Minimalism in dance music is something that tends to drift in and out of popularity to extremes, at times representing the epitome of cool and other times utterly derided. Often this dualistic treatment happens at the same time. No doubt when Robert Hood and Daniel Bell were stripping techno down to its fundamentals in the early 90s there were wholesale disciples and complete non-believers littered amongst the nascent tribes of dance music culture.
In the mid-00s, when Richie Hawtin’s M_nus label was at its peak and the likes of Akufen were spearheading a bountiful time for laptop-powered clicks n’ cuts, there was also a rich netlabel scene that wound up as an unmanageable volume of freely available digital music both good and terrible. Some labels made the most of the ability to disseminate music under a Creative Commons license. Pheek’s Archipel was a prime example of a label that transcended netlabel trappings to survive as a fully-fledged, professional concern, and they were one of the strongest supporters of Dr Nojoke.
I first came across Nojoke, otherwise known as Frank Bogdanowitz, tinkering with an array of toys, instruments and controllers at a very early edition of Freerotation. Compared to the dominant in-the-box screen-glow performances that typified the festival around the 2007-2008 mark, Bogdanowitz was revelling in the simple pleasure of making funny noises with found objects, looping and processing them into quirky minimal constructions typical of the era.
In truth Nojoke has never seemed to break through from the netlabel scene, intermittently issuing download-only releases on a range of labels while pursuing his brand of self-styled ‘Clikno’. Klangscheiben, who carry his latest release, similarly exist within this world, having supported a thoughtfully selected range of minimally-minded artists since 2008. There are some notable names scattered in the label’s back catalogue, from Matt Thibideau and Billy Delassandro through to Sven Laux, while a recent pair of forays into vinyl found the Berlin-based label celebrating the excellent off-kilter house music of East German city Jena and welcoming veritable legends Akufen, Ark, Tom Ellis and the aforementioned Pheek to a various artists release.
The tangibility of Nojoke’s live performances can be heard on “Kaminaki”, the lead track on this new four track EP on Klangscheiben. The tinkle of a glass sounds clear as day at the front of the mix, while a metallic bell-like clang reverberates around your ears – there’s more than a pipette’s worth of psychedelia soaked into the roots of the sound. Bar a few subtle flecks of melody “Kartesha” comes on as a much more stern-faced affair made up of snaking, stuttering percussion. “Wamema” places all the emphasis on a beat that, while craftily constructed, comes on a little like a DJ tool.
“Wantagini” is a curious addition to the EP, featuring as it does a lingering piano chord that would most likely warm many a listener to the slender funk of the track behind it. As a standalone track it works, but it doesn’t necessarily marry with the vision of the playful toy conductor tinkering with microphones and penny whistles in a quest for something all his own. Like the rest of the EP, there’s something a little too serious going on here, and it edges Nojoke away from what set him apart, from my perspective at least.
Any artist is free to leave behind sounds they may have grown out of, and Nojoke has been exploring reduced house and techno variations for long enough to do whatever he pleases with it, but like so many forms of dance music it’s easy to drift into soundalike territory, where the tidal wave of identikit producers is suffocating. Appreciated in a vacuum, this EP is a richly detailed, wonderfully produced collection of tracks, and “Kaminaki” especially stands out, but given the amount of music that orbits in a similar realm, a little more individuality goes a long way. As it happens, Nojoke is re-launching his Clikno label next year as a vinyl entity with a two track EP that remedies this concern in a fresh, unexpected way. My advice would be to keep an eye out for that when it lands next year to get a real sense of what Dr. Nojoke is about.
Released October 19, 2017