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V/A - Total 5

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Artist: V/A

Album: Total 5

Label: Kompakt

Review date: Sep. 22, 2003

By rerouting aspects of Koln’s experimental electronic scene to a dancefloor destination, Michael Mayer’s Kompakt label has carved out a niche for itself amidst a myriad of subgenres: Micro house, tech house, minimalist techno, ad nauseam. The Total series has provided Kompakt with an annual summer sampler to showcase key vinyl tracks, exclusive mixes, and the occasional new signing. Over the years these compilations have become eagerly anticipated and used as a forecast of the next season’s predominant electronic flavors. Total 5 continues this fine tradition, marking the fifth year of the label’s existence whilst giving an impression of their current state of affairs.

Much has been made of Kompakt’s current infatuation with pop, and indeed there are tracks on Total 5 which wear these colors proudly. “All She Wants Is” by Russian SCSI-9 does utilize the familiar Duran2 vocal hook, but they quickly turn it into a burner which harkens back to the heyday of Chicago house. Mayer’s “Speaker” mines similar territory, with its simple, yet effective instrumentalism and deadpan vocals; conjuring up memories of the Adonis classic “No Way Back”. For those familiar with the output of such old school Chi-town labels as Trax, DJ International and Play House, these two numbers will seem like old hat. Indeed, the majority of the compilation’s contributors seemed to have tapped into this influence, if not through imitation then via spirit, in much the same way as many German artists/labels did with Detroit techno pioneers a decade back. This is where the pop materializes, as Chi house was always about a joyous celebration of life, in stark contrast to the bleak outlook of much of Detroit’s sound.

This joy pervades Superpitcher’s “Mushroom”, a stand-out track whose squelching bass, swirling rhythms and trickles of high-end pressure eventually explode into a mammoth and overpowering climax that must be heard to be believed. Not even the genius of Burger/Voigt can rescue Phong Sui’s “Wintermute” from sounding like a bypassed Electronic remix, complete with Sumner vocal – the sort of thing people love to hear in Ibiza cafes. Further blandness ensues with T. Raumschmiere’s contribution, as it fails to gain any momentum despite a flanged guitar lead and electro fuzz mix; paling in comparison to his earlier releases.

Things pick up with Joachim Spieth’s “Nie Mehr Allein”, an exercise in atmospheric buildup whose odd fragments of melodic energy reach out from a null field to form a daydream of abstract sonic architecture. Fehlmann’s track attests to his staying power and provides the most experimental listen with an unstable, propulsive bassline and aluminum foil percussion. The progression continues with the unexpected combination of glam rock energy, house vibes, and on-u-dub that fuels Mikkel Metal’s “Nepal” into foreign terrain. Jonas Bering adds dislocated chimes to an extreme minimalist workout of the Basic Channel variety and closes the disc with a hint of melancholy on “Normandie 2.”

These last four tracks of Total 5 bring the classic Kompakt sound to the fore: Groundbreaking, edgy, with a killer groove to boot. By adding new and unexpected elements to the formula, they are able to stay ahead of the pack and maintain a fresh outlook within the placid confines of electronic music.

By Everett Jang Perdue

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