Another night, another gig. This time at the temple of austere, brutalist beauty that is the Barbican. If you’re a fan of ambient music, this venue is a must – the sculpted wood of the concert hall reverberates with thick, earthy noise, immersing and inducing you into a trance-like state. The perfect setting to witness an artist like Gas.
Gas is the most famous project of electronic musician Wolfgang Voigt, co-founder of revered Cologne label Kompakt and a key player in Germany’s ambient and minimal techno scenes. Over the years, Voigt has produced music under many monikers: although projects such as Mike Ink and Studio 1 had undeniable influence on four-to-the-floor dancefloor techno, Gas remains his most enduring project to date. Armed with the aortic throb of kick drums and the disorienting whirl of synths, Voigt aimed to “bring the German forest to the disco”. And at the Barbican, still reeling from the critically acclaimed release of Narkopop (the first Gas album in 17 years), this fantasy world was unleashed.
“Like a delicate rustling of leaves, Voight, aka Gas, slowly unveiled his synths and rumbles”
Gas’ set was preceded by Huerco S., fresh on the heels of For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have), perhaps the best ambient release of last year. Huerco S. has fused Gas’ idiosyncrasies with more conventional techno to create warm looping textures with glitchy clicks and soft hisses. He has a unique talent for making music that, despite not being designed for clubs, captures a distanced, glazed view of the club feeling. Like most 90s ambient, it is music for the chill-out room, for the comedown.
Following a brief interval, Voigt appeared on stage. Like a delicate rustling of leaves, he slowly unveiled his synths and rumbles; these grew with the introduction of hypnotic melodies which gradually became more chaotic and harder to follow, all the while a fairy-light forest projecting behind him. The noise continued to develop until it swallowed the room. Suddenly, the thud of a heartbeat leapt into the undergrowth. This basic model is at the core of all of Gas’ music, and yet never fades into the background. Gas deviates from Eno’s mantra: it is ambient music which is unignorable.
After about an hour the journey was over. Voigt left the stage immediately despite what appeared to be a stagehand advising him to stand in the spotlight for applause. He may now be playing internationally regarded concert halls, but he is still the king of Cologne underground at heart. Shunning individual recognition, hiding behind a variety of monikers, and producing otherworldly music. This is ambient music at its best. A sonic cathedral, within which you can’t help but worship.