Mark Pritchard (of Global Communication renown) and Steven Spacek have been busy, like desperate men with something to prove and the wit to do it without making it sound like work. The two men comprise Africa Hitech, a high concept name that sounds like it could be deadly and high-minded. Fortunately their recorded output doesn’t entirely reflect the obvious mix of electronica with world music ecumenicalism that the name threatens. Instead, Africa Hitech seem committed to a catch-as-catch-can recklessness, mixing three decades worth of electronic dance music traditions together with whatever other sonic influence they think might work and even a few that they should probably know might not. Following a 2010 debut EP and this year’s long player, 93 Million Miles, Africa Hitech return with Do U Really Wanna Fight, an EP that finds the duo working through their ideas with methodical fanaticism.
93 Million Miles contained a series of rhythmic challenges geared directly for the dancer floor. A genuinely utilitarian album, the rhythmic ideas shifted from track to track, providing able provocations to dancers as Pritchard and Spacek scavenged ideas from grime, Detroit techno, Chicago house, and, as the duo’s name indicates, African Highlife. Those who like parsing neat genre distinctions and especially those bastards who like insisting on naming new ones could fuck off, because both the pleasures and pitfalls of the album resulted from the ways it made an inspired mess of its influences. The result was a riot of interesting ideas whose polyglot premise could prove daunting to the bedroom listener looking for a series of hooks and moods that might constitute a cohesive experience away distinct from its function as a dance album. The appeal of Do U Really Wanna Fight is the way it distills Africa Hitech’s ideas down to an intriguing essence across four tracks. Unfortunately, in so doing, Pritchard and Spacek risk rendering their aesthetic into something far more academic and schematic than it had seemed previously.
The title track dramatically reworks the second track, “Do U Wanna Fight” off of their long player, to the extent that it shares little with it besides the echo of a name. Each track on this EP then toys with the same rhythmic pattern that constitutes the opening track’s chorus. As the album progresses, the music slows down and becomes more eerily minimalistic, creating a druggy, uneasy feeling that an instrumental reprise of the opening track does little to relieve.
“Do U Really Wanna Fight” opens the EP on an explicitly incendiary note, as vocoder processed vocals utter the title refrain, creating both a lyrical and rhythmic center of the track . Spacek’s normal warm vocals then proceed to weave around a clanging beat that gives a propulsive energy to his delivery. His very human patois creates a dynamic interplay with the pulsing bass (a bass line does as a bass line does as…) and creates a dynamic tension with the electronically processed vocals of the chorus. Highlife echoes mix playfully with all the other elements, and the song keeps on reaching out for a kind of climax that never comes before resolving back into the main rhythmic pattern.
“Silencer Riddim” drops the vocals as it plays out a slowed-down version of the beat against a background that’s simultaneously starker and more futuristic, as both laser gun pings and spirited tribal chants punctuate the dubstep inflected production. It’s a fascinating piece, which manages to mingle Afropop and contemporary dance in a way that looks both forward and back while making the distinction between the two appealingly meaningless. With “Swair”, Pritchard and Spacek slow things down to a creepy crawl, as an intercom voice utters indecipherables against a weird, groggy beat that sounds beaten down amidst a sonic landscape evocative of an accelerated state of decay. It’s a haunting climax that winds the energy of the EP down effectively. Less effective is the reiteration of the title track, which strips Spacek’s affecting sing-talk vocals away, thus rendering the track less dynamic and strange.
The EP provides an accessible glimpse of Pritchard and Spacek’s sonic ideas, helping to erase bad memories of a simplistic Afropop chic that’s infected music of all types in recent years. That said, the EP is so tightly constructed that it lacks the sense of surprise that enlivened 93 Million Miles. Though the cohesion feels safer and more disappointingly rational than Africa Hitech at their most maddeningly ambitious, it still evokes the experimental flair that’s marked Africa Hilife’s work thus far and hopefully augurs smartly chaotic, messy, highly danceable work still to come.
// Notes from the Road
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