Various Artists: The Kings of Techno - Compiled by Laurent Garnier and Carl Craig

[21 January 2007]

By Nicolai Hartvig

This one will frustrate quite a few record store clerks. What to do with a compilation that has techno written all over it, is mixed by two stars of the genre, but runs the gamut between punk and free jazz over synth pop, yelled-vocals electro, Italo-disco, hip hop, funk and Motown soul? It will surely mark the first time that Aretha Franklin, the Stooges, the Temptations and Alice Coltrane have seen the shelves of the electronic section.

So far, the BBE label’s Kings of . . .  series has been fairly consistent, with tastemakers picking out selections of favorites within their specialist genres. But success has emboldened the imprint; with a reported 130,000 copies of the six volumes sold and world class DJs and producers like Masters at Work, Dimitri From Paris and Jazzanova lending a picking hand, it seems that the mold is there to be broken. So when Laurent Garnier offers to do a personal tribute to his encounter with the music of Detroit, “no” is hardly an optionable answer. Garnier is allowed the privilege of adventurous genre-hopping, mixing Alice Coltrane’s classic “Journey in Satchidananda” with a live version of “Amazon” by techno mavericks Underground Resistance. The Stooges’ “No Fun” segues into Jeff Mills’ “Utopia.” Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady” is sandwiched between Jay Dee’s “Beej-N-Dem pt. 2” and Arpanet’s vocoder electro “NTT Docomo.” To Garnier fans, this will not be terribly surprising, the DJ having made a habit of weaving seemingly unmatchable genres into his sets for a while. But Garnier’s audacity to pick from the best and not shy away from slower tempos ultimately makes for a lazyboy-at-home-listening mix rather than a party plate. It will be a great conversation piece for music connoiseurs intent on drawing all parallels possible between the genres of past and present. But in a world where hyper-energetic and innovative mash-ups have given new life to many artists of yore, Garnier’s mix can seem a little dull.

So Carl Craig is left to pick up the party and does so quite well with his all-electronic selection. The Detroit guru’s mix is a very revealing trip down the memory lane of European electronic music, with a few American slices, providing another conversation piece—if only the pumping speakers and buzzing dancefloor didn’t drown out any attempt to talk. Craig starts out unevenly, with the Art of Noise’s directionless “Beat Box” and its Sgt. Pepper-style mid section giving way to Capricorn’s more immediate and speedy acid track “I Need Love.” There is immediately a hint of the Human League and the Commodores’ 80s pop—but European electronic music is one of few genres that has managed to become at the same time venerable, camp and inspirational. The Detroit parallel is drawn with the house of Choice’s “Acid Eiffel” and Nitzer Ebb’s driving classic “Join the Chant”, mixing the trademark early 808 drums and bass of Motor City with an electro rhythm and shouted vocals. The excellent wurlitzer disco of Kano’s all-time great “It’s A War” and Visage’s abrasive precursor to breakbeat are delights, and the spitting and cheeky synth plinks and plonks of Yello are of course unavoidable in any examination of the European scene. Notable absentees are of course Kraftwerk, but then again that would have been too obvious.

Carl Craig’s focus on gems in the development of the Euro scene and its inspirational pushes and pulls across the Atlantic makes for a more coherent mix—but both he and Garnier deliver something challenging. It’s a playground but it makes you think—and listen.

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