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Electric Independence

In Zanzibar for a few days during September, I wandered with my sister through the narrow streets of the East African island's ancient capital, Stone Town, one sweltering afternoon.

A meat-seller in Stone Town’s market. Photo by the author

Knives and keyboards for sale

Pop Ambient 2007

In Zanzibar for a few days during September, I wandered with my sister through the narrow streets of the East African island’s ancient capital, Stone Town, one sweltering afternoon. We’d been to the market, where guys nodded off on butcher’s blocks slumped next to animal carcasses, and carried on over a crossroads, out of the tourist zone, down a street lined with shopfronts selling trainers and shirts and plastic kitchen things—normal stuff that normal people buy, nothing for tourists like us. We turned around, roughly retracing our route, and ended up back in the maze of sketchy shops selling all manner of jewellery, spices, sugar cane, scarves, mahogany cabinets, ebony salad tossers and “Tintin in Stone Town” T-shirts. Walking past a dingy store, where a silhouette of a man at the back worked hunched over a table, I heard this strange, exotic-sounding droning blaring out of the doorway, a tantalising snippet of what could’ve been some kind of sinister electronic voodoo orchestra in full malevolent flow. I wanted to go in and ask the guy what it was, but didn’t, figuring he wouldn’t know what I was on about. Instead we headed to Mercury’s, the restaurant named after Zanzibar’s most famous son, Freddie Mercury (although, being the flamboyant queer he was, the local authorities kind of ignored him for most of his life, later cashing in when they realised a few dollars could be made). The staff at Mercury’s have that poignant “Is this just real life?/Is this just fantasy?” verse from “Bohemian Rhapsody” printed on the back of their T-shirts. We ordered iced coffee in honour of Freddie. He would’ve been 60 that week. The main thing is that since returning from Africa I regret not asking about the music I heard and where I might’ve been able to get hold of it. I suppose that’s what the Sublime Frequencies guy Alan Bishop must do when he’s out and about compiling his intrepid world-music-for-hipsters discs like Radio Algeria and Radio Thailand. But a suitable substitute for that unknown equatorial music seems to be all this ferociously weird, psychotropic jacking acid house coming from Holland’s Crème Organization via the curdled minds of Chicago’s Jamal Moss (aka Hieroglyphic Being and The Sun God) and Tadd Mullinix (aka Dabrye and James T. Cotton). On Moss’ latest project, AfricansWithMainframes, he seems to drench his drum machines and acid boxes with some hostile FX which ensure tracks such as “Mogadishu” and “Dijibouti” sound viciously corroded but are still danceable. Meanwhile, “Pump The Planet 2” and “Psychedelic Mindtrip”, the two new 12-inches from Mullinix’s JTC alias (the initials of James T. Cotton) are even freakier, way more primitive and thrillingly caustic than his recent 2AM/FM horror-rave releases on Ghostly offshoot Spectral. Here, the producer appears to have relinquished all control over his machines, which slither and writhe irresistably like hissing serpents on the highly unreasonable “Trancender” and “The Sound of Winedrinking”. Dutch producer Legowelt rarely hides his schoolboy-like obsession with Africa, in his eyes a jungle land of zombie armies, ancient civilizations, and long-lost Nazi squadrons who’ve turned into cannibal tribesmen—a vision that can only be complemented by the rawest 808 and 303 action. So on “Stranger In The Strangest Of Lands” he teams up with Chicago house nutcase DJ Traxx for an old school house jam, then Traxx and Tadd Mullinix, under the Saturn V handle, jack further still on “The Precision of Creep Acid”. Certainly it’s good to see Crème Organization veering off on this bold new tangent. Label boss Jeroen aka DJ TLR explains: “It’s got the vibe of the old school stuff but it’s more modern and fucked up or something. But it’s not a direct copy, and not as linear as techno. I don’t know, I guess I am still a vintage head, but I am getting kind of bored with some of that neo-disco/noir sound. Seems like some people have got the sound down so much they get kinda trapped in it. Oh, and I haven’t decided on cosmic/space disco yet. It doesn’t really grip me that much, that’s more for stoners.” TLR hasn’t forgotten his roots completely: Crème just released A Tribute to Robert Moog, a 19-song homage to the synth legend featuring all-new tracks by Hieroglyphic Being, Alexander Robotnick, DMX Crew, Luke Eargoggle, Bangkok Impact and the like. If you believe hard enough, it’s probably possible to trace an African influence in the astonishing new Ricardo Villalobos doublepack on Perlon, What’s Wrong My Friends?. Well, there is a supple percussive number called “Africolaps” that eddies exquisitely for 8 minutes, but one suspects this is so named because the producer had a bottle of Africola, the German cola with the shapely bottle, in his studio. Either way, this hypnotic four-track record is marvellous. As is Kompakt’s Pop Ambient 2007 compilation: its centrepiece, “Kappsta” by The Field, seems to reduce the Twin Peaks theme to loops of pure bliss. PIERS MARTIN