By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
I've always had an attraction to music produced in bulk, music that cares more about obeying genre rules than expressing individuality. So when I first read about techno back in high school (19881990), its anonymity was immediately appealing in theory. But exploring the genre properly would have required buying vast numbers of singles (plus a turntable), just so I could spend hours I didn't have making mix tapes of the stuff I wound up liking. Since I didn't have an informed guide to help me spend my money wisely, this was a daunting project on a Dunkin' Donuts cashier's wages.
So I stuck with album-oriented genres like jazz and metal. But in recent months, I have discovered the Total compilationsexactly what I've always wanted techno to be, uniform right down to their covers, and conveniently within my price range. I bought the most recent volume in the series, the double-disc Total 6, and enraptured, snapped up the five prior volumes less than a week later. More recently, I found Kompakt 100, another double CD, this one featuring remixes of 12-inch tracks by other label artists. All 107 tracks now make up a 10 1/2-hour iPod playlist I shuffle through, never listening to just one compilation from beginning to end. The parts aren't the point; the whole is.
Kompakt has a roster of about three dozen artists, and a very definite "house style." Beats are strong but not oppressive or even particularly dominant, which suits non-dancing me just fine. The synths are ultra-smooth, almost never noisy or glitchy. The tracks that stick out are the ones with vocals, and they're slightly disappointing: a cover of Brian Eno's "Baby's On Fire" that simply repeats the first two lines over and over for five minutes, a cover of Kylie Minogue's impossible-to-improve cyborg love-dance "Slow." But the best of this music could soundtrack a Michael Mann movie about men who crack safes and drive empty, rain-slick freeways in black BMWs with tinted windows, not talking.
Or you could play it in an all-white apartment as nanobots eat the dust off the furniture. A friend who knows more about electronic music than I ever will (makes his own, in fact) scoffs at my enthusiasm, calling Kompakt product "Ikea techno." But that's the point. I want mass production and predictability. In this era of micro-niche indie labels, Kompakt rewards brand loyalty more than most.