There is definitely a clear spine of techno and house in Ursprung, but it’s one so smothered in blankets of texture and other influences, that approaching it as such is problematic. Much like Acid Pauli, the music of Ursprung — a duo made up of Pantha du Prince’s Hendrik Weber and Stephan Abry of Workshop — feels like the work of people who have spent a lot of time on dancefloors, listened to a lot of danceable music, and thought about how to totally subvert the genre’s tropes.
The answer for Weber and Abry appears mostly to lie in one word: krautrock, which should probably not come as a surprise. Let’s not forget that Kraftwerk were possibly the first band to studiously strip dance music (in their case, disco and boogie) to its spine and reinvent it as a form of futurist minimal funk. The shadow of the four Düsseldorf-ians does hang over Ursprung’s slinky non-grooves, especially the upbeat and catchy “Lizzy,” but with Weber and Abry’s emphasis on guitar, things quickly evolve in different directions. “Ohne Worte,” for example, takes its six-string cues from the drifting, psychedelic flourishes that adorn A.R. & Machines’ legendary Echo album. On other tracks, such as “Mummenschanz” and “Exodus Now,” there are definite echoes of Manuel Göttsching and Michael Rother, especially the latter’s Harmonia project. Like early Harmonia, Ursprung use basic drum machines and clanking, industrial electronics to offset the graceful elegance of the guitar, with the result neither danceable electronica, a la Kraftwerk, nor the psychedelic heaviness that characterized most krautrock bands.
Another defining influence was the location of the recording. Weber and Abry took the novel step to collaborate in the bleak, snowy mountains of the Swiss Alps. This dramatic landscape filters into the album via cold synth patterns, minimal percussion, occasional bursts of abstract noise and a general atmosphere of detachment. Even the album’s most upbeat moments, such as the invigorating, sweetly melancholic “Kalte Eiche,” feel somewhat subdued, as if muffled by snow. This austerity is reflected somewhat in the duo’s avowed debt to the ambient tradition of Harold Budd and Brian Eno and, whilst that’s not bad thing at all, it does mean that, at times, Ursprung tends to fold itself into the background. That’s the thing with dance music: it relies on the immediacy of bass, drums and gaudy synth in order to lodge itself in the listener’s mind. If you strip most of that away to focus on texture and ambience, you can come up with some daring, fascinating and beautiful tunes, but you will always run the risk of sounding a little pale.