A Bullshitter's Guide to Microhouse
A brief history of a micro movement that'll last the ages, honestly.
Stupid genre names are as much a part of dance music as ecstasy, strobes and spending every Sunday chaining Louis Theroux episodes in a state of despair. Due to our rapacious need to categorise everything into smaller and smaller groups until every record released has its own section at Hardwax or on Beatport, we're forced to come up with worse and worse names. One of the worst of these is microhouse, a termed coined by noted dance music journalist Philip Sherburne in an issue of Serious Music Magazine, The Wire. Microhouse, sometimes referred to as bufftech for reasons that'll hopefully never be revealed, referred to the kind of slinky tech-house that eventually became minimal which eventually became mnml, which eventually became a dirty word and the sole preserve of Romanians with Hawtin haircuts banging their seventh pill at a Raresh set. It was music that rooted itself to the undulating, propulsive thwack and thud of 4/4 but rather than the chunky organ stabs and soulful inflections of straight up house, or the steel on concrete whips of techno, its palate was drawn from the tiniest, most micro-samples possible: milliseconds of shaved sound layered and refracted, kaleidoscopic elements of other works coagulating into something true, something perfect. For a while back in the heady, clicky, glitchy days of the mid-00s it was some of the best music in the world. Most of it holds up today.
Apropos of absolutely nothing, we thought we'd take you back there when the grass was greener, when the skies were bluer, when Farben, Luciano and Mikkel Metal were household names. Here's our beginner's guide to the best microhouse ever pressed to German wax.
FIVE ESSENTIAL MIXES
Lets face facts: electronic dance music is a functional medium and all house and techno records exist purely to be heard in context with other similar records. Artists albums usually consist of a few peak time smashers with some quasi-ambient drift cluttering the beginning and end and a few ill-advised journeys into the heart of 'song'. What we want from dance music is nicely beatmatched continuity, and microhouse was no exception so lets start by looking at the five mixes that do the work for us.
Immer Mixed by Michael Mayer
This is the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world of clicky, lovelorn, sensuous and sad dance music for the kind of person who knows the serial number of Bpitch releases but hasn't danced once in their life. Bar fights rumble on, from Cologne to Cagliari and Coventry to Cincinnati, over which of Kompakt boss Mayer's early 00s mixes reigns supreme: if the otherwordly Fabric 13 is a stellar indication of the kind of material you're likely to hear him drop in the club – and you'd pay good money to be at any night that features Villalobos' eerily time stretched and timeless "Easy Lee" next to the chiming churn of "Abendstern" by Magnet – then Immer is the sound of a master given the time and space to work the mind rather than the body. The result is just over an hour of some of the most gorgeous records ever pressed to vinyl, mixed with precision and longform sensitivity. It's the microhouse equivalent of Freidrich's Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog – deeply, seriously romantic.
Friends Mixed by Triple R
Slapheaded Riley Reinhold was, and is, a microhouse mainstay; the man founded Traum and Trapez for god's sake. He couldn't be any more microhouse if he tried. So it's only right and natural that he turned in one of the genre's greatest contributions, a mix that captures a moment in time, preserving it with love and care, giving us something to savour for years to come. Friends is a trippier affair than the fantastically upright Immer. It bobs and weaves courtesy of Robag Wruhme's seasick stumbling, Jeff Samuel's elastic classic "Double Yum" and the sadly forgotten Broker/Dealer's shoulda-been-HUGE "Boots and Pants", a swirling, snaking masterclass in the emotionally manipulative effects of electronic music. A winter warmer par excellence.
Collector's Series Pt.1 – Popular Songs mixed by The Modernist
I genuinely believe that this mix isn't spoken of in the same hushed tones as the two above because of its shitty title. Unfortunately, The Modernist, aka Jorg Burger, aka The Bionaut, has a pretty German sense of humour, so we're stuck with the kind of name that's apologetically weak but not apologetic enough to sort itself out. Do yourself a favour and delete the ID tag on iTunes and sink into an immaculate set of brushed metal brittleness. Burger serves up a delicious set of off-kilter gems like DJ Koze's dog-walking paean "Bobby" and Autosundmädchen's one and only record: a microhouse cover of a Prefab Sprout song. It also, weirdly, attempts to rehabilitate the Mitsubishi advert featuring "Breathe" by Telepopmusik. Semi-successfully as well.
Today mixed by Superpitcher
He might have made his name knocking out heroin house but Aksel Schaufler is a softy at heart and this mix is undeniable proof of that fact. This is one for when unrequited love leaves you feeling like an angsty teenager all over again, an infusion of goth incense for the bedroom bound of us who never massacred ourselves with mascara. Today is a moody, turbulent mix that melts three quarters of the way through, revealing its inner desirous nature with the spellbinding Lawrence remix of Superpitcher's own "Happiness". Best played on a rain lashed November night when the one you fancy's ignoring your DMs.
Fabric 17 mixed by Akufen
Marc Leclair, aka Akufen, was always the most methodically, manically micro of the whole gang. He was the producer who really pushed split second splices to the absolute limit, creating seasick, lurching, wonked out house records that sounded like fucking about with an old radio in the car while your dad punched out a 4/4 on his window. His addition to the gold standard of commercial mixes sounds a bit like that, mixed with endlessly buzzing, tinny, tiny wasps or hummingbirds or something similarly small and annoying but simultaneously really great.
FIVE ESSENTIAL TRACKS
Ada - "Each and Everyone (Blindhouse)"
There are days when I rate this woozy, crystalline cover of a pretty dull Everything but the Girl song as one of the greatest songs ever made. It's perfect, utterly entrancing and bewitching from the first rain soaked kick to the the last drop, a record to live with and live inside, one of the most genuinely gorgeous tracks of the millennium. Anchored around iced-out, ice-blue synaesthetic washes and the saddest four note plink of a melody I've ever heard, I can't think of another track that captures the helplessly disembodied feeling of heartbreak so well.
Closer Musik - "Maria"
Closer Musik – Dirk Leyers and Mathias Aguayo – did things properly: they released one incredible album on Kompakt and then fucked off. Aguayo now makes incandescently irritating beatbox house and Dirk sits about all day wearing white socks. That album, After Love, divided itself between the politely pumping perviness of tracks like "Closer Dancer" and "Ride", and irresponsibly attractive instrumentals that sound like shards of colour dropping from the heavens after you've double dropped. "Maria" is an elegiac anthem that stands the test of time. Drop it at the end of a mix and get the punters shuffling out into daylight with tears in their eyes.
Luomo – "Synkro"
Vladislav Delay, one of the most forward-thinking and moving producers of the last two decades can knock out club jams next to Serious Avant Garde joints like it was nothing. In some way, his output as Luomo can be viewed as a platonic ideal of what microhouse was and is, and the effect it had on listeners then and now. Structurally a song like "Synkro" – always the underrated deep cut on his life's masterpiece Vocalcity – is almost classically, conservatively microhouse-y: it's choppy, clipped and blitzed to pieces. Emotionally, it's still devastating.
Jan Jelinek – "Tendency"
The best microhouse has always straddled the bedroom/club divide resulting in a swathe of fantastic music that imbued dancefloor with a feeling of interpersonal intimacy. But sometimes it rooted itself resolutely in residential spaces. One of the best examples of lounge-house is Jan Jelinek's kinetic, warm'n'glitchy Loop Finding Jazz Records. That album is one to bathe in on a weekday off work; we're talking luxurious aural bubble bath stuff.
Jurgen Paape – "So Weit Wie Noch Nie"
Scratch what I said about Ada – this is genuinely the best song of all time. Just listen to it. It's like trying to describe a sunset over a Hawaiian beach on MDMA on NYE with the one you love. Words aren't enough.
FIVE ESSENTIAL LABELS
The easiest way to blag about any genre is to always go down the label lane: mentioning a Cadenza here or a Ghostly International there is a sure fire guarantee of looking clued up and keyed in. You can walk into record shops from London to Leipzig and ask for stuff on any of the following with confidence in your voice and a spring in your step.
The daddy. Kompakt are still synonymous with a kind of churning, yearning, poppy brand of techy house that brings emotional heft to dancefloors all over the world. Though not every 12" is the genuine 10/10 classic like it was a few years back, the hit rate is still pretty high and they remain a gateway into electronic music for a lot of self-consciously sad, provincial boys with fringes. The first six of the annual round up Total compilations are essential purchases for anyone with the slightest interest in dance music, they've put out a ton of genuinely solid artist albums (The Field's From Here We Go Sublime, Chromophobia by Gui Boratto, and DJ Koze's Kosi Comes Around being the standouts), and, well, they released this and for that they deserve a place in the dance hall of fame.
If Kompakt was seen as a bit soft, a bit 'beginner's guide to going out', a bit too accessible, then Traum, and its sister label Trapez, were the imprints that managed to get the lads with Kings of Convenience albums in their collection involved without alienating the core clubbers. Both labels stock in trade was stuttering tech-house with a heart of gold. Pick up a Traum or Trapez 12" and expect late night/early morning thudding melancholy.
Weirdly, I first heard of Perlon when they were used as a punchline in a review to another microhouse record in an old issue of VICE, which I must have read when I was about 15. The joke was that records on Perlon tended to be really long. Which they are. But they're great. Perlon tunes were deep, dark and danceable. And, yes, very long.
Force Tracks was always the most manically, methodically micro of all the labels pivotal to the scene. Housing the likes of Akufen, Luomo and SCSI-9, they kept things trippy – vocal cut-ups and glitchy laptoptronica allied to the mechanistic heart of house was the order of the day. Andrew Weatherall has made your life even easier by releasing a mix of the label's best material – wintry greyscale microhouse for days.
You can follow Josh on Twitter: @bain3z