Marcel Dettmann: Dettmann II
Ostgut Ton

Dettmann II is the sound of a techno artist not content to release an album's worth of club bangers. Instead, Ostgut Ton mainstay Marcel Dettmann is hunting bigger game, something one might label art-techno, in sophisticated sound pieces that would conceivably sound as at home in a gallery space as a nightclub. That Dettmann wants his music to function in both contexts is made apparent by the opening tracks: a beatless ambient vignette as an intro (“Arise”) and a prototypically pulsating techno workout as the second (“Throb”). Dettmann shows his subtle hand throughout, but even at this early juncture it's evident in the nearly inaudible hiss that floats behind the track's rhythm elements. Following “Throb” is “Ductil,” a track that's heftier by comparison and more muscular, too, and one closer in style to the kind of purified yet raw techno we've come to associate with the Ostgut Ton DJ-producer.

The Berliner's desire to extend his music into territory beyond techno is shown by the inclusion of explorative ambient pieces, even if they're as brief as the forty-second “Shiver.” A co-production with Levon Vincent, “Outback” sounds more like it's originating from some distant galaxy than the Berghain club. Similarly spacy is “Seduction,” which sees Emika's soft voice wordlessly intoning against an icy, star-bursting backdrop. A drawback of the less beat-centric pieces is that they tend to sap the recording of momentum, something especially noticeable when one of them follows a punchier cut. As a way of addressing that issue, Dettmann could have presented the album as two halves, with the first half devoted to ambient settings and the second club tracks. However, the problem in that scenario is that the beatless tracks end up being overshadowed by the others and leave a cumulatively weaker impression by comparison.

An art-attuned sensibility also can be detected in the techno cuts, such as when “Lightworks” repeatedly lashes its minimal rhythm foundation with what sounds like an S&M whip. Perhaps the most satisfyingly realized of the album's art-techno cuts occurs at the end in the form of “Aim,” a relentlessly driving and surprisingly uplifting piece co-produced by René Pawlowitz that, in fact, turns out to have been the one first written for the album and that jump-started the sessions for it.

But don't think Dettmann's wholly turned his back on straight-up techno. The fifty-three-minute set also includes a number of club cuts that while not over-the-top ravers do work up some serious heat (e.g., “Soar”). If anything, Dettmann II would have benefited from the presence of a greater number of lethal techno tracks like “Radar” and “Corridor,” whose pumping grooves and synthetic fire add welcome grime and grit to an album that can sometimes seem too controlled for its own good. It feels as if Dettmann's loosening up in these tracks, allowing his primal side free reign and not over-thinking his material, and the music's all the better for it.

October 2013