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Space Afrika - hybtwibt? Music Album Reviews

The dub techno of the Manchester duo’s latest mixtape attempts to capture the violent energy vibrating through the world at this particular moment in history.

Space Afrika, the Manchester duo of Joshua Inyang and Joshua Reid, have always made music that directly responds to their surroundings. In the past, they’ve spoken of the way that Manchester itself, a city of grey skies and concrete, has informed the sparse, overcast nature of their productions. “Everything we do and are is a product of our experience,” they told Truants in 2016. “Manchester is the place that made us [...] It would be hard, maybe even ignorant not to translate that into the sounds we create.” Often wordless, but full of meaning, their downer dub techno and fractured ambient instrumentals have always been a conscious reflection of the world as they see it.

Their new release hybtwibt?—a mixtape based on material from the duo’s recent broadcast on NTS Radio—comes from a similar place, though it operates on a somewhat grander scale. Rather than looking just at their city, the mixtape seems to attempt to capture the energy vibrating through the world at this particular moment in history, as people across the globe take to the streets to protest police violence against Black people and other people of color, only to be met with more violence. (They've said that proceeds from the sales of this release will go to a variety of nonprofits, including Black Lives Matter Global Network and NAACP, among others.) Like a lot of their music, the general mood is downcast and foreboding, full of droning synthesizers and the distant hiss of reverb-hazed noise. But the music is intercut with meaningful samples and field recordings of protests, wrenching cries, wailing sirens, and profound monologues.

The tracks are dense. “Wanna know,” for example, feels more emotionally complicated than much of the music they’ve released to date, pairing a slowly unfolding piano piece with a person talking about the ways that the state antagonizes and entraps people who are already struggling. Were it not for the speech it accompanies, you might call the instrumental ambient, but the feelings it evokes are more complicated, balancing on a knife’s edge between the placidity associated with such music and an urgent call to action.

Other tracks take different tacks. “Kitty” is built on overlapping samples of disembodied voices from lost soul songs. It’s ghostly and shattered, an elegy for a world that shouldn’t have to be this way. Tracks like that, as well as the slivered interludes strewn amid the longer pieces, make hybtwibt? feel of a piece with the dizzying music that the critic Adam Harper once described as “epic collage.” Producers like Chino Amobi and Elysia Crampton stack disparate melodies and samples together to make disorienting music for a society that is more disorienting by the day. Working in this mode, Space Afrika pull together samples that capture the crushing feelings that have come up in these protests, channeling grief, pain, frustration, and desperation all at once.

And yet this record isn’t overwhelmed by these feelings—at its heart, it’s not especially austere. There’s this glowing core amid the chaos, a beauty in the maelstrom, that you can feel them gesturing toward on nearly every track. “DairyDay4” foregrounds this sentiment most clearly, featuring a person talking about the joy they feel about an impending wedding, over an instrumental that swells and swirls in a way that’s reminiscent of classic RPG soundtracks. It’s a spark of warmth and light, a distant dream that a better world might be possible, amid the reminders of how awful the one we live in can be.

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