Afrika South Rhizomatiksby Righard Kapp / 26.10.2010
Experimental noise is not a form of music that one would readily associate with Africa. The most notorious illustration of this is the controversial compilation Extreme Music from Africa, released on Whitehouse nasty William Bennett’s Susan Lawly label in 1997. The compilation later turned out to be a fluke, consisting in truth of pieces Bennett made himself and credited to fictional artists. Almost a decade later, Belgian label Syrphe released a compilation entitled Beyond Ignorance and Borders: An African, Middle-Eastern, Asian noise and electronic compilation, which, beyond one South African contribution and a smattering of way-up-north African ones, drew the bulk of its content from Asian countries.
One could argue that noise music is born from a malaise peculiar to hypermodernised nations, which would help explain why Japan is considered to be the epicentre of noise music in its purest form. But then, is it even desirable/useful/relevant for such a music to exist here in a way that does not simply emulate existing tropes?
An enigmatic figure with a novel approach to spelling and grammar, known only as Isadora Dustmite Junk, would like to argue that it is. Over the course of the last year and a bit, he/she/it has been sending out calls for contributions to a compilation of experimental music from South Africa. The results have finally been made public, and it features a diverse cast of unknown artists who have crawled out of the woodwork given the opportunity to present their work in this context. What’s more, you can listen to it right here.
The curatorial premise of the compilation is deliberately left fairly vague, which means that the songforms of Sticky Antlers’ guitar deluge “Slownine” and Nikhil Singh’s skronkified rallying cry “Nagasaki Nikita” sit amid more abstract contributions, and the ambience of Marco’s “For Klimek” and Asqus’ “Mid-Atlantic 2007 (pt.1)” coexist with brutally abrasive slabs of noise.
It goes without saying that I’ll be in thrall to anything that Benguela do, but it’s worth noting that they contribute a track that’s a marked departure from their usual. For “Translation”, they forgo the live momentum they’re known for in favour of a heavily edited and processed slice of dark dub.
I was excited to hear something by Machette Jacobite, a duo touting themselves as a “nufangled circuit bent, noise based project”. “Left Difficulty”, however, feels like a massive let-down, being little more than cookie-cutter electro fare – I’ll hold out on the hope that they have much more up their sleeve.
“Anxiety Attack” by Stenchworm is probably the harshest thing here, a distorted screamfest in the vein of Sudden Infant, deformed by ludicrously ‘verbed percussion and gurgling synth.
Vertical Blanking Interval’s “Green Square Market” is an intriguing sound collage that relies on distinctive Cape speech samples for it’s microrhythmic allure, although I am at a loss for why there’s a seemingly unrelated vocal scrawled over the track that is both drowned out by and in complete conflict with the samples.
Some tracks suffer a bit from never having seen the outside of a hard drive and fail to transcend the trappings of sterility that often plagues pristine electronica. Having said that, my favourite track here by far is “Topsecret GBC Megamix” by Retarded Dance Squad, a mixture of the daft tones of Black Dice with the precise, syncopated minimalism of Alvo Noto’s Future EP. The whole track consists of fragments of sinewaves and white noise (my guess is that the sounds are derived from executable files opened as waveforms), but expertly constructed so as to lend the purely digital tones a carnivalesque irreverence. It works because it revels in its digital-ness, but also manages to rise above it.
I should probably disclose that I have also made a contribution on the compilation: suffice to say that “Anechoic Dialect” is truly unpleasant: a no-input mixer and sampler experiment that sounds like having your head repeatedly dunked in a basin during a catfight. Whether or not it is as unpleasant as Facecontrol’s “The First Thing You Should Say”, which is marred by the kind of breathy, anguished American vocal affectation that Deftones inexplicably made acceptable, well, let’s just say the jury is out.
AfrikAs0:u:+h rhiz0mA+iks shows every sign of being a continuous project, and it must be said that if the first batch of tracks turned up such a variety of offerings and continues to provide an outlet for uncompromising experimentation, we can doubtlessly expect wonderful things yet.
*Check out the Facebook page for the compilation.