Photo by Mischa Fanghaenel

“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists & music people beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day. Today’s guest is a Berlin-based Québécois electronic producer composer & DJ sans pareil who has recently released his first album for Mute Records, called “The Upward Spiral”. Never before have such seemingly downbeat, potentially doom-laden chords been so coruscatingly uplifting and euphoric. Perhaps it’s the use of the shepard tone, that spiral you might see on a Barber’s sign that permanently rises without ever reaching the top, perhaps its the unflinching intensity of the metal body music, but where the industrial sounds say of this album’s antonymic name-sake “The Downward Spiral” by Nine Inch Nails are darkly crushing, the music of Nicolas Bougaïeff is physically and mentally invigorating. It may still be blue, but its tinged with the noblest of neon. It’s not so much sturm und drang as throb and pulse.

I’ve been on a definite techno tip of late (maybe it’s a summer thing) and along with Rival Consoles and Daniel Avery (of whom more soon) “The Upward Spiral” has helped soundtracked my August, so it’s great news that Nicolas has agreed to choose a tune and with some topicality too it turns out. While the political talk is all of algorithms, his “song for ewe” was by a pioneer, nay maestro of algorithmic composition. Welcome to VS, Nicolas Bougaïeff!

First check out “Thalassophobia” – which Bougaïeff has explained thus: “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.”

Go onwards, inwards and upwards, with this Greek god of a banger…

It’s fair to say that Bougaïeff is a student of intelligent club music. “The Upward Spiral” is inspired by the theories of French philosopher Jacques Attali, who attributes a prophetic role to musical structures in shaping social and political structures. It also imbibes influences from musical techniques first proposed by Henry Cowell and Charles Ives and Elliott Carter, the latter known primarily for pioneering metric modulation.

While Berlin’s legendary Berghain is open to all-comers as an art gallery in this post Covid world, only the exclusive few have had their names down and been allowed in to witness Bougaïeff rewrite the rave rule book with sets that seamlessly interweave such unlikely source material as French-Canadian hip-hop with Tchaikovsky, moody techno and ambient. Not so much hedonistic clubbing as mind expanding head music.

Nicolas launched his debut record as a producer in 2013, the “Movements EP” with Max Cooper, and has also put out a slew of singles on labels including minimal techno imprint Trapez.

He released his own first EP on novamute in 2017, Cognitive Resonance.

It’s not just music though, electro savant Bougaïeff is writing his PhD thesis on minimal techno and founded the Berlin Academy of Electronic Music.

He co-founded software company Liine with techno don Richie Hawtin and others in 2010 and in 2018 he engineered the Lemur app used by astronaut Alexander Gerst on the International Space Station in a live jam with Kraftwerk, enough to make any CV soar, and perhaps an inspiration for fast-gunning brilliant punning new album track “Positive Altitude”.

Here’s the artwork to “The Upward Spiral” upon which “Positive Altitude” and the almost doom metal titled, insidiously infectious “Inward Megalith” appear…

But what has this student whose musical studies are quite literally modular chosen as a tune he’s enjoyed lately? Without further ado, here’s Nicolas Bougaïeff’s “song for ewe”…

“Philip Glass – Knee Play 5

Twenty years on from when I first heard this one, listening so intently in the music library at uni, I keep coming back. I’m not very sentimental, except when I am. The combination of skeletal arpeggios and love poetry is an act of bridging opposites. I’ve spent most of my adult life deconstructing music and putting it back together. In the hopes of understanding emotional communication, in the hopes of understanding the ties that bind. I am particularly fascinated by the earliest works of composers who extend musical language.

Overt repetition was a fresh idea when it was introduced in the 1960s. The earliest Glass compositions were essentially concept algorithms, process applied to music. But the crossover Knee Play 5 is such a beautiful intersection of strict process and romance. It planted the seed that sometimes a paradox can be solved, that some opposites can be joined.”


Nicolas Bougaïeff “The Upward Spiral” is out on Mute now and you can/should get it here.