The Upward Spiral by Nicolas Bougaïeff
Techno and ideas meet with surprising results
With more than two decades of experience as a musician, starting out on violin, progressing to saxophone and currently modulating bleeps and bangs, the music of Nicolas Bougaïeff unsurprisingly carries a learned air. Factoring in Bougaïeff's present role as founder of the Berlin Academy of Electronic Music and that he wrote his PhD thesis on the subject of Minimal Techno, it's clear that he thinks deeply about his work. The upshot is, The Upward Spiral is Techno with brains, an uncompromising balances of ideas and engagement. Stripped-back in nature, yet compositionally complex, Bougaïeff imbues his work with tiers of sound and meaning.
In terms of influences and inspiration, across the 52 minute playing time one could tick all the genre boxes that Bougaïeff has appreciated at some point in his development, revealed in little nods and subtle flourishes. While the primary standpoint is club Techno, there's the Industrial swagger of Inward Megalith, which sounds like the wrecking Techno JK Flesh has been dealing in recent years. On Positive Altitude hard, hypnotic rhythms nod politely to Trance, arguably a rites-of-passage phase for many producers. Opening track Embrace Hope All Ye Who Enter Here uses saturated noise with synth chords like electric guitar riffs. Flying High with its varied drum speeds and simple melody again point to Trance as a determining factor. This cross-referencing of styles perfectly epitomises Bougaïeff's goals: to make meaningful, uplifting Techno. Even the track titles reflect this. Moreover Bougaïeff sugar coats the bludgeoning beats with academic theories. When you know the meaning of Thalassophobia (a Greek word for "fear of depth") it lends a certain gravitas to the listening experience. On Nexus, with its complex drum patterns and urgent melody, he's drawing together many of his disparate passions to form a 2020 model of himself. Bougaïeff describes this as
a crossroads from the old world to the new world.
Applying theory and concepts to Electronic music isn't new, and while The Upward Sprial doesn't claim to be a concept album, the lack of a single, coherent idea connecting the nine tracks is noted. As it stands, we have nine tracks, some of which present clever ideas and some of which present hooky melodies, but rarely both.