Justus Köhncke: Kompakt's Songbird
- Words: Michael Byrne
Last year, Justus Köhncke, the German minimal techno producer and staple on Kompakt’s roster, burrowed around deep inside his brain and eviscerated a bright pastel-and-glitter-coated cheese-pop sliver of himself. He called it Kinky Justice.
The sliver–what he now refers to as his “little friend”–took on a life of its own and began crooning synth-laden cover ballads. (You’ve never really considered the strip-tease potential of Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing” until you’ve heard Kinky’s heavily accented take. )
For his first two albums, it had been a schizoid battle between Kinky Justice and Justus Köhncke, his saner and more serious host. “After years of trying to integrate the vocal side of things and this kind of kitsch–that slow-ballad part of my work–I was a bit fed up,” says Köhncke from his home in Cologne during a quick between-tour break. “Doing live gigs in this sort of club context, at like three in the morning, [playing] a ballad, singing live, and literally taking my pants off was to little avail.”
He seems pissed off at himself as he explains his old persona–like he’s confessing it for the first time, a recovering addict to his own compulsive ridiculousness. “My songs are meant to be beautiful and [to] move the people,” he says.
The brain’s serious side produced this spring’s Safe and Sound, an hour of cerebral thump with an emotional spread that feels cathartic, as expansive as Kinky Justice is ridiculous. “It’s still a bit split. I have my dark side and my romantic side,” he explains.
Indeed. “Parage” is full of dancefloor-meltdown tech-funk and computer-tweaked disco–all giddy, sequin-laced string arpeggios, intense four-on-the-floor beats, and porn-store guitar lines. He flips these around on tracks like the drawn-out, monochromatic title cut and “$26,” an iron-plated minimal beast that feels like you’re traversing the guts of an iron foundry…with laser beams careening around you. Yes, laser beams. Like it’s an epiphany, Köhncke practically shouts his definition of the album: “It’s a streamlined, in-your-face, electronic-future, science-fiction disco, uh, laser thing.”
Yet on “Feuerland,” his extremely faithful, masterful take on Michael Rother’s brooding Krautrock classic, he flips the script again, further solidifying his schizophrenic approach. “For years I used that track in DJ sets,” he offers. “Young people with [their eyes wide open] and spiky hair would freak on the track.”
An intentional ambient pause, “Feuerland” is a full-on “fuck you, this is finally me” break that corrupts the album’s dancing flow in the best way possible, like Kinky Justice unexpectedly rearing his head. “It feels so good for me psychologically,” says Köhncke. “It’s really weird. I really think of Justus as a different person now. I hope this doesn’t get worse and I need to see a doctor.”
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