After releasing singles ‘Thalassophobia’ and ‘Nexus’ during the last two months, Nicolas Bougaïeff is finally releasing his full album for Mute, including a limited edition blue vinyl:
On The Upward Spiral, his debut album for Mute, Nicolas Bougaïeff reframes familiar tropes for his own mind-expanding vision of body music. Punishing industrial techno charges the album at surface level with beautiful-meets-bleak energy. But peel back the layers of brash ferocity, and there’s a hell of a lot more going on than first meets the ear.
The culmination of years of hard work, Bougaïeff grew the album from the seeds of a bespoke composition technique; a carefully thought-out studio experiment in how to bend a love of techno into innovative new shapes. Ask the Berlin-based Québécois producer what makes him tick and he’ll tell you he’s been seeking relevant novelty in music all his life. The Upward Spiral is his unique, fully-realised contribution to the club canon.
Having two decades of musical know-how and a classical background under his belt hasn’t done Bougaïeff much harm. He began learning the violin aged seven, studying at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal, before playing tenor and baritone sax in marching bands as a teenager. There’s no saxophone hidden in the The Upward Spiral’s thick walls of electronic sound, but there’s plenty of applied knowledge borrowed from contemporary modern classical techniques.
“I leverage every single aspect of every musical tradition I’ve learned and borrow bits and bobs. That’s a process I’ve been doing ever since I started embracing composition as my vocation about 20 years ago,” he explains.
Bougaïeff even admits to jotting down sketches on music manuscript paper: “I like to have absolute clarity of what it is I’m doing before I write it in the studio. I do it in my head; sometimes I’ll even create sketches on traditional music paper. I have hundreds and hundreds of sketches and then when it’s time to produce the album it’s going by feeling. I make sure I work at the visionary architect level before getting the builders on site.”
Across nine metallic misadventures, which Bougaïeff describes as “little open scores”, he blitzes drum patterns and sharp synthwork into a satisfyingly effective blend. Intricate rhythmic structures lurk beneath the “strawberry jam” of the surface aesthetics. “I started this album because I’d finally clued into metric modulation,” he offers. “I started poking around with it for a few months, doing lots of sketches, and then it finally crystallised. It’s a bit of a magic trick really.”
This rhythmic illusion seeps into every crevice of a record that brings a slice of academia to the rave. Even the nosebleed kicks and synth bleeps of ‘Thalassophobia’ betray the track’s deeper meaning. “It’s about looking inwards. It’s a Greek word that means fear of depth, actually literally it’s fear of water, but it’s the fear of unfathomable depths,” he explains. “I’m pointing to the fear of depths; both literal and metaphorical. It’s a beautiful word that has attracted me going back years.”
Elsewhere, on the creeping mutation of ‘Nexus’, gabber, IDM and drum ‘n’ bass collide. Bougaïeff describes this disruptor as “a crossroads from the old world to the new world… It’s a really important crossroads between what I was doing then with the album and what I’m doing now with this mad project which is consuming me these days.” It’s a crossroads from the meaningless to the meaningful and from the personal to the collective. “The meaning I’m looking for is optimism and commitment and collaboration,” he states.
‘Flying High’ soars with bright melody, taking the ear to new places while taking the form of an ambient trance shapeshifter with echoes of martial drumming. ‘Positive Altitude’ picks up where the previous track left off, but goes even deeper into hard, hypnotic trance. Distortion rusts at the corners of ‘Inward Megalith’, while the title track takes the minimal route. ‘Inexadorable’ is the most unrelenting and sinister-sounding track on the record. Except Bougaïeff’s intentions for the album sing to the tune of optimism and commitment rather than nihilism and destruction.
The album draws on the theories of French philosopher Jacques Attali, who attributes a prophetic role to musical structures in shaping social and political structures. It also takes inspiration from the musical techniques first proposed by Henry Cowell and Charles Ives and Elliott Carter, the latter known primarily for pioneering metric modulation.
A decades-long love of club music has compelled Bougaïeff to challenge conventional wisdom, delivering genre-busting Berghain sets that expertly blend French-Canadian hip-hop with Tchaikovsky, moody techno and ambient. Launching his debut record as a producer in 2013, the Movements EP with Max Cooper, Bougaïeff has since put out a string of singles on labels including minimal techno imprint Trapez. He released his first EP on novamute in 2017, Cognitive Resonance. Outside of music, Bougaïeff co-founded software company Liine with Richie Hawtin and others in 2010 and in 2018 engineered the Lemur app used by astronaut Alexander Gerst on the International Space Station in a live jam with Kraftwerk. From his teaching – he founded the Berlin Academy of Electronic Music – to writing his PhD thesis on minimal techno, Bougaïeff goes the extra mile with every project.
Stream the album below and find the release here: