By Conrad Amenta | 12 November 2010
The DJ-Kicks series is, by its nature, spotty. Relying, as it so intrinsically does, on a curator’s whims, !K7’s banner series is as inconsistent in quality as it is diverse in style. In the best cases, DJ-Kicks mixes draw new lines between collector and collected, rendering into sharp relief the artist’s aesthetic allegiances and making better sense of the artist’s own work. At worst, the series is a glorified mixtape, slap-dash and unsatisfying. Sascha Ring has established that he can collaborate effectively, as was the case with 2006’s brilliant Orchestra of Bubbles with Ellen Allien. DJ-Kicks, then, provides him the opportunity, and control, to determine the parameters of his intersection with other artists’ work.
The mix begins with the type of electronica so universally understood in the context of dance music to be accessible that one immediately suspects that this particular variation on the DJ-Kicks brand will fall firmly in the category of the mixtape. The songs are infectious, and pop with such clarity, that one almost forgets how taking something engaging and placing it somewhere without context does little justice to the source material. Over the course of what follows, it becomes clear that Apparat’s curation is uninterested in establishing a continuity of theme, style, or statement. It’s a pastiche from which one might glean some subtle perspective on Ring’s tastes, though to attempt to read links between this work and his own—to draw disparate records together and purposefully contrast them to reveal truths about either the material or the curator himself—is reaching.
One useful distinction between the kind of pastiche I prefer and this particular record can be drawn about mid-way through the tracklisting, when Ring enlists Four Tet’s unbelievable, nuanced, savvy reading of Born Ruffian’s “I Need a Life.” Kieran Hebden’s reorg of the Ruffian’s post-adolescent quirk is essential listening; it breaths life into an otherwise rote indie pop song while illustrating the cherub core at the center of Four Tet’s toothy avant garde dance. It is, in other words, a symbiotic remix, mutually beneficial to both artists and refreshing and bracing to the listener. It’s inspired. Apparat, on the other hand, seems to take the Four Tet mix asis, increase its tempo to match his album, and move on. The cacophonous guitar in the middle is still there, though bled thin by the change in pitch; the wonderful detail provided by Hebden’s patterns remain, but are glossed over and seem clumsy with the increased speed; and the song is too soon over. The decisions Hebden made in creating his original mix don’t seem to be fully understood by Ring, let alone expanded upon.
Thom Yorke’s “Harrowdown Hill” arrives in similarly awkward fashion, ill-fitting the atmosphere to the point where it seems like pandering to those who require name recognition. Yorke’s self-conscious tendency to place himself in grassroots electronic music scenes while fronting one of the biggest bands in the world is no less strange when it’s another person doing the placing. There’s little thematic or aesthetic reason “Harrowdown Hill” should be here. It’s certainly no more deserving than what could have been.
Perhaps one need look no further than the inclusion of Burial and Four Tet’s “Moth”—again in a largely unaltered state—to get at what seems so principally unambitious about this mix. The love of “Moth” is well documented, but here it feels like little more than an echo of those near-universal recommendations. Apparat’s DJ-Kicks doesn’t feel like an elaboration or reduction of otherwise perfectly fine material, but a bloodless display of same. For those unfamiliar with the tracklisting, there’s plenty of quality material here—particularly his own “Sayulita.” Otherwise there’s little reason to consider what amounts to a self-referential discussion.