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Ghosts in the Machine

Africa Hitech uncover soul in the computers they use to make music

Electronic music pioneer Brian Eno once said, “The problem with computers is that there is not enough Africa in them.” He was specifically referring to the act of making music with a computer, a task that is much more popular today than it was in 1993 when his statement was reported in Wired magazine.

This year, Eno’s Warp Records colleagues Africa Hitech have discovered the Africa hidden within their music-making electronic machinery, as reflected on their critically acclaimed debut album 93 Million Miles. If you’re wondering what it means to evoke the Africa from a pile of strategically placed computer chips, it means channeling humanity. “It’s all about the spaces in the music,” says Steve Spacek, half of electronic duo Africa Hitech. “You hit the drum and then there is a space, you hit the drum again and that is where the soul is, that is where Africa is.”

In the mid-1990s, around the same time Eno made that statement, Spacek and his music-making partner Mark Pritchard were entering the British music scene. Pritchard was producing music under a handful of aliases, including Harmonic 313 and Global Communication, under which he released a groundbreaking ambient record called 76:14. Meanwhile, Spacek was developing a trip-hop/soul trio simply called Spacek. Both of these projects birthed impressive records and generated many kind words from critics, but the albums and praise were not enough. These two thrive on change.

Fast-forward to the early 2000s. Spacek and Pritchard have removed themselves from the booming yet overwhelming UK music scene to the stark and serene landscape of Australia. Independently. Though they had begun working on tracks together before their individual decisions to move from a small island on the Atlantic to a humongous one on the Pacific, the duo hadn’t decided on a name or direction for the group. It wasn’t until they ran into each other in Australia that Africa Hitech was born.

“Obviously when you go to different places and meet new people, you find a certain type of inspiration,” Pritchard says. “I wondered, when I moved to Australia, how it would affect my music.”

As a duo making music in a land new to the type of music they were interested in—a type of music that was developed in the UK, and featuring heavy African drum and reggae samples—Africa Hitech is certainly taking advantage of the global possibilities in music right now. Their first single, “Out in the Streets,” combines a range of dynamic rhythms—deep, banging bass kicks, wandering snare hits, and rolling beats—with a familiar, repeating reggae chorus, which could not have been formed without dipping into a worldwide network of sounds. Such a mixture of rhythms and sound—as portrayed throughout 93 Million Miles, especially on tracks like “Light the Way” and “Cyclic Sun”—feel as if they should be performed by an orchestra of drummers. Instead, the duo employ an orchestra of keys and triggers. Despite their range of inspirations, Pritchard assures that growing up in the West Country of England was the most influential period of life for him. “When you’re growing up, and you’re exposed to music, especially at an early age, like when you’re coming out of school and you start going to clubs, that period of exposure to music is a very strong part of life,” Pritchard says. “That is when you form your tastes.” For him, that taste is for polyrhythmic drum sounds, bright chopped-up vocals, and a UK funky flow. These ideas became the basis for 93 Million Miles. The duo puts the cutting edge audio on the album into context by using a couple of themes. Like the famous cut in 2001: A Space Odyssey where an ape throws a bone into the air and it transforms into a space station in the blink of an eye, this band seamlessly transitions from aggressive, street-level themes to introspective, otherworldly ideas without compromising the album’s cohesiveness. Bouncing back and forth between down-to-earth ideas, on songs like “Do You Want to Fight” and “Out in the Streets,” and intergalactic futurism on tracks like “Cyclic Sun” and the album’s title track, “93 Million Miles,” Africa Hitech truly combine humanity and technology, bringing substance to their dancehall grime sound, without imposing too much concept upon the listener. “All of those tweaks and layers,” Spacek says, “that is where the feeling comes in.”

Frosty Tone, presents Africa Hitech live at DBGB this Saturday, November 19th.

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