- Aside from the royal claims of their titles, the compilations in the "Kings of..." series arrive refreshingly free of superlatives. Like the previous techno installment, mixed by Laurent Garnier and Carl Craig, Kings of Electro makes no bid for "Best of" status - it is definitely not a canonical retrospective of the genre. Rather than merely license all the big tracks, Rapster Records leave it to the experts - Playgroup (AKA Output Recordings chief Trevor Jackson) and Alter Ego - to provide their own visions of “The History” and “The Present” state of electro.
On CD1, Trevor Jackson forgoes the usual catch-all classics selection, and cleverly condenses the history lesson into just two tracks. Whodini's pass-the-mic party jam 'Magic's Wand' chronicles the birth of rap and 'Just Give The DJ A Break' from Dynamix 2 presents fragments of electro's finest moments in a back-to-back sample frenzy. "The History" dispensed with, Jackson is free to dig through his impressive record collection and dust off some influential, and at times downright prescient, tracks.
Opener 'This Is Me' by Chris & Cosey may have you checking that you haven't put on the "Present" CD by mistake, as the throbbing synth and sung-spoken male/female vocals make for a lo-fi Fischerspooner, two decades too soon. Even when the mix returns to more representative hip hop-style electro, the oh-so-eighties sound is punctuated by startlingly modern elements. The subby kicks on Original Concept's 'Knowledge Me (Xtra Beats)' could rattle the tinted windows of any present day hood ride, and 'Turbocharged' by Just Ice and Tilt's 'Arkade Funk' foreshadow contemporary techno's obsession with pitched down vocals. The following run-through of the roots of techno touches on the established (Juan Atkin’s legendary Model 500 project) and the obscure, unearthing long-forgotten precursors to The Orb (Mr and Mrs Dale), Miss Kittin (Vanity 6) and Audion (Ryuichi Sakamoto). But even as he buffs up these lost gems, Jackson's enthusiastic mixing means he satisfies bodypoppers as well as trainspotters. While your brain is constantly engaged, when your ears hear 'Report To The Dancefloor' your ass will follow.
The only glaring omission: Kraftwerk, the undisputed kings of electro, who appear only briefly and in third-hand form (‘Trans Europe Express’ is sampled by ‘Planet Rock’ which is in turn sampled by ‘Just Give The DJ A Break’). The shadow of the Düsseldorf pioneers looms large over both discs, in particular Alter Ego’s contribution - their austere aesthetic having breathed space into electro, and subsequently techno. So, rather than provide a snapshot of the scene today, Roman Flügel and Jörn Elling Wuttke document the history of techno, and the birth of its most spacious form, minimal.
CD2 kicks off with 1996’s ‘Neurotic Behaviour’, by Carl Craig under his Psyche alias, a dizzying, unrestrained monster that’s miles away from the meticulous compositions he’s become famous for. And so it is with the prototype minimal that follows. Daniel Bell’s ‘Baby Judy’ contains all the hallmarks of the now-ubiquitious sound - the slowly unfolding bassline, the producer’s trademark “blips, blurps and bleeps”, and (of course) menacing, pitched down vocals - but also a rawness that is sometimes lacking from the highly refined product of Minus and co. Naturally, Richie Hawtin gets a nod or two, as the twisted genius behind Plastikman track 'Kricket' and the label exec behind Kenny Larkin's 'Colonize' (an early Plus 8 release), but he’s outshined by the likes of Robert Hood, Dopplereffekt and Alter Ego themselves, in their earlier incarnation as Acid Jesus. Not content with turning out a bold, utterly unique techno mix, Roman and Jörn go on to join the dots with electro house. Considering the commandment that decade-old “classics” are acceptable but the last few years’ big tunes off limits, they display nothing less than fearlessness by dropping Chicken Lips’ dynamic ‘He Not In’ and Timo Mass’ gargantuan remix of ‘Dooms Night’.
And this is what makes “Kings of Electro” so special. On one hand it is an intelligent, conceptual revision of a misunderstood genre; on the other, it’s a poppy, populist party mix. It expands the horizons of your understanding of electro, while shining a spotlight on what made you love it in the first place. Like pretty much every track on it, this compilation is a must-have.
The History: Playgroup
01. Chris & Cosey - This Is Me
02. Just-Ice - Turbocharged
03. Original Concept - Knowledge Me (Xtra Beats)
04. Whodini - Magic's Wand
05. Arkade - Funk Tilt
06. Dynamix 2 - Just Give The DJ A Break
07. Mr & Mrs Dale - It's You
08. Energize - Report To The Dancefloor
09. Hashim - Al-Naafiysh
10. Visage - Pleasure Boys
11. Model 500 - No Ufo's
12. Fearless 4 - Just Rock
13. Unknown DJ - Basstronic (Instrumental)
14. Ryuchi Sakamoto - Riot In Lagos
15. Vanity 6 - Make Up
16. C-Bank - One More Shot
17. High Fidelity Three - B-Boys Breakdance (Dub)
18. Deee-Lite - What Is Love? (Holographic Goatee Mix)
19. Junior Wilson - Dock Of The Bay (Version)
The Present: Alter Ego
01. Psyche - Neurotic Behaviour
02. Daniel Bell - Baby Judy
03. Modeler - Mint Condition
04. Maurizio - M4
05. Azzido Da Bass - Dooms Night (Timo Mass Remix)
06. Detroit Grand Pubahs - Big Onion (Joakim’s “Slap It” Remix)
07. Chicken Lips - He Not In
08. Kenny Larkin - Colonize
09. Dopplereffekt - Cellular Phone
10. Elastic Reality - Cassa De X (Deep Dish Does X)
11. Low Res - Amuck
12. Plastikman - Kricket
13. Acid Jesus - Radium
14. Robert Hood - Minus
15. Mu - Chair Girl
16. Galaxy To Galaxy - Jupiter Jazz