What’s startling about Space Afrika is the way each move they make illuminates what came before. Their early EPs were broadly techno, and sounded lo-fi, but when the ultrafinessed space dub of Somewhere Decent to Live came along in 2018 it threw into relief just how deliberate every minuscule textural detail had been on its predecessors. Then their NTS radio shows and hybtwibt? (Have You Been Through What I’ve Been Through?) mixtape in 2020 used that textural detail to make potent political and philosophical statements – which added new weight and intent if you listened back to Somewhere Decent to Live. All of this in turn was transformed for listeners when 2021’s Honest Labour dropped: its huge dynamic range, its incorporation of other voices and visuals, its compositional rigour, all showed Space Afrika’s spectacular ambition and how they embodied the networks they rose out of. Again, the work before made new sense, as precursors to this grand statement, its forms and themes echoing backwards in time. And this new presentation at Kings Place of Honest Labour with orchestra will throw a whole different light on it.
None of which is to say that Josh Inyang and Josh Reid had this all planned out. They didn’t decide when they started making techno tracks that Honest Labour was a few years down the line. But it’s the natural corollary of the way they work and who they are: they represent a culture that’s do-it-yourself in the truest sense, that is about a constant accumulation of materials and tools from their environment to express what they’re going through. They were collagists from the start, piecing together their identities as young Black Britons, northerners, Mancunians, scholars, clubbers, artists, as participants in a diverse music scene, all into a coherent whole. And Space Afrika is a collage across the entire existence of the project. While each release or broadcast remains discrete, it also forms part of a greater flow of those identities and influences, where the essences of Joy Division and Dizzee Rascal, of Echospace and Wu Tang Clan, of cyberpunk and Coronation Street, all make sense together.
‘They were collagists from the start, piecing together their identities as young Black Britons, as northerners, as Mancunians, as scholars, as clubbers, as artists...’
And it’s not just about Inyang and Reid. The cavalcade of renegades who appear on Honest Labour show this is a collage of people as much as ideas and, more than that, the demonstration of how different parts of identity and sound work in a living collage is a model for a generation. This is the generation where oppositions of underground and mainstream mean little, where ‘Black music’ can mean indie, ambient, classical and/or deconstructed club just as much as it means soul, jazz, drill or grime, where what matters is less your genre than your aesthetic: how you reflect the overwhelming tides of information that mingle uniquely around you. Which is what Space Afrika do, so gloriously. From the beginning they created an aesthetic that is meticulously made from parts that only they could choose, and as they step onto bigger and bigger stages that aesthetic – even the parts that they’ve already crystallised – grows with them.