For almost twenty years, the combination Cologne, Kompakt and August meant an anticipated club night to release a new Kompakt Total. The compilation manifested itself as one of the best overviews of the latest developments in the more mellow side of sophisticated house and techno in just a few years. Or, to be more precise, microhouse.
If I am not mistaken, the term microhouse was introduced by Philip Sherburne in an article about the new sound of Cologne in an issue of The Wire magazine in 2001. I never heard them use the term in my numerous talks with Kompakt founders and owners Wolfgang Voigt, Michael Mayer and Jörg Burger. For them, the Kompakt record label has a distinct sound that doesn't necessarily need to be labeled. It's just the sound of Kompakt.
Cologne and I have a strong connection. I lived there for a couple of years, and I still prefer it over Berlin, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, other cities I lived in with great pleasure. There is nothing that beats a low October sun in one of the beautiful streets of the Belgischer Viertel, one of the nicest neighborhoods in the city. For me, the Kompakt sound is the sound of Cologne. Also if it is made by people that live outside the city. I could give a description like that it is minimal but with microelements that are constantly changing, that it is introvert and extravert at the same time, slightly melancholic and anticipating on a climax that never comes. And there is always that pop(py) element.
But that description isn't even close. You have to experience yourself. In Cologne, during a sunny day in late October. The new edition, number 21 already, of Kompakt Total is the perfect soundtrack. Especially Rubag Wruhme's 'No', Michael Mayer's 'Happy' and John Tejada's 'Spectral Progression'. It is impressive how Kompakt brings together so many excellent tracks each year without repeating itself and making it easy to define a specific genre.
The contributions sound alike but also totally different. The sophisticated, introverted sound of The Bionaut's 'Blue Sky Motor Lodge' and dark electro-pop of Captain Mustache's 'Everything' have nothing in common. At least, genre-like. But there is that mood or feel that can't be put into words. In an interview I did with Hans Nieswandt in 2013, he talked about the ability of Kompakt to constantly reinvent itself. He told me: "It [Kompakt] still breathes that 90s spirit of doing things together, believing in a positive future, creating something that will change the world". You can read the whole interview - part of my article about 10 years of Kompakt - over here at The Quietus.
Most tracks on this 21st edition haven't been released before. There are exceptions. The lush breakbeat of John Tejada's 'Spectral Progression' is also on his album Year of the Living Dead that he released earlier this year on the Cologne label. 'No' by Robert Wruhme came out this summer as a-side of a 12inch on Speicher, a sub-label of Kompakt. Although Wruhme lives in Berlin, if I am not mistaken, the track embodies the essence of the Cologne sound: playful, introverted, poppy, and uplifting. 'Frontex Frappant' is more profound and has this techno vibe.
Kompakt boss Michael Mayer - I am sure he will never leave Köln - is also present on Total 21 with the uplifting techno track 'Happy'. He also released a new EP 'Brainwave Technology' this Friday that is less dancefloor-oriented. Inspired by Richard David Precht, a German philosopher, he explores the ideas of trans and posthumanism. In a typical Mayer-way: with a bit of irony. He uses samples of people talking about communication with brainwaves, influences from science fiction soundtracks, and interpretations of failing technology. After 20 years, Mayer is still going strong.
Tell me about your relationship with Kompakt and Cologne.
Kompakt Total 21 will soon be available on Bandcamp and other streaming platforms.
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