VA: Lux Nigra All Stars
Lux Nigra

With participants like Arovane, Michael Zorn, and Thaddi Herrmann, one might expect Lux Nigra All Stars to be a compilation of Morr Music-styled tracks. However, the opening “Pocket Monster 2000” by label owner Multipara banishes those expectations immediately. Its dissonant squawls, relentless gabba beats, phantom wails, and machine groans make clear that the adventurous trek ahead will be anything but a becalmed exercise in sedate melodic electronica. Like some bastardized offspring of the City Centre Offices and Skam labels, Lux Nigra All Stars ranges between breakbeat insanity, refined ambience, and everything in between as it celebrates the first five years of the Berlin label's existence with a fifteen track overview, six of them unreleased until now.

What makes it so satisfying is the stylistic diversity on display as well as the unusual quality of some styles. Of those that are already familiar, melodic electronica is represented by numerous refined excursions. Michael Zorn, a prominent presence throughout, weighs in with two solo pieces, the hypnotic “Nigras Like Us” and “Wu Long Bai Wei,” where an intricate weave of percussive and melodic fragments slyly coalesces into a classic slice of Zorn melancholia. His “Knottel” gets remixed by Arovane, Uwe Zahn showering it with twilight reverberations of synth clusters, and Zorn collaborates with Thaddi Herrmann for the dubby ambience and squelchy beats of No Movement No Sound No Memories' “Acetate.” Hermann applies a Chain Reaction dub-techno treatment to his Multipara remix, “Deep Pocket, Cute Monster.” Its hissing showers escalate to a massive pitch until they resemble the deafening cacophony of subway cars barreling into the station. Karl Marx Stadt's (Christian Gierden) “NSK1. Shareoom” comes across as a slightly more aggressive Arovane track with its prototypical clicking beat and glistening electronics.

But other styles broaden the scope considerably. The creamy “Kot” by Rockin' Pony moves through soul, latin, and R'n'B episodes, and—shades of Kompakt's Schaffelfieber—Biochip C.'s “Liquid Silence” pairs an electro-shuffle beat with synth ostinatos and voice samples. The most extreme deviations start with Artificial Duck Flavour's “BISNYRD” whose opening hip-hop beat transforms abruptly into manic breakbeat clatter while spectral electronics arc overhead. Multipara's amelodic “Lehrjahrne Sind Keine Herrenjahre” similarly pairs hammering beats with insectile drones and washes. We enter more extreme territory with two gabba tracks, Society Suckers' “Optime Prior” and Lords of Gabber's “Ponylomial C,” an overhaul of Frederik Schikowski's pop-song original. Both are insane forays into noisy pounding splattercore, with the latter adding cartoonish ululations and singing for good measure. Those enamored of Kid606's recent Kill Sound Before Sound Kills You will love these two. The standout, though, is “Yo! Broken Out a Window in Hell (BJGRMXBJG)” by Black Jewish Gays which sounds like nothing else I'd heard before. Punctuated throughout by scraping, tearing accents and detonations, its dark, ominous mood is alleviated by its alternation of spoken-word passages and soulful choruses.

Lux Nigra All Stars successfully documents the stylistic range of its roster while also distancing the label from its competitors by pursuing more extreme dimensions like gabba. The collection paradoxically manages to offer a coherent label portrait while also putting its stylistic diversity fully on display. It's a memorable ride, as well as a great introduction for those unfamiliar with the label's catalogue.

January 2004