As you may know, we’re hosting a sold-out festival in Cologne at the end of the month with a lineup that includes diva Róisín Murphy, Howling, Django Django, David August’s Live Ensemble and Broken Luxury. In addition to being an exciting musical showcase, it’s a good excuse to compile a bunch of lists about Germany’s most breathtaking Domstadt. Today we’re focusing on the sound of Cologne and the artists who have shaped it over the last—err—50 years or so. And since we’ve had so much fun with these lists, rest assured that there are more to come.
Any proper listicle about Cologne’s musical contributions to the world begins with Stockhausen, the granddaddy and enfant terrible of Germany’s classical avant garde. He was the country’s most important post-World War II composer and, with a catalog of nearly 300 compositions, he was as prolific as he was revolutionary.
What do Kraftwerk, Neu!, Harmonia, Can, Cluster, DAF, Killing Joke, Ultravox and Brian Eno have in common? They’ve all been produced by Conny Plank. Even David Bowie was craving Plank’s sound and magic touch on the mixing console but as history has it, he wasn’t interested in working with the White Duke.
One of krautock’s most influential bands began in Cologne in the late 1960. The founders, Holger Czukay, Irmin Schmidt, Jaki Liebezeit and Michael Karoli, had backgrounds in avant garde and jazz music, which laid the foundation for them to develop into a legendary experimental rock outfit.
Mouse On Mars
Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner have continually redefined techno, IDM and pop in quirky experimental music for over 20 years. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of their iconic productions is that every sound seems to have a life of its own.
The German-Venezualan composer and vocalist Yvonne Cornelius played an instrumental role in shaping the output of labels like Tomlab or Mouse On Mars’ Sonig imprint under the alias Niobe. She also recorded for Karaoke Kalk, another internationally renowned electronica label from Cologne.
Through the course of compiling this list, we found that Kompakt is the first name to spring to most minds when “Cologne” and “music” are mentioned in the same sentence. The Kompakt omniverse and its stalwarts, a class that includes co-founders Wolfgang Voigt and Michael Mayer, has wrought a singular influence on Cologne’s post-acid house electronic music scene and beyond. Not too long ago, people in Germany referred to Kompakt as “the Bayern Munich of techno.”
Speaking of Kompakt: Jörg Burger. Producers from Cologne have always had a distinct sound that combines the slickness of minimal techno with pop references, and Burger is no exception. As Burger/Ink (his collaboration with Wolfgang “Mike Ink” Voigt), The Bionaut or Modernist, Jörg Burger did everything from acid assaults to ambient introspection.
The co-founder of the Magazine label has become Cologne’s hottest export to the techno community in the past couple of years. His output, which has also appeared on Hinge Finger and Cómeme, carries on the city’s tradition of combining techno with a visual-arts sensibility.
When Ada arrived on the scene her take on melodic minimalist techno with a distinct pop sensibility blended perfectly with the city’s predominant sound with a dash of intimate, quirky charm. Her debut album, 2004’s Blondie, is still one of the best long players from that era.
We’re rounding out our roundup with a true originator, because few embody the city better than Willy Millowitsch. Born in 1909, he was mostly known for his work in TV and theater, but he also wrote a couple of famous folk songs like “Wir sind alle kleine Sünderlein (‘s war immer so).”
Covering Tracks is a regular series in which we ask producers and DJs to take it in turns to pick ten of their favorite recent (and not so recent) releases. Want to wade into the deluge of music? Hate getting your feet wet? Let us help you. This week’s selectors behind the selections: Canadian house duo Blond:ish aka Anstascia D’elene and Vivie-Ann Bakos.
Damien K. Sahri – “Guitarra Trina” (The Persuader remix) [AD Limited]
Anstascia: This one is out on Alexi Delano’s label AD Limited. It’s a perfect after-hours track because it pulls you in subtly, hypnotizes you, then unleashes you after the break. Brilliant.
Blond:ish – “Birds Eat Birds” [Kompakt]
Vivie-Ann: We’ve chosen this because it’s ours and because it gets the dancefloor in a frenzy. All those random Tulum field recordings at work in this one: you can hear the vocal chant that we recorded after I ran full-speed after a street vendor outside our makeshift Tulum studio [the duo set up a temporary studio in the Mexican town]. We put the vocal in the track and it fit perfectly in key . . . magic!
Decius – “Come To Me Villa” [moreaboutmusic]
Vivie-Ann: We play this in a middle of a set to change the mood. It always makes people get a bit freaky on the dancefloor. I like to watch . . . hence why I like the song so much.
Someone Else – “Little Helper 135-2” [Little Helpers]
Vivie-Ann: Subtleties are key. I love it when you get into a groove, then it hits you with a curveball of a vocal that you love, but done in a different and less obvious way. This one does just that.
Butch, C Vogt – “Infamous” (Robytek vs Shield Edit) [Rebirth]
Vivie-Ann: Sophistication at its finest right here! Ibiza villa party euroravers love this one . . .
Pional – It’s All Over (John Talabot’s Stormbreak Refix) [Hivern]
Anstascia: The hypnotic vocals makes this one of those tracks that you want to hear over and over again while sipping a margarita somewhere sunny while watching unicorns fly by. Ok, maybe no unicorns but the rest, yes.
Miusha – “The Gift” (Asaga Electronica Remix) [NOPASSPORT]
Anstascia: A really great starter or podcast track. I love the randomness of the detuned synths popping in and out. A sexy summertime get-moving record.
Peace division – “Club Therapy” [Dogmatik]
Anstascia: Pretty much the epitome of groovin’ warehouse techno—rolling, then it hits you with freaky vocals that you can relate to. Definitely a classic from 1999 and now recently remastered, this gem will be played for as long as people love to dance. Right now all we need to do is bop our heads to this groove right here, ya know?
Reset Robot – “Ghost Machine” feat. Mister Woo [TrueSoul]
Anstascia: I don’t know who Mister Wooo is but these vocals are amazing: last-song-of-the-set-hands-in-the-air-take-your-clothes-off kinda vibe. Reset Robot delivers once again!
Wigbert – “Nobody” [Rawthentic]
Anstascia: There’s crazy music coming from this talented producer. This one especially is a sexy techno mind trip—something you play when you have everyone by the balls. ~
Blond:ish’s Wunderkammer EP is out now on Kompakt. For more editions of Covering Tracks, head here.
Every month Moritz Gayard sorts through the deluge of new music videos so you don’t have to.
After an epic silence of six weeks, your beloved music video update aka Videodrome is back with a fresh dose of audiovisual joy. I’ve carefully selected videos from emerging artists such as Mumdance, Emily Reo and Timg Green plus the usual fun by Mykki Blanco, Roll The Dice and Disclosure. Have fun below, Videodrome will be back in July. Ah, and there’s no Pitbull inside.
#1 Emily Reo – “Rainbow Road”, directed by Dustin Muenchow
Addicted. This is Los Angeles-based producer, singer-songwriter Emily Reo’s first ever music video, presenting champagne bubbles and much more. But what makes this special is most definitely her voice. Also, Emily’s Olive Juice LP is available now from Elestial Sound.
#2 Roll The Dice – “Assembly”, directed by Frode & Marcus
#3 Mumdance – “Take Time” feat. Novelist
This gets me hyped. Mumdance is about to release a new EP for Rinse FM, which is led by the single above featuring Novelist. So good.
#4 Kevin Verwijmeren – “Abstract Point Forgotten In The Rush”, directed by Julien Lambrechts
Cool video for the opening track of Kevin Verwijmeren’s debut album It’s the Colour of a Cloud Covered Sky—out soon via Soft Corridor Records.
#5 Mykki Blanco – “She Gutta”
Following his marvelous Betty Rubble: The Initiation EP from 2013, here’s “She Gutta”, one of Mykki Blanco’s first singles of 2014 taken from his upcoming Spring/Summer EP.
#6 Natasha Khan for YMC – “Under The Indigo Moon”
Wow, Natasha Khan of Bat For Lashes has created a short film for YMC, showcasing the SS14 collection which she’s designed for the label. B is for beautiful.
#7 Tim Green – “Helpless Sun”
FACT has just premiered the video for the title track of the UK producer’s new EP. Released on My Favorite Robot, it’s a tune.
#8 Disclosure x Friend Within – “The Mechanism”
Grammy Award-winning electronic outfit Disclosure have just dropped their nicely animated video for “The Mechanism,” a collaborative number with Friend Within.
#9 DAMH – “Hansi”
#10 Nils Frahm – “Re”
Hyperactive Nils Frahm just unveiled this nice little animated video inspired by his Screws album, alongside further worldwide tour dates. Interview needed? Click here.~
The year 2013 saw Kompakt Records turn twenty and boy, did they celebrate it with all the vim you’d expect from a legendary techno label entering its third decade. The entire year was given over to a series of events paying tribute and Electronic Beats helped out with some of the celebrations—partnering up with them for the Berlin Pop-Up Store and heading to Barcelona to present a party on a beach (no biggie). Now the twelve month party is over—the memories are cherished and hangovers nursed—EB presents the definitive keepsake of the two decades just gone: 20 Years of Kompakt – The Pop Documentary. Watch the thirty minute film, above, and share your favorite memories from Kompakt’s first twenty years in the comments. Here’s to the next twenty.
The Field’s fourth album marks a dramatic change in tone if not form. A small but critical update for the Berlin-based master of prolonged gratification, says Louise Brailey.
Here’s the thing: when your music trades on the very idea of stasis, of prolonged, exquisite ecstasy, where the hell do you go next? You can bet it’s a question that’s plagued Axel Willner. When press for Cupid’s Head came with a tale of creative block, you sensed that he was the last to find out that he had just the one idea, styling it out for the last six years.
Then again, it was a great idea. Since 2007’s From Here We Go Sublime, a record that helped renew Kompakt’s claims to relevance, Willner’s tapped a bottomless well of glazed transcendence, spurning the tension and release of build and drop and stringing out the plateau. Sure, the sonic make-up altered on a micro level as it revolved on the spot; a piano there, a wash of synth and—hold onto your hats—the kick drum dropping out and back in again. But, ultimately, The Field was less about rewarding patience as getting to the good bit quick and staying there (when The Guardian played proto-techno godhead Manuel Göttsching “Over the Ice”, he lamented this very lack of development). Sure, 2011’s Looping State of Mind certainly had its moments you didn’t exactly want to end: the live, krautrock-style percussion, the slurring synths of the title track which recalled the medicated guitar slide of MBV. But make no mistake, three albums in this quickly becoming ambient techno as comfort blanket. Time, then, to break the cycle.
Sort of. That black-on-black artwork is as crude a signifier as any that Willner’s shifted into darker, more uneasy terrain. It’s certainly borne out in his voguish migration from digital software to hardware, a decision which gives the record a more carnal, grubbier texture—and boy, does Willner revel in harshing your high. The record opens with a few seconds of silvery guitar (this from a guy who thought nothing of sampling Lionel Ritchie on his debut) before a gut-level kick drum and grinding synth wrenches you from your comfort zone and into a locked groove that feels strangely oppressive. “Cupid’s Head”, with its close-cropped sample, some phoneme rendered empty by its repetition, niggles and grates before a dissonant chord offers some kind of relief by virtue of its forward momentum. “20 Seconds of Affection” takes traditional Field-isms and cakes them in a level of distortion that even the most hardened hardware fryers like Delroy Edwards might think excessive. This, then, is The Field in reverse; his favored, simple devices—chord cycles, micro-detailing, repetition—that once mimicked cosmic transcendence now, rather than expanding ever outwards, have collapsed in on themselves like a dying star. Claustrophobia was never something you could level at The Field, but boy, do you need to crack a window here.
This newfound density of Cupid’s Head demands an active, rather than passive, listener. On “A Guided Tour” the build is so slow, with each element kept on such short a tether, that the excruciating climb becomes the revelatory moment that’s better than any payoff, however elongated. “No No”, the album’s extraordinary closer, is based around yet another brief vocal sample, a girlish “No” looped at various speeds over cavernous gray ambience and leaden beat. Sometimes accelerated into a drill-like yammer, other times pitched down and stretched to breaking. The effect is that that single syllable becomes dehumanized, chewed up by the machinery it’s fed through. It’s a downbeat closer, and entirely fitting for a record that suddenly seems so mistrustful of fast-track, gratification. Finally, it seems, the cycle is intercepted, the loop broken. As the record closes with the whirring sound of machines winding down you can’t but wonder: from here we go… well, where? ~
The Field’s Cupid’s Head is out now on Kompakt.