'Musik for Autobahns': Making the Road as Good as the Trip

Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.

Gerd Janson is a triple threat in electronic music: he runs Germany’s top-shelf Running Back imprint along with Thorsten Scheu (releasing lithe singles from the likes of Theo Parrish, Mark E, Tiger & Woods, and the like), scribes articles as a music journalist for magazines like Groove andSpex, and is considered a DJ’s DJ, expertly blending undiscovered gems from the past and setting them alongside cutting-edge new 12”s in his sets.

Wait, here’s another three: He’s also part of the Red Bull Music Academy’s brain trust, produces tracks as half of Tuff City Kids, and Janson also has a knack for putting together fine compilations as well. A few years back, he compiled (in conjunction with Jazzanova) two volumes of Computer Incarnations for World Peace, which found a silver thread connecting the likes of Sylvester, Jean-Luc Ponty and 80s one-hit wonder’s The Fixx to modern music masters like Todd Terje and Prins Thomas. So, that makes him a six-tool player (to tweak a baseball parlance) in the world of modern electronic music.

Five years on, he follows up CIfWP with Musik for Autobahns, a choice compilation that doubles as splendid overview of the current state of modern electronic music, culling fourteen tracks from both established producers like Âme, Marcus Worgull & Motor City Drum Ensemble, and Move D as well as young upstarts like Suzanne Kraft and Young Marco. Standouts include the skittering, E2-E4-esque submission from Âme, a pinging and gurgling track from Tom Trago and a doorbell-tinged selection from Tensnake. While still early in the year, this is easily one of the finest compilations of 2013, a vital document of what thrills about modern dance music and doubles as exquisite home listening, regardless of region: sounds emanate from Amsterdam, Brooklyn, LA, Hamburg, London. We caught up with the modern Renaissance man to ask about making comps, retromania, and if the comp indeed soundtracks his commute on the Autobahn.

I was a fan of your Computer Incarnations mix from a few years back and was wondering what made you stop at two volumes or if you have more planned in that series?

That wasn't a conscious decision. The Computer Incarnations series was the brainchild of Jazzanova's Alexander Barck and he wanted me to co-design the first volume with him. Form there on, I had the self-pollinating pleasure to create a second one that focused on new music that could have been - aware or unaware - influenced by the tracks on the first volume. The CIfWP comps came into existence when there was a reinvigorated interest in music that might be pop, new wave, jazz-funk or just synthesizer-based. They were all stems from a host of diverse personalities with various backgrounds, contrasting scenes and attitudes, but unified by its appeal to an audience that grew up with acid house or electronic dance music. Sonar Kollektiv went on hiatus and so when Antal Heitlager (from Rush Hour) approached me with an idea to do something that picks up where the previous one left off, it felt only right to find a new direction.

Did you have some grand idea in mind for Musik for Autobahns?

The ‘autobahn’ idea actually just came into life when everything was already loosely in its place. Antal commented that it reminded him of the German Autobahn and driving on it. As I've more or less spent all my life on the outskirts of Frankfurt, Mannheim and Heidelberg in a small rural town, driving on the Autobahn to get to record shops, clubs or just to the next big city. You find yourself driving so much that it becomes important to have good music that makes it bearable. Like I wrote in the liner notes: “a soundtrack for long rides up and down the autobahn for small town boys like me.”

What was it about Âme's track “Erkki” that made you put it first?

"Erkki" might be one of Âme's most interesting tracks to date, in that it’s not directly aimed towards a modern-day dance floor. It was also one of the first tracks in a finished state. It is as much Kraut as some of its obvious paragons without feeling like a rip-off. It's perfect autobahn boogie on top of all that as well - which made it a perfect starter.

The comp features mostly European producers but you also reached out to Suzanne Kraft in LA and CF & Daywalker from Brooklyn (see here) for tracks. What do you like about the scenes happening in those cities?

They feel very young, carefree and exciting to me. Not necessarily influenced by a strict diet of house and techno history, but also not disregarding that lineage, interested in old and new in equal parts and eliminating the boundaries of indie and dance once again. Conscious or unconsciously, it's a fresh brew with vintage ingredients. Though Diego and Will might not be happy to be on the forefront of that description of mine.

And since I grabbed a vinyl copy and read some of your notes, I wondered if you could also expand on the comp's intent to serve as "backlash against Simon's retromania" tag.

[Laughs.] I was just thinking about the Reynolds’ mania topic while I was writing the liner notes for the compilation. I might make myself more clear: It’s not so much against Reynolds, it's more about the sometimes safe bet of old things. I like to find old music as much as any other collector and I am still fascinated by the amount of stuff that is out there - heard and unheard. But we should never forget that all those classics were once new records as well. Maybe I should have called it New Music for Old People like I originally intended.

The compilation album Musik for Autobahns is out 2/26 via Rush Hour Music.