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V/A - A 100 Years of Areal

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Artist: V/A

Album: A 100 Years of Areal

Label: Areal

Review date: Aug. 30, 2012

If you were looking for German electronic music that brought an element of whimsy and unpredictability to the dance floor a decade ago, Cologne’s Areal Records was your go-to imprint. Lodged somewhere between Kompakt’s self-serious IDM and Bpitch Control’s avant-pop leanings, Areal paired their cheeky techno and electro-pop with a distinctive cubist aesthetic (the handiwork of co-founder Sebastian Riedl, a.k.a. Basteroid) and nonsensical release write-ups fit for a Groupon (one such description for a Metope 12” begins, “Completely bereft of sense, Lansleg surrendered to the snorting and crunching of the mailcarriage”). The result was a distinctive label identity and a few key artists in the collective that, for a short while at least, promised a brighter, more fun way forward.

It’s been almost 12 years since Riedl co-founded Areal with Michael Schwanen (Metope) and Matthias Klein (a.k.a. Konfekt, Welt Zwei). The dance music landscape has changed considerably and the shift away from minimal has long since taken effect, but the label has retained its idiosyncratic cheekiness. Take the awkwardly named A 100 Years of Areal compilation you see here: Instead of a victory lap collecting past triumphs like Basteroid’s “Against Luftwiderstand” or Ada’s “Lovelace” (which they already did on the Bis Neunzehn comp in ‘04, by the way), artists with the label were asked to help contribute to this effort with a simple constraint: Use one of the samples they provided, taken from more than 200 songs in the label’s first 57 releases.

The results are surprisingly enjoyable and coherent for a label known to switch things up with no warning. Proceedings kick off with the only previously released song on the comp, Schleppstigg’s “Love” (the b-side to the “Spiral” 12”), a slinky cool-down vocal track acting as the warm-up here. The uptempo Hrdvision track “Show Steve a Wonderful Time” is a great transition and one of the comp’s best tracks, showcasing Hrdvision’s below-the-radar talents. Near whispers and all-out house singing weaves in and out of tracks like Undo’s “Love What You Do” and Andreas Henneberg’s “Sun of a Gun” as the album goes on.

While there’s no Ada on here — a surprising omission given her prominence as the virtual golden goose of the label around the time of Blondie — it turns out that she’s not really missed with the presence of known Areal quantities like Basteroid and Pan/Tone, friends of the label like Fairmont and John Spring, and newer names like Hrdvision and Frank Leicher. Varying widely enough to engage you as a listener but still retaining the essential Teutonic (mechanical) heart that binds the best electronic music to its origin, A 100 Years of Areal is a pleasant reminder of how we used to think things would turn out. Even now, nearly a dozen years later, in any club a melancholic thrill runs through it: Yes grandma, they can still buttertrance.

By Patrick Masterson

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