Photo: Keep It Deep
Ronayne Maher talks us through the Berlin-based house and techno label and what marks it out as special above the other 12″ dance labels out there.
European interpretations of Detroit house and techno are commonplace, though rarely do they bestow on the listener any experience as compelling as Workshop Records does. Then to say Workshop is just a house and techno label would be misleading; manned by a talented team of mostly German producers, all armed to the teeth with a colourful pallet of synthesisers, drum machines and samplers, Workshop releases kaleidoscopic dance music to suit most corners of the weekend, whether it be 8pm, 4am or 9am, on the dance floor, or at home hiding from the nightmares.
Curator Jens “Lowtec” Kuhn launched Workshop in 2006 with three of his own abstract Detroit inspired house productions: trippy late night club tracks cut into hefty slabs of hallmarked vinyl. Aesthetically as Spartan and just as collectible as a Penny Black, Workshop’s label notes convey, in John Bull type and wood cut artistry, little beyond respected Berlin record shop and distributor Hardwax’s seal of approval and a number. It is often an outstanding record label and just as often distinctively German. Workshop appears to want to come over all grown-up. And it does. This is a serious imprint, which at some turns commands respect in a near biblical fashion, though make no mistake, Lowtec’s creeping epics are not pitched to the Bar Mitzvah DJ, nor Marcellis’s sinister chant-laden minimal incantations, neither Kassem Mosse’s noirish techno.
Where Mosse first appears – on Workshop 03 – he opens all his tracks with a limp vocal sample that begs: “Excuse me, sir, would you happen to know the time?” The emphatic reply is a medley of relentless tribal rhythms and melancholic chord progressions. While B1’s fluttering typewriters and stretched bass lines are reminiscent of label mate, Move D, this sounds as if it’s being jammed out on ash trays by Hitchcock’s birds. If you are starting to get the impression Workshop Records is at times, strange, good, because it is. However for all the oddness this is a functional body of music by way of its consistent quality, and it is often fun and accessible, too, despite all the marching and poring over blueprints.
Take former War Records contributor David “Move D” Moufang, whose productions embody funk, whether solo, or as par of Magic Mountain High. Pensive angels lament with low slung disco jams, filthy, muffled claps and filtered samples on ‘Computer Flop’ and tall George Benson bass lines bed down with cheeky drum patterns, soulful strings and keys on ‘Theo’, Moufang’s ode to Detroit’s Theo Parrish. Had Californification’s Hank Moody moved his family to Miami instead of L.A., Move D might well have been the soundtrack to the things that happen under a more fluorescent limelight.
There is not nearly enough space here to illuminate in words the quality on display at Workshop, but alongside this piece are three of the best releases to date.
Lowtec – A1 [Workshop06]
Kassem Mosse – B1 [Workshop08]
Move D – A1 [Workshop13]