As much as I love the underground, I’m suspicious of the way the word is often used. There has been an explosion of records over the last few years thus described that aren’t really underground in any particular way. It’s a handy term; pre loaded with connotations it can be dropped into press blurb to give the instant cred many producers or tunes would otherwise lack. It’s usually easy enough to spot any chronic misuse, but there are some situations where we enter a grey area.
The Techno behemoth of Berghain is one such place. The Berlin club and collective, headed up by Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann, is not what I would think of as particularly underground. As a club its well-known outside of Techno circles for things not directly related to the sounds, and the music created by the various DJ’s, although often interesting, sometimes seems too big, designed for huge systems and bigger dance-floors than those commonly found in the tiny sweat-box clubs that define a purer underground ethos. Having said that, one of the things that has always been apparent, both in the acts Berghain book and the bands the DJ’s sign to their various labels, is that they don’t seem to be the sort of people who champion producers because of any desire to latch onto anyone else status. They genuinely don’t seem to differentiate between the true underground and larger acts. It almost seems as if – gasp – they simply love the music regardless of where it comes from.
Wincent Kunth’s EP for Dettmann’s MDR label is a good case in point. It’s an awkward record that defies easy categorisation. Yes the various tracks would do good work in a club but there are other elements at work across it’s four tracks that are suggestive of a producer who isn’t looking first and foremost at how the dance-floor reacts. There is a deep, trippy experimentalism at work that echoes the sort of thing Peter Van Hoesen of Cio D’or have done across much of their respective careers: a lightness of touch and firmness of philosophy that generally creates a deeply atmospheric air not entirely at home with today’s conservative and homogenized scenes. Had Kunth’s record been released on a smaller, ‘cooler’ label I think it would have garnered more kudos but vanished sooner. And this would have been a great pity. It’s one of the better known ‘forgotten’ gems to come out of the Berlin scene the last decade. A charming yet deceptive records that simply does its own thing.
Trickle, tonight’s tune, is both the most accessible track on the EP and the most contrary. There is no messing around. It glides into life with a perfectly formed and drowsy grooves that slowly carries the listener into the main body of the tune where the clank of a minuscule piano sample rolls and merges with the clipped vocal to form a lazy and sultry motif that draws energy from the insistence of the hi-hats, surrounded at all times by a vacuum of tainted noise that sounds like a breeze threatening to mature into a storm. and then just as the groove hits its stride it is gone, over, chopped off dead in its tracks, leaving only questions in the sudden stillness. It’s contrariness stems not from what it does but what it doesn’t. It never rushes into the build – although in many ways the whole tune is nothing but a climb to the peak with all the extraneous movement cut out – and the odd feeling of disconnection and stubbornness of vision never wavers. It’s ocean deep, determinedly central European yet of no place in particular.
Sometimes the underground, for all the goodness the scene delivers, fails to see the woods for the trees and it’s sometimes handy to have mates standing just beyond the tangle who can see the path a bit more clearly. I wonder how many records as good as this are still blindly stumbling around in that particular forest?