Finn Johannsen revisits a pioneering album from the early days of minimal house.
There were several reasons for the popularity of minimal techno and house in the late '90s and early '00s. For one, a lot of electronic club music of the preceding years was boisterous. Its ingredients were often not subtle, satisfying clubbers that emerged from the acid house and rave days with relentless dance floor dynamics. As soon as a sound becomes too dominant in the club scene, there's a reaction. Alternatives develop and, as happened with minimal, they might take over and eventually dominate.
A freshly initiated influx of dancers and listeners had also come with different musical requirements. While big room acts like The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers brought rock fans to the dance floor, people who preferred subtler music fell in love with the early Detroit minimal techno prototypes by Robert Hood, Jeff Mills, Richie Hawtin and Daniel Bell, plus their dubbed-out counterparts around Berlin's Basic Channel and its affiliated labels.
The club scene also went through changes. New open-air venues and festivals entered the circuit, but they needed to keep their neighbours happy by keeping volume levels low. They embraced a sound that worked without the need for significantly loud systems. Drugs like ketamine became popular, their users liking a sound that was more reduced and hypnotic. Soon enough, minimal techno crossed over to house, and was out to conquer.
In the centre of these developments was the Frankfurt label Playhouse, founded by Ata and Heiko M/S/O, which began as the housier end of its parent label, Ongaku Musik. It put artists like Ricardo Villalobos, Isolée and Roman Flügel on the map as they reinterpreted house music with reduction, repetition and plenty of attention to detail.
Peter Kremeier, AKA Losoul, was arguably the most defining artist in the label's early stages. His productions had a signature sound that is still unique. He seemed inspired by the layering experiments of DJ Pierre's Wild Pitch sound and the immersive deep house of Ron Trent and Chez Damier, but his own tracks soon found their own creative zone. Beginning with 1996's Open Door, 12-inch releases like Mandu, Don Disco De Super Bleep, and Synchro were masterclasses in hypnotism.
Over beats more pumping than those of his label peers, he worked with deconstructed disco and funk loops and occasional vocal samples. They were so captivating that he could ride them over extended tracks that gradually introduced each element with patience, resulting in trips you felt should never stop. But by the end of the '90s, the structure of his tracks became less strict. He also explored different sounds on dark, bass-heavy releases like Ex.or.zis.mus and "Brother In Love." He just needed an album to round up this artistic phase before venturing into something new.
That album, Belong, came as surprise to many of his followers when it was released in 2000. The opener, "Taste Not Waste," is a brooding, punchy tune that wouldn't have been out of place on the earlier EPs. But the following track, "Late Play," is a weird, off-centre sketch, suggesting that Kremeier was using this chance to show more of his repertoire.
The speedier "Resisting Curare" increases the quirkiness. "Overland" is an eccentric, playful take on the ever-reliable "Billie Jean" groove, sounding like a cross between the original and "Kaw-Liga" by The Residents. There's another unexpected turn with "Sunbeams And The Rain." It's one of the most astonishingly beautiful and sublime tracks ever to merge deep house and techno.
"You Can Do" contains the sunniest loop Kremeier produced up to that point. There's a spiralling, almost Balearic melody that doesn't let go for most of the tune, resulting in another track to get lost in. It achieves that typically intense Losoul sensation with a joyful mood. The final track, "Trust," is a warped and chopped hip-hop version of Bill Withers' "Use Me." It makes you wonder what other sounds Kremeier may have left in his vaults.
Kremeier has continued to drop releases of consistent quality, but Belong marks the end of the era in which he acted as a true solitaire, even among likeminded and similarly talented cohorts. Shortly afterwards, the imaginative ideas of early minimal techno and house were forsaken for a sound that was less interesting and more eager to please. But it also laid the foundation for backlashes and resurgences to come.