Review: DJ Koze – Knock Knock (Pampa Records)

There is perhaps nothing more typecast than saying that an album “takes you on a journey”, but that’s exactly what the 16-track odyssey does. A twisting soundscape of warping reverberations and bizarre instrumentalization; Knock Knock has re-established DJ Koze as the “weirdest man in dance music”.

Born in Marrakesh and based in Hamburg, Stefan Kozella first made a name on the growing 90’s German hip-hop scene with politically charged, tongue-in-cheek band Fischmob. Drawing on the prowess of a sublime scratch-master, Kozella’s use of sampling is endlessly innovative. In the vein of The Avalanches or DJ Shadow, voices drift, distort, laugh, and whisper. The opening bars begin with a blast of euphoric harmonies, swooning strings and guitar riffs. In Illumination – a definitive crux – the fluidity of Róisin Murphy’s melodic, breathy voice is juxtaposed with jarring squelches and shrieks. ‘Planet Hause’ utilises prominent hand-claps and high-hats alongside whizzbanging synth farts. Atonal, indecipherable wails perforate ‘Jesus’. Rather than being alienating, the clangour draws you in further. In a discussion with a friend recently, we lamented on a certain quality that a song possesses which makes you stop on the dancefloor and say, “What the fuck was that?!” If an album were to embody that sentiment, Knock Knock would be it.

The genre is decidedly impossible to place, and the songs as standalone pieces are wondrously disjointed. BMPs fluctuate; rhythms swing and stutter. Singers switch languages or utter indecipherable echoes and hums. ‘Music on My Teeth’ appears midway through as a luminous interlude of folk, followed by the off-beat, R&B ballad ‘This is my Rock’. Post-punk meets Peruvian pan flutes on ‘Muddy Funster’ with a sample from The Gist’s ‘Love at First Sight’. ‘Bonfire’, which splices in Bon Iver’s ‘Calgary’, catapults between melancholy and exultant. Delving too far into the avant-garde can often produce work which is either inaccessible or boring. Yet the album has skilfully avoided such pitfalls. By exploring the seemingly intangible links between soulful Deep House and textured Indie, minimalist Techno and sultry Trip-Hop, Knock Knock is a smorgasbord testament to anything with a groove. Kozella comes off as a man with a scattered fixation in the nature of ‘noise’, be that in the shape of dreamy-pop, lush ambiance or the jolting sound of klaxon. For DJ Koze there’s melody in everything.

Notoriously eclectic and eccentric himself, Kozella has no interest in being limited to a category of any sort. Back in 2009 he banded forces with Marcus Fink to establish Pampa Records with exactly this ethos. Pampa’s mission is to generate music “that’s seriously danceable without recourse to the tried and tested ingredients”. Even at its most straightforward – the single Pick Up, a haunting lo-fi, disco tune – is reflective and probing. The accompanying video consists of words on a black background: “vocal sample … beat kicks in … disco sample loop x6 … brain realises song consists only of these few elements … deep feeling of happiness.” Rehashing the same Gladys Knight and the Pips’ 1972 edit that was used on Midland’s 2016 hit ‘Final Credits’ comes off as a brave choice. But the decision is potent and pointed. The aura-like quality of the words (‘Neither one of us wants to be the first to say goodbye’) and stripped back 4/4-time signature: these modest components combined are the crucial makings of a great dance track. It’s also a glimpse into the Kozeian mentality of never taking anything too seriously. After all this is the man who dresses in technicoloured turbans, dancing through purple cacti and floating cows.

All this said, there are occasional moments which titre on the brink of boring. Gospel and church organ chord progression on ‘Lord Knows’ have the potential for a blissful crescendo. But the song lacks nuance leaving the beauty of the acapella elements lost. Topping previous release Amygdala (2013), an incandescent LSD-trip of a record composed with left-field stalwarts Caribou, Matthew Dear and Ada, was always going to be a difficult job. Knock Knock copies a similar approach with an impressive, star-studded line-up of featured artists that includes seminal group Arrested Development’s Speech, Kurt Wagner, Sophia Kennedy, Manu le Tough and Eddie Fummler. However, the venture is far less formulaic and predicable. Whilst Amygdala resided firmly within the House and Techno canon, Knock Knock pushes the boat out on wonky, fully establishing Kozella in the realm of experimental. Psychedelic and shape shifting, Knock Knock has the potential to fit aptly a pounding 3am club basement or lazy, sunshine-filled Sunday afternoon. To pull another worn phrase out of the bag, DJ Koze has curated the ideal, versatile “Summer Album”. There’s no surprise that its already being heralded as one of the best productions of 2018.

Knock Knock is out now on Pampa Records.

Words: Hannah Pezzack

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