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V.A: Fünf

img  Tobias Fischer

In commercial terms, techno has entered its phase of maturity. It has acquired a history. Established itself as a global brand. Defined an instantly recognisable image. Generated global networks. Built its own infrastructure, its gathering places, its spiritual meccas. It has gone through its second and third generation of enthusiasts and DJs. Produced its own classics. Percolated into adjacent genres and, in reverse, sucked up a plethora of influences. It has successfully sought contact with the high arts and even started referring to and reflecting upon itself, creating meta-discussions and veritable philosophies. The revolutionary impetus may have died down, but the genre hasn't lost its forward drive. Every day, both young and old grown-up fans of the music are beginning to spin their favourite records, amateurs are turning into professionals, DJs are turning into producers, producers are setting up their own record labels, record labels are showcasing exciting new developments, prospering and then dying down to make room for the new. There is some truth in the claim that the former flowerpower activist of the genre must now be considered the new establishment. But this still pulsating, permutating and proliferating community still easily beats the topheavy mainstream it once set out to devour.

Today's scene, rather than suffering from a lack of inspiration, is, if anything, instead marked by a vertiginous abundance, a pervasive „too much“ of everything and a side-by-side of the old and the new, a stabilising mainstream and a revitalised underground, still youthful gods and hungry young dogs, futuristic visions and retro-tendencies, big business and naive idealism, a return to the minimalistic basics and a foray into more musical territory, absurd outgrowths and a strengthened awareness of the genre's roots. The staggering global output of vinyl, CDs and digital formats has had an intriguingly Janus-faced effect in this respect: On the one hand, it has decentralised the community and replaced its former monopolies with a cornucopia of local powerhouses. On the other, it has reinforced the prevalent tendency towards a consolidation of established outfits. While Beatport has created a virtual monopoly for itself on the digital market, legendary record stores for physical product like Cologne's Kompakt or Hard Wax in Berlin have maintained a firm customer base thanks to their ability of successfully and satisfyingly sieving through the mass of available 12inches and albums – artists like René Pawlowitz (Shed) are still buying their music exclusively at a single shop.

It is certainly no coincidence that Pawlowitz, although not actually a resident in the true sense of the word, should be closely associated with the Berghain Club and its affiliated Ostgut Ton label. Like few other imprints, after all, the Berghain has made a name for itself by returning to the elements which made the genre so exciting in its early days without actually blindly copying the pioneers from Detroit and Chicago. Its entire philosophy centres around a return to the club as the key location for experiencing techno. The location defined the sound of the label. It delivered the artists for its roster and influenced their production decisions. It fulfilled the craving for a layer of „dirt“, of a physical sensation of being showered with noise, enveloped in swathes of dry ice and cigarette smoke, covered in sweat, physically exhausted but spiritually elevated. In up to ten hour long sets, which someone like co-founder Ben Klock would build around a mere two or three records, the vision of DJ sets as potentially endless, mind-altering flows of consciousness prevailed over concepts like curation and storytelling. At the Berghain, Techno was foremost loop-based music, coming to life through a constant muting and activating of tracks, a perpetual interdigitating of new rhythmic constellations resulting in tiny but powerful changes in accents, a form of repetition that was completely mechanical without ever yielding the same results twice. What made these tracks work was the realisation that, in its most successful moments, techno was ultimately a technique of first freezing the moment and then making it move on the spot.

With the Berghain's success and its transfiguration into a sacred space came the myths, which the owner's stubborn (or consequential, depending on your point of view) refusal to grant interviews would only serve to reinforce. If anything, Fünf is therefore not just a suitable and striking celebration of the venue's fifth anniversary – most ostensibly so on the luxurious and, just as an aside, still available 7x12inch vinyl edition of the package – but a sum and summary of its aesthetics. Within the abovementioned framework, the twentyfour artists on the compilation have arrived at strikingly different results, defying the common presumption of there being a clearly delineated Berghain-sound at all. Which is not to say that there aren't any impressive examples of producers playing with the element of space to be found here – Boris's „Rem“, an eight-minute, purely percussive assembly of reverb-heavy bassdrum poundings, cosmic staccato-stabs and droning clouds of bass resonance probably being the prime example here. And in its clear division into hypnotic techno-tracks and warm house ambiances, the compilation all but makes you feel like oscillating between the Berghain's electrifying main floor and the Panorama Bar.

But it is rather the diverse outreach of the album which attracts attention than its stylistic coherency: Marcel Dettmann's „Shelter“ is a sizzling and serpentining Dark Ambient texture and Murat Tepeli and Elif Bicer's „Holdon“ essentially a piece of Drum n Bass produced as a House tune. And while Len Faki's „Kraft und Licht“, a forever delayed buildup to a climax that never comes, straddles the line with futuristic Electro, Norman Nodge's „Start Up“, with its rattling and disintegrating beat skeletonism and ghostly Violin-glissandi, all but qualifies as experimental Sound Art – there's not a single dull moment to be found here. Even those compositions which cater more to expectations, such as Pawlowitz's nerve-wreckingly simple yet mind-bogglingly effective bleep-anthem „Boom Room“, which has already become the sampler's secret hit, are consistently imbued with an ear for detail and a sense of discrete but nonetheless highly palpable development.

What distinguishes the material from the current fad for nostalgia is its insistence on a well-defined, carefully refined arrangement. All of the artists here have found new and personal solutions to keep their productions interesting for repeat listens by finding new ways of relating the thematic material. Possibly the most convincing example of this approach is Steffi's „My Room“, which starts out with an extremely minimalistic motive of arctic breaths circumscribing the closely spaced interval of a second. As the construct unfolds, the same interval starts appearing in the track's funky bassline and a robotic counterpoint, always in just ever so slightly asynchronous positions, awarding the music an air of great inner correlation. Even in its overall construction, Fünf works as a programmatic work: Making use of a vast collection of field recordings collected on site during the daytime, it incorporates the spatial element that made the Berghain so famous in the first place and adds a narrative to the collection, as particularly striking sounds are being passed around from one piece to the next and appearing in various new and enticing contexts.

If there is a message to this celebratory release, then it is not that the Berghain can work wonders, but that it represents a still-fertile soil for a tightly-knit community of artists. Constantly creatively pollinating itself, while staying true to its convictions, it still far from reaching maturity or running out of ideas.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Ostgut Ton Recordings

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