Berlin’s Sascha Ring, better known as Apparat, collaborates frequently. Most reviews of the albums he has made with Ellen Allien and Modeselektor contrast his generally melancholic solo music to his buddies’ club-moving jams. Ring is much more of a studio guy than a DJ in a scene that goes both ways, and his moodiness and interiority are unique but far from a liability. His music remains relatively unknown in the U.S., despite comparisons to the overhyped likes of M83. If he hasn’t quite popped off, though, it’s not because of cultural differences (he barely qualifies as techno); he makes the right kind of electronic music to appeal to indie-rock types. The emotional template for his music is readily available, containing elements of shoegaze and a love of simple melodies placed within busy arrangements, à la Aphex Twin. For whatever reason, though, he belongs more to techno. He’s flying solo on this installment in the DJ-Kicks series — his first mix compilation — and on it, he brings his highly personal sound to an established format without sacrificing either dreaminess or danceability.
All bad mixes are alike (they’re boring); every good mix is good in its own way. It’s difficult to articulate why, but easy to hear. The Juan MacLean’s DJ-Kicks from this year, for example, was muscular, analog, and mixed live: it embodied John MacLean’s personality as a DJ and a music fan more than it did The Human League-influenced synthpop of his latest album. It made listeners feel like they were learning something without it being academic, and it also established his dance cred to an audience that didn’t know him as a DJ. Apparat’s mix, on the other hand, doesn’t function as a history lesson or a devotional to dance music. It relies instead on an eclectic, if seemingly dated, set of artists that wouldn’t be unfamiliar to adventurous indie fans: Oval, Telefon Tel Aviv, Born Ruffians (remixed by Four Tet), and even Thom Yorke take part. But a good mix is a separate organism from the track selection. Apparat’s music is frequently referred to as IDM, but there’s no glitch here: it’s a very fluid and, especially toward the end, physical experience.
This album isn’t held together by a constant 4/4 pulse, but by the quality of the mixing, which emphasizes the bass. (This is lost on laptop speakers, but my car’s blown-out woofers did justice to the subtle things Apparat does with bass that’s more felt than heard.) There are lots of details that float through and around the tracks as they morph into each other. Things get a little too saturated on Apparat’s smoggy “Interlude,” which extends the previous Telefon Tel Aviv track a touch too much. “Interlude” is a pregnant pause that doesn’t fully translate to the listener, and, compared to the rest of the album, it sounds muddy and inert, although it isn’t long before he gets back on track with Luke Abbott’s bright “More Room.” Some tracks benefit from their new settings: Pantha du Prince’s “Welt Am Draht” felt like it took too long to get going on Black Noise, but Apparat puts it to good use as a part of a transition into the mix’s dancey final third.
Apparat is consciously reining in a tendency to be wonky, but he still blows some of his momentum on the Born Ruffians/Four Tet track. This remix of the Canadian band’s “I Need a Life” adds a nice synth arpeggio and rearranges the group’s voices into a kind of Deep Forest tapestry. So far, so good, but it doesn’t account for the band being pretty insufferable or why they are signed to Warp or seem to show up when you’re starting to have a good time. The bits of the original track that are still audible — the whiny indie vibe that comes through — make this the only moment on the mix that oversells the appeal. Apparat does a good job of showing an identity without pandering to his audience on the rest of the mix, but this song feels weirdly like nepotism.
Still, this is one of the most memorable mixes I’ve heard over the last few years, when everyone from Resident Advisor to Fact have made these things very available. In the world of dance music, memorability isn’t a gimme, but there’s lots here to recommend Apparat’s DJ-Kicks beyond its accessibility.