RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

Steffi: Yours & Mine

img  Tobias Fischer

In an interview with us early last year, Porcupine Tree's Stephen Wilson once praised the 60s and 70s as the „golden age of the album“: A time, when artists would conceptualise records as integral suites of inter-related pieces and as journeys which only unfolded their full potential when listened to from beginning to end. If this  age has, as one could plausibly argue, gone into a decline over the past decades, then this is not just because the advent of digital media and communication technology have tended to favour the poignant single format over the carefully sculpted full-length. Foremost, it is because the album as a potentially cost- and labour-intensive creative product fundamentally relies on a relationship which has become increasingly fragile: That between an artist and a label. Epochal works like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Exile on Main St. or Tubular Bells were possible only, because, conceptually, artistic ambition and commercial success were not considered as being mutually exclusive. In a sense, they appeared to embody what all art aspired to: The reconciliation of  a mass market with the ideal of individual expression, the simultaneity of the biggest common denominator and an uncompromising stance. In the album format, these tendencies seemed to fuse most organically. And on Yours & Mine, they are coming to life again for fifty delirious minutes.

In February of 2010, the Ostgut Ton label, on the strength of her DJ-sets at the Berghain club's Panorama Bar, approached Steffi about releasing a full-length for the imprint. With the mastering date slated for October, this left her with half a year to put the pieces of the puzzle together. It is an uncommon testimony of  faith that Ostgut Ton never once intervened in the production process and would later accept the album exactly the way it was presented to them at its conclusion, without once trying to rig it according to their personal agenda. Presented with this carte blanche – resembling somewhat the kind of „final cut“ benefits awarded to established movie directors after decades in the business - Steffi did not allow a single second of the time allotted to her to pass by unspent, locking herself up in her studio for the better part of seven months to arrive at a work which would extend beyond the immediate, but ultimately short-lived appeal of a couple of well-produced singles. By sieving through ten years worth of loops, carefully crafting them into intricate compositions and complementing them with material written especially for the occasion, Yours & Mine now represents both a musical biography and a sonic status quo, a personal narrative and a statement for the scene as a whole, representing the accumulated total of a lifetime devoted to furthering the cause of deep house through the organising of parties in Amsterdam, the running of two labels and the curation of the best output in her DJ-sets.

The reason why the result of these contrasting tendencies never comes across as incoherent or confounding is that Yours & Mine doesn't just mirror these external influences, but creates a reality of its own. Within this world, many elements which would usually be considered each other's opposites are suddenly rendered complementary. As just one example among many, the sonic palette – consisting of sulfury synth stabs, quirky bleeps, futuristic pads, at times aggressive basses and arctic sonar pings – should end up sounding artificial and alien on paper. In practise, these pieces, quintessential deep house productions all, radiate an almost intimate warmth, soulfulness and sensuality, leading the listener into an oasis of private reflections. Most remarkably, even the vocals are considered an integral part of the dense and dreamy texture. The two cuts realised in collaboration with singer Virginia Högl, arguably the most accessible and catchy contributions on the entire production, blend in seamlessly, deepening rather than interrupting the graceful flow and immersive mood established by their instrumental counterparts. On „You Own My Mind“, an ambient soundtrack performed like an absent-minded bar jazz standard, the borders between song and track are intriguingly blurred, resulting in a fantastical conflation of human emotion with 21st century technology.

The latter is an important aspect of Yours & Mine in general: Rather than merely harking back to the golden age of the album, Steffi is presenting her own and contemporary vision of what the format foremost represents to her: The natural juxtaposition of contrasts, the unifying of opposites, the fusion of paradoxes. On the level of the record as a whole, the furious digital sweeps of „Mine“ precede the trance-fantasia of „Nightspacer“, for example, and the intricate pattern-drift of opener „Lilo“ stands side by side with hands-on, propulsive club-monster „Piem“.  This, meanwhile, is anything but cheap eclecticism: For pieces like „Yours“, the second Virginia-collaboration and „Arms“, the first track to be finished in the production process and a weightless glide through clouds of majestic melodies and old-school percussion work, to be able to peacefully co-exist, they need to be imbued by the will of an artist who is capable of seeing through their façade to get a glimpse of their inmost meaning. The same holds true on the level of individual tracks, in which swelling ambiances soften acidic upwellings, powerful grooves are slowed down to a resting pulse rate by the whirlwind of intertwined elements hovering on top of them and expressive themes harmonically blend with epic, threedimensional moodscaping.

Be it in terms of the complexity of their arrangements, the abundance of colour, the liveliness of the interaction between the elements or the inventiveness of their motives, these pieces are never content with regurgitating the canon. Rather, they are extending deep house into the realms of explorative electronica – a territory, in short, many other labels would have outright rejected for fear of them not being compatible with their target audience. It is a rare case of the same amount of vision and commitment invested both by record company executives and the artist and it has elevated the album from a promising genre-contribution to a work with far more wide-reaching implications. And that, without wanting to sound nostalgic, is something which has indeed become rare these days.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Steffi
Homepage: Ostgut Ton Records

Related articles

Hawke: "+++"
Still not overly familar: Music ...
Andy Caldwell: "Obsession"
A frequent flyer: Woozy vibrato ...
Frankie Knuckles: "Motivation Too"
Worth the slog: The most ...
John Digweed: "Bedrock 11"
An exception to the great ...
Bad Boy Bill: "The Album"
Big, often stunning songs: A ...
Review/ Le Housetear: "Course de Danse"
Happy doing what he does ...

Partner sites