Once the term gets in your head it might stick there. RAMZi isn't the only recent producer who tries to free listeners from the linear rails of musical narrative, inviting us to roam in open-ended landscapes populated with sonic flora and fauna. At one end of the spectrum, artists like Don't DJ and Andrew Pekler make a kind of hybrid exotica, often drawing on Jon Hassell's Fourth World concept. At the other end is the darker world-building of the Quantum Natives collective, whose multimedia catalogue inhabits its own cryptic online environment. In a recent Wire feature, Rory Gibb suggested that the collective's parallel web world is a response to "the corporate lockdown of digital freedoms," offering "a space of thrilling possibility, where contingency and imagination overwhelm algorithmic determinism." Maybe it's a search for spaces in which to dream and play that motivates "environmental" musicians.
RAMZi falls somewhere between the style's two poles. She cites Hassell and has jokingly called her music "Fifth World." Her tracks are a rich mush of semi-digested non-western musics (she has mentioned pop music from South-East Asia, Somalia and the Ivory Coast; dub, dancehall, soca, kwaito and kuduro). But there's an unsettled quality to them that goes beyond an interest in the exotic. As with Quantum Natives, RAMZi's world seems to follow its own strange rules. It features a canon of cryptic names and terms, references fictional places, and is shot through with voices that chirrup and coo unintelligibly, like aliens locked in animated conversation.
The mixture of unease and streamy tropical charm has won the Canadian producer plenty of admirers. Her music seems to be responding to the attention, moving towards greater clarity (and perhaps a smidge more dance floor utility) on her breakout EP for Mood Hut. This album for 12th Isle is, she says, "more like the punk RAMZi" of earlier releases. It's a riotous smear of ideas, a dreamlike medley of wobbly dance rhythms and steamy texturing delivered via jumpcuts and dense layering. At the opening, "MWI Intro" and "Backin" zip through two contrasting ideas in a little over five minutes, and playful dips and swerves define the release. The album's strong midpoint run flits from teasing sketch (the hip-winding "A Jungle For RAMZi #5") to steamy epic (beatdown chugger "Fly Timoun"), then from sentimental ("Brazili") into swampy introspection ("In Shed W Tan"), in the space of four tracks.
When RAMZi's ideas are whizzing past at max speed, you most definitely feel adrift in a foreign world. But if good "environmental music" is about completeness of immersion, then Pèze-Piton's punk edge sometimes lets it down. The originals of a few of these tracks were apparently lost, meaning they were mastered from low-bitrate files; perhaps that helps explain the lo-fi smearing, which can dull the music's rich tropical hues. Then there's the odd moment which jumps you out of your trance. Closer "Ptite Zelda," RAMZi's take on dreamy house music, abruptly cuts out at the end, as if somebody yanked the power cable out of the VR machine. It would be nice to linger longer in RAMZi's weird environments.