Matt O'Neill

Africa HiTech – ‘Out In The Streets’ (Warp)

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by Matt O’Neill

There’s an interesting twist to the career of Mark Pritchard.

One of the industry’s more celebrated underdogs, Pritchard has been forging a career in dance music for the better part of two decades – but he doesn’t like rhythm.

This is not something he’s said, of course. It’s just something that’s been evident across the majority of his works. Aside from perhaps his work with Tom Middleton in late-90s eclecticists The Jedi Knights, Pritchard has never paid significant attention to beats or rhythm.

From his most experimental outings as Reload in the early 90s to his more ambient records as Global Communication (again with Tom Middleton) through to his most recent work as Harmonic 313, the Sydney-based producer has always prioritised texture and sonic exploration over rhythmic accessibility or finesse. In short, he’s forged a career in an industry while effectively ignoring its central bread and butter: the beat.

As a result of this, ‘Out In The Streets ‘makes me scratch my head somewhat. To be perfectly honest, it befuddles the living bejeezus out of me (this is rare: I am typically full to the gunwales with bejeezus).

The lead single of the forthcoming debut album 93 Million Miles of Pritchard’s Africa HiTech project with vocalist/producer Steve Spacek (Space Invadas, Spacek), ‘Out In The Streets’ is just as abstract and rhythmically unhelpful as everything else in Pritchard’s catalogue. Built largely from layer upon layer of the one vocal loop and embellished only slightly by spartan flourishes of electronic percussion and minor synthesiser melodies, the track, even down to the suffocating sense of dread, sounds like little more than a dancehall tribute to Steve Reich’s ‘It’s Gonna Rain’ – but, goodness gracious me, it makes me want to move!

When I first listened to it, I thought it was absolutely pointless. The rhythms are unbelievably simple (essentially pitched halfway between grime and dancehall), there’s barely any bass to speak of and the synthesiser melody seems like little more than a placeholder. Approximately a week later, I listened to it again. Immediately after that, I listened to it again. And again. Eventually, I’d listened to it 30 consecutive times.

I can remember neither what started this obsessive run nor what finished it. I can’t even tell you what’s changed about it. I’m not going to say I missed something. I haven’t. There’s just as little to the track now as there was when I first heard it. I just happen to have a deep connection to it now for some reason.

Now, I could use this to make many pretentious points about music – about how we often miss the forest for the trees when listening attentively, about how subjective quality is, about the universal nature of good music and so on and so forth. All sorts of bollocks, really.

I’m not telling you of my respective confusion and addiction, however, to illustrate any of those points. I needed to demonstrate what a fascinating piece of music ‘Out In The Streets’ is – it’s been some three weeks since I first heard it and it still makes me convulse with every airing. I still can’t tell you why.

All I can really tell you, as trite as it may sound, is how it makes me feel when I listen to it – entranced, volatile, enraged, elevated, attenuated, aggressive, aroused. Anxious. I feel terrified and jubilant. I don’t feel normal. I feel different.

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