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Nearly nine years ago Mark Pritchard and Steve Spacek began bonding over their shared passion for the seemingly disparate spheres of bubbling Detroit techno, soul and fierce Jamaican digital dancehall. First came an appearance by Spacek on Pritchard’s Troubleman album, then the collaborative track “Turn It On” released on Sonar Kollektive.
It was when they both, by pure coincidence, found themselves living in Australia that the connection was cemented. Africa HiTech is the moniker which represents both Steve and Mark’s love for all things progressive within music, whilst acknowledging that the roots of much of today’s popular music can be traced directly back to Africa.
Pritchard had already begun to narrow the gaps between the pair’s beloved genres under his Harmonic 313 moniker and Spacek was eager to explore new directions in both his production and vocals after the disbandment of his eponymous band and the worldwide acclaim of his Dilla-asisted “Dollar” single. The first widely heard fruits of the duo’s labor was the striking single “Blen”. A penetrating exercise in minimalist dancehall swordplay, it was released under the intriguing name Africa HiTech which immediately seemed to encompass both the influences and ambitions of the newly christened 2-piece.
While Spacek’s predatory ragamuffin chat on “Blen” was a pleasant shock to many, Pritchard’s compositions straddled UK garage and ruff-neck Kingston logic just as deftly. More of the same could have easily followed, but instead came the “HiTecherous” vinyl double-pack. Nodding heavily towards classic grime, techno and even (on “Too Late”) smooth, futuristic lover’s rock, the expansive EP shed some light on where the duo were headed. As well as sculpting their own vision of future music, they would also stop do update the genres they loved along the way.
The result is 93 Million Miles, an unflinchingly ambitious product of international globe-trotting that carves a new faultline into the rapidly expanding terrain of “bass music”…or whatever it’s being called this week. The first point of introduction for many will have been the Ini Kamoze-sampling behemoth “Out In The Street”, immediately championed by Flying Lotus, Untold, Toddla T, Benji B, Scratcha DVA and featured in “Wild Hundreds”, a documentary about Chicago’s underground Juke/Footwork dance community. A brilliant exercise in artful international data-splicing, “Out In The Street” combines the ghosts of 1980s Jamaica with the youth-culture explosion of juke.
While there are several incredibly unique footwork deconstructions on the album, other tracks like “Our Luv” and the album’s title track look to Chicago house and Detroit Techno while Spacek’s combative patois returns drenched in sinister vocoder tones on the grime-meets-dancehall bubbler “Do You Wanna Fight?”. Still more explorations come with the album’s second half when afrobeat, dub and deep jazz experimentalism are all added to the already potent cocktail. For many this ambitious cultural intake could spell disaster, but in the hands of Pritchard and Spacek it becomes a surprising, fulfilling journey aimed squarely at the dedicated listener rather than simply at the dancefloor. Given the duo’s breadth of experience and exquisite levels of taste and ability, it could go no other way. (Text courtesy Elastic Artists)