After years spent haunting the Manchester club circuit, helming a stellar NTS show and putting out the occasional 12” or remix, this year Space Afrika finally did us the honour of releasing their debut LP. At least it was worth the wait.
On Somewhere Decent to Live the duo build on the sparse, ambient techno sound that has characterised their output up until now, incorporating aspects of garage, jungle and dubstep that elevate the project well above what’s come before. These new elements only ever bubble under the surface though. Everything is coated in a gloopy, heavy atmosphere, with only an abstract kick pattern or swelling sub bass as a reminder of the debt the album owes to dance music.
The A-side swims with disembodied voices and swathes of ambience, punctuated by stuttering percussion. Opener uwëm/creātiōn is a meandering and introspective take on dub techno, while on st/dl and bly fractured 2-step beats are submerged under layers of pads and reverberating vocal samples. Later, things veer slightly more towards the dancefloor. Standout gwabh sounds like the work of an old skool UKG producer who’s been sipping lean and listening to Chain Reaction compilations since the mid-90s, while faint but unmistakable echoes of jungle permeate oread.
Comparisons to Jan Jelinek, Echospace, Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement or Pole (who aptly handled the mastering) are obvious and justified. But to me the album’s closest relation is also found on the Manchester-based Sferic label - Echium’s equally excellent Synthetic Space LP from 2017. Both projects share in a deep appreciation for the pillars of dance music, while simultaneously managing to twist and blur the framework in new, unexplored ways.
Somewhere Decent To Live stands as a meticulously-crafted ode to the murkier edges of the dancefloor, an introspective and considered dissection of UK club culture’s history. Listening through it is like experiencing those Noto + Sakamoto albums from the rose-tinted, pill-frazzled perspective of an ex-raver. It’s like hearing what a Gas record might sound like had he spent his formative years drenched in Moschino at jungle and garage nights.
This juxtaposition of hard and soft, of peak time rave and blissed-out afters, is what makes the album so special. It’s a balancing act that many artists try but few can pull off. With Somewhere Decent To Live, Space Afrika prove beyond doubt that they’re masters of the art.
Words: Oscar Allan