Various Artists Nothing much: A Best of Minus


There's been a bit of a backlash against Minus Records' strain of austere techno among clubbers of my acquaintance and internet chatterers. As the foremost proponent of stripped-down 4/4 electronic music, Richie Hawtin's venerable company serves as an obvious touchstone whipping boy for both supporters and haters. Arising as a Plus 8 subsidiary in 1998 (coinciding with the release of Plastikman's Consumed opus), Minus admittedly has peddled a decidedly furrowed-brow brand of often cerebral, un-anthemic techno, as evidenced by the bulk of the Minimize To Maximize and min2MAX compilations.

That being said, the 11-track CD Nothing Much (which includes a bonus disc, Something More, mixed by Troy Pierce) finds the recent Berlin transplant label expanding its roster and introducing a bit of whimsy (see Ambivalent's "R U OK?" with its cheeky tale of a drug experience gone awry) while maintaining the kind of rigorous control that has rarely been equaled in electronic-music history.

Detractors may find the music here somewhat monochromatic, but listen closely and you'll detect subtle variations on a theme. Producers like Niederflur, Loco Dice, Mathew Jonson, and Hawtin Plastikman himself all work within fairly narrow parameters, but their repertoire of sounds is distinctive and consistently stimulating. As with many excellent labels (Perlon, Raster-Noton, Orac, Wagon Repair, Cadenza), Minus projects what could be classified as a trademark sound, yet the selections here aren't so much reiterations as they are complementary pieces in a compelling mosaic. Jonson's "Decompression" is a foreboding, majestic stomp with nuanced acidic synth motifs; Loco Dice's "Seeing Through Shadows" hisses, plinks, and burbles with a sprightliness that's uncharacteristic of past Minus releases; Magda's "48 Hour Crack In Your Bass" follows Ricardo Villalobos down the K hole with a grinding and not unpleasurable inevitability-it's a helluva mind-and-body trip. Pierce's smoothly blended Something More bonus mix elaborates on Minus' remarkably cohesive aesthetic.

The 25 tracks here will definitely keep high-IQ'ed clubbers moving while engaging more sedentary heads with textural and percussive embellishments that suggest several hours of productive R&D in the lab. However, if you're looking for pretty melodies and wailing divas to prompt you to get your motherfuckin' hands reflexively waving in the air, Minus won't really be able to accommodate you (although Gaiser vs. Heartthrob's damned saucy "Nasty Girl" could provoke something more lascivious than arm-waving).

On the other hand, Minus' roster-including I.A. Bericochea, Gaiser, JPLS, False (a.k.a. Matthew Dear), Berg Nixon (a.k.a. Ryan Crosson), Marc Houle, and Run Stop Restore-will give you nourishing brain food while keeping your pulse elevated. Think of Minus as the Criterion Collection of techno labels: Its products are built to edify and endure over the long haul. Minimal's peak hype moment may have passed, but Minus never really cared about the hoopla and hack bandwagon-riders, anyway. It just keeps on clickin' and twitchin' through advanced neural pathways in its own distinctive way, upgrading to its own exacting specs with ears cocked toward posterity rather than popularity. This franchise has legs.