I'm hardly the world's foremost authority on exactly how labels line up within the techno firmament, but I suspect some ground has been ceded by Richie Hawtin's Minus imprint in the past half-decade or so to competitors like Crosstown Rebels and Ostgut Ton; the 2011 departure of Magda, Marc Houle, and Troy Pierce from the Minus fold to form Items & Things also couldn't have helped Hawtin's cause in that regard. Even so, minMAX, the label's first stand-alone compilation since 2007, suggests that there's still gas in the tank, so to speak. It's a two-CD set featuring twenty-four tracks, disc one an unmixed collection (the only one provided for review) and the second a twelve-track mix by Hobo (in which six of the opening disc's cuts make return appearances). As the title implies, the release accentuates both the minimal style associated with the Minus label and the maximal style of the sister label Plus 8, and features contributions from roster vets like Heartthrob, Barem, and Gaiser as well as material by new recruits.
Mathew Jonson gets things started with “Metropolis,” a futuristic ambient moodpiece whose synthetic textures and pulsations evoke chrome surfaces and technological marvels. It's hardly dancefloor material, however, and so it falls to Heartthrob's “Y2k2u” to formally get the party underway. The tune's shuffling groove certainly works up a good deal of sweat, and its jacking exuberance makes a strong argument for Minus's sound; certainly anyone who associates the label with bloodless, antiseptic techno will find that impression challenged by Heartthrob's raw and earthy attack. Tripmastaz perpetuates the primal vibe in “Tyree” by coupling noises vaguely suggestive of jungle species with percussion that oozes a tribal flavour.
Powered by snappy beats and slithering bass lines, a typical track finds layers of textures and patterns, melodic and rhythmic, coalescing into a swirling juggernaut of kinetic propulsion (the light-speed forward movement of Etapp Kyle's “Yuma” as good an example as any). Justin James' “Song So True” is almost quintessential Minus in merging a cryptic, subtly distorted voiceover (“Hold my carefree hands / Let me sing for you … Then sing a song so true”) with a steamrolling pulse. In one of the set's most powerful moments, Jonni Darkko's “Close” seethes with viral, single-minded purpose, and the kinetic propulsion of Mitsuo Nakazato's “Drive” is hard to deny, too.As the disc rolls on, it becomes increasingly apparent that the artists' generally bubbly tracks largely belie the minimal label in being packed with so much detail. While 4Yo4U's “Daily Faces,” for example, does hew to a minimal template in featuring a skeletal hi-hats-driven pulse, it also disrupts it by detonating the groove with intermittent blasts. Gaiser's “Trashbend,” by comparison, is stuffed with so much detail it feels on the verge of combusting. Admittedly, some tracks go on longer than necessary, and their impact is diluted as a result. Still, for those keeping score, minMAX offers a more-than-credible portrait of Hawtin's label circa 2013.