These days it’s hard to imagine that location could have any impact on a particular sound. As face-time and neighborhoods give way to avatars and on-line communities, the very concept of a physical field for forging creative relationships is almost a distant memory. That’s except for the ubiquitous London scene of eclectic ‘free pop’ shared and circulated by locals Kwes, Micachu and friends. Their second collaborative work, succinctly summarized in the compound title of Kwesachu Mixtape Vol. 2, the free download is not only an expression of the duo’s exceptional working relationship but the sound of an area, post-grime and UK garage, that is still a ripe source of cultural fusion.
Released the same year as Micachu & The Shapes’ debut album Jewellery and the earlier Filthy Friends Mixtape, 2009’s Vol.1 . was notable for featuring such big names as Romy Madley-Croft of The XX and Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard, alongside lesser-known hip hop, R&B and funk fusion musicians like Ghostpoet, DELS and The Invisible. Now, as Croft and Goddard move on, it’s those earlier artists and their recent success that carries a new crop of interesting young talent showcased on Vol. 2. and if the past is a precedent, one would do well to pay attention.
Members of electronic hybrid Clout! appear in the clunking opener ‘HCHMWBIA’, while hip hop artists Bang On! and Lee Scott offer their acid tongues to the swirling rhythm of ‘So What’. Micachu & the Shapes member Raisa K presages her developing solo project with the chafing pulse of ‘Beast’, along with words from Afrofunk musician Evian Cafun. The singularity of Raisa K’s sound is rivaled only by the squawking saxophone of experimental jazz musician Pete Wareham (Polar Bears, Acoustic Ladyland), in ‘Awol’ to follow. Trailing with the unsettling swing of a mix deconstructed and fragmented by Micachu’s production, that track established rhythm and reason within chaos, in the same way that Micachu’s throaty vocals are oddly soothing as she confirms, “everyone’s screaming, everyone’s crying but you’re still smiling” in the earlier ‘DJ Set’.
That sense of unease and violence is a theme that is a key difference from the more pensive and melancholy Vol. 1. Finding a fire, no doubt inspired and fed by the social unrest seen and felt in recent years, Mercury Prize winner Speech Debelle expostulates over an agenda she started propagating with this year’s Freedom of Speech. An urgent sonic current rushes over her frenetic social commentary as she evokes the anger and insecurity of modern life.
A notable absence is Brother May, with whom Micachu had maintained a close working relationship from her early days through to the mixtape accompanying last year’s live London Sinfonietta collaboration Chopped & Screwed. Yet, long-time Micachu collaborator and understated talent Tirzah is a highlight, where laconic lyrics and unusual vocal inflections make ‘Nothing’ equal parts strange and familiar. As a relic of Micachu’s early days with the loosely defined ‘Cluster Collective’ (as christened by MySpace) it’s clear that collaboration and community is key to fending off fear and keeping things fresh; a sentiment echoed in Kwes & Micachu track ‘DJ Set’ as the latter moans, “the building collapses and I don’t mind the sound of it.”