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Plastikman - Kompilation

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Artist: Plastikman

Album: Kompilation

Label: m_nus

Review date: Dec. 1, 2010

Plastikman is one of the only brand names in techno. Richie Hawtin’s project has a silly logo, an alternative, k-heavy orthography (“Spastik,” “Panikattack”), and relies almost exclusively on aceeid’s signature tools, the TB-303 and TR-909. With the Plastikman discography readily available through Hawtin’s own Minus label, it’s unclear why the career-spanning Kompilation exists — this is music that is both conceptually and physically available. While this release coincides with a 15-city Plastikman tour (“reinterpreting original Plastikman material using today’s technologies,” says my promo copy), viewing Kompilation as a promotional device alone is unsatisfying: it doesn’t do justice to the music.

What this compilation makes clear, however, is that the Plastikman pseudonym can be frustratingly uneven for the home listener. In context, inconsistency was a given: Hawtin had been making more melodic tracks as F.U.S.E. for years before he inaugurated Plastikman in 1993. Plastikman seemed intended as a lab for experimenting with techno’s plastic rules more than a clearinghouse for sweet jams. (Chemical experiments were part of the formal explorations, too: Sheet One, the first Plastikman LP, came with a sheet of blotter paper.)

The nine-minute drum programming barrage of “Spastik,” Kompilation’s second track after the deathless “Plasticine,” is a perfect example of this. It’s exciting to see how much music Hawtin can coax out of the 909, it’s interesting to consider its historical importance, and it’s fun to imagine how it could be mixed into a DJ set. But it’s also exhausting to sit down and just listen to it. It’s kind of a jock jam. Its relatively slow BPM was a reaction to the speed wars in the contemporary techno scene, but the mental programming between the beats is as much a show of brute strength as subtlety. The best Plastikman tracks (certainly, all the ones presented here) walk this line — between physical submission and the delirium of sustained concentration — to the point of blotting out the distinction. Hawtin needs some discipline in here.

Kompilation is made up of eight tracks, and the first six require this kind of asceticism. If you’re a dedicated futurist, you will probably love just how unrelenting they are, and how (…wait for it…) plastic they sound, as if they were recorded straight off the machines. There are some EQ flourishes and a short delay here and there, but there isn’t much of a sense of this being recorded music. The lack of studio meddling leaves a hygienic surface for Hawtin’s dissections. The last quarter represents what is for me — and probably many readers — the most interesting Plastikman period, where Hawtin starts incorporating depth and ambience. “Contain,” from Plastikman’s absolute classic masterpiece album Consumed, is the seventh track here and it signals the moment where you can start enjoying Kompilation passively. In a clever (and chronological) bit of sequencing, “Contain” marks a distinct break with the monomania of “Panikattack,” which takes the mnmlism of phase-one Plastikman to its claustrophobic breaking point. “Contain” may be ambient Plastikman, but it’s no less paranoid. The bass is surrounded by a fizzy corona of tape hiss borrowed from Basic Channel and there are distant clucking sounds that give an unaccustomed sense of depth. This textural bounty is kept in check by the careful manicuring — the measured adding and subtracting of a hi-hat or distant synth line — that’s at the center of the Plastikman project.

This can be a dry listen, but its qualities can justify the effort even if you have no truck with the era of techno militancy from which it stems. Some of the context that would have made these tracks more theoretically graspable — accessible for a non-dance audience — has inevitably been lost. On a “purely musical” level, the album is frequently interesting, but more often draining. It’s fascinating how, despite its rigor, Plastikman communicates a distinct feeling of desperation. I can’t tell if the music is apocalyptic or futuristic; it’s like Hawtin is racing against the clock to invent something radically new while personally unraveling.

His historical importance assured, we can see that, ultimately, Plastikman might have captured a certain kind of mania a little too well. Hawtin lives the contradictions of being a techno star, someone everyone knows but who is rarely cited as an influence. Kompilation probably won’t change that: Hawtin as Plastikman is masterful, but so warped that extended exposure will make you feel like you’re on the verge of dissolution.

By Brandon Bussolini

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