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Finn Johannsen & Stefan Goldmann: Macrospective

img  Tobias Fischer

Decades after its first emanations, one nagging question still surrounds turntablism: What, exactly, does a DJ do? To outsiders, the answer (spinning records) has been trivial. But as the acts of DJing and performing live have converged, things have increasingly become opaque. This, as macro-records-label-heads Stefan Goldmann and Finn Johannssen will readily testify, is not just a question of technology, but foremost one of attitude and approach. The 21st century may have brought phenomena like 'DJing in parts', the in-the-moment standardisation of music through a software like Ableton and, due to a veritable flood of new tracks, a sense of disengagement between the selector and the music being selected. And yet, Goldmann and Johannssen are still exclusively playing with vinyl, eschewing the all but infinite processing power of a laptop in favour of a hands-on approach. Their approach to the trade is marked by a deep understanding of history – Goldmann will happily admit that he likes playing house classics from '95 next to brand new material – as well as the notion of building a profound relationship with the track in one's bag. As in ayurvedic cooking, DJing is an act of sharing something precious; and the more love invested in each piece, the more clubbing turns into a communal experience.

As befits this philosophy and the duo's penchant for far-reaching conceptual angles, Macrospective, a 2CD-set released on the occasion of macro's fifth year in business and featuring two separate sets by the duo, has neither turned into an ordinary compilation of stand-out tracks, nor a quickly compiled podcast, but a test case for the art of DJing in general. The fundamentals of the experiment were simple: Both protagonists were to use only releases from the macro vaults and merely introduce hints of variety by allowing them to use different versions and remixes. Which, in practise, simply means that, most of the time, they're essentially playing the same records. This appears slightly bewildering at first, foremost since Goldmann had mentioned to me precisely around the time of the release of the compilation that, to him, the flow of a DJ set was never as important to him as the curation of outstanding compositions. Curation has virtually been eliminated here, which raises the question: If two DJs are spinning the same tracks, what distinguishes one from the other?

Quite a lot, as Macrospective demonstrates. Aside from choosing different entry points into particular tracks, one of the most significant differences consists in the way the two are mapping out and anchoring their sets. Johannssen is opening with Patrick Cowley and Jorge Socarras' dreamy interpretation of Leiber/Stoller classic „I remember“, while Goldmann is concluding his journey with it. In the former's mix, Raudive's organ-staccatos, penetrating the audience's cerebral cortex for nine equally hypnotic and obnoxious minutes, are a pivotal point, while the latter merely awards it five and a half, instead zooming in on Tuomi's „Expense of Spirit“ as a gravitational centre. There are actually just two instances, where Goldmann and Johannssen are following up a particular track with the same record and although the middle sections of their sets are grouped in a similar way – awarding prominent positions to Goldmann's fusion of beats and choral voices on „Luncatic Fringe“ and the inescapable vortex of Electroguzzi's post-techno on „Android“ - they feel anything but identical. The more one listens and the closer one looks, the less these two mixes feel identical.

Technology plays little part in these differences, as simple fade-in and -out procedures are as complex as things get here. Virtuosity, too, is of desperately little import. Are there 'stories' being told here, as the prevailing cliché about a DJ-set would have it? Perhaps, but if there are, they are anything but obvious, as Goldmann and Johannssen alike share a preference for the individual track over narrative development, for finely outlined breaks, for tangents and curves rather than straight lines. The macro-founders appear to suggest that a DJs personality will shine through in the process of arranging one's materials even if one were to do one's utmost best to conceal it. As important as the goal of presenting stand-out tracks may be, these tracks are invariably transformed in the act of presentation, shaped by that which came before and that which follows. The DJ doesn't create the context for the music, he IS its context, his taste and expertise constituting conduits for the sound to run through.

These conclusions sound academic, but they're quite liberating. Ultimately, DJing is about making people move and bringing them together – and Macrospective, despite its challenging concepts, never once looses sight of this goal.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Stefan Goldmann
Homepage: Finn Johannssen
Homepage: Macro Recordings