Various - Back to Back

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  • ‘What the fuck is EMO?!’ So said a baffled friend eighteen months ago. By now, the answer seems obvious, if frightening. But minimal is another matter. Depending on who you ask, minimal is a misunderstanding, meaningless, or the most exciting new form of music on the breezeblock. By my reading, what is regarded as minimal can be read as the rationalisation of three streams of music: minimal techno, minimal tech-house and progressive trance. Each stream, distinct five years ago, has nabbed the tag, and although each style of music has a unique history and sound signature, all are claimants to this catch-all. Mobilee can lay a proper claim to being the progeny of minimal tech-house, and in fact, I’d go so far as to say that the release of this compilation makes it an exemplar, with stripped percussion, deep basslines and liquid melodic patterns all harking back to a history of sounds pioneered by Transmat artists like Aril Brikha and Stephen Brown. Anja Schneider is properly queen in this empire, and ‘Back to Back’ is the compilation that perfectly shows off the centrality of her and her label in the minimal microverse. It’s a ballsy move to release a double gatefold digipack after only ten releases, and to offer in it a mix CD that essentially re-combines the best-of-Mobilee tracks on the unmixed CD1. The second CD reads ‘mixed by Anja Schneider’, but this is a bit of a misnomer – it’s an Ableton ‘mix’, arranged by the said lady. The sequence lays out re-mixes and interpretations of several of the tracks presented on CD1, in (again) a coolly self-assured fashion. In fact, Mobilee’s better releases are all marked by this sense of self-assuredness that most artists and labels don’t achieve until the ‘teens’ in their release catalog. Anja’s own productions have this ‘coolness’ of feel, a certain elegance that sublimates their sleek repeats. Other tracks on the compilation like Pan-Pot’s ‘P.O. Box’ veer much closer to M_nus’ hyper-rationalisation of laptop bleep and minimal techno, but it’s the moments of intensity here, like Pan-Pot’s ‘Black Widow’ or Jesse Rose’s Pots and Pans mix of Pan-Pot’s ‘Black Dog’ (CD2) where it all starts to get really fluxed up. It takes loud play on a good system with a subwoofer to truly reveal these tracks, but rotate that volume knob clockwise and glorious things start happening. To these ears, the highlight has to be the drift from Daniel Stefanik’s remix of Exercise One’s ‘Debaya’ to Stefanik’s slamming, spinning ‘The Bells’, presented here in Anja’s ‘Back from the Valley’ mix form. I have the strong suspicion that this compilation will date, but I mean this as a compliment. ‘Back to Back’ deserves recognition as a release that’s a true gesture of minimal, a clear articulation by a promising label of a sound that would seem to be slipping toward absurdity, if you listened to the tales of naysayers who mumble the genre name like some kind of incantation against their own ignorance.