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V.A.: Dial - 2010

img  Tobias Fischer

Somewhere near Hamburg's infamous Reeperbahn, there's a store called Smallville Records. Many recommend its minimal, yet exquisite selection of 12inch-Vinyl and its equally tasteful, eponymous in-house label. Others enjoy the art-aspect of the shop, which designs its own line of t-shirts with naive imagery. Most of all, however, Smallville has served as the barycentre of probably the city's most enigmatic and widely praised outfit for ambitious contemporary House and associated genres, Dial. For ten years, the brainchild of electronic producer Peter M. Kersten (aka Lawrence) and visual artist David Lieske has remained reluctantly relevant, achieving recognition on an international scale through what has been called „rediculous quality control“ rather than expensive marketing campaigns. Intriguingly, as visitors to the store will readily testify, it checks all the boxes on the sympathy scale: Despite its undeniably stellar profile, Dial has essentially remained a family enterprise throughout the years, which is still just as much guided by the enthusiasm and empathy of its founders as it was at the time of its first release.

Today, Dial has established an immediately recognisable musical vocabulary, a striking graphic language and a diverse yet coherent artist roster. Deep House has usually been the term to describe the label's sonic artifacts, but as „2010“ demonstrates, it has either long outgrown the genre's inherent borders or continually pushed them further North. Partly, this is the result of opening up to Singer/Songwriter-style-structures. Almost entirely out of the blue, Dial has turned into the new imprint of choice for acts like Phantom Ghost – a solo project by local Indie-Rock-hero Dirk van Lotzow of Tocotronic-fame – and, in 2005, published Dominique's „Speak to Me“, a work of endearing Pop-dimensions, which would not sell many copies as Kersten openly admitted in a recent interview for Resident Advisor, but „enchanted people so much“ that those who bought it will „love it forever“. More importantly, though, the founders and their community of friends and fellow producers have struck a nerve within the very synaptic cortex of dance music, setting free a flood of ecstatic neurotransmitters triggering visions of dark romance, bittersweet nostalgia and enchanting regret.

You can hear this philosophy in action on almost all of the tracks assembled here. Efdemin's „Time“ marches sluggishly through a land of grinding hihats, resonant echo-chamber-drum-machine-basses and deep, billowing pads, while Rndm's „No Beginning“ consists of nothing but a simple percussive loop enriched by vocal snippets and a truncated Trumpet-motive. Lawrence's „Treacle Mine“, meanwhile, is a fugently radiating figment of Jazz and House culled from a passionate wet dream, its trickily interwoven Piano clusters gently shifting in metrum, as pearly tones carefully placed on top create concentric circles of harmony like pebbles in a pond. There's more of an electronic Funk feeling to the contribution of probably the label's biggest star, Pantha du Prince, whose „Fountain Drive“ has the kind of succulent groove that will make you nod your head and snap your fingers and Ohio-born, Berlin-based John Roberts demonstrates why his upcoming full-length is generally regarded as one of the most exciting events of this year: Cinematic and sexy, „Lines“ straddles melodic poetry and physical lyricism, all wrapped up in a continuously surprising arrangement revealing its secrets with poignant slowness and lasciviousness.

While these pieces are still closely tied to accessible House-paradigms, other cuts take the immersive, detached sensuality of the music one step further. Christian Naujok and Carsten Jost's tracks are long, immobile bliss-scapes filled with warm, potentially infinite chord progressions and mysterious bleeps and micro-clicks. It is in these tracks, which at times reference early Warp'ean Acid-Ambient and are no longer tied to the typical DJ-elements and dynamic developments of dance music, that Dial taps into a timeless cosmos entirely its own. This is wilful, headstrong, dauntlessly individual and occasionally almost narcissistic music that cares little for the rules of the game and chooses to pursue its own way regardless of what anyone may think. And yet, within the context of this compilation, they are elevated to the status of highlights, fitting in like entirely natural and even essential pieces of the puzzle.

Secretly tucked away on Dial's sixth release, there's a bizarre Karaoke version of „How Deep is Your Love“, with the 14 year-old cousin of a Korean friend singing on top of the original. With many records, it would seem like a bad joke. But with this label, one can't help caring for them even more.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Dial Records

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