The Germans Are Coming!

Cologne's premier techno label is sending two of its ambassadors to town boasting shuffle, sizzle, and tips for jump-starting S.F.'s lifeless scene

But a recent visit to Detroit – Mayer's first U.S. gig – offered a glimmer of hope. "I was blown away by how we were received there," he says. Then again, Detroit is the birthplace of techno, and thanks to the three-years-running Detroit Electronic Music Festival, it's one of the few places in the States that still supports the genre. "What I learned from Detroit is that we have to be more present in the U.S.," says Mayer. "You can do advertising, you can do promotion, but the best promotion is to be there and play parties and show how we rock." ("How We Rock," fittingly, is the title of one of Reinhard Voigt's recent singles for Kompakt.)

Is North America ready to rock, Kompakt style? Alain Mongeau, director of Montreal's MUTEK festival, which specializes in experimental electronic music and has helped develop North America's most prosperous techno scene, thinks so. "The lesson from Kompakt is that if you remain focused and connected locally, you slowly create links with the outside world. For us, Kompakt is one of the models we use for inspiration. It's a bit like what happened on different scales in San Francisco some years ago, but was since diluted."

Not so long ago, San Francisco did nurture a thriving experimental techno scene: Artists like Kit Clayton, Safety Scissors, Sutekh, and Twerk cranked out records (often for German labels such as Force Inc. and Background) and played parties with regularity, building a creative milieu that echoed Cologne's workshoplike community. But Ryan Fitzgerald, one half of Broker/Dealer, a local group that has recorded for the Kompakt-distributed Traum imprint and will open for Mayer and Voigt in San Francisco, thinks that "things have slowed down," noting that with bars closing at 2 a.m., limited legal after-hours venues, and few unlicensed warehouse events, it's hard for this city to replicate the impact of an eight-hour party that runs techno through all its permutations.

Michael Mayer: Yes, I am a 
techno DJ. How could you tell?
Michael Mayer: Yes, I am a European techno DJ. How could you tell?

Kompakt's name, which speaks to the compressed, miniaturized sound of its early releases, also conjures up the idea of a social compact, an agreement binding its members and providing direction for collective efforts. Dance music fans can look forward to discovering how Kompakt rocks when Mayer and Voigt come to town, but they'd do well to also attend to the social implications behind the beats. In a city like San Francisco that's been shaken by the dot-com bust and a steady exodus of creative talent, we could use the inspiration. For nightlife idealists, the stakes are neatly encapsulated by two Kompakt tracks: "Streets of Blah," a recent Thomas Fehlmann title, or the more optimistic tone of the label's very first release, "Triumph."

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