There have been so many Kompakt compilations (or is it Kompilations?) over the years that I thought there would scarcely be room for any more of them. But through all of those Total and Pop Ambient collections and then some, the German electronica label still barely scratched the surface of what it has managed to dish out during its existence. It has been 20 years now since this label/record store first broke ground, and it’s time to look back on their stupefying output and promotional accomplishments with fondness — or envy, whichever you prefer. It’s impossible to cover Kompakt’s highlights in one 2-CD package, hence the suffixing numeral in the title 20 Jahre: Kompakt Kollektion 1. I don’t know how many of these compilations the label has planned for 2013, but this first one is plenty enough to keep you busy all year long. Two CDs, 24 artists presenting 24 songs stretched over two-and-a-half hours, it’s quite the electronic workout. Fortunately, it doesn’t demand too much from you. 20 Jahre: Kompakt Kollektion 1 is, for the most part, aimed at your toes and hips and comes equipped with extra brainworms in the event of style overcoming substance.
Even when considering its size, 20 Jahre: Kompakt Kollektion 1 is a pretty lean compilation because it chugs along without stopping or slowing down for deep introspection, subtle germination or musical tricks aimed at fans of The Orb or Boards of Canada armed with a really killer pair of headphones (see any one of the aforementioned Pop Ambient collections for further exploration in this area). This isn’t to say that that this set is nothing but frivolous fluff. Depending on what you want to derive from electronic music, there are moments here that can stop you cold in your tracks. Even after listening to it for weeks, parts of it still seize me. Of course, there are some tracks that Kompakt seems to think very highly of while, to me, they just kind of lie there not doing much of anything. How this is accomplished has less to do with musical sophistication and more to do with how certain notes combined with certain beats have the ability to grab you by the mental collar.
The Voigt brothers remain my go-to act on Kompakt compilations because I think that no one places two notes, two chords or a simple sampled cadence better than they do. “Vision 03” delivers on the two-chord promise with a nodding beat to match. Leandro Fresco approaches “Cera Uno” as more of a pop song than something created only for dancefloors, but that doesn’t mean you can easily ignore the pulse that drives it. In fact, most of the first disc’s remaining tracks thrive on variations of one terrific beat; “Transient” by Pluxus, “Wurz + Blosse” by Wighnomy Bros., and “Transparenza” by Mayer/Voigt.
Jonas Bering’s “Melanie”, a track that could possibly foreshadow the deeper waters future Kompakt Kollektions may tread into, has an odd shape to it. It’s keyboard figure appears with little fanfare, is eventually ushered further with a little light percussion, then most everything drops away while atonal auxilary percussion just kind of plunks away where the missing figure once was. Then everything goes almost silent. “Melanie” exits the way it started, with the melody restating itself. So much quality buildup, no grand payoff. Maybe that’s the art of subtlety at work? Nah, screw subtlety, because we’ve got DJ Koze’s remix of Matias Aguayo’s “Minimal”; “These clubbers don’t dance / Clubbers don’t dance / Cuz that music got no groove, got no balls / No me hace pumpin’ pumpin’ pumpin'”. This rump-shaker will guarantee that no ass will remain in its seat at your next social gathering.
So what to make of 20 Jahre: Kompakt Kollektion 1? Truth be told, it feels like a hodgepodge. But I have a feeling this isn’t by accident. This the first round of samplers that is supposed to celebrate the 20 year existence of Kompakt. And if the first part of that sentence sounds meager to you, then so be it. Right now, we ought to just stay tuned because I have a feeling that the truly awesome stuff is yet to come.