Now that the Kompakt label’s Total series has spun past its first decade, all colored dots on the covers and creme de la creme of the roster on the discs, you’d be forgiven for expecting a certain quality by default. The first five or so Totals were some of the most distinctive collections of the micro-house era, and if since then they’ve lost a bit of focus, that largely reflects the proliferating micro-genres endemic to modern techno. But expectations be damned: Total 11 is the series’ first serious backfire, a disappointing mess of half-baked ideas.
Things start well, with the minced vocals and heart-palpitating beats of DJ Koze’s “Der Wallach,” which reinforces his status as Kompakt’s loose cannon, the most genuinely experimental of their producers. New signing Jatoma’s “Helix” whirrs and splutters around an insistent, compulsive rhythm matrix, and Jürgen Paape’s “Mensch Und Maschine” is just that, grafting the buzzes of dot matrix printers and other technologies onto one of Paape’s most elegant mainframes yet. This opening trilogy makes for a very unexpected beginning, almost as though the label is returning to the strange, off-centre techno released in the mid ’90s under the Profan banner. Two seriously odd, hollowed-out tracks from Wolfgang Voigt, under his own name and his Sog alias respectively, lend credence to the theory. (It’s little surprise that Voigt recently resurrected Profan for his own productions.)
The rest of the disc is what you’ve come to expect from Kompakt, only less so. With 26 tracks to dial through, there’s a lot of chaff here, from the merely bland (Coma, Maxime Dangles, Robag Wruhme, Justus Köhncke) to the grim (Superpitcher’s inane “Lapdance,” Iggor Cavalera’s pompous drums on Gui Boratto’s “Plié,” and most heartbreakingly, a seriously underperforming Jörg Burger). At its limpest, Total 11 makes inflight muzak sound edgy — a kind of characterless, featureless techno that slinks unoffensively off into the distance. The feeble vocals of Popnoname and Gus Gus also reinforce a lingering suspicion that Kompakt artists simply don’t do singing very well, a strange thing for such a pop-focused roster.
Kompakt has long been the keeper of the flame, but 2010 sees it on rocky ground. Michael Mayer’s Immer 3 is a reliably beautiful mix disc, but other releases have breezed straight past me, and Total 11 brings me the closest I’ve been to slipping off the Kompakt radar. Beyond the usual complaints about double-disc collections — carve it down to one disc, keep it simple and short, don’t fill every nano-second — there’s something more going on here, some sense of ennui that has Kompakt behind the charge. It’s a sad moment.