ome labels demand things from the listener. Warp Records demands to be listened to seriously both on the dance floor and, at home, with headphones. 12k Records demands to be listened only on headphones- and with no other outside stimuli present. Tigerbeat6 demands a sense of humor, that is, if you want to enjoy a large portion of their catalog. Kompakt demands something else entirely, though. A turntable. The unfortunate fact about the label is that their vinyl only releases are usually just as good, if not better, than their offerings on CD.
In response to the jumble of record labels, genre names, logos, and stores of Germany, the label offers a “long overdue trademark and brand to the...internationally known Cologne Minimal sound.” As Basic Channel and Chain Reaction did for the emerging Berlin dub sound (Pole being the easiest/laziest example that comes to mind), Kompakt has attempted to do for the emerging tech house scene of Germany. Perhaps Andy Kellman puts it best, in his primer for the label, when he states that “When house music came around, the producers took much of the pop element out of disco and centered on its machinations, focusing more on the beat, making dance music more visceral than before. Typical song structures went out the window in favor of something more raw. Kompakt productions often sound like house is used as the blueprint in the manner that disco was used as square one for house.”
Starting from the opening strains of Juergen Paape’s “Triumph”, the label kicked off with a bang. Paape turned in a very solid 12” which continued the tradition of the Cologne sound. The minimalistic, but never simplistic, beat- and the melodies framing the foreground work against each other in an ever evolving struggle for prominence. It is the sound of a genre being molded into perfection- the sound of a genre being executed perfectly. And so it went from there. Future releases from Dettinger, Joachim Spieth, and Reinhard Voigt consistently went towards refining the sound, while maintaining the level of quality that had become inherent in the opening releases of the label.
Soon enough Kompakt branched out into the releases of CDs, much to the happiness of my bank account. The first compilation (of the label’s 18 CD releases 10 are compilations) release of major note, in this medium, is the Total 1 compilation. In particular M. Mayer’s “17 & 4”, previously released on a 12” of the same name, steals the show. But the fact that the compilation works alternately as both scene sampler and a blueprint for the possibilities of minimal house, is the true beauty of Total 1. Veering between ambience and the visceral house beats, most of the songs work in a heady contrast between a blissful state and a very engaged, locked groove typical of house.
In recent releases, the Kompakt label has taken the “Pop” of their Pop Ambient compilations seriously. Both Closer Musik and Justus Koehncke come as close as Cologne may ever come (hopefully) to the sounds of Ersatz Audio and other electro-fied labels. It should come as no surprise, however. The label has always had a pop bent, albeit a skewed one, that was lying beneath the surface of their house based exterior.
Future CD releases by the label will be plentiful, but the only release revealed by the website is the forthcoming Total 4 compilation. Hopefully, in the near future, the label will benefit listeners by releasing a compilation of Kaito’s 12” work, or entirely new tracks.
Label Roster Highlights: Dettinger, Markus Guentner, Ulf Lohmann, Reinhard Voigt, Closer Musik, Kaito, and Justus Koehncke.
Ten Essential Releases:
Various Artists - Total 3
Various Artists - Pop Ambient 2002
Markus Guentner - In Moll
Dettinger - Oasis
Ulf Lohmann - Because Before
Kaito - Everlasting
Thomas Fehlmann - Whistle 12"
Reinhard Voigt - Im Wandel Der Zeit
Peter Grummich - Schleusen Auf 12"
M. Mayer - Immer