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 (1988–1990), 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 compilations—exactly 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.