Tobias Thomas. Courtesy Tobias Thomas
Tobias Thomas. Courtesy Tobias Thomas

Polymorpous and Polyrhythmic

Techno DJs have been increasingly expanding their previously rigid parameters to allow for more diversity in their mixes. We survey three recent examples.

In late 1999, Tobias Thomas crafted a whimsical DJ mix called Für Dich for a fledgling label started by friends Wolfgang and Reinhard Voigt and Michael Mayer called Kompakt. Rather than parlay floor-fillers of the moment, he approached it more like a mixtape—for you, naturally. In 2003, he concocted an even sweeter one, titled Smallville (it was dedicated to Yves Saint Laurent, not Clark Kent). It opened the way your sweetheart awakens from a nap, with two caressing indie-pop songs from Dntel and Erlend Øye, then slowly eased into electronic music in all its permutations. There was the crackling glitch as perfected by Jan Jelinek and Sami Koivikko, the mix escalating into the tumescent French stomp of Le Dust Sucker's "Mandate My Ass." From sleepy to heart-racing, it made for the perfect mix of microhouse's myriad rooms and pleasures.

The template hasn't changed that much for Please Please Please, Tobias Thomas' latest mix for Kompakt. Two of the mix's first three selections highlight producer Pantha du Prince (whose newest full-length, This Bliss, is one of the most sterling minimal-techno albums of recent memory). Selecting these beatless, chiming soundscapes from du Prince only reinforces Please Please Please's cover imagery (a skydiver tethered to an airplane), with nary a beat to tie the thing down until the fourth song. The 77-minute mix moves through tracks by the likes of Ricardo Villalobos and Reinhard Voigt and is capped by slightly stilted electro-pop reconfigurations of the Smiths' "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me" and Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams." But rather than gain in velocity, the mix seems to remain, well, suspended in place.

The same can't be said for Belgian duo The Glimmers, whose recent entry into U.K. club Fabric's ongoing mix-CD series (previous entries include techno godfather Carl Craig and Mayer), Fabriclive31, rushes headlong into innumerable bags, making clashing voices hang together. Originally dubbed the Glimmer Twins (in homage to Mick and Keef), the DJ duo keeps a rock foundation to their mix (starting with their taut edit of Roxy Music's "Same Old Scene" and also dropping in a solo Freddie Mercury cut), but proceeds quickly into dub, rap and acid house.

Bryan Ferry's tawdry mewl melts into the early-'80s elocutions of post-punks Fingerprintz as well as that of the Human League (remixing themselves as the League Unlimited Orchestra) before dipping into Pop Dell'Arte's take on the acid-house classic "No Way Back." Despite the already quick pacing, the disc only grows more frenzied, the voices increasingly claustrophobic in their respective genres (see the stuttering patois of the Holy Ghost's "The Word" or Chris "The Glove" Taylor and David Storrs' hip-house rapping of "Reckless"). Somehow, the Glimmers manage to sneak in the wobbly dub of Urban Jungle, the snotty-nosed LCD Soundsystem, as well as impish French electroacoustic pioneer Pierre Henry. A third of the way in, a lacerating guitar line from Sons and Daughters kills the momentum for a second before elevating it even higher. Singer Adele Bethel's barked Scottish brogue of "Dance Me In" (sharpened up in the remix by fellow countrymen Optimo) makes it nothing short of a command.

It's said that Optimo's Sunday-night parties thrown in their hometown of Glasgow are so rowdy that employers make new hires forswear that they won't attend them, lest they call in sick at the start of the workweek. Hardly surprising: Optimo's mixes are potent, liable to cause migraines and toxicity. Their How to Kill the DJ mix from 2004 was an aural overdose, somehow shoehorning 42 tracks (which ranged from Soft Cell to Arthur Russell to Arthur Lee), while 2005's Psyche-Out mix was even more head-swimming. That said, Walkabout, the flagship release on the new Endless Flight imprint, is Optimo's most lobe-crushing.

Commencing with a cut from Throbbing Gristle's 20 Jazz Funk Greats, DJs Jonnie Wilkes and Keith McIvor pair up mesmeric blips and electrified buzzes to seismic bass shifts, be they from early industrial sides or more recent discs (Herbert, Black Dice), seamlessly making such disparate artists cohere. How else to merge the piercing sine waves of Pan Sonic to the Italo-disco-gurgling of Databrain's "Electrofrogs"? And when Boris' sludgy "My Machine" lands at Walkabout's apex, it's slow and heavy enough to make you feel as if you're gravity-free and you've smacked right into the Earth's surface.


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