HYBTWIBT?: ALBUM REVIEW
hybtwibt?, the newest project from the Manchester-based, dub-techno outfit Space Afrika, feels like scrolling through someone else’s hazy memories. The album feels like a Burial track was strewn about and pieced back together to create something way more expansive. In the past, Space Afrika’s music has had a strong techno backing. That driving techno beat has driven the sound of their work and influenced the feel of their music. But, on their newest project, the backbeat fades away and the music is driven entirely by sampled voices. Sometimes these voices come in the form of distant song vocals but most of the time they sample everyday people talking about their lived experience. hybtwibt? Is more than just a collection of tracks, the album flows and changes with every listen. Samples are continually being decontextualized and changed as the album moves over you in waves.
hybtwibt? is an acronym for the phrase “have you been through what I’ve been through,” and the album constantly forces us to ask ourselves that question as we eavesdrop on other people’s conversations. The project creates a self-contained world, offering a specific and powerful experience to the listener. The first song on the album, “self,” begins with samples of two overlapping conversations, each voice talking about something completely different. Within the next four minutes, we hear more conversations weave their way in and out of layers of static that constantly threaten to drown them out.
The soundscapes on hybtwibt? still incorporate elements of techno, but mostly take more of an ambient form. As opposed to feeling serene and remote, these songs largely feel claustrophobic; they take on the air of city life. The album prevents you from ever getting too close to the music. Each sample is a recording of a part of something that you are clearly not part of. At first, this feels alienating, the music seems to keep you at an arms distance, but ultimately, I think the strength of the album is its ability to make the listener ask the question the album title poses: “have you been through what I’ve been through?” The album is not here to make the listener feel what they have been through but to make themselves ask the question.
The songs “Kitty and Kitty 2” especially stand out in this regard. “Kitty” begins with overlapping vocal loops of soul singers that work together to create a rhythm. The syllables in these loops are so covered in reverb and chopped up that it is impossible to hear the words that they make out. As the song progresses, these loops change and dissipate until the vocal is isolated. You can then here the singer crying out, “I need you so bad. I am ooooh so sad.” These words jump out for a couple of seconds and then are drowned again in noise. “Kitty 2” begins with the same loop but shifted up a couple of pitches. On “Kitty 2” the song takes real form, the synths feel like they are building to something bigger, but before they do, the song fades out.
The album is truly driven by vocal samples, but it rarely fully-features anyone’s voice. Many times, a vocal sample will be the clear focus and narrative of a track, like on the song “diaryday4,” but listeners only get to hear a piece of the narrative. On other songs, like “e.tears” the voice becomes an instrument even without us needing to understand any of the lyrics. On “e.tears” a slowed-down vocal melody makes u the main synth line of the track as the listener gets to hear the slight vocal inflections that come with the slowing of an individual’s vocal performance.
With hybtwibt?, Space Afrika have created an ambient masterpiece. The entire project makes you feel the experience of someone else. It feels like another world of sounds made by people that you could have known in another life. Keep an eye on Space Afrika, it’ll be interesting to see how they move on from here.