Gas: Narkopop

If previous Gas albums were all fog and illusion, Narkopop is striking for its clarity.



Label: Kompakt
US Release Date: 2017-04-21
UK Release Date: 2017-04-21

Wolfgang Voigt releases music under many monikers as if attempting to conceal his steps from those who would fix his ethos in place. The Cologne, Germany artist's work as Gas, however, continues to be among his most iconic. With a rapid-fire string of releases during the second half of the '90s and into the very beginning of the 21st century, the Gas project plumbed the depths of ambient and minimal techno, depths that until then had not been inhabited with quite so much assurance, patience, and nuance.

Though Voigt has since continued releasing music and operating the helm of his Kompakt label, the release of Narkopop marks the first Gas album in 17 years. Following on the heels of last year's Box, a collection of previous Gas offerings from 1997's Zauberberg to 2000's Pop, Narkopop constitutes not just a revisiting but a reimagining and re-contextualization of Voigt's work under the venerable project.

Much of Voigt's output as Gas has been sample-based, creating condensed and heavily processed soundscapes using classical music and even old pop songs as its initial ingredients. Through his alchemy, Voigt rendered these works unrecognizable and made them entirely his own, love letters to the ineffable state of awareness he found in the woods during his youth. Beats, when they appeared at all, were often muffled and muted, kicks from just outside the veil of consciousness that only occasionally materialized as echoes of dance music.

If previous Gas albums were all fog and illusion, Narkopop is striking for its clarity. It is as if the curtain that hid Voigt's prior machinations has been lifted, revealing the symphonic channels that have resided beneath the surface all along. Indeed, save for some static, fuzz, and processing here and there, Narkopop often sounds more classical than ambient. Its melodies, while similarly spacious and diffuse, are more clearly defined. Voigt leaned heavily on the compositions of Richard Wagner with his previous releases, and that influence is more evident than ever on the high romanticism of these moody, emotional pieces, which exhibit a stormy yet contained aesthetic.

While Voigt applies his characteristic 4/4 rhythms to many of these pieces, nothing remotely approaches the relative techno heights of tracks like the finale to Pop. Instead, the beats often feel more like markers of time rather than instruments of pleasure. On "Narkopop 2", "Narkopop 7", and "Narkopop 8", for instance, their steady tap feels anxious and expectant, as if to remind the luxuriating strings that they have only so much time to get their point across. This tension between simmering anticipation and spacious meditation keeps the album feeling dynamic, though it is typically the symphonic swells that win out in the end, stretching out heedlessly often for ten minutes at a time (or, in the case of the album closer, nearly twenty).

"Narkopop 5", bisecting the record and concluding its first half, does the most to shake up this arrangement, marking the only time the beats threaten to overtake the rest of the production. A funereal dirge like an elegy to the fallen, the rhythm is more aggressive here, sounding like clattering war drums more than precise, chilly techno. The mournful swells and faint horns resting just underneath make for the most evocative and dramatic moment on the record. Indeed, though the Gas project is in many ways an exercise in subtlety, Narkopop's best moments arrive when clearly defined and accessible moments punctuate the adrift soundscapes, much like Voigt's previous work.

Longtime fans may miss the impenetrable, unspeakable haze that characterized Gas albums of the past, and the formality of Narkopop may fail to endear it to some. Even so, however, Voigt's hand is evident here as ever, and his symphonic strokes continue to evoke cavernous depths difficult to apprehend fully. This push beyond the sensory world, into a mental state that elides the components of consciousness, continues to define Gas more than twenty years after the project began. Narkopop emerges as a fresh conceptualization of the same tradition, refined into an altered form while retaining the fundamental aesthetic that made Gas so groundbreaking in the first place.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Kehr was one of the best long-form essay writers people read for clear and sometimes brutally honest indictments of film.

It's perhaps too trite and rash to conclude that the age of good, cogent film criticism is over. They still exist out there, always at print publications such as The New Yorker and at major newspapers like The New York Times. An argument can be made that the late, legendary film critic Roger Ebert became a better writer when he departed from cinema and covered literature, book collecting, or even the simplest pleasures of life. If we look at the film criticism of James Agee from the '40s, or even the short but relevant stint of novelist and short story writer Graham Greene as a film critic, we come to understand that the greatest writing about film went beyond the spectrum of what they saw on the screen.
Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.