Electric Selection - Black Chow

Pedigree smoky digital reggae
Electric Selection - Black Chow
What happens when two members of ambi-dub act King Midas Sound step outside the boundary of traditional dub, with little else but a desire to create something different and dark, and a shared obsession with a Chinese breed of dog? Black Chow, that’s what happens.

Formed two years ago between King Midas Sound sessions, Kevin Martin (also of The Bug) and Kiki Hitomi wanted to explore some new sound avenues, resulting in the smoky digital reggae of Black Chow - named after the undeniably odd-looking chow chow dog.

From only a handful of releases, the duo have already formulated a distinctive - if label-defying - sound, perfectly encapsulated in their recent ‘Wonderland’ EP, the title track of which delivers three minutes of sublime, thoroughly ghostly, sci-fi ragga.

"We both love reggae and classic dancehall, but wanted to combine that personal obsession with blurred, smudged beats and a depth-trawling sonic ambience,” says Martin. “We just knew we didn’t want it to sound retro, or easily categorisable, as conformity is really the enemy of creativity.”

Luckily for Martin and Hitomi, what they’ve created is a fine example of futuristic genre-splicing, as on ‘Danger’, the equally enticing B-side to ‘Wonderland’: sedated, echoey 8-bit dub, again with Kiki’s bewitching vocals breathing haunted life into the track.

Importantly, however, Black Chow are not purely a dub act (at least not in the same sense that Kind Midas Sound are), as Martin keenly emphasises: “It’s definitely not JUST a dub thing. Although dub’s combination of infinite spaciousness and body-hugging bass still exists within Black Chow’s methodology, me and Kiki want to make strong songs, not just a spliffhead’s late night soundtrack. Dub is just a tool for Black Chow, not the main ingredient.”

Reggae also played a key part, as Martin admits both he and Kiki are addicted to all forms of the genre, from recordings by obscure Japanese roots fanatics to the softer Lovers Rock sound to the vocal-led styles of classic Jamaican artists like Garnett Silk and Cornell Campbell. But, as with dub, reggae is very much one piece of the puzzle, and the duo are seeking to innovate rather than recreate: “We both felt it would obviously have been a total mistake to try and reproduce Jamaica in Hackney,” explains Martin, “so instead, we revelled in our own mutant reinterpretations and alien disfigurements... But we don’t exist in a vacuum, so also found ourselves imagining Levon Vincent on tranquilizers, dubstep reinterpreted by Burt Bacharach or William Basinski hanging out with Billie Holliday.”

Which is about as close to categorising Black Chow as it’s possible to get.

Black Chow Essentials - ‘Wonderland’ EP (Jahtari), ‘Purple Smoke’ 12” (Hyperdub), ‘Danger’ 12” (Jahtari)


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