This week’s weirdness comes to us from Warsaw, Poland, where a guy who goes by Piotr Dang has spent the past several years creating wildly experimental music with various collaborators under the name Owls Are Not. And if those three words are enough for you to pick up the Twin Peaks reference, congratulations — you officially have bragging rights at our next David Lynch Fan Club meet-up.
The first Owls Are Not release in 2012 was an EP of noisy math-rock instrumentals whose title quoted the full Twin Peaks line: Owls Are Not What They Seem. Since then, their music has continued to get more adventurous and less recognizably rock-based, incorporating elements of electronic genres like breakbeat and footwork as well as sound collages cribbed from TV news, obscure Afrobeat samples and other sources. In 2016, with Piotr taking over most of the band’s sounds except for the drums, they released a wonderfully jittery collection called isnot that sounds like the evening news being delivered from the dance floor of a really grimy Polish goth/industrial club, probably one taking place in an old Soviet-era bomb shelter covered with dirty needles and anarchist graffiti.
But what really earns Owls Are Not a place on the Weird List is their latest release: last year’s Radio Tree, a collaboration between Piotr Dang and an international group of artists including Japanese drummer/vocalist Masaya Hijikata, Polish guitarist Michał Pawłowski and a trio of African vocalists: Martin Kaphukusi, Certifyd and Peter Kaunda of the Malawian group Tonga Boys. The whole album is a trip, but the African collaborations, recorded in Malawi and Tanzania, are especially fascinating, as Piotr Dang’s interest in electronic music styles like dub and footwork collides with modern and traditional styles indigenous to East Africa, like malipenga, vimbuza and singeli, for a combination they call “minimal Afro-funk” or “free singeli punk.” Here, for example, is “Lovefood,” which features Kaunda and is apparently inspired by singeli, a contemporary style of African dance music that can reach 300 beats per minute:
It’s worth noting here that Piotr runs a record label with Vietnamese-Polish artist (and Radio Tree cover designer) Thuy Duong called 1000Hz that released both Radio Tree and Tonga Boys’ latest album, Vindodo. Vindodo is also great, especially if you like music that takes traditional African sounds and juices them with electronic embellishments and other modern touches. For my money, Radio Tree is definitely the weirder of the two projects, if only because its music is so beautifully unmoored from any one culture. Its sounds could come from Tanzania, or Warsaw, or Bristol circa 1996, or a goddamned spaceship. It’s unique.
I’ll leave you with Radio Tree‘s title track, which is probably my favorite. I’m not sure how music can be both funky and slightly seizure-inducing, but this manages it.