Albums / EPs, Reviews

Album Review: DOOKOOM – A Gangster Called Big Times EP

78“Farmer Abrahams had many farms, and many farms had farmer Abrahams, I work one of them and so would you, so let’s go burn ‘em down.”

DOOKOOM have decided to take up the mantle of lone, musical insurrectionaries. When it comes to their music, provocative is definitely too light a word, and incendiary is perhaps over-simplistic. Whatever they will eventually be classed as after everyone has had their say – and no doubt they will – it’s undeniable that DOOKOOM, as the abrasive terrorcore/hip-hop group are wont to do, set out to ruffle a few feathers. And they succeeded in igniting much more than a farm hillock.

DOOKOOM are an unstoppable, combustible and highly unpredictable force. At the helm is Isaac Mutant who has been bubbling at the surface of the underground scene for years and is ready to finally spill over into the wider South African politico-musical psyche. Completed by the mysterious figures that are Human Waste, spo0ky, L i L i † H and DJ Roach, DOOKOOM’s mission statement over the past year and a half following their inception has had them going ways to ensure that ‘Larney Jou Poes’ and the furore erupting around it is not the first time, and certainly not the last, that the group will spark such discourse, debate and anger.

On their latest EP entitled A Gangster Called Big Times, DOOKOOM are more in our faces than they were on their eponymous debut EP released last year. They’ve always been cunning in their lyricism – sharp and embroiled in some secret plot – yet on their follow-up everything is ruthless cut-and-thrust. The grating synths are still there, but they’re edged with even more resentment, frustration and self-loathing that seep from every beat and lyric like a contagion. Whatever your feelings on the matter, one cannot listen to A Gangster Called Big Times unmoved. Its message seems utterly vital.

The counter-intuitive appeal of DOOKOOM is their ability to baffle and intrigue. The group set out to terrify and shock in a way that makes the antics of Die Antwoord seem vaguely pantomimic. They can challenge issues of land ownership, farm worker exploitation and the poverty gap in one verse and go on to thoroughly insult your mother (and mean it) in the next. One can never be sure just who they’re trying to fuck with: are the listeners allies, or the ones culpable? Opening track, ‘Larney Jou Poes’, certainly leaves no room for fence-sitting and that just may be what Mutant and Co. set out to do.

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The teaser trailer for ‘Larney Jou Poes’ starts with lone boy in the Cape Flats in an empty room singing the Sunday school favourite of ‘Father Abraham’. Soon, a menacing, solitary drum machine track enters and Mutant’s warping of the innocuous lyrics hold the promise that things are all about to kick off. The synths that enter are confrontational and chaotic. It’s nigh-impossible to relax into the rhythm which is as agitated and abrasive as those spouting the discourse. Mutant stated that song was written from a deep place of both personal and borrowed anger over the injustices endured by Cape wine-farm workers. He almost trips over his words in perturbation, but every now and then a piercing line could ring with such poignancy that it causes one to break out in gooseflesh.

The production is sparse and has left all the hard edges in: thrumming bass sounds and sharp drum machine snaps are unbridled. Somehow, it seems that the beat converges from every edge of the sound to assail a listener at its epicentre – all while granting Mutant complete agency just above it all.  It allows tracks like ‘I Want You’ and ‘Die Slow’ to be utterly terrifying. The former is comprised of guttural utterances of the sure-to-be ire-inducing, “I can hear myself, I see dead people. Shoot the Boer, shoot the white people.” Whether DOOKOOM want to reflect the unarticulated angst of the working-class/dispossessed or air out their own resentment is unclear; either way, it’s a bone-chilling inclusion. Moreover, L i L i † H’s fawn-like guest vocals are eerily chopped and changed into an unexpectedly gyrating and danceable refrain. Conversely, the tin-like percussion and heavy breathing of ‘Die Slow’ is more transparent in its intentions. “Die, Die, DIE!” – it’s an insurgent’s anthem and seems to feed off the overwhelming rage behind each new tirade that Mutant latches onto and tumbles completely out of control.

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There’s no doubt that ‘Electric’ is a highlight here and buzzes and pile-drives just like its title promises. Frantic traditional drumming drives the beat and the staccato refrain rocks one from the very balls of their heels. Every now and then the track will rise to the precipice of DOOKOOM’s ire before dipping once more underneath the buzzing and sputtering synthesisers to lie in wait.

DOOKOOM – from the colloquial Afrikaans ‘Doekoem’ – is both verb and noun, a spiritual conjuring, and a figure of fascination and fear, called upon in greed, jealousy or anger. DOOKOOM are filled with resentful emotions in immeasurable amounts, and despite their ostensible don’t-give-a-fuck attitude, the truth of the matter is that they care very much, indeed. They are adamant that music in South Africa can neither be made nor processed in a vacuum. Afrikaans hip-hop has been allowed a more accessible platform in recent years and they’re not about to squander the opportunity.

Unlike many South African acts, DOOKOOM have shown they are no longer content to play the role of the talented yet politically impotent. The recent uproar in response to this more aggressive stance will doubtless serve to coax them out of apolitical dormancy and into the controversial limelight. Plainly, DOOKOOM’s music is of place and time – here and now – presented in a fashion that breathes life and purpose into this music, in much the same way that the issues – real, pertinent issues – have ignited an inexhaustible fire in DOOKOOM. There’s no place to hide here, and it’s hard to believe there’s anyone that’s not listening now.

A Gangster Called Big Times is now available on iTunes here.

You can listen on Deezer here.

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