Joshua Inyang and Joshua Reid, collectively known as Space Afrika, are friends of over two decades. The roots of their connection bourne in childhood and later harnessed as two purveyors of wide-ranging music – even committing to travel to expand their musical horizons in the process – their releases as a united Space Afrika are, beyond their familial intimacy, just as tied to their growing environment of Manchester, England.
Immersed in this concrete landscape, Space Afrika's music exudes a haunting quality befitting a ride on a night bus or dead-silent winter walk. Earlier releases, such as Above The Concrete/Below The Concrete (2014) and Somewhere Decent To Live (2018), played on this industrial life in northern England through sparse, electronic abstractions, though it’s their latest full-length release, Honest Labour (2021), that has seen their sound more fully fleshed out.

A cursory listen may still invite the term ‘minimal’, but sit with the tracks a little longer or engage a little deeper, and a greater depth and intimacy can be revealed. Tracks are furnished with samples and heavy instrumentation that are then met with the cold embrace of distortion and delay. There’s a coexistence of various genres in their slow-stepping sounds, largely taking elements of dub and Detroit techno to more ambient and spacious terrain, before applying further whispers of sonics from hip-hop, garage and even the orchestral world (as with the profoundly emotive cello on B£E). It’s music that defies much textual explanation, instead evoking a mood, and exemplifies what their friend and fellow Mancunian artist Rainy Miller has said previously: the idea of genres isn’t so important in today’s world – and it certainly matters less still for artists like Space Afrika.

Uplifting those around them, the album brings to light others in the burgeoning and immensely communal underground scene of Manchester – like the polymath Blackhaine on aforementioned track B£E – which also boasts the likes of Aya and Iceboy Violet. They’ve further expanded their world-making beyond the strictly musical arena, collaborating with photographer, filmmaker, and poet Tibyan Mahawah Sanoh for the short film Untitled (To Describe You) (2020). With a Warp Publishing deal freshly announced, and an album with Rainy Miller on the horizon, the space for further expansion is seemingly unimpeded.

This interview was conducted through back-and-forth messages prior to the world premiere of the duo’s collaboration with Caterina Barbieri at Berlin Atonal, with the festival continuing with its second weekend between 15 and 17th of September. We spoke with Space Afrika about the purpose of live shows like this, as well as the relationship between their artistic intentions and audience response, plus what underpins their ever-broadening practice.
What are the central ideas, sensibilities and/or practices you channel as individuals or as a united Space Afrika to make the music you do – and why, if they exist, are such things important to you?
It’s to try to evoke a response or an emotion which is not easily explained by conventional language. Whether it be internal or external factors, to try and make sense of the environment we are in. Location and society and how you exist as a body with an identity. How that’s shaped throughout time and how you make sense of your position in it. Immediate surroundings obviously play a huge part in our work, but it’s also an attempt to try and transcend that through bridging the gaps, connecting different diasporas, histories and sensibilities between various disciplines. Over the years, it’s been a cathartic practice to try and convey these ideas, and the avenue has always been music, but we've also achieved it through other disciplines such as film, image and installation.
Yes, you’ve gone into a variety of avenues beyond the strictly musical domain. And now a Warp Publishing deal perhaps signals more of that cross-pollination to come… How do you decide whether a particular idea is best expressed through music in of itself or as part of a wider film, image, installation or otherwise multi-disciplinary experience – and what informs that decision?
When looking at ideas and concepts, I think you have to approach the discipline by looking at its limitations in what you’re trying to arrive at in terms of where you can push the boundaries. With sound, for example, the limitation may be volume or distortion due to its uncomfortableness – but you can amplify that expression through image instead, and vice versa. With each discipline you have to think about accessibility too. Who will see or hear this? What are the constraints around it? Be it, location, age, class, etc.
That makes for a complex equation – and one that’s perhaps especially true of live performances. What purposes do live shows hold for you both? How do you translate these decidedly intimate, studio creations into a live setting, and does the audience's presence influence said performances?
One of the best things about live shows is the ability to leave yourself vulnerable. You have direct communication with the audience, which allows an immediate feedback response. It's cliché but the whole life imitates art, art imitates life holds true in this sense.
You have these ideas and execute them from the studio, and then see it play out in real time, then that idea is reinforced again, perhaps by the physicality of the sound and acoustics in the space, which carries its own connotations of history and architecture. Different demographics across countries react differently to the disciplines you convey and you end up taking that away with you.
Could you share any anecdotes where a listener or audience interpretation of your music surprised you, and revealed a layer of depth that you may not have initially intended?
We did a show at the Volksbühne in Berlin where someone described it as ‘anxiety-inducing’ – albeit in a positive light. It was the first time someone had said that about the show, which made us really think about the different experiences people take from it. I think it was a perfect example of how using sound and film together started to carve out different audience responses than sound alone. It was surprising, in a beautiful way, to have your work described in those terms.
A lot of moments the past year where the audience is immediately receptive and awaiting, understanding and prepped. Eyes closed, bodies lay or sat on the floor, partners kissing. We’ve had several special moments garnished with tears and personal reflections on how the music related to a personal experience.
We recently played show at Dokufest, which was beautiful, and the response was heartwarming. One special moment, made from this particular show was a message that someone had written for us in their notes during the show: “Your performance is full of metaphysical soundscapes that touch the spirit and influence the unconscious which make one dwell onto his/her multidimensional journey.”
That’s a beautiful message to receive – so intimate. And it’s difficult not to take on feedback, in whatever form it comes. Even if you disagree it can have an almost subconscious impact. You seem quite open to this anyway. Yet, as you’ve already mentioned, your artistic intentions and premises for your work, no matter the medium, tend to be driven from a personal place of cathartic expression. How do you strike a balance between your original artistic intentions and the feedback you receive when testing out new ideas?
Feedback is a lovely thing, it can be scary but for us it's not, it's a healthy part of the process. I think it’s important and we all, admittedly or not, look for it. Our own intentions will always be the guide to inform what we create – trusting and following our own feedback exclusively. What we create is a very personal journey first and foremost, and following that the work becomes ownership of the recipient.
Feedback definitely benefits our perspective on our work and on how people see it. You know, realising people get it bolsters us in the form of confidence, assurance, cracking a smile and informing on the areas where it excels. Similarly, or maybe even more importantly, critique offers an alternate reality to ours and a ladder for improvement, better art or even just methods of communicating it. Honesty is essential when it comes to feedback, and you can tell when that is the case as opposed to not. Overall, there is nothing that could be taken as too good or too bad in the process of learning and creating, testing out ideas. It's a part and parcel of the role of the artist.
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