Reviews March 23, 2018
Down in the Basement EP

The Mauskovic Dance Band takes its place in the chicha/psychedelic cumbia revival as the Amsterdam-based group that plays at its own pace. Like American peers Chicha Libre and Dos Santos Anti-Beat Orquesta (to name just two), the Mauskovic Dance Band puts a retro-future spin on Colombian and Peruvian music from the '70s. But by billing themselves as a dance band, the Mauskovic group has taken license to deviate even further than other, self-proclaimed chicha or cumbia bands. On the debut release from Soundway Records, Down in the Basement EP, the Mauskovic Dance Band plays fast and loose with their influences by playing at faster tempos and looser with their electronics.

Like any dance band worth its salt, this is rhythmically driven music. Drummer/bandleader Nicola Mauskovic is accustomed to leaping genres. He played for the Zambian psych band W.I.T.C.H.'s revival and European tour. He recruited a pair of long-time collaborators and the underground cumbia producer, the delightfully named Juan Hundred, to fill out his group.  

The first sound on the EP is the rippling synthesizers that are either authentically old, or meticulously set up to sound like they are. But they aren't coming in washes or holding a central place. The synthesizers make melodic lines spar with the flickering, upbeat guitars, leaving the tracks full of open space. 

Take the opener, "Down in the Basement." The drum kit, drum machines and hand percussion are constants, while the guitar parts and synthesizer lines leave plenty of space for a buoyant bass line. "Continue the Fun: Space Version" sounds like a single; the bass coming in with a pop-music consistency and English lyrics about how "money comes" and "money goes," perhaps the most universal of observations.

Throughout, lyrics are a minimal concern, chanted and low in the mix. The four tracks feel almost like they are waiting for the front man to come and give more direction to the music, but then, on the other hand, it is dance music. Taking the EP as it is, it fits Brian Eno's definition of ambient music: interesting no matter how little or much you pay attention to it.

Anchored in rhythm as this music is, that's where the Mauskovic Dance Band gives itself away. The rhythms aren't beholden to the cumbia beat, at points sounding more like vintage Haitian kompa. It's an Afro-Latin beat throughout, but not necessarily the same one. It's also way faster than the chicha that you find on those Barbes compilations or by the practitioners of today, more suited for the Afro-disco underground scene of northern Europe perhaps.

You could almost call what these bands do a revisionist history. Although influenced by psychedelic cumbia and chicha, they aren't trying to accurately recreate it, instead molding it to modern sensibility. On their seven-inch releases, the Mauskovic Dance Band has found where chicha borders Afrobeat, where it morphs into other rhythms and other genres. They found the cool undercurrents and adaptable nature of a minimalist lineup. While on Down in the Basement everything stays neatly in the pocket, it's worth keeping an eye on a band that is hinting at all the places it can go. Where are they headed next?

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