Gervase Gorden, better known as Okzharp, and his half-decade-long collaboration with Manthe Ribane reached a high point with 2018’s Closer Apart, an exceedingly diverse but breathtaking venture of electropop whose title inadvertently predicted the state of our social life once the pandemic hit. The collaboration with the South African singer was electric; Ribane’s ethereal voice was lifted to its outer limits by Okzharp’s innovative knob-tinkering and skillful production, and the two complimented each other. The release begged for more from the partnership.
Yet for 2019’s Stream Rooms EP, Okzharp switched it up and teamed up with another South African artist, DJ Lag, to explore more dusky and grim soundscapes. Okzharp picks up where that album left off on this year’s EP, Outside the Ride, which weaves together sprawling layers of industrial sounds and simple, repetitive patterns. Using an assortment of synth tones, mechanical-sounding percussion–with some traditional hand drumming–and short vocal sound bites, the South African-born London-based producer and DJ fashions an unsettling soundtrack straight out of a doomy science fiction picture.
Out on Hyperdub, Outside the Ride opens with a churning undercurrent while a three-note synth pattern builds and harmonizes with itself. Titled “Incline Disconnect”, the song has a titular ascent as syncopated rhythms stack on top of each other, and a twinkling synth pattern floats above. Most of the arrangements on the album create suspense and anxiety, an intensity and worried anticipation expecting a dramatic climax–maybe a drop. But this restlessness doesn’t usually culminate into something subsuming, surprising, or resolute; instead, the design succeeds at creating a stagnant ominous mood, something like that of the neon-filled dystopian atmosphere in the original Bladerunner. The future Okzharp dreams up with his production feels depressingly bleak.
Themes in the form of instrumentation perpetuate the grim vibe. Various sounds of clanking–glass bottles and metal–decorate these tracks with engaging rhythms. Hand drums, too, add to the syncopation and West African-like polyrhythms highlighted on tracks like the describes-what-it-is “Tom Tom Ride Out”. Elsewhere, vocal samples Okzharp employs on “Obsidian Root Power” and “Fall in Up in the CLK” last a mere half a second but are repeated and echoed incessantly. They are more syllabic than substance, and on “Cut It Out”, an onomonopia borrowed from mumble rap (brrrrr), begs to be asked to “cut it out”. Plinky and brassy synths, along with ray-gun sounds, run adjacently while menacing thrums linger in the background like a polluted haze. Okzharp keeps things engaging and involved with a broad palette of timbres.
Even though Okzharp’s collaboration with Manthe Ribane may have felt fully actualized with its outstanding production quality (and vocal performance), at times, the songs on that album seemed to function like loose, bareboned ideas. That was partly due to the nature of their collaboration–Ribane would pick through Okzharp’s sketches and then work to flush out parts together. Most of the time, it involved communicating and listening through headphones at various airports between respective tour destinations. If Closer Apart hinted at what Okzharp and Ribane can achieve as passing ships, who knows what awe a focused collaboration could bring.
On the other hand, Okzharp’s collaboration with DJ Lag felt even more underdeveloped. But that was due to the minimalist character of the Gqom genre his collaborator helped to pioneer. Regardless, Outside the Ride, although not nearly accessible without Ribane’s vocal contribution or satisfyingly complete, is a mesmerizing collection of songs–electronic music with dense layers and complex rhythms that evoke a moody, futuristic world. Incomplete as they may sometime feel, they are still places you’d like to visit in your imagination.