Soundtrack to Cologne

Artist Grayson Revoir’s playlist of the best electronic music from the Rhineland

For decades, the city of Cologne – like the Rhine region more generally – has been a hotbed for experimentation in electronic music. What’s gone on musically since Kraftwerk and Kompakt?

Jens-Uwe Beyer, ‘White Oversized Flame Yarn Bolero with John Stanier’
Magazine Records, 2015

The bottom register is the couch you lie on during therapy; the top register is what’s going on inside your head when you let it all out. This psycho-thriller lead riff a la John Carpenter bounces delightfully over the bass drum, sandwiching a single chord that wafts up and down. Then, from out of nowhere, a tsunami of surf-rock style drums floods the scene. We’re stuck under the crashing waves for a little while until we thankfully resurface, finding ourselves back on the couch.

Oof, weird dream. 

Antonio d. Luca, ‘Wired Counterpoint’
Hauch Records, 2016

Judging from the video, Antonio d. Luca seems to make these plucky sounds on a lute, while emulating the flow of notes on an arpeggiator. Arpeggiators are instruments developed for sound synthesis that often came as features on vintage analogue synthesizers to automate the playing of notes in time and key. The tool can make your music sound ‘musical’ when you don’t really know how to play the piano. Using this anachronism to imitate more recent technology, when combined with a heavy scoop of distortion, makes for something deeply eerie. This song is also the perfect length for listening to while brushing your teeth: two minutes, eight seconds.

Magazine 

Run by Barnt, Jens-Uwe Beyer and Crato, Magazine is an artist collective and record label that has been putting out music from Cologne for the past half-decade, and it deserves more words than I can give it here. In the early 2000s, it was Kompakt that put Cologne on the electronic music map, not just a label, but also a record store, distribution network and booking agency. Magazine now holds court as the most significant and interesting effort to release techno in Cologne post-Kompakt (even if Kompakt still distributes their records).

With Magazine, every aspect of the brand (the name, the sound design, the art work, who they release and how often) is fused in the most convincing way possible. When hearing these records in a room with a great sound system, an arresting warmth refrigerates all of the energy, while nurturing a perfect level of tension.

Wendy Gondeln, Fracking
Magazine Records, 2014

Wendy Gondeln is a pseudonym of German painter Albert Oehlen who, incidentally, is also flagged as a member of Houston band The Red Krayola. The pseudonym refers to the German translation of Donald Sutherland and Julie Christy film Don’t Look Now (1973), which is Wenn die Gondeln Trauer Tragen (When the Gondolas Carry Sorrow).

Ostensibly, this record was intended to introduce a new style of dance: ‘Fracking’. In a lot of ways it is techno, but it's a type of techno that gets played in the nightclubs of a fictional world where nothing really works – half of the record features recordings of someone drastically misusing a violin to the beat. Together, all the separate parts of Fracking make for a powerful construction, but they’re also arranged intentionally to obscure the form as a tool for dance floors. That’s the case for the first half of the EP; the last two tracks are more functional, rich with that signature Magazine tone. 

Gregor Schwellenbach, Hamburg live set
Boiler Room, 2014

Gregor Schwellenbach: a wonderful composer from Cologne who often performs techno songs with his ensemble. Here’s a Boiler Room video from January. 

Bufiman, 'Running'
Versatile, 2014

Düsseldorf’s Bufiman a.k.a. Jan Schulte (a.k.a. around five other names): absolutely funky stuff. This is one of those tracks where the bass line is so 'phat' that all you have to do is lay a lead sound over the same sequence of notes, and voila! Magic. Pure energy. 

Grayson Revoir is an artist and musician. He lives in Berlin.

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