Flying under the radar of his more illustrious namesake, Marcel Fengler has been quietly carving out his own niche in the Ostgut Ton canon as a DJ who warrants making the pilgrimage to Berghain in his own right. Now with a debut album to his own name, he recently described the inception of Fokus in an interview with IA as being ‘very important… to find out what I wanted to express in the album and how it should feel… this process started much earlier than the production period itself’.
Fokus kicks off with a series of convulsions on ‘Break Through’ that gradually melt away into a reverb-laden backdrop that for better or worse elicits a similarly rainforest-soaked atmosphere as in James Cameron’s Avatar. This is gutsy production straight from the off; a mission statement boldly declaring that this is Fengler, this is Fokus, now focus.
The synth-heavy beginning continues on ‘Mayria’, with Fengler once again aiming for the epic with the introduction of vocal samples, maintaining the cinematic air of the opening. But, hey, this is a techno album so how about some crackling snares to get those legs moving? Fengler duly obliges and then some, offering up a texturally complex palate of blisteringly dark low-end, offset by melodic synths on top.
Sticking ambience in amongst beat-driven tracks can sometimes be seen as a cheap palette cleanser, but here in Fengler’s hands, following track ‘Distant Episode’ and album closer ‘Liquid Torso’ play out as minimal works of beauty without seeming heavy handed or deliberately employed so as to evoke ‘spaciousness’ or ‘gravitas’. He further displays a lightness of touch on ‘Trespass’ that revels in its arpeggiaic structure, whilst showcasing a real dexterity and understanding for how to build up and release over the space of five minutes.
This being a techno record after all, Fengler does let rip early on with the aptly titled ‘The Stampede’. An example of effortlessly produced classic big room techno, these moments don’t appear out of context, rather, they add colour and depth to Fokus, providing a pleasant juxtaposition to the relative calmness before it. Fengler’s gaze again reverts to the dancefloor on ‘Jaz’, the most successful track on Fokus from a purely aesthetic perspective. It settles on a rhythmic groove that is both propulsive and relaxing, an expertly built banger with buckets of heart and soul. As such, it comes as little surprise to discover that this track is in fact named after Fengler’s girlfriend, Jasmine.
This is backed up immediately with the similarly shuffling ‘King of Psi’ that incorporates powerful kick drums into the equation, but still with Fengler’s characteristically glittery jingles laid on top. Melancholic techno at its best. With the throbbing bass now in full flow, ‘Sky Pushing’ continues the narrative journey, a hypnotic number that Fengler himself as described as having ‘a deep and moody feeling one end, but also very progressive’.
Whether Fengler was at pains to differentiate himself from the pounding long players of Dettmann and Klock is open to interpretation. Be that as it may, after just one listen to Fokus it is clear that this is the work of a skilled producer; an intelligently written journey that seamlessly marries technical ability with palpable emotion. We knew he had the ability as a masterful tastemaker from his Berghain 05 mix, but now it seems like Fengler is finally stepping out of the shadows of the Berghain poster boys that have inadvertently hidden this gem for so long.
1. Break Through
3. The Stampede
5. Distant Episode
7. King Of Psi
8. Sky Pushing
9. High Falls
11. Liquid Torso