These are strange times for Giegling. Five years ago, the crew from Weimar were darlings of Discogs and the dancefloor, touted by critics and DJs, adored by fans of techno, house, ambient, and hip-hop. Traumprinz had emerged as one of the most fantastically mysterious artists in a generation. Now, as the label approaches 10 years of existence, Traumprinz has severed ties with Giegling, while Konstantin—one of the label’s founding members and by many accounts its driving force—stands accused of sexism, condemned by more than 2,000 signatures in the buildup to his controversial appearance at ADE festival last October.
Konstantin’s actions are just one example of the sexism still rife in electronic music. Discrimination makes the scene uncomfortable and dangerous for women, leading to fewer women appearing in clubs and the pages of music publications. This shouldn’t even need to be said, but if music is dominated by men—and largely men from the same background —it will end up sounding incredibly boring. Music needs diversity. For this reason, any sympathy for Konstantin is misplaced.
Amid all this, the label continues to quietly release music, including a charming second album from Map.ache (real name Jan Barich), the first Giegling record since ADE, squeezed out in November last year. Though it might be convenient to argue that Vom Ende Bis Zum Anfang (translated as “From the End to the Beginning”) is an implicit commentary on the Konstantin controversy, I shan’t, because—seriously—it isn’t. It’s hard to completely separate the album from its context, especially concerning a label that has boasted such a tight-knit family feel ever since its inception, which may be enough for some to avoid all Giegling releases from now on. And yet the album warrants discussion.
This is partly because it is, at times, very good, but also—crucially—because it, like so much of Giegling’s catalogue, means something to lots of people. Giegling records continue to sell fast and at high prices, including a recent EP from emergent producer Molly, a rare release from a woman on the label. Like it or not, art has the power to affect a beholder beyond any preconceptions about who made it. And is this not true in electronic music more than most art forms? This is not a comedian making ill-judged jokes in the wake of sexual abuse accusations, or a rap album which fails to address allegations of violence in a previous relationship. This is techno, house, ambient, almost entirely wordless, bearing no explicit reference to its real-world context.
Why is Map.ache’s second full-length a hit with listeners? Well because, like much of Giegling’s catalogue, it is subtly beautiful, and occasionally brilliant. Its opener, “Seis,” is nothing short of lovely, sweeping arcs of noise that sound best when introduced three quarters of the way into Map.ache’s Leaving mix, an all-original 50 minutes released about a month after the album. The track’s wistful sighs border on the nostalgic, but there’s nothing so snivelly about “Errante,” a deep 2-step cut befitting of Ostgut Ton (which is high praise at the moment) and capable of turning any mediocre set into catatonic bliss.
After-hours club moments are where Map.ache is at his most devastating. “Homerun” is Vom Ende Bis Zum Anfang's standout: a looped house vocal gradually recedes behind clouds of ambient, building towards a heady breakdown in which the anonymous diva emits a yowl that will have hairs standing on end if ever dropped at peak time. The unerring use of vocal samples is, for my money, what sets Giegling artists apart from all the other Kompakt/Basic Channel acolytes in contemporary minimal techno, and Map.ache repeats the trick on ambient cut “Haus Without Walls.” An ode to Chuck Roberts’ “My House," it uses the famous lines (black/white, Jew/gentile…) previously sampled by Rhythm Controll and Mr. Fingers, bouncing them pleasingly between chords.
The sample in “Copy Love”—“what a trii-iii-iip”—is either boundlessly wonderful or just a bit… wet. Decide for yourself. It’s sort of like Traumprinz lite, using Moby-esque vocal loops and big cuddly builds that might please a casual listener even if it’s unlikely to impress many who are familiar with the usual Giegling formula.
Some of the beatless moments, like “Birthday 2.0” and closer “Arruve,” feel somewhat ponderous, as though included simply to turn a collection of standalone club tracks into an album. Often the combination of ambient with beating rollers signifies a natural technoid losing themselves in the search for concept. Such a perception is limiting—there are many albums in which ambient and club tracks work together to create an overall feeling. But Map.ache’s ambient outings are decorative at best; I’d much prefer five more tracks like “Homerun.”
For that reason, Vom Ende Bis Zum Anfang doesn’t bang as hard as Map.ache’s first album, Ulfo, or any of his invariably brilliant remixes. Instead this is a broadly pleasant listen, with little pockets of delight waiting to charm anyone patient enough to look for them. Though held back by a few dithering moments, its endorphin rushes are up there with the very best goosebump techno.
Head to giegling.net and you’ll find a series of typically enigmatic messages, presumably pertaining to the label’s 10th anniversary. Among them are “changing myself is easy” and “from now on only music.” Well. To make amends, Giegling will need more than just music: releasing more records by women and opening a dialogue with anyone upset by Konstantin’s behaviour might be a good idea. Otherwise, records like Vom Ende Bis Zum Anfang will be tainted. Nevertheless, Map.ache’s second album is emotive and rewarding, and as likely as most other Giegling records to have fans reaching for their wallets.
A2. Dream / Awake
B1. Loosing is not an Option
C2. Birthday 2.0
D2. Haus without Walls
E1. Copy Love
E2. You need the Devil
Vom Ende Bis Zum Anfang LP is out now via Giegling.