Sound of Cologne

10 Seminal Moments of Cologne Electronic Music

For our fifth edition, IN-EDIT NL will host several documentary films around the subject of electronic music in Cologne, Germany. Across the programme, we will time travel into the heartland of the German city’s extensive electronic music scene, from the 1950s to today with Kristina Schippling’s The Sound of Cologne. Then, CAN and Me presents and intimate presentation of the life and work of Irmin Schmidt, founder of CAN, whose individual style shaped generations of musicians in pop and electronic music.

In celebration of these films (and maybe even one or two more 😉 we thought to look at the sound of modern Cologne electronic music. Here, we present 10 seminal moments, tracks, albums, ands more from the German city’s thriving scene. What are some of your top moments of Cologne electronic music history?

Mouse on Mars – Autoditacker (1997)

Mouse on Mars’ 1997 album is widely acclaimed for its innovative blend of electronic and experimental music. The album features a unique sound that blends elements of techno, ambient, and post-rock, and its rhythmic complexity and intricate soundscapes have made it a favorite among fans of experimental music. Autoditacker has been praised for its use of unconventional production techniques and for pushing the boundaries of what was possible in electronic music at the time. The album has since become a classic in the genre and remains a touchstone for many contemporary experimental artists.

Wolfgang Voigt’s “Gas” project (1995-2000)

Wolfgang Voigt is a prolific electronic artist and co-founder of the influential Kompakt label. His “Gas” project, which explores ambient and drone music, is considered one of his most seminal works and has influenced countless artists in the ambient and experimental genres.

Opening of A-Musik (1995)

No machine-readable author provided. Denis Barthel assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A-Musik has played an essential role in Cologne’s electronic music scene by being a record store and distribution hub for experimental music. The store has a reputation for featuring lesser-known and avant-garde artists, providing a platform for artists to launch their careers. A-Musik has also participated in many collaborations and projects involving musicians such as Mouse on Mars, Burnt Friedman, and Jan Jelinek. Many musicians associated with A-Musik, including Shackleton and Oneohtrix Point Never, have become influential and established figures in the electronic music scene.

Lena Willikens’ DJ Sets

Lena Willikens is a highly renowned German DJ known for her unique and eclectic approach to electronic music. Her DJ sets are highly diverse and experimental, drawing on a wide range of genres and styles to create a sound that is both fresh and exciting. Willikens is known for her highly intuitive approach to mixing, often incorporating visual elements into her sets to create an immersive experience for her listeners. Some specific examples of her renowned DJ sets include her performance at Dekmantel Festival 2017 and her Boiler Room set from 2022.

Ada – Blondie (2004)

Ada’s 2004 album Blondie features ten tracks that showcase her unique blend of pop and electronic music. The album’s standout track, Maps, has become an electronic music classic, thanks to its ethereal vocals and lush, dreamy production. Blondie helped establish Ada as a leading figure in the electronic music scene and has influenced many artists in the years since its release, incuding The Field and Pantha du Prince.

Michael Mayer – Immer (2002)

Michael Mayer is a key figure in the Cologne electronic scene and co-founder of the influential Kompakt label. Immer is a seminal mix CD that showcases his eclectic taste and skill as a DJ and has been cited as a defining moment in the history of electronic music. It helped define the sound of minimal techno by including artists like Reinhard Voigt, Akufen, and Superpitcher while establishing Kompakt as a leading electronic music label.

Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto – Vrioon (2002)

The result of a deep collaboration between Noto and Sakamoto, Vrioon features the latter’s delicate piano playing paired with the former’s electronic soundscapes. It is a highly experimental album, with tracks that range from sparse and atmospheric to densely layered and chaotic. The album’s abstract soundscapes and unconventional structures make it a challenging listen but also a deeply rewarding one for those willing to engage with its complex textures and sonic landscapes.

Kompakt Total series (1999-2018)

Kompakt Total is a series of annual compilations released by the influential label. The series has been praised for its diverse selection of tracks, featuring both established and emerging artists from various electronic genres. The series has featured everyone from Superpitcher to DJ Koze to Blond:ish across its editions.

Barnt – Chappell (2014)

Barnt is a Cologne-based producer known for his eclectic, genre-defying approach to electronic music. Chappell is a standout track that features a blend of psychedelic textures, hypnotic rhythms, and a sense of playfulness that has become synonymous with Barnt’s music as unique to the sounds of the city.

Jürgen Paape – So Weit Wie Noch Nie (2002)

Another co-founder of Kompakt, Jürgen Paape’s So Weit Wie Noch Nie, is a classic track that blends catchy melodies, driving rhythms, and a sense of nostalgia that has become synonymous with the modern Cologne sound. It was off the label’s early TOTAL releases (#3) and helped define the emerging minimal/microhouse sound.