Kompakt, the Cologne grandpappy of minimal house labels, turns seven (of sorts) with its seventh Total compilation. Collating their best singles from the past year along with a number of new tracks, these annual autumnal collections inspire the kind of anticipation usually afforded the return of prodigal pop recluses. The collections themselves have grown in size in direct relation to the growth of both the scene and the label: this time ‘Total 7’ spans across 24 tracks on two CDs, making it the perfect way for non-vinyl listeners to keep up.
My first Kompakt record was Sascha Funke's 'Campus', their thirteenth release, which lured me in both by Wolfgang Voigt's involvement and its eye-catching graphics. The dancing polka-dots seemed the perfect visual representation of the music - sparse, bright, buoyant - and, unlike much of what I was used to, fun. This was sophisticated techno, self-conscious but unashamedly funky – dance music for Wallpaper readers. While Kompakt have always kept up with current trends, often inventing them, they have retained an unmistakable sound - punchy, brash, confident - present on everything from the minimal fizz of DJ Koze to the syrupy neo-disco of Justus Kohncke or the limping dub of Mikkel Metal.
Comparing 7 to past volumes seems the easiest way to judge things, and if there aren't quite as many moments of jaw-dropping delight as on 6, it's nonetheless a bumper collection. Justus Kohncke and Dirk Leyers as Kontrast open disc 1 with 'Grey Skies', disco-ish but clipped and restrained, like DJ Koze's Total 6 opener 'Hiccup'. This time on 'Getreidephunk', Koze scatters crackle and static while lazy cocktail-shakers keep time before, like condensed Villalobos, it all winds into new formations. Justus Kohncke's own 'Love and Dancing', with its chunky descending bassline, maracas, cowbell and chimes is, predictably, the most disco of the bunch, and Tobias Thomas & Michael Mayer's 'Sweet Harmony' explores similar terrain, only more macho and repetitive.
Mayer and Superpitcher as Supermayer remix Gui Boratto's Kompakt Pop release 'Like You' into an immediately jacking piece centred on throbbing synth swells and disarming vocals. Reinhard Voigt's 'Tranceformation' is less trance than its title suggests, but it’s still a shuddering, synth-heavy example of textbook Reinhard repetition. These phosphorescent hues are taken to greater extremes in The Rice Twins' 'For Penny and Alexander', a Speicher release where all is bleached blank but for dazzling foregrounded arpeggios, like Kaito doing happy hardcore. Equally drained is Thomas Fehlmann's 'Saft', in which brief fragments of wah-wahed guitar are moulded into muddy aqueous blobs. Rhythmically it rocks, but physically it’s vacant.
Past releases offer further highlights: The Wighnomy Brothers' 'Wombat', a staple of Superpitcher's recent sets, pleases with sparse low-end bleeps and clipped percussion. New blood Hug's 'The Happy Monster' on the K2 offshoot is both reduced and delirious, as is Axel Bartsch's 'Redlight', both examples of peak-time ketamine disorientation. The Field's 'Over the Ice' offers marvellously sustained samples of female moans and gasps, twisting on a dime into new incarnations.
The real surprises, however, come from Kompakt's elder statesmen: Jurgen Paape turns out an aggressive sawtooth shuffle from yesteryear, only it's in 4/4 and a whole new phenomenon. Superpitcher meanwhile has the drums and bass surge while all else lopes forlornly, like dancing on valium. Wasserman pairs woodcutter blows and rusty gates with a mismatched voiceover which fits like the best of Profan, while The Modernist's 'Pearly Spencer', my pick here, sees giddy arpeggios spiral before staggered chord blocks, set in a key both heartbreaking and euphoric.
There are quibbles, but these are few and minor. Mikkel Metal's 'Ulyt', the only shuffle track here, is far from his strongest work. Both SCSI 9 and Jonas Bering fill up tech-house numbers until they overflow without offering much that engages. Robert Babicz' Kompakt debut 'Sonntag' starts on irritating out-of-synch blips but builds into something more welcoming. Oxia's is a strong track certainly, but considering the bad press it has garnered by being a facsimile of Patrick Chadronnet's 'Eve by Day', its inclusion here, and therefore its continued promotion by Kompakt, is questionable. That said, ‘Total 7’ is an indispensable compendium of Kompakt's fine past year.
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