The art of DJing has long been a synthesis of two skills: technical expertise and curation. The arrival of digital mixing possibilities has made the former an option rather than a necessity, but the importance of sequencing, reading a crowd and picking great tunes remains the measure of a good DJ. Given all this, it’s a shame that more of the dance world’s best DJs don’t put their time into releasing compilations.
German DJ Gerd Janson has made his name through his Running Back imprint and being a record-slinger. This is an increasingly rare feat in a world whose club scene initiates are now asked to be masters of both production and selection. Not content with sharing his curatorial skills one dancefloor at a time, three years ago Janson put out his first “Music For Autobahns” compilation, a compelling selection of cuts that explored the melodic possibilities of the dance scene.
Now he returns with another collection of cuts handpicked for a house-head road trip, taking in Kraftwerk-era electronics, ambient house and even synth pop. Here we have new talents exposed and old hands trying new tricks, and a compilation unafraid to explore colour and light in a scene so often stuck in monochrome.
The collection is inspired by trips along German highways, and in true road-trip mix-tape style the LP is varied, dreamy and propulsive. Roughly half of the cuts are variations on melodic, electro-indebted house, and here the more familiar names tend to shine brightest. It’s not that their tracks are technically better, but more that a handful of these producers are more adept at eliciting emotion from the melodies they weave.
Fort Romeau’s ‘Seleno’ snaps along with an Italo-disco bounce, as melancholic synths soar and ripple across the surface. Melody-maestro Orson Wells drops the 90s-indebted ‘Orbiting Jupiters‘, whose cheap reed synths are eaten away by a boiling acid line, the two later entwining in a bittersweet coda. Bicep drop the LP’s best club-track, the churning ‘Carmine‘, where an endlessly mutating synth line and tunnelling bass are counterpointed with a deft balance of muscle and patience.
Elsewhere similar styles are attempted ably but with a little less finesse. Conga Radio’s ‘168 North‘ is an upbeat house burner combining Nugroove synth washes and chiptune melodies, while Disco Nihilist’s ‘Melancholy‘ is saw-toothed construction of shimmering synths and a beetling bassline that doesn’t quite conjure its titular feeling. Lauer’s ‘Autofahrn’ is a moody retro cut with a Kraftwerk-esque vocoder, whose closeness to its inspiration makes it sound more parody than regeneration.
The other half of the long-player is occupied by more intriguing variations which range from good to excellent, the best being Leon Vynehall’s superb opener ‘Midnight On Rainbow Road‘ (his second cut referencing Nintendo). Here is a stunning slice of sound design, as a glittering motif plays out over subtle percussion and shifting ambience, evocative of rain-streaked windows at night and feelings more complex than your average musician can conjure. A rare Joy O track, which features in our Dekmantel x Warsteiner Sole Selector film, continues the relatively unshowy musical path he’s been walking recently in his work with Boddika, most notably TMTT. Here ‘A213‘ is restrained but impressive, with fluttering synth figures occasionally brought to the boil over a woody rhythm section.
Janson includes some stranger variations which still manage to fit the aesthetic snugly, such as Orlando Voorn’s spindly slice ‘Turn Left Here‘ or Running Back alum Shan’s ‘Awakening‘, who turns the mechanics of dub techno up to eleven, with a huge aqueous synth bounce and a glittering lead. Perhaps most unexpected of the lot is AKSK’s ‘Breaking‘ (produced by the chameleonic Suzanne Kraft), a cut of retro-leaning synth pop that proves particularly catchy over repeated spins.
On any compilation you’re bound to like some tracks more than others, but Janson has done a wonderful job eking gems from talents old and new, sticking to a strong core aesthetic while providing variation and style. He makes it look easy.
1. Conga Radio – 168 North
2. Leon Vynehall – Midnight On Rainbow Road
3. Joy Orbison – A213
4. AKSK – Breaking
5. Shan – Awakening
6. Bicep – Carmine
7. Fort Romeau – Seleno
8. Orson Wells – Orbiting Jupiters
9. Disco Nihilist – Melancholy
10. Lauer – Autofahrn