Various Artists, Shangaan Shake

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

By Ben Beaumont-Thomas

on 02.24.12 in Reviews

The panopticon effect of the Internet can make it seem like there’s nothing out there left to be unearthed, which inevitably leads to the discovery of another musical subculture that sounds like nothing else. One such example was the Shangaan electro scene, brought to Western consciousness by producer Wills Glasspiegal andLondonlabel Honest Jon’s in 2010. Based in a tiny area ofSouth Africaand characterised by galloping 180bpm snares, intricate marimba patterns and chanted or crooned vocals, it’s like highlife thrown into a caffeinated Nintendo game.

Universally strong and perceptive reworkings

Over the last six months, Honest Jon’s has been releasing 12″ remixes of the material, which are now collected onto this CD and download package; the remixers are a who’s who of cutting edge house and techno, plus some brilliant curveballs. Perhaps the most obvious choices amongst this second group are RP Boo and DJs Spinn and Rashad, whose equally frenetic, snare-heavyChicagojuke dovetails nicely: Like Shangaan, its power lies in being simultaneously funky and brittle. Actress and Hype Williams, meanwhile, turn in typically echoing, clouded takes, the latter slowed to a skunk-fugged skank; Oni Ayhun (aka Olof Dreijer from the Knife) doesn’t sample any of the tracks at all, instead creating his own shuffling version full of warped vocals and faithfully reproduced bloops.

The rest are universally strong and perceptive reworkings, but perhaps it’s the big names that satisfy the most. Anthony “Shake” Shakir’s take on BBC’s “Ngunyuta Dance” is the most fun, retaining the original’s deranged chuckling and giving it a fat uptempo stomp. The same vocal sample feels disturbing amid a masterfully atmospheric and dry groove from Mark Ernestus, while fellow Berliners Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer retain some of the playful spidery melodies of the Tshetsha Boys to add an ounce of wit amongst their ghoulish techno. Theo Parrish’s 13-minute re-edit of Mancingelani’s Vana Vasesi is the finest of all, quietly slipping soulful chords underneath the constantly looping samples – it’s as rich and deep a groove as the classic disco records he often re-edits, but with an added alien presence sidling onto the dancefloor.

Despite deploying entirely new production and sometimes reducing the originals to just a snatched sample, the sheer weirdness of the source material means it always glints and flickers mischievously throughout. The perpetual energy of the originals may have been diverted into strange and beautiful new Western tributaries, but it still flows with the same force.