Before chillwave became the laughing stock of the critical community, there was chillout music. Apparently, music listeners must be disavowed of any tendency to “chill” at any time and be kept in a state of constant urgency, using music as a switch-on, a pacemaker and defibrillator to ensure that one still has a pulse. Chillout, though, actually arose out of the need to slow the heart rate. Promoters soon realized that jacked-up ravers with chemical cocktail veins threatening to burst needed a place to sit and relax amidst their marathon sessions of non-stop neurotic cabaret. Thus, the chillout room was born of necessity, but it initially survived because its sonics were interesting enough to rival the thumping beats coming from next door.
Chillout as a style encompasses quite a bit. In fact, it’s pretty much anything that slugs in under a club BPM. We’re now 20 years post both The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Underworld and Massive Attack’s Blue Lines (and, yes, 16 fucking years past the inception of G-Stone Recordings), and chillout and its trip-hop derivative downtempo still linger, sometimes odiously though occasionally pleasantly, in hip restaurants and on sleek soundtracks. Its multiculturalist disposition has resulted in an awful lot of globalized drek with hip-hop beats, but at its best it can compete with the villages its pillages and the crates it filches. If downtempo’s biggest vice is its desire, nay its intrinsic lust, to sound not only chill but cool, Austrian imprint G-Stone is one of the only labels that makes that endeavor sound like an existential inquiry rather than a desperate PR Junket. Because after 16 fucking years, there’s nothing about G-Stone’s 13 fucking new tracks (the first of the two discs of this compilation) that couldn’t have been released in 1994, which is not to say that the songs sounds either dated or similar. The artists of G-Stone are just comfortable in their own skin, and that fact makes their coolness almost second nature.
With that said, the G-Stone roster’s cool confidence on Sixteen F**king Years makes them at times aloof to their occasional inconsequentiality. Christian Prommers Drumlesson’s “High Noon”, for instance, teeters on muzak, lacking even chillout levels of tension to merit its title. DJ DSL’s “Happy Bear” is the exact opposite. Excessive and goofy, its cartoon sound effects and piano recital flourishes are so kitsch it could make Luke Vibert’s stomach turn. Its prototype seems to be Perrey and Kingsley (the staccato robo-vocals even spell out an interpolation of Hot Butter’s “Popcorn”), but lacks the whimsy and restraint that made those two lasting novelty darlings.
Another major criticism of this collection is the over-reliance on vocals. Vocals in downtempo music are both a gamble and a safety. They ensure a larger, less boutique, listening audience in all of those out there who don’t see the point of an album without singing. Yet, by featuring so prominently in such a subtle artform, vocals always run the risk of overshadowing or failing to live up to the top-notch production underneath.
Marsmobil’s “Magnetizing” is often just as its title advertises, albeit a bit derivative of Talkie Walkie-era Air in its cosmic aerations, jazz flute, and strummed guitars. So it’s easy to ignore the whispy vocals, which is good, because the asinine verses feature some pretty dismal slant rhymes (“girl”/”tell”, “inside”/”blind”). DJ DSL featuring Urbs contribute the new track “Oaschloch”, whose adequate early ‘90s Prince Paul-style production undercuts some rapping which likely wouldn’t be any better were the listener to understand the native tongue.
Then there’s the colorless declarations about togetherness from guest star Ras T-Weed on Makossa & Megabast’s “Rip It Up” and the neo-soul gospel harmonizing of Stereotyp’s “Keepin’ Me”, which find its vocalist tripping over the odd meter of her lines, which are like a sloppy translation she otherwise nails.
Kruder and Dorfmeister are one of those outfits whose name is always tossed around in relation to downtempo movement, but the duo really put out very little actual music themselves, instead focusing on remixes and their true legacy, the G-Stone label itself. The label also served as home base for the pair’s many outside projects, such as Peter Kruder’s solo Peace Orchestra, Voom:Voom (Kruder, Christian Prommers, Roland Appel), Tosca (Richard Dorfmeister and Rupert Huber), and Richard Dorfmeister vs Madrid De Los Austrias, each of which appear on 16 F**king Years. Tosca and Peace Orchestra are probably the most well-known of any of the acts featured and also contribute the best material. Tosca’s “Fuck Dub (pt 1 & 2)” is a languid, groovis bass-driven boogie that’s barely aged a bit in 13 years, and the group’s new cut “John Lee” is sensual, subtle, articulate, hitting all the markers that its adjacent track “High Noon” missed.
Peace Orchestra’s “Shining” shows a bit of age in the trope-like trip-hop beat that emerges late in the song, but its opening is a methodical construction of ominous tom toms and “I Started a Joke”-like lyrical juxtapositions. In all, it still holds up, but its weird tribal pop could have been as decadently oddball a gem as Goldfrapp’s “Utopia” if only it didn’t desert its weirdness for sleekness.
Other highlights include the jazz swing of Urbs’s “So Weit”, Makossa and Megablast’s lurching nu-blues “Coming Home”, Rodney Hunter’s awesomely ‘80s cosmic R&B on “No Stoppin’”, the pulsing art-pop of Marsmobil’s “Patience”, the steppa techno of d Kay’s “Red Heat”, and Voom:Voom’s “Best Friend”, which manages to combine the DFA’s signature arpeggio baseline with Scissor Sisters/Escort-style new millennium disco sung in a falsetto that recalls a less gyrating Beck circa Midnite Vultures.
Amazingly enough, the “new tracks” disc is easily the equal to the “classics disc”. It turns out, G-Stone is consistent in both their failings and strengths, which is certainly speaks to their commitment to maintaining an aesthetic. There’s quite a bit here that’s too distracting for this listener to achieve total enjoyment, but if you, you know, chill out and focus on the more fulfilling things, you may just want to come back the next time G-Stone picks an arbitrary year to celebrate their span.