Review: Fabric 77 - Marcel Dettmann


Everyone who knows techno knows Marcel Dettmann. For this reason, his visit to fabric in London this weekend is of special importance - to release his first mix for the esteemed label of a club that is justifiably famous. Leaving the club where he is an iconic resident to play at London's finest techno venue necessarily involves change, for the hedonism of Berghain only works in Berghain. Gone are the über-long Klubnacht sets that flow into each other day-upon-night-upon-day, beyond the limits of human endurance. Gone is the safety of knowing that you don't have to leave before you are ready, that there are no mirrors to reflect an image of what you have become, that people will leave you the fuck alone to be who you want, to drown yourself in a watery death of perfect techno that will evaporate when you have danced yourself clean and returned to your life, refreshed.

On fabric77, like at fabric itself, there is a slice of the possibilities of techno, constrained to fit London's ways as much as an album's length. Rather than climbing up the stairs to disappear in the hallowed blue light of Berghain, Dettmann here descends down to this favourite London space, deep below Clerkenwell, in the industrial caverns filled with iridescent green lights flickering trippingly through the vapours of dry ice that hide the eyes prying from the perimeters. In fabric, everything is focused on the dance floor at the centre of the earth. What we are offered on this album is a taste of what is new right at this moment on one of the world's most important techno dance floors. Much of the material is from Dettmann's MDR label, with tracks from Norman Nodge, Answer Code Request, Wincent Kunth, Ryan James Ford, Dario Zenker, FBK, RSPCT, François X, M_Lock 4, and Marcellus, as well as one of Dettmann's own three tracks (the other two remixed from Ostgut Ton releases). So, in a sense this album is a showcase of Dettmann's tastes as a producer as well as of his skills as a DJ. The result is an elegant set that journeys between the two clubs. Nothing feels out of place, ever. We are in capable hands.

Ryan James Ford's "Arthure Iccon" opens the mix. It is slow, mythically summoning direction from the pale mists to set us on our way through the up-beat “Sun Position” by Persuader. Terence Fixmer's “Inside Of Me” keeps things sinister with some creepy vocals whispering over a solid track. Dettmann builds the album with his own track “Apron”, PAS The Rhythm Remix, the first of three instalments of his own music. Answer Code Request's “Transit 0.2” drives up and out of “Apron”; in so doing, Dettmann takes what would have been a structurally important half hour of a long set, and bonsais it into five minutes on an album that covers so much ground.

Those minutes of Dettmann's track could last an eternity as they break away from the constraints of time through meditative almost-repetition, a modulated change that borders insanity as you obsessively submerge into the track, letting it pull you along outside yourself. Dettmann is strict and clear, pushing us forward with a snare drum that stings like a slap repeated on the same spot over and over.

Dettmann's own compositions are the muscly frame of this set. When heard on his own recordings (Dettmann II of 2013, where “Radar” and “Lightworks” were originally were released), they are sparse, unframed, austere.  Here Dettmann's compositions are the spiny backbones of the mix, present at three equal interludes. Setting them in a composed structure that moves across so much of the techno spectrum, framing them with tones so subtly related, allows Dettmann to keep his own sound present, while simultaneously performing the work of his favoured producers. The result is a set that still sounds like the Dettmann we know from Berlin but with softer edges; compressed into a time-frame that works just fine as an album to listen to on its own, when walking through the city to escape into the music.

While some tracks might have been made for Berghain, some sound like they were chosen for the pretty clientele of fabric, elegantly corporate in a world of their own beneath the City. (This is particularly true of the tracks with vocal samples.) But Dettmann mixes for London's elite just as easily as for Sydney's straight roof-top partiers with memories of Ibiza spangled in their eyes, or any other techno audience between there and the dark halls of Berlin.

fabric77 gives the listener samples of a whole array of techno possibilities, from heavy-sounding tracks like FBK "It's Not The Point", to the light fogginess of Monobox's “Film”. He is not stuck in a cul-de-sac of only playing one sub-genre of techno; Dettmann's sets around the world show how he is continually exploring the parameters of electronic music, always looking for something fresh to show to new audiences. This is why he is so good to dance to, and why he never sounds quite the same.

His recent RA spotlight about his musical tastes described a love of electronic music that had roots in the East German town of Pößneck, and which flourished when he snuck in under-aged to the underground techno clubs Trèsor and E-Werk (“where the gays were”), before Berghain opened its doors with him at the helm. The club became a world within the world, and Dettmann taught himself to be a master of this space. Broad, exceptional taste has made it possible for him to take control of many dance floors since, tailoring the set to the crowd and the space. A magnanimous DJ, he gives the dancers exactly what they need, but not more than the space deserves. On fabric77 we get fabric as Dettmann imagines it.

I'm not the only reviewer to imagine smoking a joint to Dettmann's dry-mouthed remix of Paperclip People's “Country Boy Goes Dub”, or perhaps a break for a sneaky Marlboro two thirds of the way through. Back on the dance floor, Norman Nodge seems to have tailored his sound to an angry British crowd on “BB 1.0”, with a sampled phrase repeated, punctuating the most violent track on the album. “Rising" by François X follows, turning dark at the thumping bass of the Ø [Phase] remix of Dettmann's "Lightworks", which is pared down to a brilliant minimal nothing; a precise, haunting track that pierces as relentlessly as the torture machine in Kafka's Penal Colony. That incessant kick drum. Those fragmented synth lines that float by offering no comfort, and barely any relation to the original track that we search for in the desolate soundscape.

“M_Lock 4” by Lockermatik keeps us submerged, drifting forward in a dark suspension. In Dettmann's typical style (typical, at least, of the sets I have seen him play at Chinese Laundry in 2013 and 2014), he throws the listener a lifeline, and with lighter sounds draws the tone up towards the surface. By Joey Anderson's "Repulsive" (Marcel Dettmann Edit), the sense of the album is a little lighter. You can imagine the DJ starting to dance with himself in the box, as he does at that point in a set when he knows he has nailed it and the punters below him are truly happy and the music is winding its way home. A techno-joy distilled from the long flow of Dettmann's ordering tracks that sound so different into seamless contact, this is what makes the man move contentedly to himself.

The penultimate track, "Flash", by Marcellus, ominously grows out of Dettmann's relaxed dance into the brooding sounds one might expect to hear in one of his epic Berghain sets. It could be the beginning of something else entirely. It is menacing, and seems to seep back through the earth under London to that other club. Is this calling us back to Berghain? My eyes are closed tight; involuntarily I'm moving. Am I starting to rematerialise in that sub-aquatic blue light? Or has Dettmann tricked my mind into imagining it is coming home? Something happens right before the last track by Vril, "Torus XXXII": the charted path through the sounds opening up before us changes. We start to sense that the world that Dettmann has given us is beginning to dissipate. By the time we realise it, it has happened. My eyes open, the Berghain blue light fades through fabric green to the night time where I find myself, alone. I'm not in the club. I'm not anywhere. I'm lost following the beautiful lines of this track as element by element fades out. I'm waking from a dream, slowly becoming conscious.

Perfect techno does this. It structures a journey that you can lose yourself in, stepping out of time and into the temporary zone gifted by the DJ. As this beautiful track fades, line by line, I feel sad, not because it is over, exactly - but because Dettmann kindly reminds us that these sets take us outside of ourselves in an apparently inexhaustible way, and when they end, when the experience is over, we step back into a world that has stopped offering the total protection of being immersed in something so absolute. The resolution brings us gently home with no comedown, but as with all great pleasures, we are left wanting more as the memories dry on our skin.

01 Ryan James Ford - Arthure Iccon [MDR]
02 The Persuader - Sun Position [Concrete Music]
03 Terence Fixmer - Inside Of Me [Planete Rouge]
04 Marcel Dettmann - Apron (PAS The Rhythm Remix) [MDR]
05 Answer Code Request - Transit 0.2 [MDR]
06 Dario Zenker - Nearlin [MDR]
07 Monobox - Film [M-Plant]
08 FBK - It’s Not The Point [MDR]
09 Marcel Dettmann - Radar (Byetone Remix) [Ostgut Ton]
10 Rod - RSPCT [MDR]
11 Paperclip People - Country Boy Goes Dub (Marcel Dettmann Remix) [Planet E]
12 Norman Nodge - BB 1.0 [MDR]
13 Francois X - Rising [MDR]
14 Marcel Dettmann - Lightworks (Ø [Phase] Remix) [Ostgut Ton]
15 Lockertmatik - M_Lock 4 [MDR]
16 Wincent Kunth - Carlre [MDR]
17 Joey Anderson - Repulsive (Marcel Dettmann Edit) [Dekmantel]
18 Marcelus - Flash [MDR]