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V/A - Total 6

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Artist: V/A

Album: Total 6

Label: Kompakt

Review date: Aug. 29, 2005

How much rhetorical weight bears down on a Kompakt Total compilation in 2005? Remember the weeping and flailing of the hands when people realised there would be no Total in 2004? Never mind that we were spoiled by two thirds of the Kompakt 100 remix marathon, Kompakt fans want the hits. Total compilations are loaded with significance, over-determined by the weight of expectation. 2003’s Total 5 had many of us Kompakt fanatics retroactively claiming said year as one of Kompakt’s weakest, all on the back of a compilation which inadequately represented the label’s best releases from the previous twelve months.

On Total 6 Kompakt maintains its form but stops short at stretching its limbs. Kompakt may be all about cross-referencing dance music – bringing pop, techno, house, trance ambient, etc. under the one banner – but the label is consistently warding off two key threats. The first is its occasional tendency to homogenise the above forms into one slightly gray lump. Granted, it is usually lump of a finer mettle than most, but sometimes you sympathize with Kompakt naysayers who dismiss the label’s output as middling, polite tech-house. The other threat is the kind of tiredness and ossification that comes with being the central port of call for a particular genre or scene. Kompakt’s ‘ownership’ of German dance music, via its label, distribution and promotional channels, is so complete it is hard to breathe under the sheer weight of Kompaktification.

That’s the bad news out of the way. If Total 6 doesn’t point in new directions, it doesn’t rest on its laurels or move ass-backwards, and it performs a more than adequate service of collecting 2004-5’s core Kompakt moments and motifs. The MFA’s “The Difference It Makes” skirls neo-trance texture like treacle spilling from its can. Superpitcher’s “Tell Me About It” loops an Aaliyah sigh into an understated structure for pegged, woozy pianos; the song slowly exhales with the smoky fuzziness that Aksel Schaufler has trademarked. Sometimes, the ‘same old’ is just enough: Kaito’s “Hundred Million Lightyears” is reliable, giddy-headed trance rush of superior stripe.

The ex-Closer Musik team almost owns the second disc. Matias Aguayo has one of those voices that smells of tobacco and sex (pretty much in that order) and his meta-cover of Kylie Minogue’s “Slow,” mapped over a remix of Michael Mayer’s “Lovefood,” is as stentorian as you could imagine. Aguayo’s voice hedges its bets, its emotional tenor somewhere between boredom, come-on and S&M; it is perfect for the track. But even this is eclipsed by Dirk Leyers’ “Wellen”; as emotionally evacuating as Carl Craig’s peak-period productions, its lights-through-the- firmament melodies and choral coils of serpentine sound are gorgeous, like a night-sky shot through a Vaseline-smeared lens. (With Leyers, the sex content has shifted from the grain of the sound to the artist name; try telling me that’s not the artist’s porn handle…)

The surprises may be few, but they are illuminating. I may be alone in hearing the wonderland enchantment of Severed Heads’ more ‘pop’ side in Thomas Fehlmann’s “Schöne Grüsse,” but I’m surely not the only person who will both cringe and grin through Michael Mayer’s mix of Baxendale’s “I Built This City,” where acclimatizing yourself to the vocalist’s fey English colloquialism cracks the shell of the song, the better to reach the rush of fever that’s held in the kernel. Jonas Bering’s “Glass” is the real surprise, the track flashing with such light-glare that it is almost impossible to keep your ears focused on its rich, glassine textures.

Total 6 is very good; it’s consistent; it does the job. Sometimes I worry that’s not enough for a Kompakt compilation (Total 4, for example, shocked me for its sheer pop-ness, I was surprised at how it all sounded bundled up on one disc), but Kompakt are still one of the finest labels of their kind. When are they going to see some serious challenge? I would almost prefer they were knocked off their pedestal a little and made to sweat under the disco ball.

By Jon Dale

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