Playgroup / Alter Ego: Kings of Electro

Following in the footsteps of sets dedicated to reggae, techno, jazz, house, funk, and hip-hop, The Kings of… series carries on with a stuffed, thirty-five track collection dedicated to Electro, with Playgroup (London-based Trevor Jackson) paying tribute to the genre's old-school roots on the first disc (“The History”) and Germany's Alter Ego (Roman Fluegel and Joern Elling Wuttke) bringing listeners up-to-date on the second (“The Present”).

Disc one's vocodered voices, turntable scratching, and slamming beats revive the freshness and innocence of the era, and the celebratory vibe pioneers like Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa brought to their material. The old-school squawk of Just Ice's “Turbocharged” transports disc one back to its B-Boy, hip-hop roots, and the funky rap attacks roll on in tracks by Whodini (“Magic's Wand”), Energize (“Report to the Dancefloor”), Model 500 (“No Ufo's”), and Vanity 6 (“Make Up”). Highlights include the percussion-heavy, synth-funk futurama Tilt stokes in “Arcade Funk” and Mr & Mrs Dale's sleek and seductive “It's You,” which becomes even more irresistible when the vocal line gets sliced and diced. Kraftwerk's influence is repeatedly felt, sometimes explicitly (the “Trans Europe Express” quote in Dynamix 2's “Just Give The DJ A Break”), while Gary Numan's “Cars” gets a B-Boy makeover in Fearless 4's “Just Rock.”

Alter Ego's half is as much techno as electro—more perhaps—but no one will complain when the track list includes cuts by Carl Craig (Psyche), Kenny Larkin, Maurizio, Robert Hood, and Plastikman excerpted from defining imprints like Underground Resistance, Minus, Planet E, and Basic Channel. There's sputtering techno-funk (Modeler's “Mint Condition”), locomotive tech-house (Low Res's “Amuck,” Acid Jesus's “Radium”), and electro that's acidy (Azzido Da Bass's “Dooms Night,” Galaxy To Galaxy's “Jupiter Jazz”), rubbery (Chicken Lips' “He Not In”), and squiggly (Dopplereffekt's “Cellularphone”). Daniel Bell's seminal “Baby Judy” gets dusted off and taken for another spin, and the creepy voiceover sounds as demented as ever (“Could have went crawling out the back door for all I know / It's just a tiny little thing, it's easy to lose / Got to put that shit on a chain, keep that shit chained up like a dog”). The languorous opening minutes of Elastic Reality's “Cassa De X” are hardly electro and neither are the five minutes that follow, but the tune's steamrolling soul-jazz-house vibe appeals nonetheless.

Though I initially expected to find The Kings of Electro's second half to be more satisfying, the opposite turned out to be the case, with the first disc's irrepressible energy and imagination more than compensating for its slightly older feel. Both discs include questionable moments, the woeful inclusion of Visage and Deee Lite in the opening set, and Detroit Grand Pubahs on the second, but when the collection features so much great material, one can afford to overlook a few blemishes.

December 2007