GAS live at the Barbican: Maximalist Minimalism

“I don’t know how many people are interested to come into a city and to see a forest because, first of all, this seems to be like a contradiction, you know?” – Wolfgang Voigt

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Techno is perhaps the epitome of a human genre; it’s rigid rhythm and stabs of noise encapsulate what it means to be alive. Concrete and steel. Technological spirituality. The transference of spirit to machine.  Or, as Ken McLeod says in his article ‘Space Oddities: Aliens, Futurism and Meaning in Popular Music’ – ‘techno dance music defeats what Adorno saw as the alienating effect of mechanisation on the modern consciousness’.

So, what would techno be if it took all of its cues from nature, instead of high rises? Forests instead of carparks. Rivers instead of tube networks. Essentially, you end up with GAS – ambient techno in its most formless incarnation. Music like escaping gas. A constant hum. Muffled kick drums underplay fugacious loops layered on top of one another. Hearing the party that is happening next door and not quite being able to make out the music. Or perhaps more aptly, hearing music from the next village across in the forest.

Voigt later described this sound as “die Endeuphorisierung des Tanzbodens” or in English, ‘the de-euphorising the dancefloor’. Essentially, leaving out the macho energy found in clubs. So, perhaps it is fitting that, on one of his first appearances in the UK after the 17-year retirement of the project, Voigt appeared on stage at the Barbican accompanied only by visuals of forests, most likely the Köningsforst of his youth. It would be easy here to rattle off some chin-stroking, self-flagellating rant about the intellectualisation of techno, however, here the point is simply moot. “It was cool and it was danceable, but it was more like finger snapping – it was not so much hands in the air and it was not even sweaty anymore.” – Wolfgang Voigt. GAS is about close listening rather than anything else, and as such a seated event makes perfect sense.

Maybe the most interesting thing about the gig was Voigt’s relatively small stage presence. Instead of taking up a massive space in the centre of the stage, he opted to occupy a small podium to the side of it. The projected visuals washed over him, so much so that he became a part of the backdrop. It seems Voigt’s intended message here was one of humility, opting rather for an intense occupation on the music. It is hard to imagine any other of the ‘legendary’ producers of the time doing something similar.

In reality, Voigt probably obscured himself because he wanted to hide. Voigt finds his GAS project deeply personal and I assume he would relish the ability to be one with it on a large scale. Voigt’s live performance was sonically massive. The bass shook the auditorium, leaving only a small amount of space in the frequency spectrum for the elegiac synths and loops to seep through. It was a maximalist minimal performance.

Words & Images: Alexander Weston-Noond

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