The Modernist

Explosion (Matador)

Jul 19, 2000 at 4:00 am
The common misconception among dance-music aficionados is that to make it funky, you've gotta get all loose and rubbery. You've gotta bounce, make elastic grooves. But, then, how would one explain Kraftwerk? The rigid Germans' '70s output, all made on computers by quasi-automatons, was co-opted by Afrika Bambaataa to make "Planet Rock," which informed hip-hop (DJ Kut still kicks out the Kraftwerk during his Wayback Wednesdays mix show on The Beat, 100.3 FM), and harnessed by Detroit to lay the groundwork for techno. On the surface, Kraftwerk's formula, its schematic beats, allowed for very little pelvic grind time. But in its precision lay its funkiness. Could it be that the key to the groove is not elasticity but rigidity?

If you're German, the answer is yes. The Germans birth brittle beats with a finesse that somehow makes it all totally hot and danceable, and the pace has quickened in the last five-plus years, especially in Cologne. At the center of this Cologne school is Jõrg Burger, who records under many pseudonyms, including the Modernist, Bionaut and J. Burger (he also recorded the classic collaboration with Mike Ink -- as Burger Ink -- Las Vegas). Burger's current pen name is the Modernist, and his second full-length, Explosion, is a grooving antiseptic gem, clean and minty, smooth and streamlined.

There are no pop hooks on Explosion, no lyrics, no A-A-B-A structure -- just a single rhythm that propels a song from start to finish, that informs the melodies, that all other interactions bounce around. Sometimes this rhythm is nothing more than a steady synthetic hi-hat tap, followed by a couple of bangs on a beat-box snare and a bottom-end rumble. It's all you'll hear the first time through the record -- a crazy set of germ-free mantras that drive themselves into the ground. All run at approximately the same tempo and are so focused on examining the implications of a rhythm that those unaccustomed to strobe mantras will start to feel woozy after a few cuts. Resist the temptation to ditch at this point, because it's just when Explosion gets interesting. Little melodies that seemed simply part of the rhythm virtually leap out, and though they were always present, they now steer the piece in a different direction. A sort of brain readjustment occurs, and, magically, all subtle bits are now huge, changing everything.

Of course, it's a simple formula -- and it is a formula. Each of the 13 tracks follows the same rules: Introduce a rhythm, gradually add layers, occasionally hit the kill switch on a channel to accent a previously buried layer of the composition, repeat ad infinitum, fade out. Each song wallows in rhythmic redundancy and introduces its ingredients within the first moments of six-minute compositions. The rest of the composition is open space, and it doesn't take much brain power to appreciate the simplicity within. It's easy-listening dance music, but it's beautiful, it shimmers in the light and it somehow manages to maintain a monstrous momentum from start to finish.