Michael Mayer Works Alone

Michael Mayer Works Alone
When last we spoke, Michael Mayer was looking forward to the construction of new recording studios in the basement of his Kompakt headquarters in Cologne, Germany. As the co-owner of underground dance music's premier label, Mayer was seeking to create a musical factory that economist Adam Smith would have admired, a place where the division of labour would emphasise the respective strengths of each Kompakt contributor.

"We dream of having a situation where many producers are working next door to each other in order to free the production process out of the bedroom," he said in an interview last February.

"I would like to see a return to the old style of music production, where the records are composed by person A, performed by person B, and recorded by person C. We see these collaborations as the way forward."

That may well be true, but when it came time for Mayer to record his debut full-length last summer, delays in the studio's construction forced him to retreat to his flat to finish the project. After just three-and-a-half weeks, the 33-year-old emerged from his home with Touch, a worthy addition to his rich catalogue of twelve-inch singles and remixes.

Where so many of his contemporaries are tailoring the pop song structure to their ends, Mayer's Touch is comprised of eight sprawling compositions, from hands-in-the-air numbers like "Privat" and "Heiden" to the pensive mid-tempo suite of "Lovefood" and "Slowfood." The last of those tracks is perhaps the album's best, a loose epic built upon a guitar figure that sounds like a cast-off from Stevie Wonder's Talking Book sessions. Fleshed out by a rich array of contrapuntal sounds — quavering synth passages, a viscous bass groove, and all manner of electronic squiggles — the guitar loop has a thoroughly hypnotising effect, locking the listener in for ten-plus minutes of hazy-minded reverie. "Slowfood" is Touch's anchor in more ways than one, reflecting the very circumstances of its creation, and of Mayer's own musical education.

"We had a very, very shitty summer this year in Germany," he explains. "For three weeks, it was just raining, raining, raining. When I started ‘Slowfood,' the rain stopped and suddenly it became incredibly hot.

"Out of this mood, I started to feel like, ‘OK, I will act like a slow-rock band, like Steve Miller, and play this loop for hours and hours,'" he continues. "Then I would go to my computer and to my other equipment and play along to the loop, adding sounds as if I was a rock band jamming. In the end, I wanted to create this link between the slow-rock groove stuff and the brightness of a Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis production, to show that a song can be down-tempo without having to sound like trip-hop."

Elsewhere, "Touch" is a trance song that finds the producer reaching back to the form's roots to salvage its transcendental core. Given the house and techno scene's recent revival of the acid sound, trance seems ripe for reappraisal, but even if Mayer's leading the excavation party, don't expect him to stick around for long.

"Whether I'm making an album or I'm DJing somewhere, I always have to deal with certain expectations because I have a name now," he explains. "I can't allow myself to fulfil these expectations, so I have to return to my personal centre, to my heart. To me this is the more challenging way: to take the stony path, to do what others aren't."