The Mayer touch

When Michael Mayer talks about anything, words like “family” and “love” come rolling out, without a hint of irony, cynicism or even pretension. This German club DJ and producer, who may be 21st-century techno’s most rhapsodic superstar, uses other words that might normally raise a brow. He refers to the music business as “sexy” when it’s done right; and the trend toward digital production and mixing as “unsexy” when it’s done wrong. He talks about the virtues of “collaboration,” “inspiration” and “perfection.” Sentences are punctuated with references to “beauty” and “passion.” He says he prefers playing records to new sound processing technologies like FinalScratch, because “vinyl (is still) the king’s format.”

Mayer called his debut LP Touch. There can be no word more precise to describe what Mayer triess to do with music.

“It was a conscious decision to call it Touch,” Mayer says, talking from his 101-year-old home in Cologne. “It was not a scientific studio record. It’s inspired by people joining in the music. Everyone is a part of creating a successful party, not just a DJ playing in the corner of the room.”

The album offers up many moods of the man; he cranks it on “Neu Luthersche Fraktur” and “Lovefood,” then takes his time and stretches the groove on “Touch” and “Slowfood.” The set includes “Privat,” a hard-charging but elegant electro-disco-tech song played out in European (and Detroit) clubs in 2004.

Yes, those are songs — not just tracks — that Mayer writes, produces and spins. He prefers a structure that has a beginning, middle and end. In that sense, Mayer says, “the song is exactly like the club experience.”

Mayer is one of the owners of Kompakt, one of the most artistically successful labels ever launched — in any genre. The label releases a new record every two or three weeks, subdividing its output into “Ambient,” “Pop” and “Kompakt Extra” categories. The “Extra” series (also called “Speicher”) refers to the hardest and sickest sounds the label releases, but it’s all proudly called techno at Kompakt. Since 1998, the label has put out more than 100 singles, EPs, LPs and CDs. Its wide distribution network has also enabled labels like Areal, Sender, Shitkatapult, Trapez and Traum to get their records in the hands of fans worldwide.

Mayer, 33, is one of Kompakt’s most well-traveled exports. He’s an underground star in Europe, with residencies in Barcelona, Berlin, Geneva, London and Cologne. He recently completed trips to Australia and Japan. His upcoming North American tour includes stops in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Pacific Northwest and his third visit to Detroit in less than two years. He’s insanely busy, but tries to stay grounded when he is in Cologne. “I like to stay home one weekend a month, but lately it’s not possible,” he says with a soft laugh.

Mayer is one of those spirited types who brings his traveling party in the door with him. In 2003, he and Kompakt colleague Reinhard Voigt had hundreds of people at Detroit’s Times Square dancing for hours, quickly turning a cold room into a sweatbox. Mayer often gestured to the crowd with his arms, trying to get them to rise higher. He conquered this historical “techno city,” where the machine heads and hardcore dancers are never impressed by anything but the real deal.

“I loved Detroit first through all the records that came from there, and I found the city to be very inspiring, very romantic when I actually came there for the first time,” Mayer says. “There is a special vibe to Detroit that makes the party very exciting for me.”


Appears Saturday, Feb. 26, at Bleu (1540 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-222-1900) with Jake Fairley and Rich Korach.

Walter Wasacz is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]
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