An interview with Wolfgang Voigt on Mohn and running Kompakt

Few record labels demand as much respect as Cologne’s finest. Whether you’re looking for solid, wholly playable but utterly unpredictable techno and house music, slick electro-pop or something even more experimental, one imprint is usually a sure fire hit.

Needless to say we’re talking about Kompakt, and for evidence of our appreciation for this organisation one only needs to look at the pages we’ve dedicated to releases like Rainbow Arabia, Terranova, and WALLS, to name but a few acts over the last 12 months. Another of which would be Mohn, whose self-titled album we recently reviewed right here.

The duo, AKA Jorg Berger and Kompakt co-founder Wolfgang Voigt (alongside Michael Mayer and Jurgen Paape), have a long standing relationship in the studio. 1998’s Las Vegas is widely regarded as one of that decade’s electronic masterpieces, and their latest collaborative album sees similarly ambient, dream-like soundscapes and fantastically lucid arrangements realised with a sense of coherency usually reserved for more structured, ‘popular’ genres. Dance music this isn’t, but impressive and somehow accessible it is. As such we thought it wise to ask Mr Voigt a few questions about putting the record together, and co-running one of the world’s most consistently great and constantly surprising labels. Here’s how he answered.

Mohn ‘the album’ has just arrived, from your own perspective what were you and Jorg trying to achieve with the record? 

Alongside our Techno productions of the last 25 years, we have also been very interested in other adjacent forms of electronic music. We wanted to create a completely new combination of diverse variants of ambient, downbeat, art and pop-music which had never been heard before.

In terms of the Mohn project, you two have been good friends and associates for some time, why was now the right time to realise this side of your work in a full-length album? 

Following the publication of our ambient electronic album Las Vegas in 1996, under the name Burger/Ink, we were repeatedly asked to put something similar on stage. Subsequently, in 2010, in London, we performed a pure ambient concert in front of a listening, non-dancing audience for the first time. We enjoyed it so much that, proceeding from that experience, we set up the MOHN project.

As an artist you are well known for using almost innumerable alter-egos, for example Gas, which harks back to the time when techno was produced by predominantly faceless people. Do you think too much focus is now put on the ‘name’ of a person, rather than their talents?

In times of unfiltered music distribution via the Internet, of course, it is not necessarily the best kind of music that is most successful but those who shout the loudest or are most unscrupulous about marketing themselves.

As for myself, it was great fun and made sense in the 90s to have lots of projects running under anonymous names. I am still involved in lots of different projects under different names at the same time, but they are all grouped together under the title Wolfgang Voigt. Nowadays anonymity makes no sense for me any more.

Kompakt consistently delivers the goods. What original intentions did you, Michael and Jurgen have when first setting the label up? 

The original intention, when we founded the label in 1998, was on the one hand to give our own creativity, and the constantly increasing quantity of exciting demos from all over the world, a common musical homebase. On the other hand, we wanted the label to add a kind of Cologne dialect to the international global language of techno.

One of the things the imprint is best-known for is diversity, with more experimental electronica, alt-pop, tough techno and everything in between being released. How do you ensure such varied sounds are being put out without confusing people as to ‘what Kompakt is’?

We never said that we didn’t intend to confuse people. On the contrary, we even sort of consider it our duty. We prefer to surprise people with daring publications and polarise them with a couple of projects rather than produce conformist, uniform music. Pop, ambient, and the like, always harmonised well with techno at Kompakt.

Clearly the imprint has come a long way since first opening its doors. How much has Cologne changed in that time, musically speaking? 

For one part Cologne is still a sort of brand on the global musical map, and that stays true to itself. For the other part, in times of globally available digital music good sounds need no physical homebase to work.

Finally, what have you got coming up in the next few months? 

I have been increasingly busy bringing together my musical and visual art work. Two albums will be appearing shortly on my Profan label- For the Love of God and Zukunft Ohne Menschen, which translates as ‘future without people’, blending my music and my art together even more.