Crafty producer flashes back to Cologne label's glory days
For a minute there, just after the turn of the millennium, Cologne's Areal label felt like the freshest outfit in dance music: irreverent, a little bit lo-fi, with the bullish bearing of a happy drunk. Having grown up in the shadow of the city's Kompakt empire (which distributes Areal, in fact), the label's artists had nevertheless struck upon their very own sound — raw, occasionally ungainly, and with an overdriven squeal veiling the fact that their releases could be some of the most tuneful in techno. All-night warehouse shenanigans and aliases like Basteroid aside, the Areal crew were actually kind of softies at heart.
The best example of Areal's sensitive side was Ada, their flagship artist. Her early releases were bleepy and urgent, but they could also be dulcet and even, at times, demure. Make no mistake: Ada's machine snares could crack as hard as those of Basteroid (Areal co-founder Sebastian Riedl); her bass lines had the rib-crushing power of pythons. But she also knew her way around a melody and was capable of extreme delicacy, best exemplified by her sublime cover of Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Maps," in 2004.
And then, as in all things, the focus shifted, and you stopped hearing so much about Areal, which relocated to Berlin later in the decade. They kept putting out records, but fewer — there were only four last year — and they focused much of their attention on their International Records Recordings (IRR) sub-label, home to deeper, housier fare.
Last year, Ada finally released a follow-up to her debut album, this time for DJ Koze's Pampa label. In the seven years since her first LP, her style had changed considerably — instead of the rough-hewn frequencies of 2004's Blondie, she plied bedroom electro-pop as smooth and rounded as beach agates. It was a fine album, but you couldn't help but miss the insouciant spirit of yore.
This year, though, Areal is taking the opportunity to look back with a compilation, 100 Jahre Areal, in which friends of the imprint have been invited to create new tracks out of a massive sample bank culled from the label's 60-odd releases. (The title, which translates as 100 Years Areal, is obviously tongue in cheek.)
Due out in June, the comp will feature tracks from core Arealers like Metope, Remute, and Basteroid as well as Pan/Tone, Falko Brocksieper, Pascal FEOS, and others. In the meantime, Ada's own "Every Dog Has Its Night" is out now (rather confusingly, on Areal's low-profile sub-label AR). Incorporating bits and pieces of songs by Basteroid, Undo/Redo, and herself, among others, it plays out like an old-school megamix in just over six minutes. Beginning with the plaintive melodies of melting music boxes, the song stumbles into an almost dubsteppy half-time cadence before it swells into a humid, confused rave banger, dallies with illicit R&B vocals, and finally sashays out to an echo of keening G-funk. Rounding out the release, label founder Metope massages Ada's edits into something fuller and swirlier. Both tracks show Areal at their irrepressible best, 11 (or 100!) years on: curious as ever, they're still cracking open club-music like a geode, and marveling at the sparkle inside.