03/14/2005: "ewan pearson and dj koze."
I found producer/remixer extraordinaire Ewan Pearson's blog through Phil Sherburne's blog. Go read!
Pearson pushes a lot of my buttons here, like the jaw-dropping awesomeness of Ostgut/Berghain/Panoramabar in Berlin; a Tiga remix of a mystery Tomas Andersson track on Bpitch that Pearson surmises will reach "Rocker"-like dancefloor smash status (I'm almost certain the track in question is from his new release 'Festivities', and yes it smokes if it's the tune I'm thinking of; it's the same three-note hard-fried synth riff that loops over and over before ascending into ass-kicking overdriven Vitalic-style heights, and then it repeats the synth line one or two octaves higher, sounding cartoonishly high-pitched and tinny and almost unbearably mental, over pounding drums that sound like they're playing hopscotch); and the brilliance of DJ Koze, who Pearson writes is "hands down the best living DJ in Germany at the moment, no contest."
I'd been meaning to write about Koze and why he continually intrigues me for a while. I don't know if he's hands down the best living DJ in Germany given the blazin' strength of the competition, but good lord was he ever great when I saw him in Cologne last summer. Here's his deal: the dude hails from Hamburg, not Cologne, and his background is not in minimal techno at all, but in hip-hop. A top-10 charting German hip-hop act even, via his group Fischmob! (My friend Tobias told me that the host of Pimp my Fahrrad ("Pimp my Bicycle") on German MTV -- the goofy rapper Bo -- cut a record with Koze once.)
The story I heard when I interviewed Michael Mayer (check it out--blogs with real reporting in 'em!) was that Mayer and Koze met at a party. Hip-hop star Koze came up to Mayer and confessed a love for Kompakt, said he'd been spinning a lot of minimal techno, and that he'd been caning a lot of--get this--Dettinger! Koze said he was working on some tracks that would never work for the big major label he was on for hip-hop; would Kompakt be interested, by any chance? Mayer and Koze became good friends, Koze sent some tracks, they were hot, and hey presto. Now Koze is owning the scene. He's even doing ambient tracks! And they're pretty good, too! (I managed to sneak in a line about "former German hip-hop star DJ Koze" into my Wire review of Pop Ambient 2005, which thankfully wasn't cut!) If you've ever seen Koze spin, he doesn't do the usual polite-techno-DJ quietly maneuvering behind the decks thing; he kind of swaggers over his decks in a hip-hop stylee.
His weird history and his hotness as a DJ aside, Koze intrigues me first and foremost as a producer. Take my absolute favorite techno track from last year, "Brutalga Square," which I ranked #5 in my top 10 singles of the year in Pazz 'n Jop, but now that I think about it, it should've been #1. If you put the production of Koze's tracks side by side with the smooth, high-gloss productions of his Kompakt labelmates, something just sounds awry, slightly off. Koze's productions sound and feel ragged; they're packed to bursting with ideas, but the seams show. If you were teaching "Producing Techno Tracks 101" or something at a school (not such a far-off idea, that--tomorrow I'll be at Wayne Marshall's crazy dance music class at Harvard!), you would probably not hold up Koze as an example of what to do. But that's exactly why his music sounds so unique, why it bristles in all the right ways.
I've heard "Brutalga Square" in a variety of different contexts now, but my favorite has to be on headphones, standing on a beach in the middle of winter, wandering through cool white sand and feeling like I could see the track play through the ice-cold ocean water. Have you ever been so knocked out by a track that you think--totally sober, I might add--that you've had a religious experience? For some people it's Basic Channel, or that first time they ever heard jungle, or hardcore, or whatever. "Brutalga Square" sounds like absolutely nothing and like everything in the world all at once. It starts with just a bare th-th-th-thump, th-th-thump that rattles your ribcage before a series of progressively eerie twittering sounds, what sounds like bells, tiny cymbals, and lord knows what else make their appearances. There's no big, fat synth riff, no slam-you-over-the-head Jake Fairley or Alter Ego or Tiefschwarz-style rockin'. Is this it? It's just one note! There's a wavering 'nnnrrrr' sound that you can barely hear in the background, like the distant blare of a TV, or a bunch of bugs swarming in the yard, that slowly gets louder and louder. Then the bass hits - whomp! - and you snap out of your trance like that, like you've been blissfully asleep and someone just poured freezing water on your head and is screaming "Wake up! Wake up!" Every part of the track shows its seams; none of it is slicked down. It's like Koze is racing through so many ideas in his head he barely has time to write them all down. He's unafraid to throw live FX into the mix, the ones DJs use on the floor but rarely throw into their tracks the way he does.
But that doesn't mean it sounds perfunctory; "Brutalga Square" is a masterwork of slow tension-building. I've listened to it about a hundred times now, and I've never once gotten bored of it. I don't think I ever will.