Cologne-based Kompakt Records is one of the premiere distributors of creative electronic music in Germany alongside Freude am Tanzen from Jena, Moon Harbour from Leipzig, and Playhouse from Frankfurt. In June, Kompakt stated in a press-release that they were opening an online-only store specifically geared towards selling “extremely limited” and hard to find records from numerous artists. There is definitely a market for rare electronic records, and Germany is no stranger to dynamic electronic music.
If you think that electronic music is only repetitive loops, pounding bass lines, and inaudible, abrasive lyrics (think of a dance club scene from a movie in which everyone is wearing tight black leather adorned with chains – the club scene early in The Matrix comes to mind), you should take another look. Germany is known worldwide for being a hotbed of creative electronic music artists, and also for having a lively electronic music scene. Evidence of this comes in the form of the hundreds of music blogs that cover the German music scene. Germany is also home to the three largest celebrations of dance music culture in the world: Mayday, Nature One and The Love Parade. In July of this year, The Love Parade experienced a very unfortunate incident where 21 people were killed and many were injured. It will no longer be held out of respect for the victims.
Electronic music has a long history in Germany. The German electronic music scene laid its roots in the late 80s and early 90s in Berlin. After the Berlin Wall fell in November of 1989, electronic music in Germany hit the dance floor running, literally. Eager youths and DJs flooded into the freshly vacant Eastern Bloc buildings, transforming them into all-night music clubs, some of which are still operating today. This event helped ignite an already sparking dance music scene that has since flourished in Berlin and other cities in Germany such as Cologne. Music enthusiasts have lovingly nicknamed Berlin the Ibiza of the North, and Cologne even has its own calling card as the city that pioneered “The Cologne Sound”.
Today there are many German music labels dedicated to bringing German electronic music to the rest of the world. Kompakt Records is one such label, and it is gaining an international presence as a bastion for aural bliss.
British music critic Simon Reynolds has characterized Kompakt as the “label that’s contributed more than any other to Germany’s dominance of electronic dance music this decade [the 2000s]”.
Kompakt Records was started as a small record store in Cologne in 1993 by Wolfgang Voight, Michael Mayer and Jürgen Paape, but has since dropped the local record store format and become an online store only.
In general, experimental electronic music artists have a reputation for being difficult to categorize. Because many electronic artists make rhythmic, danceable music, they are many times filed under the Techno moniker. It may be true in one sense of the word, since Techno music is dance music. However, the artists who have found a home at Kompakt are not simply making Techno music. Many of the artists create from a “minimal techno” perspective, creating lush, pop sensible arrangements backed by danceable rhythms. The term “minimal techno” has, however, become unclear as of late, and many artists shy away from a term that could pigeon-hole their unique style. Difficulty defining what its musical niche is prompted Kompakt Records to create additional branches such as Kompakt.Pop and Kompakt.Extra to address the ever-growing and varying sounds of its artists.
Jürgen Paape’s velvety song “So Weit Wie Noch Nie” is a staple gem from the vaults of Kompakt Records, a song that showcases Kompakt’s pop-sensible aesthetic. (If you already know this song, you may notice that the vocals are different in this YouTube version than in the original.)
In 2007, a Kompakt artist who makes similarly sounding, blissful electronic music was given the crowning title of “Best New Music” by Pitchfork. Pitchfork is a music website dedicated to helping Urban Outfitters decide what music to play in their store to ensure vintage dress and skinny jeans sales (notwithstanding the sarcasm, this could be a true statement.) Pitchfork raised a toast to Axel Willner, the artist who creates shiver-inducing electronic music under the name The Field. Pitchfork music reviewer Jess Harvell lavished his 2007 album From Here We Go Sublime with praise saying:
If Willner [The Field] doesn’t hit at least some of your pleasure centers, well, forget your ears — your nerve endings might actually be dead.
There are other German electronic artists making names for themselves in the current music scene. German born Hendrik Weber, or Pantha du Prince, is also making waves this year. He was awarded the illustrious title of “Best New Music” by Pitchfork for his album released earlier this year titled, Black Noise.
If you open your ears to the electronic music that is being made today, you will find that it is not just Techno music as you may have previously thought. In today’s electronic scene, you will find that their are many artists making incredibly engaging music that is just as creative and worthy of praise as any band doing things in the traditional format (a few people on stage with instruments.) If you’re still not convinced that electronic music is more than just thumping beats and strobe lights, go home and check out your music collection. Do you have any Folk music? Some electronic artists, such as Barbara Morgenstern (pictured) have been looking to Folk music for inspiration and are creating more serious sounding Folksy electronic music.
With Kompakt’s new online-only record store up and running, connoisseurs of electronic music should be keeping an open ear for any new sounds that they can wrap their senses around. What may turn out to be most the exciting news for fans of experimental electronic music is the announcement that Kompakt will be releasing an extremely limited single from Panda Bear, one of the founding members of Animal Collective. This is considerable news for Kompakt, since other limited singles from Panda Bear have already been released and have very quickly become high-priced collectors items.