He looks like a distinguished philosophy prof at a major European university, but Thomas Fehlmann is actually electronic music's Methuselah. Long after most of his contemporaries and younger peers have lost their motivation and creative acuity, Fehlmann (born 1957 in Switzerland) maintains a staggeringly high level of quality control. (If he's released a dud track in the 20 years I've been following him, I've not heard it.)
Following a fruitful stint in the Berlin-based new-wave group Palais Schaumburg (which included future techno legend Moritz von Oswald), Fehlmann linked with that producer and Detroit techno pioneer Juan Atkins as 3MB. After forming his own Teutonic Beats label and establishing a DJ residency at Berlin's Tresor club, Fehlmann became an occasional member of the dubadelic techno unit Sun Electric and the Orb, which took psychedelic ambient and dubwise house to the megafestival circuit. Fehlmann is the main reason that the Orb continue to sound relevant, as evidenced by sporadically great records like Bicycles & Tricycles and Okie Dokie It's the Orb on Kompakt.
But Fehlmann really sparkles on his own, and his run of releases throughout the '00s stands as one of the decade's most impressive. Lowflow, his 2004 full-length on Plug Research, revealed Fehlmann's incredible facility for illbient and dub production techniques, while revealing a deceptively deep understanding of funk. Visions of Blah (Kompakt, 2002) displays his ultracool takes on schaffel, experimental, and minimal techno. Fehlmann's impeccable sense of melody and texture always exhibit a questing imagination, a refusal to settle for overdone gestures. Honigpumpe (Kompakt, 2007) exposes Fehlmann's sweet, golden touch with more vaporous, melodic strands of techno.
With the excellent new Gute Luft: Original Soundtrack from the "24H Berlin" TV Documentary (Kompakt), Fehlmann proves his mettle with film scoring. Gute Luft is necessarily less about dance-floor functionality and more about augmenting the images presented in the film (which I haven't seen). Still, detached from their natural habitat, the tracks work well, underscoring Fehlmann's subtle, mesmerizing rhythms, evocative melodies, and atmospheres that range from celestial to menacing. The tranquilly percolating "Schwerelos" wondrously updates Philip Glass's main Koyaanisqatsi theme and is one of many examples of Fehlmann expanding his repertoire; the pop-orch-ambient of "Scheiben" is another. Overall, the man makes you really want to visit Berlin.
All four times I've seen him perform live, Fehlmann has danced that same charming dance—a sort of gentle swaying accompanied by arm movements that suggest he's trying to harness a euphoria-enhanced ectoplasm to dispense to the audience. This he maintains throughout his entire set while inspiring fellow dancers to lose themselves in his elegant tapestry of beats and tones. Maybe Fehlmann's a professor, after all—with a PhD in subliminally suggestive crowd mobilization.
Thomas performs with Shen and Lusine on Sat April 10, Chop Suey, 9 pm, $12 adv/$15 DOS, 21+.