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V/A - Total 4

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Artist: V/A

Album: Total 4

Label: Kompakt

Review date: Sep. 12, 2002

The Kompakt Total series may be the most consistently brilliant set of compilations available today. Quite the claim to be sure, but consider the origins. Kompakt has quickly (est. 1998) established itself as the archetypal German techno label. Wolfgang Voigt (a.k.a. Gas, Mike Ink), purveyor of avant-techno stylings throughout Germany and brainchild of Studio 1 Records, helps oversee the label. After a decade behind the decks, his stamp on house music’s progression from mindless disco retread to cerebral jigsaw puzzle cannot be overstated. Voigt prefers to record under a number of monikers, and that same eccentricity permeates his music; sublimating between hard house beats and ambient emissions, Voigt and his music refuse to be categorized in any strict sense.

Back to Total’s brilliance. Kompakt’s primary vessel of groove is the 12”. Last checked, there are upwards of 60 12” available through the Cologne label/record shop. In 1999, Voigt or M.Mayer or possibly Olaf Dettinger (I’m not quite sure) selected the hottest tracks of the last year and compiled them onto both a compact disc and a double LP (the formats differ by a couple exclusive tracks) entitled Total 1. There have been four Totals thus far (1999-2002) and each one serves as a barometer of both the label Kompakt and the 4/4 movement as a whole.

Label compilations have justifiably earned a seedy reputation over the years. Most have to be given away or sold for some discounted price to account for the six or seven duds that always seem to comprise the crux of the collection. Kompakt avoids this dilemma by literally assembling the best songs of the past year, with a few exclusives thrown in. Total is not a sampler by any means – it’s the real thing. Not Panda. Not Bava. This is Choco from the Hartz Mountains of Germany and it’s a fucking madman.

Total 4 is (obviously) the fourth installment in the series and is an excellent strait into Kompakt’s ocean of sound. Thomas Fehlmann kicks off the record with “Making It Whistle,” a bouncing mélange of dubbed-up synths anchored by an unswerving bass-line. Fehlmann has a long history with The Orb and it’s evident on this track; the pogo-stick of “Toxygene” combined with the subtlety of “Asylum”.

Jürgen Paape’s “Mit Dir” (or “With You” translated) shifts the course slightly, keeping with the compilation’s 4/4 prerequisite, but opting out of the opium den for some late-night leisure with your lady of choice. A German woman croons something sexy while drunken strings add candlelight appeal to the 1-and-3-and shag carpeting.

The dub hits the fan next on Jonas Bering’s “Marine”, Total 4’s most apparent ode to fellow Kraut labels Chain Reaction and Basic Channel. Bering, a Frenchman doused in Cologne, bears a striking resemblance to Monolake, with the BPM tweaked up a smidge. The track chugs along with predictable persistence, but never become tedious. Clicks and buzzes help keep the dub company under the sea.

Perhaps the most notorious on Total 4 is Superpitcher’s cover of Brian Eno’s “Baby’s on Fire.” It’s essentially a pop song – a syncopated synthesizer, synthetic hand claps and a looped rhyme-scheme, in this case: “Baby’s on fire / better throw her in the water.” Depending on your point of view, “Baby’s on Fire” is either genius or novelty. Either way, it’s guaranteed to please for at least a couple of spins.

The absolute apex of Total 4 is M.Mayer’s “Falling Hands”. No track this year comes close to this Mayer masterpiece. The ascending melody of the bass line melds with EQ’d jet engines from heaven, and then the vocals hit. “Falling in love” looped over strong four-to-the-floor splendor, tied together with sustained strings would have been enough, but Mayer mixes in another incredibly sexy vocal loop and an entirely different melody taking this house track to places most “songs” can only dream of going. Words simply don’t do “Falling Hands” any justice whatsoever.

This is merely Total 4’s first five songs. A closer examination of the album could be conducted, but a wiser, more fulfilling action would be to simply pick up Total 4 and listen yourself. Wolfgang and Reinhard Voigt collaborate on “Roxy”, a perfect title for the song. Jörg Burger (a.k.a. The Modernist) appears later as Autobianchi performing the top 40 potential “All Around (Everybody’s Kissing)”. Closer Musik concludes the album with descending snowflakes of sound melting on a hot floor of micro-beats called “Maria”.

The scariest aspect of Total 4 is that it’s just another day in the life of Kompakt. This brilliance is routine for them. It must be terrifying just getting out of bed in the morning with standards this high, but the boys in Cologne are brave, ambitious souls. The artists on Total 4 take a blowtorch to modern dance music, melt it down and then use the warped remains to shape the soundtrack to tomorrow’s parties. So be careful…this shit is hot.

By Otis Hart

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