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10 Years, 100 Songs: #64. “Wir Horen Ein Singen Im Raum…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 31, 2009

Over the final months of our fine decade, Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be sending the Naughty Oughties out in style with a series of essays devoted to the top 100 songs of the decade–the ones we will most remember as we look back fondly on this period of pop music years down the road. The archives can be found here. If you want to argue about the order, you can’t, because we’re not totally sure what the qualifications are either. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.

Nothing in dance music this decade was cooler than what Kompakt Records brought to the table from 2001 – 2004. Considering that the most of the last half of the 90s was stuffed with Bigger, Faster, Louder-type subgenres like big beat, drum and bass and trance, and that the most popular form of underground dance for the first few years of the new millennium was the at-times unlistenably obnoxious electroclash of Peaches and Fischerspooner, it was certainly time for something different. As is so often the case in life, the Germans were on top of things, and the Kompakt roster–artists like Justus Kohnchke, Superpitcher and co-owner Michael Mayer–brought a subtlety, a sophistication, and most importantly, an impeccable sense of melody to music that was still plenty high-energy enough to own the right kind of dancefloor. It was exactly what we needed, and for a couple years, it was as fun as anything in music to follow.

The song that hooked me to Kompakt, and the one which probably endures as the label and sound’s definitive single, came courtesy of a gentleman named Jurgen Paape. I knew little about Mr. Paape then and even less now–he had no full-length album out, no media presence, and unlike some of his slightly more pandering colleagues, did not deign to have the limited vocals to his songs sung in English. What he did have were a pair of breathtakingly shimmering singles, pristine and so pretty–the shuffling, stereophonic “Mit Dir,” and maybe the closest that the microhouse sub-genre ever came to an anthem, “So Weit Wie Noch Nie.” After that, I downloaded just about anything from the label that I could get my hands on, leading to Superpitcher full-lengths, all the Total compilations I could find on SoulSeek (Total 4 is still my favorite, and one of the classic comps of the decade), and of course, any and everything done by Jurgen Paape, in the hopes that somehow he had an entire discography to live up to “Mit Dir” and “So Weit Wei Noch Nie.”

I love both songs about equally, but I went with “So Weit” because it was the one I heard first, and the song that my mind immediately goes to when I think of Kompakt and microhouse in general. From the first second, it was a stunner, with that gorgeous, shimmering (I wish I could come up with a synonym, but there’s a better word out there for this song I’d like to hear it) synth pattern, nothing too fancy–just two percolating chords, repeating ceaselessly–but a sound that’s completely transfixing and unforgettable. Production was the hook here all-around, a concept confirmed as the song’s beat enters, and it begins to shake and shimmy with a clean, crisp kick. The bass line was the understated key to the song, however–a four-note thump that it only just occured to me sounds a whole lot like the classic intro to Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” with all the fun, innocence and sweet soulfulness that such a connection would imply.

And then, of course, the vocals. They came in like a transmission from an old World War II-era broadcast–old, distant, and permeated with a kind of regretful nostalgia. It’s a very pretty vocal, but it was also an odd and somewhat disquieting one, especially since Paape always did little things to remind you that it’s a sampled, not live vocal, cutting and pasting obviously distinct sections into each other, and looping it at unnatural moments. The effect was kind of a poingnantly sad one, as even throughout the song’s blissfully dream beat, the longing of the vocal gives you the impression that that the song is at best a fond rememberance of a much happier, simpler time. Many of the all-time great dance sosngs have that kind of bittersweet feel to them, and the overflowing emotion present in “So Weit Wie Noch Nie”–despite the fact that the vocals are entirely in a foreign language, with no giveaway clues as to the song’s true meaning or intention–was a refreshing change of pace at a time when dance seemed to be at its most impersonal and disconnected.

In case you were wondering, though, the translated lyrics supposedly go something like this:

Wir hören ein singen im raum (We hear a singing in the room)
Wir jagen die monotomie (We hunt down the monotony)
Wir machen aus stunden ein jahr (We make years from an hour)
Und mondschein aus unserem haar (And the moon shines from our hair)
Wir fliegen so weit wie noch nie (We fly as far as never before)

I dunno, it all sounds about right to me.

Despite my searching, I never really found anything else that Jurgen did that really even came close to either of these two songs, though to be fair, doing so would be a marginally challenging proposition. Meanwhile, Kompakt kept trucking along, setting the blogosphere on fire and even getting featured in a SPIN feature once–something of a rarity for an unfashionable (in the literal sense) underground dance label from eastern Europe. Their popularity crested around the middle of the decade, and I haven’t listened to any of the new Total compilations since 2005, but the label has stayed relevant, largely thanks to The Field, whose Kompakt-released From Here We Go Sublime was one of the best-reviewed (nd flat out best) albums of 2007. It wasn’t just in the critical sphere that their influence was felt, however–the label also ended up having a profound effect on pop music, as the schaffel beat that they helped re-introduce to dance through songs by Mayer and Kohncke and the Schaffelfieber compilations would eventually be co-opted in mainstream megahits like Fall Out Boy’s “I Don’t Care,” Britney Spears’ “Womanizer,” and naturally, Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl.”

Now, there was also an indie dance label rising to popularity in the States around the same time that Kompakt was keeping things interesting across the pond. More on that one still to come, however.

(Have any thoughts or rememberances of this song? Want to correct our lyrics or call us out for relying too much on Wikipedia? Please feel free to leave a comment here, or (gulp) Tweet us about it at twitter.com/intensities. Your input is lusted after and appreciated.)

The List So Far:

100. Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia”
99. The Ying Yang Twins – “Wait (The Whisper Song)”
98. Crazytown – “Butterfly”
97. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops on My Guitar”
96. The Fray – “Over My Head (Cable Car)”
95. Fergie – “Fergalicious”
94. Lidstrom – “I Feel Space”
93. Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below”
92. T-Pain f/ Yung Joc – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)”
91. The Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”
90. Cassie – “Me & U”
89. Nelly Furtado – “Maneater”
88. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug & Paul Wall – “Still Tippin’”
87. Bat for Lashes – “Daniel”
86. The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”
85. Dynamite Hack – “Boyz n the Hood”
84. DJ Khaled f/ T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman, Lil’ Wayne & Akon – “We Takin’ Over”
83. Matchbox20 – “Bent”
82. The Game f/ 50 Cent – “Hate It or Love It”
81. 311 – “Amber”
80. 3 Doors Down – “Krptonite”
79. Nas – “Made You Look”
78. Royksopp – “Eple”
77. The Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha”
76. DMX – “Party Up (Up in Here)”
75. Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet”
74. Twista f/ Kanye West & Jamie Foxx – “Slow Jamz”
73. The Streets – “Weak Become Heroes”
72. Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle”
71. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps”
70. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell – “Drop It Like It’s Hot”
69. Alice DeeJay – “Better Off Alone”
68. Xiu Xiu – “I Luv the Valley OH!”
67. Incubus – “Stellar”
66. Mariah Carey – “We Belong Together”
65. Andrew W.K. – “Party Hard”
64. Jurgen Paape – “So Weit Wie Noch Nie”

8 Responses to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #64. “Wir Horen Ein Singen Im Raum…””

  1. Dylan said

    Ultra Records, maybe? They got super popular during that time.

  2. Tal said

    My favorite entry yet! A song I fail to remember but never fails when I hear it.

    That keyboard has a little too much depth to be “shimmering.” The word, to me, connotes a certain frailness, which that keyboard loop carefully avoids. I think a better word would be “glowing,” which is kind of what I think it does. It’s visual.

    Did pop really ever incorporate Kompakt’s microhouse aesthetic? If it did, the only remotely tangential relationship I can see is some of the stuff Timbaland did on *Futuresexx/Lovesounds*, and even then the music felt a little too maximal (I specifically mention the keyboards on “My Love” which are kind of lightly scratched in and out, while the vocal beatbox offsets the handclaps in a very Kompakt-type fashion)–and on top of that Timbaland was flicking compressed snare cracks as early as Da Real World and “Are You That Somebody.”

  3. Tal said

    Oh, I didn’t know what the words meant! Didn’t ever think to care either, so I’m glad you pointed them out. They kind of sound like dialogue from a heady anime film, like *Spirited Away* or something.

  4. David said

    I think its a lil ridiculous to suggest that this song is somehow the label’s “definitive” single. Especially since what made them so great was their diversity. Its not like this was a hit or something.

    aside from that bit of unterburger-taste-centricism, great write up

  5. […] Carey – “We Belong Together” 65. Andrew W.K. – “Party Hard” 64. Jurgen Paape – “So Weit Wie Noch Nie” 63. Taking Back Sunday – “MakeDamnSure” 62. Kid Cudi – “Day n Nite” 61. Paramore – […]

  6. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Turn the Page Chords.
    Regards

  7. Andy said

    “Und Mondschein aus unserem Haar” — I’m not a native German speaker, but I think that means “and [we make] moonlight out of our hair”

  8. Andy said

    Also, the lyrics to “Mit Dir” (apparently sampled from Marianne Rosenberg):

    Wie von weitem erklingt Musik [Music sounds as if from far away]
    Und ich wünsch mir das Glück mit dir [And I wish that happiness with you]

    The second sample cuts off “ging nie vorbei” [never went away] from the original song.

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