Image: Björn Holzweg
Nairobi born and Kampala based producer Freddy Njau, aka Slikback, has slowly been infecting club music with his abrasive and entirely future focussed sound over the course of the last few years. His burgeoning influence rides the crest of the wave of interest in the electronic music being born out of Central Africa, championed by platforms such as the Nyege Nyege festival and its label. The fascination with the sound erupting out of Uganda, The DRC and its surrounds, particularly from Europe, is likely due in part to how completely unique yet primordial this sound is. What Central Africa calls ‘techno’ hardly resembles the form in the traditional sense; rather theirs is a distorted, disjointed mutation of grime, death metal and doomcore that often feels as if it has evolved in complete isolation from the rest of the world. And in a sense, it has. A melting pot of genres and influences sequenced into apparent chaos, this sort of “outsider music” is directly informed by the experience of the space it comes from. In this case, it becomes a means to comment and reflect on the socio-cultural landscape of countries scarred by civil unrest and the increased normalisation of militarisation. As such, the sound is rooted in an inherent sense of dis-ease and violent displacement. This rough angst formulates abrasive and often alarming pieces of noise art gesticulating towards notions of afro-futuristic dystopia. For Slikback, the sound he has pioneered from these contemplations have come to inform not only his peers, but the rest of the world. Take the increased interest in the sound of post-club, for instance. Similarly born from a sense of displacement and the violence of being other, the form recalls Central Africa’s ‘techno’ in its rejection of structure and utilisation of chaos as modality. Works like Anonymous Club’s recent compilation SCREENSAVERS Vol.1 and artists such as Berlin’s rising star Zíur have found in post-club a means to express the state of otherness, recognising deconstruction as a method towards reconstruction.
It’s interesting then that Slikback’s latest work Melt, which is self-released by the artist no less, should come in the form of a collaborative album which sees Njau team up with a number of producers from across the globe. This cast, which includes Zíur and French bass master Brodinski, all speak this particular language of deconstruction, and Melt uses this common dialect to present a collection of conversations spoken in sonic chaos. This commonality results in a strikingly cohesive album. Despite working with a different collaborator on every track, the music all exists along the same frequency. Slikback’s rapid-fire crunched out beats mostly take the lead, their machine-gun-like convulsions shaping the backbone which Melt both attaches itself to and pulls apart. They are preceded by passages of static atmospherics on opening track Toketa with emerging Philippines producer Teya Logos, while on tracks like Ixhoshi with Exploited Body and Stages Of Flesh with Hexorcismos they warp and collide into each other to create percussive patterns of disruption. Elsewhere, there is a distinct influence from lo-fi and trap on tracks like Jahad with Tzusing, Third Dawn with STSK and Atmos with Oba Who? The latter is possibly the most accessible outing on the album, arriving towards its final act and providing a reprieve from what is up to that point a disarmingly intense experience. Brodinski conjures a hardcore bass formulation on Mugen which interpolates trap rhythms by way of increasing distortion, while Zíur’s Banshee shifts through passages of industrial techno menace before arriving at a mechanised dub breakdown. KMRU’s appearance on Dissociation plays with ambience, modulating walls of white noise toward a barely-there pulse that intensifies as the track erupts forward, and Slikback enters manic breakbeat territory with OBJEKT on the mercurial Apex. Melt’s greatest moments though are its most chaotic, such as Skin Tight with Van Boom where the Slikback’s disorienting deconstructed aesthetic is taken to new extremes against slowly decaying rave and trap-house synths.
At sixteen tracks, Melt is one of the most intense and confrontational albums to arrive in recent memory. Every moment is jagged and heavy, full of throbbing bass and massive buzzing distortion. It dances through its phrases of industrial horror and machine macabre with a guttural, primordial energy. The experience is not easy, but the bombast can feel almost transcendent if you dare allow yourself to get lost in its layers of chaotic tenebrosity. And if you do, you might find that the noise presages catharsis. Within these relentless sonic monstrosities that Njau and his coterie cook up, it can be alarming what may be exhumed from your own insides, demanding to be met and confronted. It’s why these concoctions thrum with unnerving danger and the inescapable feeling of something inevitable. With the entire world having been shifted into a state of collective uncertainty, the sounds of these producers and the idea of chaos as a means toward clarity feels more prescient than ever before. Melt is entirely a product of its present moment, but one which rallies an army of radical sonic prophets to collectively divine a vision of our future. This album belies the fact that these feelings of discomfort and dis-ease are not endemic to the violence of Africa or third-world suffering, but a universal and deftly human experience whose darkness we can all understand.
Download Melt here and listen to the album below.