Space Afrika, the duo of Berlin-based Josh Reidy and Manchester-based Joshua Inyang, delivered an experimental electronic masterpiece with their 2018 album ‘Somewhere Decent To Live’. While using the 808 bass booms and panoramic pads of classic jungle, they stripped away the breakbeats to create a new kind of contemplative ambient music. With deliberate depletion and a minimalist palette, Space Afrika hinted at the genres that inspired their sound, but made something looser and more amorphous.
At the time, Inyang told DJ Mag: “This whole thing is very reduced. There’ll be some periods when we’ve come back from a gig, after hearing this heavy four-four and these breaks, and we’ve been working on a track. We think, ‘we could put a little break in there’. It was tempting to do that at times, but every time we did, it didn’t feel correct. We felt we could be just as impactful with the bare minimum.”
Since then, they’ve morphed, maintaining an ambient sensibility, but transporting it somewhere new. Their 2020 mixtape ‘Hybtwibt?’, a grab bag of new works and edits also broadcast on NTS Radio, saw them mixing field recordings, spoken voice snippets and delicate synth vignettes, and this direction informs new album ‘Honest Labour’, a more expansive vision that adds many hitherto unheard elements to their sound.
On ‘Indigo Grit’, they’re joined by Guest, and her vocals give it an ethereal presence, mixed with the muted woodwind and kick drums in the backdrop. ‘Lose You Beau’ is coated in crackle and tape hiss, reminiscent of the blue laments of Burial, or Actress’s ‘Caves Of Paradise’, an impression emphasised by the snatches of vocal sample.
There are 19 short tracks, suggesting another mixtape, where each ephemeral snapshot melts into the next in a dreamlike sequence. ‘LV’ immediately captures the attention, with its flourishes of Cocteau Twins-like reverb-dunked guitar coming up against low scrapes of what sounds like cello and TV buzz; the dream pop influence makes perfect sense in their heady, introspective sound world.
That impression is strengthened by the extraordinary ‘Girl Scout Cookies’, featuring Bianca Scout. Full of rippling synth and Scout’s celestial tones, it feels like something utopian and ambient, before a burst of angry spoken word, when the song changes shape into shoegaze indie powered by a glowering bass guitar sound, resembling a modern twist on ’80s 4AD band A.R. Kane.
‘Preparing The Perfect Response’ has a spoken segment with an American woman talking about her life struggles, while the cello in the background could almost be Arthur Russell circa ‘World Of Echo’, and ‘NY Interlude’ is a rare hint at beats, its broken rhythm snapping over filtered synth loops. ‘B£E’ is something very different, with its heavy hip-hop drums and the vocals of MC Blackhaine mixing with swelling strings and synth swirls.
Some tracks are tantalisingly brief, like ‘With Your Touch’, a mere 45 seconds that you wish could go on much longer, its bone chilling bells and field recording crackles opening out into distant voices. All the songs play with mood, like the mercurial ‘Strength’ with LA Timpa, seemingly melancholy in its intro, before moving into more fractured squalls of synth noise and spidery guitar like The Cure at their most gothic.
‘Honest Labour’ was made remotely, with the duo sending pieces of tracks back and forth and building them that way. You can sense that isolation and introspection in the music, a feeling compounded by the pandemic situation. It feels like an album that explores inner space rather than the heavens, and it’s staggeringly powerful. There’s no one else making records like this.