Marking 20 years of Kompakt Records with songs of quality and distinction
It began in a record shop, as these things so often do. Or did. On 1 March 1993, Wolfgang Voigt, Reinhard Voigt, Jörg Burger and Jürgen Paape opened Delirium on Cologne’s Gladbacher Straße. The name, Kompakt, came later, as did Michael Mayer, a mainstay ever since. Two decades on, one of the most influential and recognisable labels in the electronic firmament celebrates its 20th anniversary with this sumptuous two-CD set.
Influential. Recognisable. Yet there’s no brand identity to speak of. You don’t look at a Kompakt release and “know” it’s Kompakt. Despite being associated with microhouse and at least two of its online bios deploying the word “minimal”, you wouldn’t link Kompakt to any particular genre, either. In fact, any minimal impulses were exercised via related label Studio 1, while as recently as 2008 Wolfgang Voigt was still releasing his peerless Gas material – a project more concerned with structure and atmosphere than melody – on Mille Plateaux.
And there’s the clue. Melody. What links the material on Kompakt isn’t just a glacial quality, something that is inferred as much as it is implied, but a shared love of pop. Yes, the kind of pop that normally comes with sleeve notes by Paul Morley. Brainy and cerebral and sometimes awkward, but pop all the same.
Both CDs of this retrospective, not a “best of” but an “overview” of the last two decades, begin by showcasing Kompakt’s song-friendly disposition. The Lawrence mix of Superpitcher’s ‘Happiness’ is a delight, while Heiko Voss sounds like Claudia Brücken remixed by Four Tet. Both then move into denser, more club-friendly sections, where the likes of the Wighnomy Brothers and John Tejada have designs on your hips. Whether you choose to listen to a single CD at a time or wolf down the entire set in one, like a hungry Tudor king, the pacing is flawless, the track selection sublime.
Some of the tunes are obscure. More are established classics. You’re never going to get bored by The Field’s ‘Over The Ice’, for example. Nor Gui Boratto’s 2005 single ‘Arquipelago’. For more stentorian techno look no further than Justus Köhncke’s ‘2 After 909’ or Voigt & Voigt’s ‘Vision 03’, while Michael Mayer’s ‘Lovefood’ explores his fascination for angular melody.
You could go on and on, and it goes without saying that this collection, literally every track a gem, barely scratches the surface of what has been an absolutely stunning two decades’ worth of releases. The fact that it all began in a record shop? Sigh.