There is scarcely a conversation had about ambient techno (or perhaps even ambient music and minimal techno in general) that will not eventually reference longstanding German producer Wolfgang Voigt. Voigt is a man of many aliases; as Love Inc. he crafts old-school acid techno, as Wassermann he makes more modern sounding minimal techno, but by far the most notable of Voigt’s creations are the ambient techno works he releases as Gas.
Although it may have been nearly two decades the last record attributed to Gas has been released, the four LPs comprising the bulk of his discography (particularly his overwhelmingly praised trilogy of releases from 1998-2000) remain fresh as they were from the day they were released, and for many act as a standard against which all subsequent ambient techno is measured. Voigt could’ve opted to leave the Gas legacy as it was in 2000 after the release of “Pop” (possibly his most renowned work), thus solidifying its place in history, and indeed for many years Voigt seemed to have entirely retired the Gas alias.
Few expected a new Gas album in 2017, let alone what is more or less a spiritual successor to “Pop” in the form of the brand new “Narkopop” (Russian for “Narcotic”). “Narkopop” was subject to a fair bit of buzz among certain dedicated fan circles, but made little noise in the mainstream music sphere; it was released subtly, which seems appropriate for music that so masterfully exercises the unique power of subtlety. Like Gas’ earlier work, “Narkopop”, at its base, isn’t comprised of very many elements; Gas works with a deliberately inconspicuous palette of sustained melodic orchestra-esque drones, a smorgasbord of subtle audio effects and distortions, and a wide selection of understated syncopated rhythms that sound as if they come from drums and clanks deep under the ocean.
Every Gas album exhibits each of these traits to an extent, but the most obvious point of comparison for Narkopop is to its namesake and immediate, “Pop”. The parallels between “Narkopop” and “Pop” don’t end at the name. “Pop” and “Narkopop” are very structurally similar, but really this isn’t entirely significant; they are both Gas albums, and they both are built of the same basic pieces mentioned above. But there is a distinct similarity, if not in how the pieces explicitly sound once assembled, in how their respective comprising elements relate to and interact with each-other.
Both “Pop” and “Narkopop” generate a sort of spectrum across their respective runtimes, they each subtlety but surely present a mood and an atmosphere (generally very evocative, though “of what” is another debate entirely) that works to envelope the listener such that, by the time the album has reached its conclusion, the mood, the overall tone, and indeed the actual sonic structure of the music, is starkly different from where the listener began. Gas, with equal degrees of expertise in both “Pop” and “Narkopop”, completely conceals the seams. The album becomes more than a collection of songs.
The key difference between the two records is arguably the most significant aspect defining either of them, but that is in the respective moods they aim to evoke. “Pop” is bright; it is a sunny, hazy, friendly album that, while occasionally dipping into moments of unease, always seems to return to the listener in a comforting embrace. “Narkopop” prefers a much darker approach. It, too, eventually does offer warmth and comfort in the form of some quiet and clean melodic passages towards the end, but it makes the journey to this point much colder. The songs feel more drowned-out, buried in audio manipulations that, rather than emphasize certain elements of the track (such is done in “Pop”) work to obscure the track as a whole; the resultant effect is as enchanting as it is discomforting; it leaves one stumbling from dense dark drone to dense dark drone, looking for the occasional muted drum loop to hold on to before that too fades into oblivion.
If “Pop” was a walk through the underbrush of the forest at dawn, “Narkopop” is a silent hike through the depths of the same forest at night.
Whether or not “Narkopop” is ultimately determined to have lived up to the famed status of Gas’ earlier creations, it has already succeeded in giving us a new standpoint from which to view those classic Gas albums, to perhaps relive them again with a modified perspective. And for that reason alone, “Narkopop” is already worthwhile.
Purchase the album here from Gas’ bandcamp