Apparat: Krieg und Frieden (Music for Theatre)

Apparat's musical accompaniment to a German theatre production of War and Peace oscillates from delicate pizzicato to violent squalls of white noise, struggling to find a balance between the two.


Krieg und Frieden (Music for Theatre)

Label: Mute
US Release Date: 2013-02-19
UK Release Date: 2013-02-18

The last time we heard from Apparat, faces were quite literally melted. I'm of course referring to "Goodbye", the mournful highlight of his 2011 studio LP The Devil's Walk, which was used as the background music to Gus Fring's slow-mo walk to his final encounter with Walter White in the unforgettable season 4 finale of Breaking Bad. That season found the program at its most tense and explosive, and "Goodbye" -- while perhaps too much of a dead giveaway with its title -- was a perfectly timed moment of Zen-like tranquility before Walt took Gus's face... off. Many likely encountered Apparat -- the stage name of German electronic musician Sasha Ring -- for the first time with that Breaking Bad episode, and if any were to have picked up a copy of The Devil's Walk after finishing the episode, they would have likely been surprised by "Goodbye"'s uniqueness relative to the rest of the material on that album. Ring's style of electronic music is fairly subdued compared to some of his contemporaries, especially the famed glitch duo Modeselektor, with whom he collaborated on 2009's Moderat, but "Goodbye" significantly differed from the tracks it was placed with. Drenched in an almost overwhelming amount of mood, the track owed more to post-rock than to any of the electronic subgenres he's often pegged with.

Ring clearly sensed a strength in that song considering the style of his latest release, Krieg und Frieden (Music For Theatre). Commissioned as an accompaniment to Sebastian Hartmann's stage production of Tolstoy's War and Peace at the 2012 Ruhr Festival in Germany, Krieg und Frieden (German for "War and Peace") draws heavily from "Goodbye"'s melancholy, though the overall sonic has shifted in key ways. Although Krieg und Frieden isn't really a studio LP, at least in the way The Devil's Walk was, as a record it showcases Ring's skill with mood and dynamics, spreading what made "Goodbye" so powerful across 10 white-noise-laden compositions. Like the post-rock from which it takes many of its cues from, the album could easily be used as a sort of "soundtrack to an imaginary film," or at the very least a way to make your afternoon walk seem life defining.

The integral newish addition to Apparat's sonic palette, however, is an ambient/drone texture that overlays about a third of the LP. However, this isn't to say Krieg und Frieden is a homogenous affair. Multiple parallels can be drawn to other artists: in its fuzzy, distorted moments ("Tod") the record recalls Bass Communion, and in its glacial, shimmering textures ("44 [Noise Version]") it harkens to guys like Tim Hecker. A large part of what makes the mood here so effective is how Ring takes these elements of ambient and drone and capitalizes on the soundtrack-like sensibility that's inherent to both. Rather than letting a particular drone or texture go on and on in the hopes that it eventually forces a mood out of the listener, Ring squeezes out all possible emotion out of each note, wasting no time in crafting a sonic landscape uniquely designed for the stage. Sometimes he even drops subtlety completely and brings in the battle drums: the Hecker-like introduction to "Austerlitz" doesn't last long, as dramatic piano chords and resounding drum hits help bring the album to its conclusion.

But for all the times Ring is successful in balancing the soundtrack and ambient elements, there's a significant problem with the synch of the record, a problem best framed in the dichotomous nature of its title. Two sets of twin songs --"44" and "44 (Noise Version)", "K&F Thema (Pizzicato)" and "K&F Thema" -- are the key components of the LP. Unfortunately, they're also the weakest. This fact has little to do with the actual quality of the music itself; the somber Mansell flourishes of "K&F Thema" are actually quite lovely. Rather, in juxtaposing two variations on a theme, one with acoustic instruments and the other electric, the impression is given that Ring is still not quite sure how to reconcile those two compositional styles. The image of the confident artist who wrote "Goodbye", which balanced rich acoustic piano with synthetic textures masterfully, is revealed to be quite imperfect with Krieg und Frieden. Unlike the paradoxical title of the LP—“and” instead of “or”—we’re instead presented with its opposite, the false choice: the cello or the synthesizer, the pizzicato or the pre-programmed distortion. There are a good many instances in Krieg und Frieden where there is some overlap between the two, and it’s enough to make one wonder why Ring chose a segmented over a cohesive approach.

In a wise, semi-humble move, Ring pre-empted his critics in the announcement of the album, stating, "it's full of imperfection because it's made by humans." Tautologies may help his case initially, but it's hard to excuse the odd sequencing of cuts like "44" and "K&F Thema". War and peace can be mutually exclusive choices, but they don’t have to be. There’s plenty of room for a violin and a squally drone to get cozy. Apparat as a project fits well in the dynamic of a film score and in the style of an electronic ambient outfit; now all that’s left to do is to bring those two worlds together, in so doing letting peace and warfare duke it out to find something in the middle. I imagine the result -- much like the charred remains of Gus Fring's face -- would be something quite visceral indeed.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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