I couldn’t tell you who DJ Koze is or from where he hails. All I know are the same things which are self-evident to anyone who puts a copy of Kosi Comes Around into their stereo: Koze is a house music producer whose work is made available by Germany’s acclaimed Kompakt label. I have yet to be disappointed by the Kompakt label, and Koze definitely does not disappoint. More to the point, anyone who feels safe with a solidly circumscribed conception of what a Kompakt artist sounds like should hear Koze, because while there is definitely much of the label’s trademark microhouse, there is also so much more than that. Like the very best dance music, there is great variety of implications possible in the effects constructed atop a simple template.
Although an outside observer might see little variation in an endless repertoire of minimal house tracks, the invention which Koze brings to the genre threatens to burst its boundaries all together. Like the best electronic music producers, his sound defines itself less in strict accordance to any scene, but by a dogged insistence to allow the music to take him in whatever direction it wishes. Therefore, while much of his production hews reasonably close to the genre, there are enough additional elements added in just such a way as to render the product strikingly original. Different elements in juxtaposition can provide a striking context with which to appreciate familiar motifs.
The first track, “Estrella”, begins with a distant, echoed plonk noise of the type which will seem familiar to anyone who has ever heard the genre before. But before the rhythm really begins, strange samples intrude upon the pristine sound: a human voice, disconnected guitar plucking, a xylophone. Under the burble of organic confusion, the rhythm slowly builds, allowing delicate arppegiated synthesizer riffs to grow increasingly complicated. Eventually an orchestral vamp emerges from the distance, and the song builds to vast, alien emotional climaxes on the strength of these multiple disparate elements caroming across each other.
“Raw” establishes a stripped-down, mathematical electro feel that brings to mind a less-crunk version of Detroit techno. Koze introduces increasingly complicated elements to the simple rhythm, adding gradual layers of variation through which the track advances, a continuous crescendo. “Don’t Feed The Cat” could have easily been a club hit at the Paradise Garage when Larry Levan presided over the dawn of house — the microhouse bass stabs have been altered slightly to bring about their striking resemblance to the primal, almost amniotic funk of Mr. Fingers and his ilk.
“Bedrock Am Ring” steps outside the house template entirely with a short instrumental interlude that brings to mind the Art of Noise, with all the ingredients of an easy listening radio hit spliced and reconfigured to disconcerting effect. “My Grandmotha” continues in this vein, with a rhythm constructed out of snapping fingers and clipped jazz snares, along with strange processed whispers and fragile percussion added at intervals. The effect is very much like Matthew Herbert remixing the Avalanches, with a spry, delicate touch gently manipulating some very lush sounds to achieve a tenuous, hand-crafted feel.
After this interlude the album returns to more insistent motifs with “Dangernugget” and “The Gekloppel Continues”. While both maintain the sweaty precision of vintage house, the former is more stealthy and sensual, while the latter again evokes bygone days in house, with a repeated piano phrase playing a percussive amelodic refrain. If you’ve ever heard the Mortal Kombat theme, you know to what exactly I’m referring. The album climaxes with “Brutalga Square”, a dark and foreboding exercise in cloistered mood that stretches out over the course of almost ten minutes, providing in that time the type of brooding, expansive emotional release favored by minimal house godfather Richie Hawtin, especially in his Plastikman guise.
“Chiminea” is the calm after the storm, featuring pristinely beautiful acoustic samples sewn together in such a way as to provide a rustic coda for the dangerous and energetic music that came before. Soft vocals waft in as if on a summer breeze as the album dissolves in a gauze of soft cotton wool. Such an avowedly peaceful statement might — to some — seem at odd with the relentlessly mechanized nature of much house music, but really only serves to reinforce the essentially malleable nature of electronic music. Even a minimal, highly ascetic branch of house music, in the right hands, can become the springboard for something deeply profound and transformative.