- At the moment, no one titillates the world of underground dance music like Prince Of Denmark, AKA Traumprinz, AKA DJ Metatron, an artist about whom nothing is known beyond the content of his records. It's not hard to understand his appeal. His music has a rare dual quality, plumbing the depths of human emotion while remaining DJ-friendly. His rate of production is extraordinary, far outpacing the release schedule of Giegling and its sub-labels, where almost all of his music has appeared. Until now, the overflow has ended up in the DJ sets of Giegling artists (Prince Of Denmark himself almost never performs) and in various online mixes, which have been met with the same gushing fervor as his records. "I remember the exact moment I first listened to this mix," reads a recent comment on his 2013 Smoke Machine podcast. "It changed my life, and I have come back every few weeks to marvel at the amazing amount of music this guy had made and for some reason decided to not release for more than three years."
That mix, along with Live At Planet Uterus, debuted a chunk of the music that makes up 8, Prince Of Denmark's sprawling second album. An eight-record LP with a runtime of more than three hours, the release is a magnum opus for both artist and label. When word of the record got out last month, it caused a small controversy, mostly because of its €100 price tag. But it's hard to begrudge the final product. Handsomely packaged in a wooden box with illustrations from the artist, its presentation far surpasses the usual techno album standard. (And, for what it's worth, it seems the price was right: 8's first pressing sold out before the first unit shipped.)
This definitely feels like the right way to present this music. Like a long film or a thick book, 8 is daunting in a way that's weirdly satisfying. Getting through it takes a whole evening and many trips between the couch and the turntable. It becomes a place you escape to, or get lost in. Many tracks evoke a sense of vastness, pairing up-close drums with melodies and textures that loom in the distance. This is especially true of the second half, which, packaged in white paper sleeves, feels like a hypnotic counterpart to the black-sleeved opening section, where the beats are heavier, the mood more ominous, the whole thing more swiftly calling to mind a rave. But even there, the arrangements are sparing, the big moments few and far between. Extravagant as it is in some respects, 8 is a deeply understated album.
For my money, the best way to listen to 8 is with two turntables and a mixer, ghosting from one track to the next in a choose-your-own-adventure that never goes the same way twice. But it also works nicely from front to back, tracing a wide arc from the patient overture ("Intro," "Opening Dance," "Neoclassicdub") through the stormy middle section ("Interlude" to "GS"), taking a side-long ambient break ("Ambient 004," "Peace") before moving on to the eerie landscapes of "Planet Uterus," "Pulsierendes Leben," "8" and "88888888." The closing note, "Untitled," is the kind of techno requiem that could only come from this artist and this label, a drifting arrangement of somber chords and a strobing tom that thumps like a helicopter.
Having said all that, it's hard to describe any of these tracks with much confidence, thanks to a detail that makes 8 truly unusual: the music varies, however slightly, from one album to the next. I've heard three copies of 8, and each had something the others didn't. Between them were two versions of "Planet Uterus," one with hi-hats and almost housey (if incredibly sad) keys, the other with a simpler, throbbing rhythm and a completely different melody. On one copy, "Interlude" and "Darkspirit Cut" (which appear on the same side of vinyl) were entirely different from the others. (In fact, this alternate version of "Interlude," with its nightmarish sighs and moans, is my favorite of the album's clubbier cuts.) There's also a digital version of 8 that appeared on Soulseek before the first copies shipped, with an 18-minute version of "Pulsierendes Leben" and a track that doesn't appear on vinyl, fittingly titled "Hacker."
Needless to say, this deepens the album's mystique. How many tracks does 8 have in total? All we can say is it's more than 23. This makes you wonder if there's an easter egg in the album's title, which, when you hold the box right-side up, appears not as "8" but "∞." Could it be that the album has no set number of tracks—in other words, infinite tracks? When the artwork appeared on Giegling's Facebook last month, it came with this message: "you will never have everything."
Setting aside all that mischief, what really makes 8 extraordinary is how un-extraordinary it is. Like so much music from Prince Of Denmark and his alter-egos, these tracks work entirely within their genre's established vocabulary—in this case, spooky atmospheres, dubby chords, kick drums and hi-hats with 4/4 rhythms. But unlike so many techno records, it uses that vocabulary to say something truly memorable. I've heard other techno tracks with cooing choirs and eerie church organs, but none with the gripping intrigue of "GS." In "Planet Uterus" (one version of it, anyway), that distant melody seems to communicate something ineffably profound. Why should that particular sequence of notes have such gravitas? In this sense, 8 epitomizes the quality that makes Prince Of Denmark such a compelling artist: his music seems to have actual meaning, real or imagined, as oblique as it is sincere.
02. Opening Dance
07. Tool 517
10. Darkspirit Cut
11. Cut 06
13. Once With A Smile
17. Ambient 004
19. Pulsierendes Leben
21. Planet Uterus