Part of the reason why we love space disco is for its precision and directness, for the feeling that the journey that we’ve embarked on has a precise endpoint and the route to that endpoint has been meticulously planned out to provide maximum thrills. Space disco can of course be unbridled fun, but it’s largely the work of serious and “professional” musicians, though you could also call them architects.
Mungolian Jetset, a Norwegian duo who made their name in dance circles chiefly as remixers, do not evoke those feelings. Their space… something—it frequently deviates far from disco—exists almost wholly in another galaxy, one that probably resembles one of those roller coasters at a Disney offshoot that features lots of riding on a flat plane while skulls with flashing red eyes are illuminated by strobe lights but obscured by a heavy-handed fog machine programmer.
Their debut two-disc release, We Gave It All Away… Now We’re Taking It All Back—the pre-ellipsis title corresponds to an album of original compositions and the second to a collection of their remixes—is a blindly singular and brilliant entry into the modern Scandinavian dance canon. Where the album dips its feet into Balearic stargazing, it plunges headfirst into island rhythms and world music percussion; where it might reference house structures, it fully embraces caveman grunts and goblin vocals.
Which, understandably, might sound like an utter mess. But Mungolian Jetset are able to make their hay, both with the abnormal and the terrestrial, by quietly grounding themselves in recognizable offshoots of all sorts of dance music, be it techno or dancehall. And while it would be easy for the group to indulge their wildest and most ridiculous indulgencies simply to stake a flag and leave their footprints on Planet Weird, it would certainly result in a chore of an album, especially over two-plus hours. But the group maintains sanity and direction by forcing those often wild and ridiculous ideas to interact with the relatively mainstream bases that serve as their launching points.
Perhaps the best example is “Could You Be Loved”, an uncompromisingly breakneck take on the Bob Marley song of the same name. It’s rendered almost unrecognizable, but no less great, by growling monster-bass, temporary scatting, pitched-up harmonizing and techno keyboard work, but its foundation—despite the carnival that exists around it—is in dancehall. You could imagine it as a Sean Paul remix, or likewise it being pared down for Sean Paul. “It Ain’t Necessarily Evil”, which glides smoothly from Africa to Japan to the Middle East while interpolating house beats and vocals and “A Blast of Loser (9046 Version)”, wherein the duo scribble over deep house, similarly exemplify Mungolian Jetset’s cake-eating prowess.
The remix collection takes us further down the rabbit hole, but it proves to be no less ingratiating. And where the first disc plays out like a DJ set with distinctive builds and breaks, the second one—featuring songs collected over the past few years—provides more immediate and hard-hitting thrills. “Milano Model (A Thrilling Mungophony in Two Parts)” features a virtuosic transition from Man Man-esque renaissance mucking to epic techno-powered dance floor scorching. “Original Highway Delight (Miami Camp Mix)”, with its blend of quick-pivoting disco guitar scratches and coked-up, percolating ‘80s synths, is maybe the group’s most enjoyably straight-laced composition. And “Moon Song (The Gospel According to Mung)” / ”2012 Live (The Hacienda Version)” ends the whole affair with a massive percussive workout and a tribal face painted choir.
If it isn’t evident already, what holds both discs—and the group—together is the duo’s ability to make their indulgencies necessary and magnetic. The images and words evoked here (“caveman”, “roller coaster”, “Sean Paul,” “Middle East”) indicate that Mungolian Jetset confront kitsch and camp and tackiness, but instead of worrying where those lines might be crossed, they create an alternate world where those things are enveloped into what it might mean to be magical. We Gave It All Away won’t be for everyone, but for those who get caught in its spell, it’s a sort of golden ticket to a Willy Wonka factory where the chocolate is replaced with cheese and we’re encouraged to splash around in it for a little bit.