Johannes Heil: Loving

[18 October 2010]

By Max Feldman

Depending on which paranoid postmodern source you read, at some point in the 1980s, some faceless corporate warlock hijacked reality and is now selling it back to us through intellectually vacant spectacles. The results include: provocative advertising billboards, made-for-TV domestic disturbances, and torture porn films. Whether true or false, nefarious or not, late capitalism is something we have to grin and bear and not get too precious about. After all, the clothes we buy, the food and drink we consume, and the information we choose to accept all operate according to a branding policy into which we actively buy. Electronic music labels are no different. They replace the production of our needs, and the chain of associations we form about certain products, with a central aesthetic.

The aesthetic of German label Cocoon is to produce a product that keeps both feet on the dance floor, rarely allowing the listener to pause for breath, before ending their neon night with a kebab and a fight.
The label was founded by techno hero Sven Väth a decade ago, with the intention that it would serve as a platform for young artists working in electronic music to circumvent conventional major label structures. Cocoon is less cerebral and avant-garde than peers like Kompakt, Traum Schallplatten and M_Nus. Johannes Heil has been a Cocoon mainstay for the last decade and a half, and Loving takes the standard Cocoon aesthetic and expands it into an almost 80 minute long album.

The central failure of Loving is that it isn’t very interesting. There are no big ideas here, despite its marathon length. It doesn’t have a consistent structure, thematic tensions, pivotal points or stand out tracks. It has two massive problems that make it both alienating and tedious. It laces banger after banger, with little thought given to the of ebb and flow required of fine album craft. It isn’t accessible. You get the sense that it will appeal only to techno geeks who are hell bent on the accumulation and retention of information. Like an agoraphobic closet monster, it’s reclusive, it probably doesn’t have a soul, and there’s little reason to get involved with it. The only time it really comes close to having a heart is on the twitching, and mournful “A Holo Static”. Secondly, it doesn’t fulfil any of techno’s essential functions. Successful techno operates as ambitious head music and as thumping feet music; techno tracks are compositions and club bangers. Loving consistently sacrifices the former value for the latter.

Still, dance music is a broad church. It doesn’t always need to be inventive, and it doesn’t necessarily ask that a producer make a bold artistic statement. These tracks work because you can feel them in your guts and in your loins: pre-packaged hyperprimitive rituals that sap your energy and threaten to test your anti-perspirant. Indeed, Loving is not all bad news. Opener ‘Hallelujah’ and the closing title track are great. They escape the confines of club music, acting as the album’s framing device, and they fulfil Heil’s potential. The former starts with a regal thump and runs through some revivalist chanting lined with synths. The latter, though trapped by a 4/4 pulse, takes on lover’s rock as its own game. Yet, the real problem is that Loving does not work as a full length album. Many individual tracks like “Freedom of Heart” or “Twentythree” are of a high quality when considered as single tracks and not as songs from a compilation. If you cut Loving up into quarters, and imagined them as snack-size EPs, then it works perfectly well, since any one of these tracks could destroy a dance floor, if given half the chance. Unfortunately, the album disappoints because it comes out during a year when marvellous electronic treats have been produced by such acts as Flying Lotus, Mount Kimbie, and Pantha Du Prince. To put it simply, Heil’s new album cannot cope with the competition, or mask its self-indulgence.

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