A spirited, experimentally-minded soundclash that’s as fun as it is inspired.
Louis Patterson 2007
Without Zero marks the return of some true veterans of the Asian underground. They were founded in the early 80s by Farook and Haroon Shamsher, two brothers whose father – a Bangladeshi immigrant – ran a traditional tape shop in London’s East End. The group’s initial aim was to fuse traditional Bengali music with the energetic funk attack of James Brown. But despite the death of Haroon in 1999, Joi have continued to spearhead a sprit of East/West cultural fusion integrating two decades of British club and evolution from acid house to drum ’n’ bass into their flexible, loose-limbed design.
The band’s third album to appear on Peter Gabriel’s Real World imprint, Without Zero sees Shamsher joined by a cast of musicians including sitar player Nildari Kumar, adventurous drum ’n’ bass duo Spring Heel Jack, and vocalist Apeksha Dandekar, who offers vocals and chants in Hindi and Urdu. Whereas many modern UK club genres have pillaged ethnic music for vaguely ‘exotic’ sounds, Without Zero approaches the culture-clash from the opposite direction. Eschewing samples, the likes of "Come Back To Me" and "What You Are" are built on an essentially traditional bedrock of live sitar, pipes, and tabla, beefed up with propulsive rhythms and techno bass.
That’s not to say, however, that Shamsher is averse to a spot of studio trickery – see how he digitally chops up Dandekar’s mournful wail and presents the pieces soaked in echo on “Amar Kahani”. Nor is the live instrumentation here exclusively Asian: “Praying For You” drops snatches of what sounds like bluesy slide guitar to amongst thudding, Chemical Brothers-style beats, while “Cha Cha Cha” blends the wail of vocalist Apeksha Dandekar with heavy, chunky rock riffs. The pick here, however, might just be “What You Are” - a deft crossbreed of mid-90s chart house and Bhangra peppered with dramatic, organic drum rolls. A spirited, experimentally minded soundclash that’s as fun as it is inspired.