“It’s Dr Who meets democratic of Congo,” laughs Lewis Cancut, one third of cross-cultural sound system Congo Tardis #1. He’s attempting to decode the outfit’s name, which is the easy part. When it comes to defining their sound that’s when the troubles begin. The Tropical Bass tag gets bandied around quite a bit, primarily because the music they’re influenced by seems to come from warmer climates, music like Reggaetron, Baile Funk, Kwaito, Cumbia and all manner of unique hybrids that have sprung up in far flung places. Their music is an electronic dance floor ready melange of these and numerous other styles, acknowledging the influence but incorporating it into their own unique booty shaking vision.
When it comes to appropriating and mixing styles that are not part of their culture, Cancut attempts to be sensitive and non exploitative, though he admits that it can be quite shaky ground.
“The music we’re into is largely cultural and they’re not cultures that we have anything to do with,” admits Cancut. “We’re white middle class people that are in a cultural vacuum. So we have to listen to a lot of stuff, immerse ourselves in it and take something out of that to work with.”
“I guess our reasoning for appropriating it and that being okay,” he continues, is because a lot of the music that we’re referencing, like Baile Funk or Kuduro from Angola or Kwaito from South Africa, they’re all derivative of American music a lot of the time. You know Baile Funk is a rip off of Miami bass, so appropriating is a big part of those styles anyway. Occasionally we hear back some DJ’s in Columbia are playing some Cumbia that we made or something. So that’s a nice ego stroke, that it’s not one-way all of the time. “
The problem of course is economic and Cancut recognises that there’s a fine line.
“This is how we make a living and a lot of the music we play at our gigs comes from third world places. It’s economically complicated. We’re really benefiting. We’re putting our own thing on top of it but we’re taking something a lot of the time from people who don’t have a lot and really distorting it essentially.”
“I like to think that we’re pretty discerning in what we use in our sets,” he continues, “because there’s a lot of stuff that’s derivative in a really bad way that takes from the source material without really understanding the key elements of it, without representing it very well. Often people are wanting to take from it more for aesthetic purposes so they can call it African forest or something. “
With two members working at the same inner city record store, Congo Tardis have been juicing up exotic beats for about two years now. Ms Butt, Cancut and Paz are all experienced DJ’s around town and it was through repeatedly appearing on the same bills that the trio realised they were increasingly drawn to club music from places other than the US. They started doing nights together and before long had evolved into the sound system that is Congo Tardis #1.
Earlier in the year they released their debut 7” on lime coloured vinyl, a three track slab of exotic dance floor electronics including Drink the Lime with vocals from Marawa Amazing and a Faux Pas remix.
“It’s always such a fun process the three of us working in the studio, no doubt there’ll be heaps more of that. It feels good when we do our show as a sound system to incorporate our own tracks and edits.”
Recently they’ve been working on a remix from former RadioClit producers The French South African group The Very Best.
“They’d been heroes of ours over the last few years” admits Cancut, an outfit that has successfully managed to straddle that fine line between homage, and appropriation while continuing to progress the genre. This is something that continues to be the goal of Congo Tardis # 1 to “stay the right side of the line, but it’s a line that needs to be walked.”