Side-projects can often be a transformative and eye-opening venture for both producer and listener alike. Notable examples include Thom York and Jamie xx, whose respective solo undertakings have allowed them to further explore their experimental sensibilities, and in the process, provide them with a sonically stimulating step back from their intensive main projects. On a local level, Andy Islands is the thrilling new side-project belonging to Andrew Esterhuizen, whom you probably know better as the second member of Cape Town’s synth pop duo, Gateway Drugs. His debut EP, simply titled, Andy Islands 1, is comprised of three disco-tinged house tracks. Total. Yet, quite remarkably, from those three tracks a polished identity is brought into fruition and a palpable energy rings throughout. It is within these 20 minutes of progressively unfurling synths and melodies, dynamic tones, spongy textures, and an ever-so solid underbelly, that Esterhuizen unassumingly slots himself in as one of the most exciting electronic acts in South Africa.
On early tracks under this new moniker, such as ‘Swirly’ and ‘Acorn Paste’, the faintest hint of the retro palette of Gateway Drugs could still be heard. However, on this latest release, it is his maturity and growth as an entirely separate entity that strikes you first and foremost. A slick and exhilarating punch has deftly been weaved into opener, ‘Blue Screener’, while intoxicatingly agile synth patterns form the spine of this gradually expanding masterpiece. Smooth and repetitive oscillations guide the listener into its hypnotic pulse, only for it to perfectly transition into the second track, ‘Duck Test’. Heightened percussion defines this next Todd Terje-esque track, as it slowly builds intrigue, without really amounting to the gratification of the clichéd ‘drop’. Andy’s are subtle and calculated, allowing the shape-shifting rhythms and perennial synth patterns to form their own organic peaks. Sunset-kissed closer, ‘Zapdos’, develops into a beautifully lush house track, where interactions between the nimble beats, the pitched vocal samples and the bouncy synths form an infectious summer anthem.
The smooth transitions make this EP one blissful bout of energy from a producer who has given himself a chance to discover the creative potential within. The songs luxuriously span over five minutes in length, because why not? He’s at liberty to do whatever the fuck he wants. The unassuming album cover is a lo-fi, murky orange photo of his production setup. So what? The names of the tracks aren’t particularly edgy, not to mention the name of the EP itself. That’s totally cool. And pre-release, it was hardly the topic of Internet hype. He doesn’t even have his own Facebook fan page yet in an age where those often precede even the first suggestion of music. Self-effacement abounds Andy Islands 1, because Andy Islands is just testing the waters. By the sounds of things, he’s finding them pretty pleasant. It’s an inspired side-project, filled with potential that is gradually beginning to unfurl.