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Robert Soko | BalkanBeats SoundLab

album review by John Powell

Robert Soko | BalkanBeats SoundLab

Balkan dance music may not fit mainstream America, but its influences in popular music are numerous. The Euro-middle-eastern hub bub, along with a familiar and reoccurring beat (bomp- bomp, bomp, bomp), is great for dancing, and quite versatile in its parameters. BalkanBeats SoundLab is something of a compilation by DJ spectacular Robert Soko. The outcome is a mixtape of sounds, some classic and old school, others pushing techno new age. Sometimes there are horns, and other times synths.

“We Are One” is a groaning, melodic, pensive dance tune, and a good opener, as it in some ways spans the gamut of the Balkan music you’re inheriting for 60 minutes (almost exactly!) The beat is simple and the vocals talk-singing in at least three languages.

Soko’s own “Do Jaja” is Balkan boogie, horns, guitar, and bass sounds grumbling. Whistles make it rally. French sing-talking is ferocious and finger pointing. The interesting thing about modern Balkan DJ music is that it’s as organic as it is contrived, and here there’s a mix as well-blended as the drink you’re likely to enjoy while dancing to it.

Songs like “Balkan Bettie” have a more British electronica vibe, something Lemon Jelly would come up with. Piano and organ lay down rhythm behind strange vocal samples that are highly affected and sampled horns pattering in between. The beat is undeniably fun, but it’s a song befitting a montage of Tom chasing Jerry throughout the attic, and nothing serious.

Los Colorados contribute “I Like to Move it”, which is DJ’d out to extreme playfulness. Florian Makuta’s “Giampara” is giddy and feels like it’s at a Jewish wedding party. Mode Pagal’s “Four on the Flo” is atmospheric, pulling from dub love of bass n’ drums, along with kooky mixing.

17 songs after the opener, “Georgian Lesson 1-6” is as unique and interesting as the rest of the songs, a Spanglish look at the importance of dancing. Acoustic guitar and accordion keep it in the streets. It’s a clever tune, building up as the vocalists take you through lessons one through six on how to dance.

Every song is so different that BalkanBeats SoundLab never leaves you in a rut, but it is quite a lot of Balkan music, and something about the giddy love accordion and twiddling horns doesn’t allow for too much seriousness. This album comes off 100% playful. Whether that was intentional or not doesn’t change the fact that this music is highly self-aware and interested in a good time. I think you’re either into this music, or really, really not.

Bottom line: Zany DJ Balkan music is danceable and playful.


 

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