There are some records that define their time so exactly that they become inextricably bound with memories, nostalgia, youth. That transcend whatever stultifying definitions are placed on them to sit in a category of one. Records like 'Dummy', 'Leftism', 'Timeless', 'Smoker's Delight'... and of course, Kruder & Dorfmeister's 'The K+D Sessions'. Released in 1998, ostensibly it's a double-CD collection of their remixes of other artists, with a smattering of their own originals included.
But 'The K+D Sessions' is so much more than that. The work of Austrian musicians Peter Kruder and Richard Dorfmeister, dreamed up and conceived in their Vienna G-Stone Studio, it drew together a clutch of re-imaginings of artists both familiar and obscure, with versions of such disparate acts as drum & bass dons Roni Size and Alex Reece, synth-pop heroes Depeche Mode, Tim Simenon's Bomb the Bass and gangsta rappers Bone, Thugs and Harmony, as well as fellow Austrian downtempo artists Sofa Rockers. All acts light years away from each other stylistically; yet all wanted a piece of K+D's smoked-out, hazy, dubwise pie.
The duo's notoriety grew after the release of their debut 'G-Stoned' EP as early as 1993. An anomaly at the time, when trip-hop was but a twinkle in dance music history's eye, it had a bittersweet, dusted, melodic sensibility that blurred tough drums, live instruments, subtle dance influences like acid squelches, and touches of dub, film soundtracks and jazz into something unique on tunes like 'High Noon'.
“I still remember clearly the day in Florence, Italy that I was passed a demo cassette of some tunes by an Austrian duo named K+D,” remembers Gilles Peterson, an early champion of the duo's music on his radio show. “It was so fresh and tidy — a natural collision between Brit soul beats of the time by people like the Chimes and Soul to Soul with a hint of instrumental US hip-hop and a strong dash of high quality herb... I got so much play out of that initial EP — absolute leaders and pioneers!”
It was this singular blend they perfected over their series of remixes of increasingly high profile artists. In truth they were more than “just” remixes. Kruder + Dorfmeister treated each tune as a fresh composition. Rather than just chucking some stems into a sequencer and creating something functional on spec, each tune was perceived as a “K+D Session” — a completely new live band interpretation, fusing burbling electronics, live drum kits, bass, guitar and whatever else was required.
Some were almost completely different to the originals. Their lick of Alex Reece's 'Jazz Master', for example, laced eerie theremin, echoey synths, and a gorgeous chanteuse voice, redolent of strolls through hazy Parisian boulevards, while a resonant bass bubbled beneath into a jazzy drum clatter and organ, gradually morphing into drum & bass as it progressed. Their version of Bomb the Bass's 'Bug Powder Dust' was even more far out.
Placing Justin Warfield's William Burroughs Naked Lunch-inspired rap in a suitably trippy mirror world of creaky keys, aquatic synth, David Lynch guitar twangs and bubbling, zonked out 303s, it was a completely new version, different enough to render it Kruder + Dorfmeister's own original work.
Other tracks, like their version of Roni Size/Reprazent's 'Heroes', transformed the vibe of the song, but worked with the melody in a subtle and appropriate way; stretching out the vocal into a languid, bossa nova beat of rising and falling bass, with stylish little d&b dropdowns.
This was music that was tailor-made for stoned sessions, but found its way far beyond the bedrooms of the perpetually caned into the homes of anyone who appreciated chilled but intricate, beautiful music at the time. It resonates still today, with a new re-release of the double-CD in a lavish five record vinyl box-set upcoming.
“The arrangement is unorthodox but still holds the attention of the listener,” says Roni Size. “As a listening experience it works in your front room. It works in the bedroom. It works in the pub. It works in the car. It works wherever you are.”
Lumped in variously with the trip-hop, chill-out and downtempo music scenes, in actuality Kruder + Dorfmeister's music drew on so many sonic tropes and ideas that genre tags were redundant. This was music that performed that rare feat of mixing electronic dance flavours with human, organic playing in a way that worked seamlessly, and in its blending of styles, it was a pre-millennial precursor to the post-modern, post-everything mix we have now. It was enough for Peter and Richard, who each went on to other projects, perhaps not wanting to sully the legacy they had created.
For better or worse, the release of this album in 1998 directly influenced the chill-out craze that blossomed at the end of the millennium and into the early 2000s, that culminated in a glut of Ministry of Sound chill compilations. But there's nothing calculated or cynical about 'The K+D Sessions'. It's an all-time classic game changer.