People who think they dislike techno should reconsider now. The most common objections to techno are that it’s repetitive and has no vocals. At the moment, techno has addressed these concerns. Techno has a long and storied history, starting with the oft-quoted George Clinton/Kraftwerk collision in Detroit, and moving through Berlin, Belgium, Chicago, and England before spreading worldwide. Despite myriad regional variations, techno’s dominant paradigm for years has been the tune as DJ tool. Producers made tracks designed to mix with other tracks, which resulted in DJ’s like Jeff Mills and Dave Clarke often whipping through 50-track sets in as many minutes. With loops posing as songs, unmixed techno compilations have traditionally been tough listens.
But in recent years, cross-breeding in dance music has become increasingly common (DJ Z-Trip is much to credit), and influences like microhouse, electroclash, and pop music have infiltrated techno. Vocals and song structures are common in techno now, and producers have reclaimed much of the personality they once relinquished to DJ’s. Techno records have also slowed from 135-140 beats per minute to a more house-like 125-130. The result is that techno records are funkier and less heady than before, and generally more accessible.
Berlin-based label Get Physical has been a big part of this trend. Its name is apt; since 2002, it has released dancefloor-friendly 12"s from artists like Booka Shade, M.A.N.D.Y., and DJ T, now all marquee names in techno. Given techno’s current software-heavy, synth-based aesthetic, the potential for tunes to disappear up their own plug-ins is great. But Get Physical isn’t about moving forward as it is about moving butts. While technically proficient, Get Physical records are hooky, funky, and melodic. These singles appeal to the familiar, with references to old-school techno, Italo-disco, electro, and pop music. Get Physical is about having a good time, and that’s what you get with Booka Shade’s Movements and Get Physical Vol. II, the label’s fourth anniversary compilation.
Movements is hotly-anticipated, as Booka Shade produced two of techno’s biggest anthems last year, “Body Language” and “Mandarine Girl”, both of which appear here in altered form. Despite the album’s unmixed nature, DJ’s won’t find tracks for their use. Booka Shade (aka Walter Merziger and Arno Kammermeier) structures these songs for home listening, with melodic intros and outros. Thus, this album works as such, instead of the usual collection of 12"s that techno artists cobble together and call an album. The only fault of Movements is that it is too long. The album takes a while to warm up, and the first three of its 14 tracks could have been omitted.
Once “Paper Moon” drops, though, the album gets going. The track is gorgeously delicate and funky, and recalls Electronic, that overlooked collaboration between Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr. “Darko” is epic disco that melds the starry-eyed sweep of Giorgio Moroder’s “I Feel Love” with playful melodies and a surprising flatted second riff. Playfulness is key to Booka Shade; “Hide and Seek in Geisha’s Garden” and “Pong Pang” have kalimba-like melodic drums straight out of a children’s movie about Africa. The latter is the album’s highlight, as boopy bass bounces and burbles before joining a joyful procession of chugging synths and percussion. In general, the production is clinically clean. However, the album closes with two grittier downtempo tracks. “Hallelujah USA” is unexpectedly dark, almost apocalyptic, while “Lost High” shimmers with psychedelic flange worthy of the Flaming Lips.
The road to hell is probably paved with DJ mix CD’s, but Get Physical Vol. II stands out. M.A.N.D.Y. (aka Patrick Bodmer and Philipp Jung) has compiled and mixed highlights from the label’s catalogue into a must-have party soundtrack. Like any good DJ mix, the compilation eases into things, builds to a peak, and tapers to a satisfying conclusion. Its 23 tracks generally last around three minutes each, short enough to avoid stasis but long enough for hooks to register. After some tracks with bouncing basslines, the mix throws its first curveball with Zwicker’s “Monkey Mood”. Shuffling beats? Muttering bass? Chattering monkeys? But of course!
The mix then goes into overdrive with a series of unstoppable hip-shakers. DJ T is responsible for many of these; his productions are chunky, funky, and irresistible. His “Time Out” is (or will be) a classic, with a euphoric, spiky hook spilling over an early ‘90s Eurohouse bassline. As the smooth croonings of Chelonis R. Jones’ “Bateau Ivre” slip in, the party reaches hands-in-air status. It’s all gold from there. The mix detours through old-school acid house and more vocal numbers before winding down with seductive, loping grooves. Appropriately, the set ends with Willams’ “The Arrival (Departure)”, a last hurrah of bright, sparkling synths that leaves hearts happy and feet sore. Get physical, indeed.
Get Physical Vol. II