Dubbed-out ambient from North West England.
Some people just have a gift for putting sounds together. The Mancunian duo Space Afrika are like that. Their approach to what you might call ambient music is unique. For one, it exists in the background and the foreground at the same time—sounds rustle and float around you, while hooks and details fix your attention at the front. Their music (and mixes) heavily feature field recordings, adding to the rich atmosphere. They structure their work like extended sound collages, but still with a distinct narrative in mind.
In addition to their excellent album Somewhere Decent To Live, released on Sferic in 2018, last year's astounding hybtwibt? mixtape typifies their approach. It dreamily passes from one idea to the next, punctuated by emotional (and occasionally heart-rending) spoken word, vocal samples and melodic hooks. Their RA Podcast works in the same vein. It's a DJ mix, sure, but it's as rich and complex as any of their original works. It's the kind of mix that yet like an album in itself, carefully and methodically constructed, expressing a different—but sympathetic—kind of artistry.
The duo are deeply enamoured and influenced by their home in North West England, and their work evokes a lot of the images associated with the region: slate grey skies, industrial estates, concrete buildings. But the feelings their music carries is more universal, because it's so deeply human, more than anything else. From the wafting vocals of a Burial radio rip circa 2010 to haunting melodies from artists like Teresa Winter, Iceboy Violet and Claire Rousay, this is a mix that demands your closest attention for its quietest passages and most elegant transitions.
What have you been up to recently?
Chillin. Working. Making lots of music. Video calling. Sharing ideas. Cooking and eating. Listening to Carti.
How and where was the mix recorded?
The mix was collated by us sharing tracks from our respective cities, Berlin and Manchester, over Telegram, phone calls and whatever mediums we use to communicate. The final mix was recorded in M4, Manchester UK at Lighthouse // StudioOne Manchester, with four Pioneer CDJs into FLStudio.
Can you tell us the idea behind the mix?
It's a combination of new works, reworks, unreleased material mainly from friends, dubbae's international, Manchester heads, UK tings, etc., that we love. The mix represents the vibe we're on right now and a passion for engaging with new and peculiar music with feeling. Soundbites and downtempo dub with a touch of ambience. It's a moody, self-reflective mix sifting through the haze. It's a cathartic practice to put together and to try and create a narrative along the way, we hope people find solace in the output as we did in the process.
If I understand correctly, you make great use of field recordings. What is your method for recording, what do you record and how do you end up incorporating those sounds into your music?
Field recording has played a huge role in the project since its inception. It's funny because the idea of field recording is sometimes portrayed as someone stood next to nature with a huge amount of sound equipment. For us that's not the case. Growing up in the industrialized North we would record the sounds of the structural makeup of the city on mobile phones, cheap Tascams, sometimes just messing around with objects that kind of stuff. Sometimes friends making obscure noises with their hands (shoutout to Phil Struck).
While we don't always incorporate the field recordings into production they do form the basis as a sonic guide to create the palette of ideas based around the inner-city urban experience of our childhood. It's hard to escape this when you get used to the repetition of industrial noise.
You've spoken in the past about how Manchester and the North West have influenced the sound of your music. How has your move to Berlin affected your surroundings and what influences your sound, especially amidst the pandemic?
The project is very rooted in the North West experience. Manchester will always be our home and is the main influence and driving factor behind our sound. We don't think Berlin has necessarily had any impact on sound production per se as reasons for relocating aren't sonic related. If anything moving away has allowed Manchester to be viewed from our project with an outside perspective by delving into earlier memories and experiences of the city. It also begs the question what was and is the inspirations of Manchester which results in our musical framework and how will that look as the city evolves and changes.
What are you up to next?
Working on new projects, collaborations and just generally experimenting with new ideas.