Vintage trance, minimal techno and dub techno played on a pipe organ?. Hard to believe, we know, but it goes surprisingly hard - basically hitting the intersection of Maurizio, Kara-Lis Coverdale, Lorenzo Senni and Enya. Should be massive, really.
Okay so we'll need a bit of background on this one. In 2020 Maxime Denuc released ‘Solarium’, a lengthy single-track organ piece that was assembled for a specific purpose: to fire up the emotional neurons still burbling after a long night of raving. It's basically afters music for anyone drawn towards the Kali Malone playlist as the sun pokes up over the concrete. Denuc's got a background in electronic-classical fusion - he was a member of Plapla Pinky with Raphaël Hénard, where he attempted to find a middle ground between baroque forms and experimental electronics. But on ‘Solarium’ he focused his attention on the historical relevance of rave culture and its relationship with church music; on ’Nachthorn’ he makes that connection explicit, and instead of yanking elongated organ drones to the afters, he brings trance to the house of God, plugging recognisable rave formulae into the church organ.
It's a concept that, without careful attention, could have easily buckled under the weight of its self-awareness. If Gen Z is obsessed with Kali Malone and "medieval vibes", and Lorenzo Senni's beatless (pointillistic?) trance archetype is so enduringly popular, then surely a grand fusion would be cynically successful? Denuc's skill and ominpresent sense of humour manages to stop our brains from lurching too far towards a mental eyeroll. He show his whole hand immediately - opening track 'Edo' is a blissed-out droner that hints at euphoric balearic pill chewing in the chord progression. It's when we hit 'Infinite End' that the concept begins to make more sense - simple but sickeningly effective stuff, basically the organ sound from Enya's 'Sail Away' and peak mid-'90s Paul Van Dyk-era trance all at once.
The album's title is a reference to the instrument that helped Denuc realise his vision. Nachthorn is the name of one of the 78 stops from the organ in Düsseldorf's St. Antonius Church. Denuc used a special electronic system developed by German company Sinua that allowed him to control the pipe organ's keyboards and timbre via computer, so he could use it just as he would a synth. It had been a long-time dream of Denuc's to "create an entirely acoustic dance music piece with the organ" and he completely succeeds. Some tracks are more impactful than others, but because Denuc's concept is so simple and his method so well researched, everything hangs together perfectly.
'Düsseldorf' is vintage Maurizio by way of Henry Purcell, while 'Agoraphobia' is breathy Ibiza hedonism that's so suggestive your brain almost inserts a driving kick drum. 'Overture' is more classically euphoric and slides closer to "Blue Notebooks"-era Max Richter than it does Armin van Buuren, but 'Function Music' might be the album's most effective proof of concept, sounding as close to Berghain's minimal thump as it's possible to get on an acoustic source. The low-end thump of the keys creates its own driving rhythm, and Denuc uses the computer controlled keys to create trilling oscillator-like risers instead of melodic or harmonic patterns. It plays like minimal techno's sonic inverse, guiding our senses towards the inherent connection between the sounds that enraptured our medieval forebears and the music that brings millions of clubbers each year to Berlin.
What could have been a dry exercise in timely hipster cynicism is actually a poignant collection of experiments that begs for deep, repeat listening. By using a pipe organ and being tuned into its quirks and difficulties, Denuc is able to play with texture and character as if he's tweaking vintage synths. Repetitive cycles become living, breathing phrases and drones that reverberate through the aisles of an actual church. It's hard not to be moved.