Príncipe's first record puts the spotlight on a parallel avant-garde: the club music of the post-colonial diaspora. Lisbon's DJ Marfox, who hails from São Tomé e Príncipe (a former Portuguese colony off the coast of equatorial Africa), makes kuduro, an Angolan and Portuguese style of lumbering, percussive house music that sounds a little like a cross between UK funky and South African kwaito. Or something: I don't pretend to be an expert, and in fact, despite my lengthy prologue, familiarity with any of the above is no prerequisite to being thrilled by this odd, electrifying record.
All four tracks are studies in tension, with fast, elastic loops of hand drums—shambling and shuffling, but wound so tight they could take your head off—and buzzing, staccato synth leads. (The only exception is the percussive workout "Bit Binary," which replaces the sawtooths with shrieking guiros.) Marfox has a way with weird, modal scales and unsettling harmonies—something that many bass-music producers overly reliant on minor thirds and sevenths could learn a thing or two from. All four tracks are fast, around 140 BPM.
To the untutored listener, hearing DJ Marfox for the first time might cause the same initial frisson as juke, or at least that was the case for me. You wonder: what the hell is this stuff? How can it sound so familiar to the club music I know, and yet so alien? Is there more like it out there, or is this the work of a lone, weirdo genius? It might be both—and given the speed with which styles like kuduro spread, you won't have to wait long to find out.