“The line on Kassem Mosse used to be that he was responsible for some of the least conventional house and techno out there. Then strange became almost normal, and the far-off corner of club music he’d carved out with producers like Mix Mup and Workshop bosses Lowtec and Even Tuell began to feel closer to the center. Unlike a lot of the blown-out, hazy stuff that’s filled the space he and Workshop helped create, Kassem Mosse, real name Gunnar Wendel, never came off as a producer willfully making difficult dance music. Despite their unsettling melodies, foggy sound design and general sense of gloom, his productions are groovy in a way that’s tough to overstate, making them feel at home both in dives and on well-appointed dance floors.
That Workshop 19, Wendel’s debut album, doesn’t sound especially trendy or cutting-edge probably says less about its producer than it does about what’s happened in dance music since his releases first gained traction. It features no pseudo-New Age soundscapes, tacked-on sheets of noise or PhD-level modular patches. Its first sounds, in fact, are a couple of notes plunked on a Fender Rhodes and some stray Roland rimshots—hardly an opening unlike any other in house music. Rather than introduce a new aesthetic—or, conversely, take a Kassem Mosse-by-numbers victory lap—Wendel spends Workshop 19refining the style that’s indelibly his.
Like nearly all Workshop releases, Kassem Mosse’s debut album gets a generic catalog-number for a title and the usual rubber stamps (obsessives may search for meaning in its lack ofbearded–dude imagery), and that suits the music perfectly. Each of its two 12-inches feels like an exceptional Workshop EP, where wisps of tense melody wind between rhythms like stray hairs in a comb’s teeth. The first record is especially strong and would almost certainly stand alone as the best EP Wendel has released. Its six cuts are vintage Kassem Mosse, with tangles of shuffling percussion propping up synth arrangements so wonderfully simple they sound like they took years to whittle down. The sound design is characteristically enviable, but the tracks themselves are exceptionally well-written even by Wendel’s standards. (This is, of course, the guy who gave a just-indecipherable vocal loop a five-minute solo on his most effective dance floor bomb.) The B1 exemplifies his narrative feats: beginning as a distorted but relatively straight-laced dub tune, it suddenly kicks off in a spasm of hi-hats and crashes.
The second 12-inch, featuring a quick beatless interlude and a pair of lengthier explorations, is a shade darker and more contemplative. Wendel’s melodies—a sustained whimper on the C2, deep left-hand chords and higher-octave percolations on the D—aren’t as carefully balanced as they are on the first record, but the tracks’ incessant rhythms keep us from getting bogged down. It’s not exactly club music, but in the heat of the night, we’ve all had these kind of half-dreaming moments on the dance floor. “There is a way to each and everything,” says a shady voice on the A1, and this plays out as one ofWorkshop 19’s truths. That the album feels like a club experience, without actively trying to subvert or rise above it, is what ultimately makes it transcendent.”
Words / Jordan Rothlein
Published / Mon / 3 Mar 2014