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Various Artists Tradi-Mods Vs. Rockers: Alternative Takes on Congotronics Review

Compilation. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

A seamless and quite brilliant example of new-frontier pop.

Chris Parkin 2010

Lest any confusion set in, a quick primer: this 26-track compilation has diddly squat to do with the sort of golden-era music that may have accompanied pitched battles on Brighton’s seafront in the 1960s. Instead, the titular Tradi-Mods are a group of Congolese tribal collectives that, for decades now, have quite literally been banging out traditional African trance on instruments self-built from scrap-metal and amplification junked by their Belgian colonial masters. When Kinshasa’s Konono No. 1 released their 2004 Congotronics album, this reverberating rhythmic electro got its name.

But that’s not the end of it. The discovery in the West of Congotronics – an ancient yet more impressively out-there and full-tilt dance music than almost anything plied in the First World – has thrilled open-minded sorts, who are amazed to find family ensembles led by 80-year-olds playing such forward-thinking – nay, almost cosmic – dance choons on such rudimentary equipment. In a country ravaged by civil war no less.

The admiration for their intense sound has lead to this, a terrific and bamboozling compilation, in which various Rockers put their spin on tracks by Konono No. 1 and the spaced-out animistic psych-grooves of Kasai Allstars, the 25-piece collective behind the infectiously odd In the 7th Moon, the Chief Turned into a Swimming Fish and Ate the Head of His Enemy. Only the ‘Rockers’ aren’t exactly meat-and-two-veg greasers. Rather, they’re free-thinkers who themselves specialise in the ecstatic and elevating, such as Animal Collective, their psychedelic brethren Au, Argentina’s queen of loops Juana Molina and Andrew Bird. These all celebrate the weird potential of the music, amping up the nuttiness or building the bleepy trance into something misty and ethereal.

Where this meeting of minds works best, though, is when the knob-twiddling collaborators take their turn. The sound of Congotronics is, after all, transcendental dance music to take us out of our heads. So dubstep oddball Shackleton turns the Kasai Allstars into hype men, bellowing animistic slogans over ominous rumble, while, taking the prize, Bass Clef takes them into pretty Planet Mu territory with a bass-heavy skitterthon. A few duds aside, including Micachu’s unexpectedly tired recast, this is a seamless and quite brilliant example of new-frontier pop.

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