Various Artists, Total 10

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[Kompakt]


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It’s astonishing to think Kompakt is a mere ten years old. The shadow they have cast over the contemporary house and techno scene, not least through their distribution, never mind label releases, is gigantic. For younger DJs and fans, it’s hard to think of a world without the dotted imprint. Their Total series is a case in point: a summer without the compilation and accompanying party is difficult to contemplate. For casual fans, the CD issue offers the opportunity to catch up on the year’s hits, while the double, and now triple vinyl packs satisfy DJs with exclusives cuts and some venerable smashes of their own (Superpitcher’s “Mushroom,” DJ Koze’s “Mariposa,” and Jürgen Paape’s “So Weit Wie Noch Nie” for starters). They also illustrate the broad taste of the Kompakt collective, with tracks ranging from campy electro pop (Justus Köhncke, most likely) to teeth-grindingly hard techno (step forward Reinhard Voigt). This eclecticism is both Kompakt’s greatest strength and their weakness. Their determined and democratic stance that if any one of the label heads (Michael Mayer, Paape and Wolfgang Voigt) likes a track enough they will release it, means occasionally real stinkers can slip through the door that ruin things for everyone. Throughout Total 10, the suspicion that this hardly stringent quality control is set to an all time low is hard to shift. When Total 10 is bad, it is very bad. And when it is good, it is still far from producing any classics to rival those listed above.

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Let’s start with the bad. Kompakt have always had a taste for in-jokes (“Sex Mit M.Mayer” for the most blatant example), but Jürgen Paape’s “Ofterschwang” is truly wretched. Like a low-rent “Fizheuer Zieheuer” trolleyed at Oktoberfest, its cheesy horns and schlager sensibilities might make some kind of (non)sense after a few rounds of Koelsch but the hangover really isn’t worth the party. Similarly Superpitcher’s collaboration with Matias Aguayo’s pal Rebolledo under the name Pachanga Boys is as irritatingly tongue-in-cheek as their moniker might suggest. Why Aguayo gets all the attention when his former Closer Musik bandmate Dirk Leyers languishes in relative obscurity is beyond anybody’s ken, and his previous single “Walter Neff” gets an entirely unwanted and unwarranted second airing here.

The good? Newcomers Coma offer hope for the “children of Kompakt” generation with a classy goth-house track; Shumi (more new blood) offers a similarly glossy take on the romantic techno sound of Cologne; and the much underrated Leyers provides a subtly brilliant rerub of Köhncke’s Pet Shop Boys-referencing “(It’s Gonna Be) Alright” that should have disco and house heads shimmying from Horse Meat Disco to Horst Kreuzberg. Tobias Thomas and Mayer’s self-referential “Total 9” offers hope the veterans can still knock out a low-slung groove or two, while Koze continues his tradition of producing the best tracks of Total releases with the gloriously flawed experiment with a tennis ball, “40 Love.”

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Regrettably, much else on Total 10 is merely mediocre, with efforts from Reinhard Voigt, Nicolas Stefan, Mugwump and Jonas Bering all falling under the catch-all category of fair to middling club fodder. The Supermayer remix of Gotye’s “Heart’s A Mess” tries to simultaneously wrest the emo-house crown from Superpitcher’s remix of “(This Is) The Ballad Of Evan and Chan” and bring schaffel back, but gallantly falls short on both counts. Gui Boratto’s remix of Sam Taylor Wood’s (produced by the aforementioned poet laureates of Euro-disco) “I’m In Love With A German Film Star” is destined to be damned with faint praise, as it merely plays to age old Kompakt strengths of pop culture references, bass pressure and shimmering melodies.

In a recent Pitchfork interview, Mayer suggested Kompakt’s relative decline in popularity was due to nothing more than the vagaries of fashion, and that their new status as the “opposition party” meant the label could take more risks. Total 10 belies both of these claims; it is one of the most lackluster and cloyingly conservative Totals in history. Heartbreaking as it is to report, Kompakt’s better days appear to be behind them. Mayer’s Pitchfork mix of early “unclassics” illustrates what heady days they were, and unwittingly reveals Total 10 to be barely more than a tacit acceptance of the decline of the Cologne empire.

Richard Carnage  on September 10, 2009 at 11:21 AM

Sad but true. Pull your fingers out, lads!

Steven  on September 12, 2009 at 12:59 PM

kompakt will bounce back.
…trance-tinged-tech-conga-pop-looped-house will be the next big sound.

Nic  on September 14, 2009 at 3:59 AM

Personally, I very much enjoyed Jürgen Paape’s contribution to this year’s total. I don’t understand the comparison to Fizheuer Zieheuer – the only thing in common is the use of horns. It’s just plain fun, and silly. But it has a sense of humour!

Shawn  on September 14, 2009 at 8:49 PM

The Koze song is perfect. but maybe just for me because I play tennis. It makes me imagine long rallies and 3 hour matches. the track has stamina

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