First exposure to Africaine 808 is a vivid memory. Digging through the Golf Channel catalogue on discogs, we ended transfixed on the video of a track, ‘Lagos, New York’. It represented an unlikely marriage of the sickly sweet and African polyrhythms, like Mario karting a rainbow road from the discothèques of NYC to the hustle and bustle of Lagos. As bizarre as that sounds, this metaphor had nothing on the actual video where a man, donning a white hooded robe and covered in orange plastic mesh commonly found along the M1, cut questionable shapes in a dilapidated corridor somewhere in Berlin.
Understandably, one ear has been firmly to the ground ever since, anticipating further antics from the German duo made up of Nomad (BPitch Control) and Dirk Leyers (Kompakt). After two years, discounting an EP for Golf Channel a few months ago which primarily was a precursor to the LP, the wait is over and the Berlin pair’s first album, Basar, has landed!
When questioned on the message of the band during a previous interview, Nomad explains, “we are a transcultural listening music project that likes to make people dance.” It doesn’t take long for Basar to establish itself as a manifestation of that mission statement. The opening track ‘The Awakening’ is a hint of what’s to come; a synthesis of ambient electronics, languid instrumentation and, in the latter half of the track, squelching acid of Mr. 303. It’s an ambitious opening gambit, but there’s enough restraint applied throughout to ensure none of these elements jostle for space.
‘Ngoni’, taking inspiration from the eponymous West Africa picked lute, is second up and a firm favourite. Like everyone’s favourite wood stain, paint and preservative manufacturer (Ronseal for the uninitiated), the track “does exactly what it says on the tin.” The ngoni’s distinctive pluck takes centre stage, complimented by hand played drums, emotive synths and an aggressive droning bassline. This marrying of African cultural staples with dance music signifiers is devastatingly effective.
Transcultural synthesis is nothing new and, if it was repeated throughout it might become overplayed. Thankfully, Nomad and Dirk don’t fall folly to such traps. ‘Language Of The Bass’ would find itself at home onstage with Paranoid London, as reflective vocals are layered atop a rolling, phat acid bassline: “1984, that was the year for me. Streetsounds, Electro 4, Junior Rockers. Kids sitting on top of the speakers, moving the people – that was the future right there.” They’re clearly no one trick pony, and provide further credit for this with ‘Nation’, where a dubbed and darkly futuristic soundscape recalls memories of sweaty 140 raves in mood if not tempo.
‘Ready For Something New’, is a paradigm shift in mood from apocalyptic to celestial. Soft piano chords, mumbling crowd noises and highly pitched synth ramblings soothe, before vocals courtesy of Ofrin elevate the listener to higher plains. The fragility of the track is well timed – cathartic even – and demonstrates a willingness to experiment with a multitude of styles.
Importantly, there’s a unifying element to these songs, whether it’s the leitmotif of uncouth instruments (played for the most part live), the constant presence of cosmic synths, or simply in the madness. Basar’s turbulence throws passengers back to front again and again, but there’s a homogeneity to the journey which cannot be denied. Considering electronic music albums are often criticised for not providing such essential cohesion, this is vital.
‘Cowfish Got Soul’ tests this continuity. An improvised jazz session on steroids with all the bells, whistles, organs, vibraphones, sweeping horns, accordions and funky guitar licks, it should stick out like a sore thumb. But now you’re so attuned to the frenzied mentality of the record it simply doesn’t, even when nestled in between ‘Balla Balla – with its thunderous bass and freaky Ngoni – and ‘Rhythm Is All You Can Dance’, possessing a chuggy tempo and churning African incantations.
Drawing on a seemingly endless amount of concepts, Nomad and Dirk then use ‘Yes, We Can’t’ to explore Psychedelic rock North Africa style. It conjures memories of listening to Gwana music on the streets of Morocco for its transformative qualities, intoxicating listeners with a thick, smoky blend of synth and drums. ‘Fallen From The Stars’ makes the cosmic link explicit, charming with brokenbeat and soulful vocals, this time from Nova.
The album closes evangelically with ‘The Lord Is A Woman’. A preacher’s sermon is worked over euphoric organ and signature bongos. Fittingly, it sounds like nothing that’s come before, yet a connection remains. We’re scratching our heads trying to figure the mystery of where that comes from. What’s obvious is the originality of Africaine 808’s debut LP will stand it out for all the right reasons.