The problem for a dance music producer used to churning out a steady stream of stacatto releases is how to make an LP that feels more than just a compilation. In many cases, erstwhile dancefloor-focussed artists get round the problem by eschewing the functionalism of their established work almost completely: for two disparate, successful examples, witness prog pioneer Sasha’s celestial introspection on Airdrawndagger, or the schizoid, mutated brilliance of James Holden’s The Idiots Are Winning. Not so here: pre-eminent promulgator of “post-minimal” techno and Ostgut/Berghain doyen Marcel Dettmann’s first LP is – categorically – a techno album.
Whether it succeeds as such is another question. The filmic panorama and deep marine depth charges on ambient opener “Quasi” are promising, exactly the kind of introduction that suggest a story is set to be unfurled. Similarly, following track “Argon” continues to point towards some overarching narrative with 3 minutes of irregularly percussive, compelling experimentalism, but from there, Dettmann promptly reverts to his (prolific and successful) oeuvre.
Problem is, tracks such as “Screen”, “Motive”, “Reticie” and “Silex” all clock in around the 6 minute mark and share a fundamental sonic signature with most of Dettman’s output since 2007: swathes of claustrophobic static; sinister reverberant synth textures; chewy filtered percussion; and that low frequency subduction zone melding sub bass and drum into one monstrously subsonic whole. Similarly, the maximal reliance on repetition and careful modulation of constituent parts remain the modus operandi, but within the format of a long player, the mind starts to wander. “Captivate” is better, getting much closer to the energy and insistence of high grade late-90s Tresor – clearly a major inspiration to Dettman et al – with it’s memorable, hollow stabbed-synth hook and jittery, jutting, unforgiving percussion.
As is often the way, the album’s best moments come when Dettmann reminds us of his full tonal range; significantly wider, as it turns out, than just the last two years’ output on Hardwax-affiliated techno labels. “Drawing” lures and deceives with mournful, chiming piano chords and tape reel noise, “Home” offers a dubstepping 808 beneath the swirling radioactive textures of a Roswell ’47 field recording, while “Viscous” throws up gloopy & chorussed synth guitar, a crunchy rock kick drum and and, as usual, more wide-angled static than a battery of broken radios in an echo chamber.
How to sum Dettmann up, then? On the one hand, the unwillingness to deviate from his sonic template – or to make this a Pyrrhic exercise in somehow proving his musical erudition – should be heartily commended. And of course, despite the format , this is still a collection of tracks designed for Berghain’s hedonistic dancefloor as much as any other listening environment. Nevertheless, it is here today, offered as a coherent artistic statement, so must be judged accordingly.
Part of the singular reverence held towards Ricardo Villalobos stems from the reputation of both his long players – 2004’s Thé Au Harem d’Archimède, and 2007’s Alcachofa. Both are so unfathomly brilliant because, quite simply, they prove that Villalobos’ deeply musical, non-programmatic approach to dance music is cruelly restricted and truncated by the single/EP format; whereas, for lesser producers, it is both the ceiling above, and safety net below, their creative scope. Perhaps, then, the album format separates the man from the boy: or rather, the musical artist from the merely expert and prolific producer.