Melbourne’s NO ZU follow up their 2012 debut Life with a release that is daring without sacrificing danceability, says ROBERT INGLIS.
Positing itself as a sequel to their debut, NO ZU’s new record encapsulates a sort of tropical humidity; the kind which threatens to send people into a saturnalian state. So, it comes as no surprise that the octet have coined the style of music they play ‘Heat Beat,’ described by their label Chapter Music as an amalgam of “no wave, funk, house, techno, and global percussion.”
Looming large over Afterlife is the indelible Fela Kuti. The genealogy of NO ZU’s experimentation with West African sonics can be traced to Talking Heads’ Fear of Music (1979) and Remain in Light (1980). These records are indebted to Fela’s Nigerian brand of funk (indeed, the 2006 reissue of Remain in Light features an unreleased track called ‘Fela’s Riff’). Without spoiling the broth, NO ZU stir elements of late-twentieth century dance music into the melting pot of afrobeat and post-punk cooked up by David Byrne and company.
Fela Kuti looms large over Afterlife
A Pan-African pulse is felt in the polyrhythms of ‘Body2Body,’ the album’s opening track. Handclaps are complemented by a techno synth bassline and ritualistic ululations. Harmonised saxophones pummel the listener with ecstatic fervour in ‘Ui Yia Yia,’ which has a cowbell-inflected groove redolent of early-2000s dance-punk groups like The Rapture and LCD Soundsystem. Here, the gang vocals are not unlike those of the Swedish group Goat, another band whose music is guided by the influence of Fela.
On ‘Hi Gloss (Manicure),’ the bass guitar recalls Change’s ‘Paradise,’ a staple of Larry Levan’s sets during his residency at the Paradise Garage, while demented electronics skip across the soundscape like broken wind-up toys. There’s plenty of cheesy moments here, but they’re always deployed in an intriguing fashion; endearing rather than jarring.
Each member of NO ZU has an alter ego corresponding to a different sign of the zodiac. In addition to the classical allusions suggested by the group’s astrological personae, Afterlife is littered with references to Greek mythology: “Athena / Adonis / I’m leaving /It’s time,” sings Becky Sui Zhen (Taurus) on ‘Spirit Beat.’
In fact, NO ZU released a 12” called Medusa Music in 2015 on the Home Loan Records imprint. According to the label, the record allowed bandleader Nic Oogjes (Scorpio) an outlet for his fascination with Hellenic culture and on Afterlife Oogjes’ interest in classical antiquity cross-pollinates with distinctly Australian themes like colonialism and cultural genocide. He defines the album thus: “[It’s a] nocturnal sex dream. … Afterlife takes Life, chains it up and whips it against the walls of an Australian Hades.”
The hereafter conceived by NO ZU is one in which loincloth-garbed deities participate in bodybuilding contests, and rough sex is simply de rigueur. The group traffic with a certain pagan zeal, a force which allows those who wield it to turn any discotheque into a sadomasochist pleasure-dome. Because – council regulations notwithstanding – isn’t that what every nightclub really aspires to be?