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V/A - Total 7

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Artist: V/A

Album: Total 7

Label: Kompakt

Review date: Oct. 2, 2006

As William Gibson once noted, the future is here, it's just not widely distributed. Total is more than a simple title for Koln minimal techno label Kompakt's compilations. There really is a totality about Kompakt - this seventh installment in the series seems to have taken an even bigger leap into pop's future than previous editions. What's most important about this leap is that it's happened without changing the sound of Kompakt at all.

A lot of thought has been taken in track order here, making Total 7's first disc feel like an actual full-length album. (That's an accomplisment, given that the vast majority of Kompakt's catalog is distributed as 12"s or MP3s via their excellent online store.) Whoever decided on the sequence realized that in order for people to begin accepting hours of minimal techno - unmixed, spread over 2 CDs, as it is here - they must first be acclimated to its values. The first disc takes its time winding up with Kontrast's "Grey Skies to Blue" and the Wighnomy Brothers' remix of Triola's "Leuchtturm." It's in these opening tracks that the structure of minimal techno reveals itself. If this compilation were to start out with a real club banger like The Modernist's "Pearly Spencer," it would leave the listener out in the cold when more contemplative, formulaic tracks came into view. The order reflects an effort to push beyond the audience that a white-label 12" would draw.

I place a lot of faith in the ability of Justus Kohncke and Michael Mayer (Kompakt's most promising hitmaker and co-founder, respectively) to do the heavy lifting and bring minimal techno to the masses (relatively speaking, of course). Kohncke exudes a future nostalgic mood on the slightly deviant "Love and Dancing" - there's enough reference to early '90s radio-vocal-dance-trance to make us young'ns remember KISS-FM's nationwide. Mayer's "Sweet Harmony" shuffles and bleeps along in a song that could have been written in less time than it takes to unfold. It's repetetive and you've heard it all before - two reasons you'll find yourself loving it. In fact, by the time Scsi-9's "When She Said Goodbye" rolls around, a sort of time warp comes into plain view - it's as if the Kompakt roster stopped listening to music in 1990, but kept up with new technology, their artistic goals aimed squarely at revamping simple electronic dance songs via present production standards.

DJ Koze brings the funk with a Screw'd vocal sample, harrowing percussion and just a hint of melody in "Getreide-Phunk," a technique he's been honing for quite some time. In the context of his peers, it sounds out of place. It's a moment that interrupts the flow of Total 7 slightly, a track that makes you sit up and take notice. To be sure, there are some fairly inconsequential tracks on Total 7's first disc. The Wighnomy Bros.' "Wombat," Gui Boratto's "Arquipelago," and even the generally-thought-of-as-mighty Superpitcher's "Tonite" evade the label's pop promise. But, just as the album's opening tracks served to accustom the listener, these tracks set up a contrast that will hopefully help casual listeners of the pop canon to realize they actually prefer some minimal techno songs to others - a nice first step in a genre that "all sounds the same."

The second disc unfortunately reverts to compilation mode. The run of tracks from Robert Babicz's "Sonntag" through a glut of well-meaning but similarly thin tracks like Steadycam's "Knock-Kneed," Jurgen Paape's "Take That," and Hug's "Happy Monster" gets a little stale, and will likely appeal exclusively to those already comfortable with Kompakt's sound. There are exceptions: The Field's "Over the Ice" recalls my favorite Kompakt release (the placid "Voices" from Japanese dreamweavers Pass Into Silence) jacked into overdrive - synth vocals become quick hits of ride cymbal and breathy inter-word formations take on bass tones that synergize with the kick drum. Wasserman's "In Tyrannis 2006" pits a spindly German voice trying earnestly to emote in soulful but clipped phrases that seem to stab in and out of existence against softly phrased and sometimes reversed Spanish guitar. The song title, sampling and subtle rhythmic innovation point to Kraftwerk in a way that the rest of Kompakt's body does not. Jonas Bering's "Melanie" makes for a sweet but slightly lackluster coda.

Regardless of the second disc's shortcomings, the machine that Total 7 represents is something to be reckoned with. Artists willfully sculpting their sounds to fit into a label is a concept that sounds alien in the context of modern pop. That Kompakt inspires artists to pre-empt their first-person inklings for the stability of the sound - whatever it may be - is genuinely frightening (in a soft, modern, arty, German, totalitarian sort of way), but I absolutely adore the concept.

By Trent Wolbe

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