DJ Hell Kern Vol. 2
Tresor's new Kern mix series focuses on bringing together classic and contemporary tracks. Appropriately enough, the second installment is in DJ Hell's experienced and vinyl-calloused hands. As DJ Deep did on the series' inaugural mix, Hell weaves through a chronologically and stylistically diverse selection without belaboring the point. Unspectacular quality is the guiding principle here, and the surprises come from the DJ maneuvering into strange corners of the dancefloor rather than sticking to any particular mood.
Though it's not instantly apparent when listening to the mix, Hell (a.k.a. Helmut Geier) leans heavily on tracks from the early '90s. The German producer started releasing records in the mid '90s, but it hardly feels like he's raiding his early influences or following the current obsession with dry jack tracks. Instead, Hell has targeted selections that could pass—in terms of style, anyway—for something from the past five years, only the songs here are animated by organically rough edges that are often lacking from the various waves of Detroit and Chicago revivalism. Within its first ten minutes, Kern Vol. 2 establishes a seamless dynamic, leaping between 1991 and 2005 and letting the implications slowly settle in as the listener fidget-dances on their couch.
Kern Vol. 2 also goes out of its way to deflate certain pieties. Most DJs tapped to do a commercial mix wouldn't touch the mutant club-kid vocals on The Horrorist's "Wet & Shiny" with a 10-foot tonearm. Hell's rework—one of three created for the mix—doesn't try to cast a new light on the song itself, nor does it part the mists of the recent past to remind us how electroclash could have sounded vital. But The Horrorist's nasally drug zombie is a welcome reminder that this is music for partying, not an academic exercise. Recondite's "DRGN" appears on the other end of the mix, and it works especially well because Hell has already made a solid point about the tedium of consistency. Sometimes Recondite's ticking hi-hats sound like the second hand of a clock, a moody measure of time. Hell squeezes them in unexpectedly, allowing the track to live up to the hugeness of its name. This sort of occasional, felicitous excess makes tracks like "DRGN" and Halogen's "Bliss" sound raw and potent, and we're happy to sit through the rare lulls to scale those higher heights.
Kern Vol. 2's mission is to make connections between the past and the present, but that's an obvious conceit—it's something almost all DJs do as a matter of course, consciously or not. In the context of the label and club Tresor, though, it's part of a broader reboot that also brought Juan Atkins and Moritz von Oswald together for an album that similarly set out to span time and ultimately ended up pointing a way forward. If done carelessly, asking established figures to ruminate on the breadth of house and techno could easily lead to fogeyism. Kern Vol. 2 doesn't care about roots, though. It treads lightly, and Hell is satisfied to put his deep stacks to work telling a story that's both made of time and mercifully free from it.
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