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Konono N°1 / The Dead C - Split Series #18

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Artist: Konono N°1 / The Dead C

Album: Split Series #18

Label: FatCat

Review date: May. 12, 2005

It’s about time that FatCat took notice of this side of the Atlantic; for too long, the records in their split 12” series have been pricey and hard to come by. Change is a long-term process, though. The scant first pressing of this record, which is one of the inaugural releases in their campaign to reconquer the colonies, sold out instantly. Fear not, more are on the way. Like so many others in the series, it is a clash of titans from different pantheons.

The Dead C are an 18-year-old New Zealand-based trio whose often entropic music has always come coated in grimy distortion. Local lore holds that any self-respecting Kiwi bloke should be able to repair anything that’s quit moving with a tool kit and a lot of ingenuity; Michael Morley, Bruce Russell, and Robbie Yeats have turned faulty amps, cast-off gear, and nationwide indifference into virtues. They rarely play live and maintain an antagonistic stance against the local music scene, which is more interested in nurturing DJs who spin London’s latest craze and crappy retro-rawk bands than homegrown free-form noise outfits. This is their first long-playing vinyl release in a while, and they take full advantage of the format by opening the record with five locked grooves. Ironically, these isolated chunks of clank and scrunch function much like the digital delay pedal loops that Morley’s long dropped into the maelstrom. They are followed by a long, home-recorded (and unnamed, like every other track on this side of the record) collage that lurches from band argument to swinging noise jam to inconsolable lament before it finally comes to rest in a heap of cast-off riffs. Then come two shorter pieces taken from a 2003 concert. The first begins where a stab at rock music ends; martial drums tug at a heedless feedback dual, then all collapses in a barrage of synths that sound startlingly like dentist drills in operation. The final track finds the Dead C once more in noisy rock mode, dishing out ladles full of racket over a remorseless beat.

Like the Dead C, Konono No. 1 make a virtue of limited resources. This ensemble has been playing street parties for over 25 years around Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where they have had to build their instruments and sound system from scratch. The drum section’s metallic clatter is repurposed pots, pans and car parts, the lead instruments are thumb pianos amplified past the point where the notes disintegrate, and the call-and-response vocals sound like they’re delivered by megaphones. Their music is miles from the slick, passionless fluff that gets flogged to the world music market, and every bit as distorted as the Dead C’s. But its purposes and effects couldn’t be more different. You’re free to love or hate the Dead C, but they couldn’t care less; they’re playing to please themselves. Konono No. 1 are all about convening and communicating with their community. They want to draw a crowd and keep it moving, and if the two long songs on this platter (which were licensed from the CD Congo Electrico) are any indication, they do a fantastic job. The grooves are irresistible, the chanting ecstatic, the sound intoxicating. Catch it now, before they buy some decent amps and ruin everything.

By Bill Meyer

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