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Low Jack – Garifuna Variations

It’s an unfortunate by-product of their success that four years into its lifespan as a label, L.I.E.S. have become a lazy reference point for the less imaginative corners of the content farm. “Gritty industrial techno or raw house? It sounds like it should be on L.I E.S. mate.” It’s just as personally vexing as people throwing out the word ‘Dilla-esque’ to describe some sweetly soulful MPC beats because hey, everyone loves Dilla, right buddy? Much like last year’s KWC 92 LP or the Unicursal Hexagram set by Jahiliyya Fields, the first album project of  2014 for L.I.E.S. forms another perfect riposte to those who claim the label’s oeuvre can be condensed to just a few ragged stylistic tropes.

Low Jack - Garifuna Variations
Low Jack
Garifuna Variations
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That it comes from French producer Low Jack makes it all the more surprising. Compare and contrast the concept and execution on Garifuna Variations with the Parisian’s 2012 debut release Slow Dance and it’s almost like you are dealing with two entirely different producers. As accomplished as that single for Get The Curse was, Low Jack’s productions there were fairly unremarkable club fodder in the grand scheme of things.,Les Siestes Electroniques festival evidently thought Low Jack was capable of much more, commissioning the producer to participate in a live performance last summer at the Parisian museum Quai Branly.

Despite his reputation for “house music from hell”, Low Jack was seemingly inspired by the museum’s focus on indigenous art and chose to work on a live set that reworked samples of the Garifuna people of Honduras taken from Quai Branly’s vast archive of sound libraries. It’s important to note that Low Jack had no intentions to use the music beyond this performance, perhaps viewing it as a piece of art that had its time and place.

Listening to this performance repackaged in the form of the album Garifuna Variations, the first thing that hits you is how intense it all is. After a few more listens you are glad that Ron Morelli had the foresight to persuade Low Jack it would be a good idea to release this music as an album, though this is tempered by the fact we don’t have access to the original performance to hear Garifuna Variations as the L.I.E.S. boss did. This is only a slight drawback however, as the eight tracks here form a cohesive whole, as impressive in execution for its own reasons as the new Perc LP or Untold’s debut.

There is little here that the lazy keyboard tappers of the world could prescribe to the supposed ‘L.I.E.S. sound’ with the opening track setting the tone suitably. Commencing in a manner that is less sound produced and more the sensation of heat rising, the sense of tension on “Punta” is palpable as brittle textures form a wall of noise around which sampled Garifuna chanting is barely discernible. Indeed, Low Jack’s usage of the source material throughout the album never really becomes more prominent, always wedged deep into the thick recesses of sound.

Three tracks in and “Crickets Dance” is the first and only real moment where Low Jack looks to dancefloor concessions with a lone hollowed out drum beat teasing out Diwali riddim-style handclaps and a deranged acid line whose serrated edge is deadly. Yet “Crickets Dance” doesn’t feel incongruous within the context of the whole album, instead it is easy to get lost in Garifuna Variations, letting it play endlessly on repeat tends to coax out it’s more hypnotic qualities. Final track “Free People V2” in particular feels like one gloriously psychedelic trawl through oscillating percussion and miniscule mind blowing textures.

Those out there seeking the solace and comfort of an easy reference point will be glad to hear Garifuna Variations is quite reminiscent of the 2010 Tryptych series from Demdike Stare, though like that trilogy Low Jack has created an album of uneasy listening in the best possible sense.

Tony Poland


A1. Punta
A2. QB Untitled 1
A3. Crickets Dance
A4. QB Untitled 2
B1. Abaimahani
B2. Punta II
B3. New Life
B4. Free People V2