Wild Mercury Sound

Konono No 1's Live At The Couleur Cafe, plus a bit more Boredoms

John Mulvey

One or two hangovers in the Uncut office today, so I'm cheerfully trying to make them worse by playing this new live album by Konono No 1. It's a terrific album, but it also operates on an insistent, reverberant frequency which, I suspect, may well be rattling around the skulls of a few sore heads.

Konono, if you've missed out on all the hipster world music news these past couple of years, are the Congolese band who were recruited by Bjork into the intercontinental avant-garde collective that staffed her "Volta" album: it was their undulating, relentless rhythms that intersected with Timbaland's beat design on "Earth Intruders" so effectively.

Their schtick, exuberantly demonstrated on "Live At Couleur Cafe" (and their 2005 Western debut, "Congotronics"), is to hook up a few thumb pianos to a primitive, ultra-distorted amplification system, add some high-intensity percussion on instruments made out of scrap metal, then chant and whistle a bit over the top. The result is a kind of cranky and rapid trance music; a quick google has turned up this excellent Guardian piece on them, including the useful fact that their name translates as "Assume Crash Position".

I've never been much of a fan of industrial music; too many po-faced, quasi-intellectual goths striving to be transgressive in the '80s for my liking. But Konono No 1 occasionally feel like a positive step on from the experiments of Einsturzende Neubauten, Test Department, SPK (were they the comparatively poppy ones?) et al.

Konono's music is jarring and uncompromising, the harshness of the metallic tones tapping into that tradition of earnest tin-bashing. But while it's pretty lame to assume that music from Africa is experimental by accident rather than design, Konono sound like they're making radical music out of unusual materials without trying to be particularly subversive, removing the portentous subtext that traditionally comes with scrap metal music. I bet they're amazing live.

Amazing live, too, of course are the Boredoms, whose percussive barrage has vague affinities with Konono No1. I wrote a while back, consumed with jealousy, about their amazing 77-drummer show in New York. And while I can't be sure of the ethics of linking to dodgy boots, I can suggest you have a mooch round the internet for a superb quality MP3 of the entire 105 minute performance.


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