Of all the people who find themselves drawn to extreme music – be that an extremity of tempo, distortion, atonality, lyrical profanity or whatever else – those who maintain this attraction as the years roll by and become decades are in the minority. Not a tiny minority, granted, but there’s something pretty ingrained about the image of the twentysomething metalhead fluking himself a girlfriend, sinking into marriage and breeding, and eventually squirreling away all his Slayer shirts and throwing on a Neil Young album every few Sundays if he’s lucky. Isn’t there? From whiplash to whipped, you might say. Basically, most people find it hard to maintain a lifestyle based round a subculture and/or genre of music, because life gets in the way.
This isn’t exactly what happened to Berlin-based DJ/producer Sascha Ring aka Apparat, going on his brief sleevenotes for his first DJ-Kicks mix album, but he seems to have suffered the related ailments of burnout and ennui. 'Back in the day,' he writes, 'my sets were hard and nasty. They were a fitting soundtrack to the raves we played in old Russian bunkers and desolated [sic] industrial spaces … following a move to Berlin I started to become more interested in Steve Reich, Cocteau Twins or Christian Fennesz rather than the latest Robert Hood record.' Of the 24 tracks featured on this CD, none of the aforementioned appear, but the influence of each is traceable – Hood included, in the exposed-frame techno pulse of Vincent Markowski’s ‘The Madness Of Moths’. Overall, though, Ring expresses little interest in unleashing bangers: as is the nature of the DJ-Kicks series, it appears to be designed with home listening in mind.
To this end, the scattering of techno-soaked dubstep, glassy IDM and glitchy austerity that comprises most of the tracks is a success. For the casual dabbler in these loosely defined forms, DJ-Kicks ought to have ample replay value. For confirmed fans of Apparat’s productions, too – his myriad releases on the 'amazingly named' Shitkatapult label, which he runs with schaffel techno pack-leader T Raumschmiere, and his fêted collaborations with Ellen Allien and Modeseleketor – there’s bounty from track one onwards. ‘Circles’, exclusive to this release (as are two others, ‘Interlude’ and the blissful ‘Sayulita’), sees Ring shepherding bells-and-vocals psychedelic folk into a field of proto-trance looping, before ‘Rushed’, an early-Nineties keeper by Carl Craig as 69, drops its beat and scythes the corn.
That’s fairly emblematic of the general blending going on throughout DJ-Kicks, in fact: consistent attempts to forge links between, say, Scorn (formed as a post-Napalm Death heavy dub project) and Born Ruffians (an indie band who appeared in Skins). This is done by employing remixes, by Autechre and Four Tet respectively, but let me have my casual amusement in the juxtaposition. (Also, the outsized pillar of MBV-ish noise that rises in the middle of Four Tet’s remix is thrilling, and would probably soundtrack an old Russian bunker rather well.) The Vincent Markowski track mentioned previously follows ‘Moth’, last year’s one-off collaboration between Four Tet and Burial; only Ring can say if this is chiefly because of their titles’ commonality. Ramadanman’s Basic Channel-fashioned, pingponging deep-diver ‘Tempest’ fades to almost nothing, clearing the lanes for ‘Harrowdown Hill’, Thom Yorke’s excoriation of the David Kelly affair. This transition rankles more than the others: I don’t find Yorke’s voice disagreeable, just requiring of context, and after a dub-techno workout shorn of humanity (in the best way) it seems arid and grey.
It also hints at an issue germane to the modern mix album – what precisely Ring can do with a stack of other people’s songs to make prospective buyers pluck it from an infinite world of sounds. ‘Harrowdown Hill’, while perhaps not a mix-album staple, is pretty well-worn at this point, as is ‘Moth’, while Joy Orbison’s ‘The Shrew Would Have Cushioned The Blow’ has the inverse problem of being overly familiar so close to its release date. The three new Apparat tracks, plus an unreleased effort by Telefon Tel Aviv, help his case, as does the fact that DJ-Kicks is fundamentally pleasing to the ear and the work of a man unwilling to let complacency strike in his thirties. On their own, though, good intentions never rocked a party, even a dinner party.
6Noel Gardner's Score