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V/A - Bokan! Music in the Margins

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Artist: V/A

Album: Bokan! Music in the Margins

Label: Sub Rosa

Review date: Aug. 6, 2008

The songs on Bokan! are performed by students at the Belgian institute La Porte Ouverte, a center for “psychosocial rehabilitation” for “epileptics, mental disorders, disorders of self-control and personality.” That’s compellingly vague, and the songs are not presented as the function of some psychological condition, but as works of untrained passion. Students at the school range from ages 13-20. That’s a broad swath of anyone’s development, and the songs represent many flavors. Most of the students have never played music before, and, as part of one workshop, approach various instruments untrained. They get some guidance from instructor Benjamin Bouffioux, an experienced and versatile multi-instrumentalist. But the compositions are their own, with simple, improvised structures, uncalculated emotion, and a range of creation.

Whether through Bouffioux’s influence or some sort of Jungian shit, there is a degree of consistency here. The LPO kids adopt some of the conventions of “anti-folk,” stroking acoustic guitars to form rudimentary hooks that slowly fall apart as the force of emotional release steals the show. Jeremie emerges as a master of this approach; with his blocky compositions and his nervous, blurted vocals, he’s Gary Wilson with honest-to-god teen angst. Loic’s songs are similar but more robust and a touch more subtle – if there’s truth in comedy, his slinky, acoustic funk and weepy falsetto may someday put Flight of the Conchords by the roadside. These guys have troubles, and they’re radically honest, but they understand and implement the basic tools of pop.

At the opposite pole, some LPOers embrace the high-speed catharsis of extremist dance music and improvised noise. Laurant Adam’s “Reebox Mix” sounds a bit like jungle; he realizes right away that he can release the beast by making the drum machine go as fast as it can go. It’s spastic and painful and wildly compelling. It’s the least hinged dance music you’re likely to hear anywhere, but if you’ve had a degree of frustration in your life, you can sure-as-hell dance to it.

John-John falls somewhere in the middle; his detached vocals tag along with a mix steady beats and brrrritzing computer sounds that amounts to unintentional new wave. And David spans the gamut, practicing frantic release on “Transe” and rambling folk on “Harry Potter & Rocky” (which showcases his abstract Stallone impression).

All these artists are social misfits, but their backgrounds are kept intentionally vague, because their passion eclipses any diagnosis. Thus, Bokan! functions not as a curious exhibition of outsider art, but as a document of glorious shit-into-gold transmutation.

By Emerson Dameron

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