Check out Den Sorte Skole on episode #48 of the AudioPammock Podcast!
Back in 2000, a little known electronic group called The Avalanches caused a major wave of commotion out of Melbourne with an album called Since I Left You . The album, aptly hailed as the king of all plunderphonics albums, was an electronic and trip hop success and is still praised with a feverish frenzy in the indie and electronic communities to this day. So when a press release came into the AudioHammock inbox with the tagline "ever heard a album stitched together by thousands of samples from old vinyl records?" senior staff merely said yes and went about their merry way. With remixes and sample laden hooks dominating headphones enough already these days the tagline was more of a turn off than anything else. It wasn't until a road trip a few days later that The Avalanches came on in my stereo and I started thinking to myself, "wait, what if Den Sorte Skole sounds like The Avalanches?".
The bad news is that Den Sorte Skole is not the second coming of The Avalanches. The good news however is that they don't need to be. Indians & Cowboys starts off distinctly middle eastern with "Stone," an over 6 minute vicarious introduction to what this DJ collective and turntable crew is all about: expansive sound. Circulating back beats weave in and out of poignant percussive samples and static blips that amount to notes of skying ecstasy. If you're familiar any of the British big beat names of the late '90s and early '2000s like Juno Reactor or Propeller Heads then some of the transitions in Indians & Cowboys will feel familiar. At the root of these tracks is big beat electronic, and diverse samples flutter over the top to keep one's head bobbing. While thankfully none of the album screams party, there is a cadence of danceable composition to the whole album. A song like "Heli Yosa" starts off almost Japanese Edo period before Den Sorte's Skole's reggae and dub roots show through and a middle eastern riff goes stacatto on it's way to bringing in horns, vocal samples, before it all drowns outs and permeates in worldly dance around the 3:00 mark.
A nod to who came first, Indians & Cowboys is appropriately named such and Den Sorte Skole member Martin Hojland clarified on the albums title in an excellent interview with NYC based publication Cool Hunting: "The Indians came first, and then came the settles and the cowboys. However, we-in the west-tend to see ourselves as the central point of all development and ethnocentric attitude towards the rest of the world if often itegrated in our language (cowboys are usually mentioned first). The next interesting thing is, that the Indians from whom we stole the land, didn't believe in land ownership." It's with those thoughts in mind that Indians and Cowboys takes shape, and due to the diverse and complicated nature of sampling and recording rights, Den Sorte Skole has made the album free to download, a condition that they really don't seem to have a problem with. Again, from Cool Hunting: " So to believe and tell ourselves that we have the right to own something and that that something, has a fair price that I can pay to own it fairly, is absurd. The global system today is far too complex for the systems we have built". The gist? Here's a great album for free people; jump on it and respect.
Returning to the album, another strong suit of Indians and Cowboys is duration. Out of the thirteen tracks on the album, 11 reach over 5 minutes and four are over 7 minutes. The result is a commendable level of complexity. This isn't your favorite Youtuber's/Soundcloud remix flavor of the week with nothing in the track modified but a pounding bass line, there are literally thousands of samples relative to one another that come together to form complete compositions. Tracks like "Lowmax," that starts out as desolate mariacha ballad before morphing into industrial warp zone, and the album closer "Trouillet, with it's soothing classical guitar, piano, violin, and clarinet trails, will have you scratching your head in amazement. These pairings on paper look tragic, yet are audibly delicate and attentive listeners will think of them fondly upon successive listens.
Den Sorte Skole translates in English to "The Black School" and while that interesting factoid is widely available on the duos Wikipedia page what's not immediately stated is that's your first clue you've stumbled upon some incredulously worldy influenced electronic music. A bit more introverted, abstract, and certainly less danceable than the obvious Avalanches comparison, Den Sorte Skole uses a myriad of genres to keep you engaged in a laboratory of sound that weaves it's way to a total running time of 77 minutes and includes jazz, dub, middle-eastern influence, piano, tribal beats, and spatial sonar esque sounds. While Indians & Cowboyws certainly won't be everyone's cup of "insert culturally relevant drink here", there's no denying that it sounds like nothing else you'll hear this year.