otal 8 is “Kompakt CD 60.” It’s a milestone of sorts, but is that necessarily cause for celebration? The label hit its purple patch in 2001-2002, beginning with the release of Pop Ambient 2001 and ending with the release of Triple R’s Friends. Since then, it’s always been a matter of pasting over the misses with little varicoloured dots and shuffling between great releases on the strength of hype, distributive clout, and the fact that somewhere along the line blogging indie kids decided Kompakt was a label worth name-dropping.
In a certain sense, this is true—as a force in the world of music, Kompakt have never been stronger. But don’t fool yourself if you think it’s got anything to do with the sound they’re pushing. In fact, the great irony of Kompakt is that even though it’s nearly a spent force creatively, the label has got distribution so thoroughly sorted that we’re probably going to see the release of Total 25, regardless of its contents. Or perhaps it won’t have any—now that would be forward-thinking. You can also guarantee that when this happens, the music media will reflexively praise it. That’s another magic trick this label has managed. I don’t understand quite how it works, but people seem to be able to praise Kompakt records without listening to them and deciding if they’re actually any good.
2004 was when the label totally lost its way, releasing screamingly average artist albums like the execrable Here Comes Love and the bloated, self-referential Kompakt 100, the latter of which worked on the simple logic: “Hey guys, if we all remix each other’s past glories, maybe we can string this out to a second CD?” Okay, so it wasn’t quite that bad, but it was traumatic for a former fanboy like myself to see a beloved label totally lose the plot. Did it ever really regain it after 2004?
Judging by last year’s comp, their house was a mess—the label’s own artists no longer sounded at home on their own annual, and none of the big tracks (Gui Boratto’s “Aquipélago,” Hug’s “The Happy Monster,” and Wighnomy Bros’ “Wombat”) seemed to fit either, not together, and not with the overall Kompakt “thing.” In between all the dross, there was one 50-minute CD worth of decent material—if you could be bothered to make your own edit.
Total 8 sees the label returning to (tried) form and (tested) formula, and features new material by all the old favorites who seem to have “decided” (through some collective unconscious process) to return to the roots of the sound. Or is it just a lack of new ideas? As with Total 7, there appears to be some confusion over quantity/quality. “A great quantity of tracks” is not the same as “a quantity of great tracks”—which are here, buried in among the pales and stales. Partial Arts’ “Trauermusik” is a beautiful track that gives you that set-ending sense of full release. Hervé Ak’s “The Closer” is a great deep glider, that actually presents something novel. Koze’s “Mariposa” is up to his recent, very high standards, taking the wonky deep and developing the strongest of grooves through the wheeziest of repetitions. Both Jürgen Paape’s tracks do the do, as does Jörg Burger’s “Polyform One.”
Nightcats offer a big growler in the form of “Inside,” which has more push, more presence than the similar Supermayer track, which bubbles, growls and rumbles in big floor style, indicating that we should anticipate something from the album about to drop—either that, or it will be a bloated mess. Strangely absent however are any of Thomas Fehlmann’s tracks of the excellent (and overlooked) Honigpumpe, and instead we’re forced to endure Aril Brikha’s microtrance snooze cruise “Berghain” and another one of Oxia’s dreadful Holden rip-offs. This one’s called “Not Sure,” and neither am I.
Presented with the opportunity to release a lean, single CD of high quality material (an actual “best of” from the previous year’s work) Kompakt has stuck us with “the rest of,” another paunchy release that forces you to coax gems out of the flab (can you be bothered?), or smiles out of the memories of what once was a great label.
Reviewed by: Peter Chambers
Reviewed on: 2007-08-15
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