Although not a household name in the world of electronic music, Ata Macias (better known simply as Ata) has played a crucial role in the German scene. Forming the Ongaku Musik label in 1992, along with sublabels Klang Electronic (a label with a techno/acid/electro focus, and home to the mighty Alter Ego) and Playhouse (a label with a minimal house focus) in 1993, Ata has helped nurture many key figures of the German electronic music scene. He has worked closely with Roman Flügel and Jörn Elling Wuttke (better known as Alter Ego and Acid Jesus) and Uwe Schmidt (better known as Atom Heart and Señor Coconut). As Playhouse A&R he was responsible for signing some of the earliest Ricardo Villalobos releases back in 1995 (and the groundbreaking Alcachofa LP in 2003), as well as releasing debuts by Isolée and LoSoul. Ata has also run the Robert Johnson club in Offenbach (Frankfurt) since 1999, regularly booking such artists as Michael Mayer, Ivan Smagghe, Luciano, The Wighnomy Brothers, Villalobos, Magda, and Ada.
Ata is also in demand as a DJ, and the recent release of Playhouse’s “Famous When Dead IV” compilation saw him invited to launch the album in Tokyo. Interestingly though, Ata’s one and a half-hour set was not a Playhouse or Klang label showcase. Instead, he chose to mine a vein that has sometimes been connected to German electronic music, but not often talked about or explored. Surprisingly accessible pop structures dominated the set, complete with vocals and occasional guitar riffs, undercut with a danceable four/four beat. Yet this was not Top 40 pop; this was pop with a dark tint, proudly sliding on its Joy Division t-shirt and channeling the influences that so much darker electro is based on. It was accessible and danceable, highly enjoyable in a slightly nostalgic way for those in their thirties, yet the sound was still undeniably fresh, the tracks clearly being produced today. It neatly demonstrated how many techno and minimal artists today are influenced by pop, particularly the dark synth pop and industrial beats of the 1980s, without sounding at all dated or self-consciously retro.
Of course, the dark hues flowing across the dancefloor were not for everyone, driving some clubbers away to the bar, where they awaited some light to enter Unit.
That light was provided by Luciano, a DJ and producer of Chilean descent whose productions on Playhouse, Bruchstuecke, and his own Cadenza label have helped bring the uniquely slinky Latin American style of minimal house to critical attention. Luciano, however, also defied expectations, completely avoiding the sexy minimal style he is associated with and launching into an hour and a half of rocking minimal techno, which also looked to the past as much as it looked to the future. Recent tracks by DJ Koze and Donnacha Costello were important signposts for the set, exciting and progressive, yet full of classic synth stabs, the sound of old school rave-up pianos, and slamming beats.
As rocking as it was, it was also a surprisingly melodic set, and the dancefloor was soon completely full again as the atmosphere at Unit became brighter. After a while it became clear that Luciano wasn’t concerned with building a narrative of any kind with his set, but instead seemed content to just focus on the moment. Thankfully, that moment was fun, fast, and melodic, which met with the approval of the crowd.
Towards the end of his set Luciano was joined by Ata, and the two began to tag-team DJ, Ata’s slightly dark techno-pop nicely complementing Luciano’s melodic driving beats. Luciano and Ata were clearly enjoying themselves, as were the crowd, dancing until the sun rose outside and the party came finally came to an end.
It was a night that defied expectations, serving up a number of pleasant surprises. In doing so, it clearly displayed how the so-called “minimal” scene is expanding, growing, and crossing various genre borders. And, finally, it’s nice to know that it’s okay to wear a Joy Division t-shirt to a club again.
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