[3 February 2010]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
A seventh anniversary may seem like an odd occasion for a record label to celebrate. But in the case of small, independent labels, seven years is equivalent to several lifetimes. Add to the equation the extremely liquid, here-today-gone-today world of electronic dance music, and the feat is all the more impressive. Berlin-based Get Physical, then, is not jumping the gun with Seventh Anniversary Compilation. Since 2002, the label has become a trend-setter in “minimal” and “electro” house music. Seventh Anniversary Compilation is, in fact, the fourth installment of the label’s anniversary series. And, despite its title, it features Get Physical releases dating from 2006-2009 only.
Confused? Don’t be. The numbers don’t matter nearly as much of the quality beneath them. Mixed by label co-founders M.A.N.D.Y., aka DJs Patrick Bodmer and Philipp Jung, it’s a satisfying listen as well as an effective overview of what Get Physical’s been up to lately. It’s intelligent “head” music as much as anything with a steady 4/4 thump could be, but that doesn’t mean it’s no fun.
By nature, the scope of the mix is limited. That actually turns out to be a positive, though. Working within the more recent Get Physical catalog, M.A.N.D.Y. put together a mix that, over its two dozen tracks, actually goes somewhere. There’s no frenzied rush to logjam as many twists and turns, styles and sounds as possible into the playing time. No “stunt casting” of gimmicky or throwback tracks. Anyway, as Jay Haze’s Fuckpony proclaim on the opener, one of the most effective openers in recent memory, “I don’t care about all that hip-hop, ‘this is house’, ‘this is techno’. Ain’t nothin’ gonna stop me from dancin’!” As convoluted as modern dance music can be, Get Physical and M.A.N.D.Y. know the importance of the good ol’ “It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it” test.
Indeed, you can dance to Seventh Anniversary Compilation from start to finish. After Fuckpony’s statement of purpose, Audiofly X’s “Mar Del Plata 2009” adds some dubby haze, before Get Physical stalwarts and co-founders Booka Shade’s “Borghia” adds technopop pulses, a creeping old-school house bass line, and heavy atmosphere. Booka’s “Duke”, with its Kraftwerkian chatter and five-note synth hook, is one of Get Physical’s best-known tracks, perhaps why it’s relegated to just under two minutes here. As the first half of the mix progresses, you may feel like, aside from the steady beat, there isn’t a whole lot happening at any given time. But then you realize this stuff isn’t called “minimal” for nothing. Some of the vocal editing is annoying, but M.A.N.D.Y.‘s steady guidance pays off soon enough.
The electro element, with its reliance on analog synthesizers, really starts to take over by the time you get to Chelonis R. Jones’ “Le Bateau Lvre”, which is almost soulful. Then, with a mean house groove and vintage handclaps, Riton vs. Heidi’s “To the Gum” commands you to “Move your fat behind”. Really, you have no choice but to oblige. As the energy builds slowly but surely, some tracks work better than others. M.A.N.D.Y. and Booka’s reworking of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman”, as close to “stunt casting” as this mix gets, is a disappointment. It simply adds even more processing to Anderson’s voice, and stretches it out until most of the mystery’s gone. Also, the slowly coiling and uncoiling spring at the heart of Batrice Bäumel’s “Roar” is an acquired taste. But you get more hits than misses, and most tracks are given enough time to make an impression without overstaying their welcome.
Those pulsing synths keep getting louder and louder, heavier and heavier. The peak comes with DJ T. vs Booka Shade’s “Played Runner”, which features a couple analog synths you definitely wouldn’t want to meet up with in a dark alley. That track segues brilliantly into Seventh Anniversary Compilation‘s ace final movement. The chugging drum machine and minor-key synths of Elbee Bad’s “Just Don’t Stop the Dance” are followed up by the moody, near-goth house of Matthew Dear’s “Free to Ask”. By the time it’s over, the music from this Berlin-based label leaves you feeling like you’re in a Chicago club circa 1987. It’s retro, yeah, but with a decidedly forward-looking bent, as established by the previous 22 tracks.
Though it offers only one previously unreleased track, Seventh Anniversary Compilation comes highly recommended to Get Physical enthusiasts as well as those who are curious about minimal/electro house. And if you’ve become jaded by the minimal movement, this just might win you over. M.A.N.D.Y.‘s work here easily bests their recent Fabric mix, and that’s in no small part due to the strength of the material they have to work with. Go ahead, celebrate.