Dance Tracks of the Week: Kompakt Goes Classical

Pianist Gregor Schwellenbach unplugs German label's techno classics; plus, new music from Axel Boman, Untold's Pennyroyal label, and more

Gregor Schwellenbach, 'Spielt 20 Jahre Kompakt'
Gregor Schwellenbach, 'Spielt 20 Jahre Kompakt'
Philip Sherburne WRITTEN BY
Philip Sherburne

Gregor Schwellenbach Spielt 20 Jahre Kompakt (Kompakt)
There have been a few examples of classically inclined takes on techno in the past few years, like Brandt Brauer Frick's four-to-the-floor chamber ensemble pieces or Hauschka's rhythm-centric studies for the prepared piano. But Gregor Schwellenbach's album for Kompakt is a little different; it endeavors to convert the Cologne label's back catalog into repertoire. It seems like a daunting task, given how much the label's signature depends upon the timbre and heft of electronic sounds and samples; you're unlikely to find yourself spontaneously humming the melody of Studio 1's "Grün 4," for example. But Schwellenbach's arrangements have the effect of laying bare the song-like qualities of classics like Justus Köhncke's "Was Ist Musik," Superpitcher's "Tomorrow," and Closer Musik's "Maria" and "Departures." Even stripped-down club bangers like Michael Mayer's "Speaker" will be immediately recognizable from Schwellenbach's deft piano arpeggios. The most interesting versions are the instances where he has less melodic material to work with, like Jurgen Paape's "Triumph" or "Grün 4," and is forced instead to do more with rhythm and tone color. ("Grün 4," with its atonal flurries of piano, is particularly captivating.) But the nostalgic tug of these uncanny unplugged versions is likely to rope in anyone who ever spent much time staring at one of Kompakt's polka-dotted center stickers.

Name in Lights "Naughty (Axel Boman Remix)" (Free Association)
Axel Boman takes his sweet time with his remix of Name in Lights' "Naughty," the first release from New York's Free Association label. The original is already plenty chill, with sluggish disco drums, loose synth stabs, and looped diva vocals broadcasting pure Friday-afternoon poolside vibes. (In its long, slow crescendo, piling loops on top of loops, it sounds a lot like John Talabot.) But that's nothing compared to the absent-minded reverie that Boman's mix conjures. Initially, there's a scratchy shaker pattern, a flicker of Caribbean-inflected guitars, and some rosy synth pads, and not much else; they gather intensity as imperceptibly as beads of condensation form on the outside of the cocktail glass. Only after five minutes of floating on air does the kick drum finally drop, and only then do you realize what had been missing all along.

R-Zone, "Rosa Luxemburg" / "Hair Down" (R-Zone) As "Rosa Luxemburg" opens in a swirl of minor chords, you may find yourself thinking, "That's nice, but I don't really need any more dub techno in my life right now." And that's cool, because R-Zone apparently feels the same way. All that wispy delay is just a way of easing you into the track's increasingly turbulent waters, roiled by slow-motion breakbeats, echoing drum machines, and a sad three-note synth melody. A woman's voice calls out in the breakdown, hanging in the balance between melismatic R&B and a tremulous Middle Eastern tone, and suddenly we're smack dab in the middle of an outdoor rave in 1993, up to our elbows in mud and acid. "Hair Down" takes place in that same matted field, perhaps many hours later, with the synths gone even queasier, the kick sagging and spent. It sounds not so much like a vintage live set from Orbital or Sun Electric as the memory of one many years later, called up from a chemical fog.

Boner M, KopKopKop EP (Pennyroyal)
Pennyroyal is a new-ish, techno-oriented label from Untold, who also has a hand in Hemlock Recordings (and has himself been venturing deeper and deeper into techno over the past couple of years). Boner M is, at least according to his Discogs profile, a Finnish producer named Tony Jansson who has also recorded as Poro. (His own website has some fascinating-looking DJ mixes — covering Pantytec, DJ Rush, Cristian Vogel, DJ Assault — going all the way back to 2003.) It figures that he's Finnish, because the overdriven kicks in "Poke" have the same whiff of burned speaker cones as Pan Sonic's analog brutalism. And it figures that he's a fan of ghetto tech and ghetto house, given the dirty, lo-fi electro vibes of "Fakmii," which sounds like the bastard child of I-F and Phoenecia. "Kopkopkop" is a 10-minute live jam for drum machine, distortion box, delay, and redlined murk, but it's far more bruising than your average drum tool; it's a lumbering, system-toppling beast of a thing, like Subhead played at -8.

Drvg Cvltvre, Everything Oblivion (Erikoisdance)
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Vincent Koreman explored the boundary between techno and noise under his Ra-X alias, turning out blisteringly distorted warehouse jams with titles like "Blaze Up That Angel Dust" and "Everyone Must Die" — the kind of grotty, squat-rave anthem that could strike fear into the heart of the Techno Viking himself. (I should note that "Everyone Must Die" is one of my favorite cuts in the history of techno, and has been for the past 17 years; you can find it on his 1996 EP Stekker and 1998's The Undistorted Truth, both of which are available for free, along with the majority of the Ra-X catalog, from his Soundcloud page.) It seems like Koreman eventually worked out at least some of his demons. These days, recording as Drvg Cvltvre, the Dutch producer has eased back on the throttle, trading breakneck tempos for exaggeratedly sluggish beats; the distortion is still omnipresent, but it's gone from being abrasive to sounding almost foamy. "Disobedience," with its pipe-organ tones and cathedral-sized reverb, sounds like a cross between Seefeel, Sunn O))), and the Modern Love label; "The Mangled Claw" is a springy, snare-led jam that provides the missing link between Matias Aguayo, Marcel Dettmann, and moombahton. The whole thing is doomy, narcotic, and totally absorbing. The album is out now from the Finnish CDR label Erikoisdance and also via Clone. (Confusingly, Drvg Cvltvre also recorded another album named Everything Oblivion last year, for the Snug Life label, along with a Viewlexx EP called Everything Oblivion and an EP for Gooiland called Oblivion. They're all worth your time.)

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