Although you won't find his name in their catalog, producer and mastering engineer Stefan Betke was closely associated with the Berlin-based Basic Channel label and its artists, such as Maurizio, Monolake, and Vainqueur. Like those artists' bassy, dub-laden reductions of techno and house, Betke's work -- which appeared under the alias Pole, named after Waldorf's 4-Pole sound-processing device -- was about doing more with less. Snaps, clicks, crackles, and smudgy bass atmospheres occupied the whole of Pole singles such as "Tanzen" and "Raum Eins," as well as Betke's numbered 1998-2000 series of albums issued by Kiff and distributed to American audiences by Matador.
Where most Basic Channel releases clung fearlessly to the throbbing momentum of 4/4 minimalism, Betke drew complex, intricate rhythms from the crisp analog haze, layering rich, ghostly melodies over multi-tracked tape hiss and a barrage of syncopated skips and stutters. Betke's tracks thus shared more with off-kilter Kölners such as Oval, Mouse on Mars, and Kandis than with his colleagues at Basic Channel. Still, his music retained the stark emptiness of Berlin post-techno, though it was more interesting -- and far less dance-friendly -- than the comparison might suggest.
After his numbered trilogy of albums, Betke briefly aligned with Daniel Miller's Mute label, where he released the 45/45 and 90/90 EPs, as well as a self-titled album, in 2003. These tracks offered a radical departure from Betke's past. They incorporated more pronounced beats, as well as appearances from rapper Fat Jon. Betke then returned to his own Scape label, a revered source of releases from kindred spirits like Jan Jelinek, Kit Clayton, and Deadbeat. Steingarten, a livelier and more adventurous set, appeared in 2007. Following the album's release, Pole releases were less frequent, but Betke continued to be an in-demand mastering engineer for singles, EPs, and albums released on Third Ear, Mute, and Uncanny Valley, among many other labels.
Scape ceased operation in 2010; the following year, Pole created an eponymous label. His debut album trilogy was digitally reissued, and a series of Waldgeschichten EPs appeared. In Dubs, Pole's remix EP of tracks by Roll the Dice, was released by Leaf in 2012. Pole's long-awaited sixth album, Wald, arrived in 2015, followed by the single "Lurch (Version)" in 2016. The following year, Bureau B released Betke's installment of the Con-Struct series, featuring compositions made from the archive of the late electronic pioneer Conrad Schnitzler. ~ Sean Cooper