Review: Marcel Dettmann & Ben Klock - Phantom Studies


We've finished the circle: one hundred releases on Ostgut Ton, the Berghain label that started in 2006 with this favourite pair of residents' single, "Dawning" (o-ton 01). It's safe to say that more of the genre's genius is on this label than any other, and it is fitting that this should be the double EP released to celebrate the occasion.

With techno now rightly recognised as high culture, and with Berghain its Beyreuth, these recordings are more than just dance floor workhorses to party away some of the weekend. This is the sound of the club that is techno's hallowed ground. This music is a crucial part of the experience that many people say defines them and gives their spirit life. One hundred releases on a label such as Ostgut Ton is a major cultural event.

Marcel Dettmann and Ben Klock have time and again proven themselves to be worthy of the accolades that pour over them. Their sets are impeccable; their recordings redefined the genre. People come from all over the world to witness what techno's brightest stars offer, from Dettmann's immense openings that carve deep into the weekend, to Klock's mixing with surgical skill so precise that it stops sharp at 10:00:00 on Monday morning. These are two of the main players in the game, and here on Phantom Studies, we get to hear what made them great.

The eponymous opening track sways sumptuously with an organ sound which recalls that some Berghainis say they are "going to church" on their Sunday, freeing themselves from the rest of their week in this autonomous zone that has lasted more than ten years. "No one around", my pick of the EP, is thumping modular techno that relies on the subtle exploration of hypnotic droning set across the heavy bass that epitomises the Ostgut sound. It's the track where I can most sense myself lost in a place outside of this dimension, the kind of techno that makes it possible to disappear for hours on the dance floor. It's of the same calibre as their first Ostgut Ton EP, "Scenario" (o-ton 11), on which they started their joint exploration of the minimal form.

For those seduced by the sublime austerity of Dettmann II (OstgutCD28, 2013), "Bad Boy" might seem a bit jittery, but it is assured that many of these tracks will be enjoyed by dancers across the world, as these two DJs travel the globe bringing their music to their fans who can't make it to Berghain every month.

Not all of the music is for the club, however. Imagine that draining sensation when the person you've just had an amazing anonymous darkroom experience with starts talking, and what they say only diminishes what you've just enjoyed? It can be like that when words are heard on tracks. Techno is a soundscape of infinite possibility - amoral, abject, it is experienced physically. Adding words makes it all too finite, even if with "The Room" we are reminded of the dark electronic 80s roots of German techno. Here Dettmann's masculine voice takes me back to spiky teen hair and desolate days in a slow track made for the k-hole or the lounge room, not the dance floor.

Rather than expanding the scope of "Prophet Man", the banal questions asked by Klock's dark voice on the much funkier dub-tech "spoken-word sermon" ("What is your favourite colour?" "How do you like your coffee?"*) tripped me out of the vortices of that crystalline techno realm, and left me lagging. Dettmann & Klock are already inside our heads - how do these words add to the music? On a double-EP with so much good techno, it is frustrating to be troubled by such quotidien thoughts.  I just want to close my eyes and shut up and dance. Thankfully, with most of the music here, this is too easy.

This is not a diatribe against lyrics, per se. The words "When it rains" are repeated on the final track "The Tennant" to great effect. But they are just words, with no sentiment attached as this syncopated track drives hard through a bleak soundscape that showcases Dettmann & Klock's musical brilliance. The track builds and swells until it bids us "goodnight" with a voice from a crazy dream. This is music perfectly composed to disappear into as I walk home in the dark to delve into my own dreams. It belongs on this great label.

*A: black; and for coffee: if the Eisbar is open, an affogato.

Thanks to Aligned Agency for making this review possible.