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Marcel Dettmann: Dettmann

img  Tobias Fischer

Techno is really the most straight-forward thing in the world and Marcel Dettmann would be the first to acknowledge that. For all the frenzied medial attention bestowed on his early-morning-to-late-noon DJ-sets at the Berhgain, his reluctant involvement in the club's flowering mythology as well as his burgeoning career as a recording artist, Dettman has stubbornly refused to feed the hype. To this day, he has remained an enthusiastic fan as much as a star, still discussing exciting new music for hours with his friends. And he's remained exceedingly friendly in the face of the same interview questions: Yes, he still works at the famous Hardwax record store in Berlin. Yes, the early hours of the day, when the crowd is depleted yet malleable and hungry for someone to take them to a higher level, really are the best at Berghain. And yes, techno, a genre intricately related to adjectives like anarchic, dark, futuristic and unadjusted, is more than obsession - it is his life. And so Dettmann will spend entire days behind his laptop, producing „strange music“ and loosing himself in his self-created world of industrial sonic architecture. There may still, technically, be differences between his various activities. But at the end of the day, they're inseparably connected, all serving as outlets to express his love for the music that ultimately defines who he is.

It is obvious that a scene craving for some sense of direction after splintering into myriads of niches and sub-genres should regard his debut album as an indication both about the status quo and future of electronic music. And yet, Dettmann has decisively turned out a distinctly personal manifesto rather than a work of universal ambitions. Importantly, too, it disproves many of the claims often made about his intentions: Against popular opinion, Dettmann's music isn't pure, but in fact draws from a wide variety of sources, including, among others, dub-techno and dubstep, industrial and house, sound art and even, as on the intro and outro pieces, dark ambient. It certainly isn't progressive in the sense of exploring entirely unknown territories either. In fact, Dettmann himself has repeatedly pointed towards the reference points of his oeuvre, towards the pioneering deeds of artists like Rob Hood and Joey Beltram as well as its roots in the late 80s- and early 90s scene for electronic dance music. Strictly speaking, it isn't even minimal, for rather than whittling his tracks down to the bare minimum, Dettmann seems to be looking for a balance between richness in sound and leanness in form, between depth in texture and precision in timbre, between physical immediacy and subconscious stimulation.

In short, and this may serve as a summary of his entire philosophy, he is looking for utmost simplicity. Simplicity, after all, doesn't preclude intellectual and artistic ambition. Quite contrarily, Dettmann has insisted that a seminal aspect of his technique consists in attentively listening to and reflecting on his own creations, sometimes for hours on end, to arrive at a judgement about their merit. What it does mean, however, is to avoid overburdening a piece with ego and, after one has gauged its quality, to trust the music to get its message across on its own accord. As such, on a continuum between the poles of composition and track, Dettmann's work leans heavily towards the latter, restricting the duties of the producer to loop sculpting – the task of moulding and channeling a single idea – and arranging. This is why so many of the tracks on this album sound as though nothing were happening at all: With almost all of the elements already present right from the very start, there is no need for them to develop or modulate, to change course or move through different emotional states. In their most extreme moments, which, speaking strictly, includes the entire middle section of the record from the mantra-like dub- and delay-patterns of „Drawing“ up until the cold, repellent atmospheres of „Silex“, these pieces in fact neither seem to be moving forward nor backwards, lingering stubbornly on the spot. It is an impression  supported by Dettmann's tendency to program the different components of his beats in a way that makes them cancel each other out rather than serving the purpose of rhythmical propulsion and to hide rather than emphasise his techniques. While Robert Hood's Internal Empire, often quoted as an inspiration, essentially made these processes the actual focal point of the music, here they are so discrete and almost inaudible that they effectively escape the listener's attention, becoming part of the basic structure of a track.

The approach naturally contains the danger of ending up being mannerist. Accordingly, some have come to regard Dettmann's approach as a hollow surrogate of the club experience. And yet, it is always a carefully dosed, highly intuitive kind of mannerism, which one might, more sympathetically, refer to as eccentricity or radicalism, that he is applying here. Perhaps the most striking example of just how intriguing the results of these obsessions can be are the six immersive minutes of „Motive“: Against the constant hoof-pounding of a furiously galloping, heavily reverbed bass drum, the sction consists exclusively in sustaining, thickening and gently bending a single, abrasive tone, thereby transforming its formants from the ominous and threatening to the luminescent and majestic. Dettmann is not treating space as a white canvas on which to project his ideas, but rather as a musical instrument in tune with the handful of elements penetrating its acoustic space – and he is neither prolonging it into infinity nor cutting it off at the earliest possible instant. There is nothing scientific nor rational about these cut-off points: The music ends, when he's had enough. This, too, is what defines Marcel Dettmann as an artist: In purely technical terms, not all that much separates this record from throwing in a high-quality loop-CD and simply spinning it for a few minutes on end. The point is: These are his loops and in his self-created puzzle, every single piece fits and serves as a small particle of his personality.

There may, of course, be an even simpler explanation for this pervasive preference for repetition: As a little boy growing up in East Germany, Dettmann would play his new 7inches again and again again, refusing to accept their inevitable finiteness. His own work appears to be follow a similar tactic: When the moment's a loop, it never ends.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Marcel Dettmann
Homepage: Ostgut Ton Records

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