Hitting play on Hagop Tchaparian’s debut feels like opening an old journal. The first thing you notice is its texture—every synthesizer sounds as if it’s fraying at the ends, each field recording seemingly covered in dirt, a marker of the miles traveled to reach your ears. Bolts was assembled from stray recordings Hagop Tchaparian collected over 15 years, from street musicians and wedding videos to small towns where his father’s family took refuge after being exiled from Musa Dagh, an ethnically Armenian region in present-day Turkey. Though it’s the first full-length album from the British-Armenian producer, it demonstrates the confidence of his vision, tackling the dancefloor with an invigorating, lived-in energy.
Tchaparian’s path to dance music has been unusual: His most notable musical output prior to this came from his time as guitarist in the short-lived British pop-punk band Symposium in the ’90s. Since then, he’s been orbiting London’s club scene, recording the occasional remix in between tour managing for acts like Hot Chip and Four Tet. It’s the latter who brings Tchaparian’s debut to us via his Text label, and whose own cerebral approach to electronica offers a lens with which to understand Tchaparian’s music. Bolts can be deceiving at times—its highs are breathless house assaults, yet Tchaparian’s debut is a largely restrained experience, one that’s less concerned with dominating a festival crowd than with enveloping the listener in its rich, grainy world.
Bolts is filled with instruments from Tchaparian’s Armenian heritage, and he folds them into his tracks with the instincts of a seasoned pro. When “GL” roars to life with its flailing zurna, it fits so naturally that you might not even notice the ruptured bass note tearing through the middle of the track. After swelling like this for a good minute and a half, the whole thing finally caves in with a decimating techno thump, as stampeding dhol drums careen into a crushing finale. The transition from that into the relatively calmer synths of “Escape” is like the moment you step out of the club drenched in sweat, only to be greeted with your own foggy breath in the cold night air.
That headier, more measured space is where most of Bolts makes its home. As the deep groove of “Raining” slowly kicks in, Tchaparian shrouds the track in wobbly, Stott-ian distortion, slowly gaining momentum as the synthesizers seem to fold back on themselves in reverse. Often, Tchaparian sounds like he’s just having fun seeing what he can weave out of his personal bank of recordings. “Ldz” begins with the sound of fireworks booming over a whistling crowd before Tchaparian chops it up and spins it into its own miniature groove. Compared to more attention-grabbing tracks like “GL,” or the garagey sci-fi stomper “Round,” he regularly opts to let his tracks simply simmer, even if the results don’t always gel into something fully fleshed out. “Flame,” the album’s longest song, plays like a volcano threatening to erupt without ever fully doing so; it wanders through different zones, coasting between tranquil ambience and tense passages of escalating hand drums, occasionally arriving at a steady house groove before dissipating into a cloud of floating synthesizers. As the track ends on a recording of what sounds like a scribbling pencil, you can sense Tchaparian sketching out his own concepts in real time too, seeing what sticks without worrying if it’s completely developed.