Nicolai is hardly a stranger to dance floors. His projects have collided with techno over the years, and even his experimental work has ended up in DJ sets. (Ben Klock memorably ended his fabric mix with an Alva Noto track.) But rarely has Nicolai engaged with techno as directly as on Unieqav. "Uni Sub" is classic Alva Noto abstraction with a typical techno sound palette of corrugated metals and rumbling basslines. The ominous mood on "Uni Version" sounds like it could've come from Northern Electronics, yet the static-coated snares and clicky drums are unmistakably Nicolai's. "Uni Dna"—featuring the French poet Anne-James Chaton reciting the names of amino acids—hints at the conceptual techno of Atom TM.
In subtly dramatic moments like "Uni Normal," with its deep reverb and broken rhythms, Unieqav recalls the work of artists like Kangding Ray and Byetone. Other tracks are fresh-sounding takes on the techno template. Amid "Uni Blu"'s bleepy beat, a searing synth lead mimics an electric guitar. The fast, twitchy techno of "Uni Edit" crams more into its one-and-a-half minutes than most tracks do in eight. It's on tracks like these, where Nicolai's signature sound meets a wealth of sharp ideas, that Unieqav is most distinctive.
Nicolai does a lot with very little. He can reduce his sound down to bundles of frequencies and pulses of noise in ways that can encompass techno, ambient and drone. He can endow the barest sounds with personality, turning them into music that sounds like little else. That's why Unieqav's simple formula is so thrilling: this is dance music with masterful sound design, like techno with an operating system upgrade. The album channels Alva Noto's trademark sounds into jittery, funky music that loses none of the complexity of his more challenging work. That must have been some night in Tokyo—we're still reaping the rewards over a decade later.