Just recently, Wolfgang Voigt announced Rausch, a new record under his GAS moniker. Rausch is a rather quick followup to Narkopop, his first album as GAS since 2000. When Narkopop came out, a new generation of electronic music fans was exposed to Voigt’s idiosyncratic universe of dubbed-out sound, but that also meant the critics had changed and a new wall of taste gatekeepers stood in the way. Since a new GAS album is coming out very soon, I feel that I should address some of the more recent criticisms and concerns of those who might not understand what GAS “is” or how to approach an album by someone with Voigt’s stature. Let’s dive in…
Anthony Fantano was in a bad position to give Narkopop a 2/10. Why am I so irritated about that? Fantano has no apparent understanding of the context of where Voigt fits in the narrative of a) German techno and b) ambient as a whole. I have not been successfully convinced at all that he has the clout or explored either genre enough to be able to properly contextualize or approach the record from a critical standpoint, especially when the only strictly electronic records he’s ever bothered to review on theneedledrop were the same ones Pitchfork cared about or stuff from artists who have been canonized as essential electronic musicians like Four Tet, Aphex Twin, or Jon Hopkins. You also can’t really criticize an ambient album for being something that works best as boring background music; ambient music falls under an entirely different set of musical criteria.
Anyways, on to why I think Narkopop/GAS should be given a second chance…
The first four GAS records were created right around the same time Basic Channel began appearing and represented an entirely new, paranoid, psychedelic, and often euphoric way of looking at dub techno, reframed using tools like Schoenberg and Wagner samples (an obvious nod towards Voigt’s German heritage) to dark four-on-the-floor pumping. GAS was the first project to truly put pure, unadulterated texture at the forefront of this new style of ambient techno. Since then, Pop (2000) has become a monolithic touchstone in ambient.
Each record since Voigt’s debut as GAS has a distinct atmosphere. Zauberberg (1997) is what happens when dub meets classical in Krubera, the lovechild of two psychotic parents. Königsforst (1998) is the part of the series where the light breaks through the tree branches, served up with a grand finale sequence worthy of the golden hour seen by a Finnish pine forest. (I think it helps to mention that the entire project was inspired by Voigt tripping on acid alone in a forest outside of Cologne as a way to cope with his ADHD as a teenager.) Pop (2000) is of course where the entire series led up to. Pop features some of the most grand production and sound design I’ve ever heard on a single record, not to mention the sheer amount of sonic diversity for a project as tunnel-visioned as GAS.
And then comes Narkopop (2017), which was, in my opinion, a welcome return to the project. Maybe the whole concept is harder to approach for folks who weren’t around to hear how revolutionary GAS was at the time, but I think the proper solution to approaching Narkopop is to turn it up loud with a good sub and let it roll, honestly. I don’t really agree with the complaint about it being boring as I’ve been sitting at home in front of my stereo listening to it on a set of bookshelf speakers with the volume up at a nice, enveloping level. Narkopop is an ambient album, after all! It’s still got a nice texture to it, but it has a new, slicker, more muscular sheen. There’s tons of depth to explore. In the words of Mark Richardson, who has so much more reinforceable “clout” than pretty much every critic that offered up their thoughts on the album: “It takes the basic grainy GAS approach and blows up the crude raw materials to a sparkling 70mm, an epic ready to be projected onto the wall of a canyon.” I couldn’t agree more.
One thing I think should be addressed is the divide between older listeners of ambient/techno (lifers for the most part) compared to how the younger listeners are approaching a record like Narkopop. Go to a website like Resident Advisor and the comments section will be rife with, well, lifers who drooled over a new Voigt album.
Someone in the comments section under Fantano’s unfortunate review of Narkopop stated the following, which I agree with for the most part: “I’m sort of getting the vibe that melonhead has never listened to any Gas albums other than Pop. like really, this album is way closer to Gas’s non-Pop albums than it is to Pop, which is the only album Fantan refers this album to (sic).” While he later claims to have heard and liked the previous albums in a reply, I’m still not convinced he’s spent enough time with any of them to understand the context from which they came, especially when viewing his CV.
While Narkopop might not reach the same heights as the original GAS records, the project simply doesn’t warrant adjectives/descriptions like “bad,” “boring,” “as if nothing’s happening.” All it takes is a good set of loudspeakers and some proper bass management to hear the deeply textured magic Voigt created as GAS.
You can hear snippets of Rausch online at Kompakt’s website. I predict Rausch will be an extremely welcome edition of the series as the snippets sound heavier (maybe some post-punk influence?) than what was offered on Narkopop. Consider it a compromise for all the folks who had never heard of GAS before Fantano made the ignorant decision to give it a 2/10.