piece for solo drum machine that built up so simply and yet so cleverly composed that you hardly noticed there were no other instruments on it; it was yet another of his perfect odes to the “less is more” maxim. The rest of the comp was certainly capable and in spots quite enjoyable, but nothing to outshine that devastating opener, a track that truly encapsulated the message of the movement and the label. The bar was placed high, and even if Hawtin’s roster couldn’t jump over it, it was entertaining as hell to watch them try.
The fundamental problem on min2Max, then, is that there’s no such bar. Hawtin doesn’t contribute, and none of the rest of the tracks here show anywhere near his level of invention. They aren’t bad—not at all—they just don’t grip you. One could easily shuffle up the first four tracks on this album and not even notice a difference. They’re decent examples of today’s typical minimal techno style, but nothing really stands out. These tracks would work well in a well-crafted DJ set for sure, but on an unmixed compilation, they just sort of blend together into a throbbing, squelching, sheet of wallpaper.
There are highlights here to be sure. Troy Pierce’s “GRVL” ping-pongs around into a bouncy, infectious groove; Berg Nixon (aka Ryan Crosson) drops one of the more fleshed-out pieces with his popping “Victoria Station”; Loco Dice’s percussive workout “Orchidee” bodes well for his forthcoming 12-inch on Minus; and the long-lost WiNK returns with one of his finest moments, the long, shifting “Have To Get Back (Non Vox Version)”, easily the most surprising and well-composed track here. And the rest of it isn’t chopped liver, but it isn’t filet mignon either.
Minus does continue to be a label to watch; the real head-scratcher of min2MAX is that most all of the artists who turn in forgettable tracks here have released far superior singles on the label in the last year or so. Maybe these tracks were just castoffs or things that weren’t good enough to make a four-track 12-inch where every track is expected to work. Unfortunately, however, by minimizing the name of his label compilation, Hawtin appears to simultaneously minimized the quality of the tracks contained therein. Sometimes, less isn’t more.