In the late '80s, a young Rene Löwe was tuning in to West Berlin radio from over the wall in the East. Weaned on emergent forms of dance music from Chicago and Detroit, he'd have to send his grandmother over to the West to buy the records he was hearing (pensioners had been able to cross the border since 1964). Shortly after the Mauerfall, he landed a job working at Hard Wax. A year later, he released his first record as Vainqueur, which became an unassailable techno classic. Around the same time, Löwe and fellow Hard Wax employee Peter Kuschnereit, AKA DJ Pete, were DJing and throwing parties at an abandoned building called Waschhaus, which hosted three of Basic Channel's six live gigs, as well as the Detroit pioneers that inspired them. By the mid-'90s, Löwe and the greater Hard Wax crew had infused techno with a dub sensibility, landing on an aesthetic that has been much copied but never matched.
While Löwe held a central place in one of techno's defining scenes, he's hardly the most visible figure to emerge from Berlin. It's partly to do with the notorious aversion to self-promotion exhibited by Löwe and former colleagues like Torsten Pröfrock and Mark Ernestus. Then there's the long shadow cast by Basic Channel themselves and the absurd strength of the Chain Reaction family, which housed Monolake, Shinichi Atobe, Pröfrock, Porter Ricks, Fluxion and Vladislav Delay, to name a few. Finally, all these artists were more or less exploring a similar aesthetic—the Chain Reaction sound was so unified that it could sometimes overshadow what individual artists brought to the table.
So what exactly was distinct about Löwe's work? It's hard to say exactly, but it's also the wrong question to ask of a music that deliberately steps away from individualism. Reductions 1995-1997, a reissue of tracks originally released on Chain Reaction over a two-year span, is more like a series of studies whose beauty arrives through the passive execution of a process rather than an active attempt at expression, which is central to the music's timeless quality.
Once a track begins, human interaction is kept to a bare minimum—as the self-perpetuating mechanism moves into motion, it imperceptibly gathers strength through inertia. As such, there's an imposing sense of solidity and stoicism to the music. On the other hand, the balance that gives each track its effortless economy is more fragile and hardwon than appearances indicate. We hear the music as a given, not questioning how a few decibels difference in a clap or a kick could break the spell. This is music as Jenga tower, an impeccably poised structure that could topple over at a slight touch if it weren't so well designed.
This dual strength and fragility comes through in the interaction between frequency and sonic space. While this pairing has been central to techno from the beginning, Löwe and his colleagues took the relationship to its logical conclusion. If you picture a graphic equaliser, Lowe's music sounds like he pushed up just one band for each element in the mix, creating yawning gaps in the spectrum. This gives the music a hollowed-out feel, paradoxically taking sound away to make the overall picture bigger. The subs get weightier, the claps more brittle and the stabs warmer. Playing the music on a soundsystem emphasises the effect.
Space in the spectrum helps emphasise the continual movement of filters, which add a key dimension of spectral play. On tracks like "Elevation II (Reduced)," the filtering gives the central synth parts a vowel-like resonance—it sounds like an android intoning a mantra through an electrical screen. On "Antistatic I," the only previously unreleased track here, cycling envelopes shift and smear the frequencies, confusing the location of the pulse and moving the emphasis from the kick to microcosmic variations in timbre. It forces the listener to zoom in on the sound, altering the perception of time in the process.
Without feeling at all pretentious, Löwe aligns techno with a type of durational minimalism most commonly associated with the avant-garde composition of the latter 20th century. The fact that the fingerprints of dub are equally visible, an even more powerful paradigm-shifting form from a remarkably different context, elevates Reductions 1995-1997 to a higher plain. Bringing these three styles together makes this collection durable and versatile in a way that is difficult to achieve in 2018.
|D||Elevation II (Reduced)||10:17|