For four years, Joshua Reid and Joshua Inyang have been producing an ever-evolving brand of faultlessly forward-looking electronic music, demonstrating a formidable literacy in what Simon Reynolds terms “the hardcore continuum”, that uniquely progressive thread of British underground dance music that can be traced from the first stirrings of Krautrock influenced-post-punk to contemporary broken beat, post-dubstep and UK bass. “We’d been spending a lot of time together, going out together, and being influenced by a lot of music in Manchester: house, techno, drum ‘n’ bass, jungle,” says Inyang, and those influences are audible in their earlier releases, thick slabs of industrial techno submerged in the sub-frequency abyss of 21st Century dub. Yet their recent LP, ‘Somewhere Decent to Live’, is almost entirely devoid of the consistent beats or wind-tunnel basslines, which characterised releases like ‘Where To Now’ and ‘Above/Below The Concrete’. It’s a pretty astonishing album, easily the most striking ambient record I’ve heard this year: an expansive, heady work that evokes the restless emptiness of urban life in post-industrial Northern England. So how have Space Afrika arrived at such a singular sound?
“Naturally, we started to become less and less involved with going out, and we started to have more of our own ideas, staying in and looking for a sound that we felt more comfortable with,” elucidates Josh, who speaks in slow, cerebral sentences, as if continually spinning multiple intellectual plates. “We were listening to a lot of dub – Basic Channel, that kind of stuff – as well as broken beat, German mainly, and a lot of ambient music.”
At this point, the conversation turns to the aspect of this duo that I find so striking: their relationship with Manchester. “We’re quite proud of the direct influence that the North West and Manchester has on our music; the architecture, the design, the history. We spend a lot of time travelling, and just walking around the city at crazy hours of the night, under the harsh grey… You can’t help but absorb that on a daily basis. Although we spend a lot of time in quiet, living room type environments, you’ve always got that stuff in the background, spilling over into what you find when you’re in that quiet place. It results in music that’s a lot more natural and organic, completely related to everything you experience in the day-to-day.”
This influence is worn brazenly; as they’re keen to remind me, the titles of their releases, and indeed the name of the project, refer explicitly to notions of geography and architecture. ‘Somewhere Decent To Live’, ‘Where To Now’, ‘Above/Below The Concrete’; this is a duo who foreground their relationship with place in everything they do. One way in which they expand upon such foregrounding and flesh out their music into a fully-realised sonic environment is through the liberal use of field recordings. “The sounds of wind, of cans, of a train… they made sense, and inspired the theme of the whole thing. Just recording stuff on our phones or hand-held recorders, we brought those feelings directly to the sound, by just capturing it as is. The field recordings are paramount to the music,” says Inyang.
On this point, Reid is keen to interject. “There’s never a straight rule of how we put a track together. A field recording might have an energy or a story to it that we can work with directly, finding points that create a nice atmosphere, and that might lead the production. Or sometimes we can have an idea of the type of track we wanna make, whether that be a soundscape or something more club-inclined, and a field recording can be the perfect thing to carry the story of that track.” This sense of naturalism, of instinct over preconception, is a theme to which our conversation keeps returning.