It’s Sunday afternoon and you’re staggering around your living room – bleary-eyed and head pounding – hurling loose filters and barely touched cans of Kronenbourg into a bin bag. With each clunk of tin on tin, each plume of ash sent spiralling into the air, you swear to yourself this will be the very last time. Of course within the month you’ll be doing the exact same thing. But the next time you’re caught in the existential dread of the comedown cleanup, do yourself a favour: take a little break and go back through your YouTube history from the night before. By hitting the back button, you can instantly transport yourself through the half-remembered conversations, fleeting epiphanies and overly earnest appraisals of the night before. The soundtrack to an after-party is an amazing thing, and now we might just have the most accurate reproduction of one ever in Knock Knock, the latest album from DJ Koze.
Koze, or Stefan Kozalla, is the German producer with a 25-year career of making strange, compelling music that’s grown to become one of dance music’s most interesting figures. To say “he’s a bit of a character” is a huge understatement; he’s been called both “the clown prince of dance music” and a “maverick genius”. After spending years making hip hop as part of Fischmob and electro funk with International PONY, he turned to house and techno, and rose to become one of the most in demand DJs on the international circuit. In 2016 he remixed Låpsley’s “Operator” which became an almost mandatory selection for dancefloors across the world, from Printworks to Pacha. Now he’s back with his second album, one as strange and eclectic as the man who made it – and it is the distillation of the after-party made flesh. Whether intentional or not, no other work has so accurately recreated the dazed confusion and subdued euphoria of the afters.
In typical Koze fashion the first two tracks sound like they could be beamed directly from space. “Club der Ewigkeiten” (club of eternity) and the Bon Iver-sampling “Bonfire” sound like the transition from the club to the house – from the hastily made group decision to leave, to the Uber into the night and the excitement of no longer having to abide by club rules or watch out for bouncers; of choosing your own music, of all the possibilities to come. Third track “Moving In A Liquid” is when the after-party truly kicks off. It’s in the door, curtains closed, music on, volume up, cans cracked, the smoke of a Marlboro Light and several roll-ups permeating through the air and sticking to the carpet. And if the lyrics aren’t intended as a knowing wink to taking ket then colour me cynical. What else feels like “moving in a liquid” or becoming “a melting piece of golden sand”?
The next chunk of the album features a steady stream of guest vocalists and varying genres – moving from hip hop, to folk, to pop via spots from Speech, José Gonzáles, Sophia Kennedy and Róisín Murphy. This is the part when you’re still on a high from the club, the night has yet to get too blurry and everyone’s demanding their turn on the laptop to choose a song. It’s this idea – the one of close friends passing around a laptop, scrambling for control – that instantly hit me on listening to Knock Knock, relating it directly to the nicotine-stained fingertips and dusty DVD cases of the after-party. Without ever sound like a compilation or iPod stuck on shuffle, the tracks are often bookended, or even flat-out interrupted by weird audio samples that sound like pre-roll ads from another dimension. This is most apparent on “Planet Haze”, a track that presents the promise of a full blown club banger but – after four and a half minutes of increasingly blissful build – it cuts immediately to silence. And then a horrifying vocal sample of “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands” stops the track dead, killing the vibe and denying the implied payoff. It is the invasive YouTube advert reimagined slap-bang in the middle of a dance album.
However, perhaps the most bold evocation of the afterparty is lead single and standout track “Pick Up”. For a start, it uses the same Gladys Knight sample that Midland took for his world-conquering “Final Credits” – a track that’s become such an afterparty staple that it has an almost permanent position on my recommended videos. From here the night gets truly messy and the edges begin to blur, and the final third of Knock Knock is a trip into space from the master of cosmic beats. “Jesus”, “Lord Knows”, “Seeing Aliens” and “Beam Me Up, Flashy” all feature the kind of left-field, off-kilter electronica that so often make an appearance as the afters moves into deep chat mode. Not only that, but the titles themselves touch on the late-night philosophising that seems to crop up again and again in these moments. There only needs to be a track called “DMT Elves” and we’d have the full set.
I have a theory that dance music albums generally fall into one of two categories: the club or the comedown. Each category not only describes the emotions the music evokes, but also acts as a recommended listening environment. Club albums are usually a collection of four to the floor bangers; tracks that will go off in the club and are tailor made with the live show in mind. Think Bicep’s self-titled masterpiece or Kölsch’s trio of studio albums. Whereas comedown albums are full of tracks that would clear a Warehouse Project dancefloor, but are designed for home listening, ideally in one go. For example: the wonderful experimentation found on Mount Kimbie’s Love What Remains or Call Super’s Arpo. But, with Knock Knock, Koze has found himself in the in-between place, between the up and the down, free to include the energy of the club with the introspection and experimentalism of the comedown.
In a scene focused on club bangers, radio hits and streaming, it can seem counterintuitive to spend the time and energy on a larger body of work which might not get the attention it deserves, and so dance music has long had an uncomfortable relationship with the album format. In other genres, artists tour to promote the record, but in dance music, DJ bookings are often the end goal in themselves, and a hyped track can secure you bigger gigs at better clubs. Simply put: having a single track blow up on The Identification of Music Facebook group can have a more immediate and tangible effect on your career than slaving over a studio album. As a result, it’s always impressive when a dance music artist not only dedicates themselves to an album but excels in doing so. And it’s even more impressive when along the way they manage to create something truly unique within the canon, as Koze has managed here. He may be the “weirdest man in dance music” but he may also be the most vital. Plus he also brought us “XTC”, probably the best song about ecstasy in existence. Big yourself up, the German king of the session soundtrack.
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