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V/A - Shangaan Shake

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Artist: V/A

Album: Shangaan Shake

Label: Honest Jon's

Review date: Apr. 11, 2012

Shangaan Shake is technically a two-disc collection of remixes that the venerable London label Honest Jon’s commissioned of their 2010 compilation Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music from South Africa. But a quick glance over the carefully curated participants — critically adored, boundary-pushing names like Demdike Stare, Actress and Oni Ayhun — and you know they aren’t going for the frenetic pace or neon Casio tones of the originals. So familiarity with the original Shangaan Electro tunes isn’t expected or necessary: The compilation functions as a prompt for a diverse set of approaches, setting a handful of techno’s brightest up with a few choice samples and sending them down divergent and largely rewarding paths.

Thanks to its maxed-out BPMs and “sunny” melodies, it’s easy to overlook the subtler charms of Shangaan — or dismiss it as exotica for fans of the Chicago’s equally warp-speed footwork. Yet, despite its impression of speed and cheapness, as Daniel Martin-McCormick pointed out in his Shangaan critique, on closer inspection there’s “a certain ephemeral quality…an aqueous, flowing, cyclical approach to melody, a hypnotic modal structure that drones and percolates at the same time.” Although the original tracks aren’t sampled extensively, all the remixers show a respectful grasp on Shangaan electro’s unique gifts, and many let themselves be taken out of their respective comfort zones by the challenge.

That’s not always a positive, however, judging by Theo Parrish’s submission. It’s the longest, most beguiling, and only unrealized track on the collection. I’ve trained myself to skip it at this point, but there’s something oddly compelling about the 12-minute head-scratcher, which rides a Mancingelani loop to infinity while trying to bum rush it with alternately tentative and sawing jazzy accompaniment. Parrish’s additions mostly stumble over but occasionally interweave with the original, ping-ponging between inaudible, audible, and off-key — the sound of unrelated conversations presented as dialogue.

Actress fares better on the first of his two cuts. In fine Actress fashion, “Actress Meets Shangaan Electro” puts equal energy into setting up a groove and complicating our enjoyment of it: LFOs warp disjointed synth tones in the foreground while a vocal sample drifts comfortably along with a pleasant thomp in the background. Also weighing in on the more laidback side of the spectrum, we have Old Apparatus’s shuddering cool-down exercise and Demdike Stare tossing off another Tryptych-worthy track.

Across the album, there’s a balance between these artier tracks and the more functional ones. Chief among the latter group is Anthony “Shake” Shakir’s remix, which picks up serious momentum after Demdike. But the clear standout of the set is the mutant beauty of Peverelist’s entry. Backed by off-kilter, meter-stretching samples, it struts along with the kind of overwhelming confidence granted those doing unexpected things well.

Shangaan Shake will be one of the most noteworthy electronic releases of 2012, not just because it brings together some of the best in the game, but because it does so in a way that’s conceptually interesting for the artists, and which yields an embarrassment of riches for the listener.

By Brandon Bussolini

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