You could be forgiven for characterizing the ascendant Berlin techno scene as austere and minimal. Most of the press, at least in America, has focused on the Kompakt label, with its arch-modernist sleeve art and compulsively minimal approach to rhythm. But there’s also BPitch Control, who represent the crazy-ass id to Kompakt’s hyperventilating asthmatic superego. Of course, it goes without saying that this is a brittle, facetious and quite possibly slanderous Manichean reduction—but the fact remains. BPitch Control look as if they’re having a lot of fun, not just sitting around in their Ikea furniture sipping lattes with their thin-framed black hipster glasses on.
Even before you get to the album, this commitment to fun makes itself known in the promotional materials, from which I will quote, considering that unlike me, you will probably not have read said flyer:
“Modeselektor’s adaptation of urban ctachwords like electro-IDM, booty house, Euro-crunk, continental grime, ghetto-bass, dubstep and such even get the most bored know-it-all[s] off the barstools.”
See what they did here? They’re obviously sick of critics like me who want to overanalyze everything, and in so doing suck the fun right out of every little bit of innovation or originality on display. They flipped the game on us, yo. Of course, the fact that none of these hybrid genres exist as such except in the minds of weird music critic-types who probably need to get more sun (and of course I personally am exempt from all such criticism) probably does not go so far as to injure their chances of receiving positive marks from said critics—who love abuse, who queue up in hordes for the sheer blissful privilege of being flagellated in person by third-string minor musical celebrities of the type who appear regularly in the back pages of The Wire.
All of which is a rather roundabout way of saying that the relationship between certain recondite musical genres and elitist music critics is quite incestuous and can be downright pathetic on occasion. But, the lesson of this story shall be, do not deny the power and majesty of groups such as Modeselektor just because they may be attached to a genre which is on the receiving end of disproportionate critical largesse. Just because the cool kids like the Berlin techno doesn’t mean the Berlin techno isn’t pretty damn cool—it’s not like when you read that Pavement review in Spin and ran out and bought that tape that you listened to exactly twice before throwing it in the back of your Accord where is got covered in melted sunscreen after that trip to Venice Beach. These guys are actually, you know, good.
(I’ll freely admit that was a cheap shot—but before you send in your angry letters on your homemade Stephen Malkmus Dressed As Hello Kitty stationary, let me point out that it was more a dig at the tastemakers at major “indie” music magazines than at Pavement, with whom I’ve managed to forge a fragile detente. Not that I wouldn’t accept a paying gig as a typewriter whore for any of the major music magazines, but I digress.)
So, the next time you’re wandering around the record store and thinking to yourself “Man, I really wish I could find a CD that, like, really rokked”, look no further than our German homies, Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary. These guys seem to have dedicated themselves to creating the kind of danceable techno that you would expect Timbaland to produce if he didn’t have to worry about those pesky MCs getting in the way. Wait—imaginary similes and metaphors are the stock-in-trade of bad music critics! I’m sorry! Please forgive me! Not the lash, not the…
OK, so we’ve got tracks like “Silikon”, which pick up where M.I.A. left off, with absolutely unintelligible vocals put over the funkiest crunk beat since the Neptunes hooked up with the Old Dirty Bastard. Speaking of which… hey! “The Rap Anthem” is built off a prominent sample of ODB’s classic “Got Your Money”. Take the first few moments of that track (you know, with that incredibly deep kick drum and ODB moaning “Oh, baby” over it) and loop it, and then have Boards of Canada lay some sweet, sweet alien synthesizer noise over it. It’s worth pointing out that the Chemical Brothers sampled the very same beat for 2001’s “Galaxy Bounce”—it was funky when they did it and it’s still funky now.
Then, of course, “Kill Bill Vol. 4” comes on like DJ Assault playing old LFO records at 45 RPM (the techno LFO, not the boy band LFO—that would be something completely different). “Tetrispack” actually sounds like, um, a crunk remix of the immortal theme to Tetris, which will be in everyone’s head all days after reading this. “Hasir” is an Indian-flavored hip-hop instrumental just dying for a Gorillaz remix. “Fake Emotion” and “In Loving Memory” veer close to straight-ahead IDM territory, with skittery breaks and monstrous weird noises.
Finally, the album ends on the relative grace note of “I Love You”, which “goes out to all the Moms” in the audience. It’s a genuinely pretty track that brings to mind the elegiac tone of Orbital, in their more melancholy moods, or Royal Astronomy-era u-ziq.
Hello Mom! is, like the very best albums, gleefully diverse and yet strangely focused. There are as many different flavors of techno as you can imagine here, but it all comes from the same impulse, a puckish desire to leave no stone unturned in their indefatigable quest to destroy the very notion of a techno orthodoxy. If you’re looking for austere, resolutely minimal exercise in intellectual electronic music, you’ve come to the wrong place—but if you’re interested in getting cold funky stupid with some wacky Germans, all aboard.
// Notes from the Road
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