NO ZU – Life (LP)

It’s from a life lacking substance that Nicolaas Oogjes’ NO ZU hails. Those outer city suburbs where most private realities consist of staring into the HD void of LCD screens; a search for meaning in digitised illusions. Transcendental Meditation, Ayahuasca nights and Buddhist Dharma centre meetings play distraction from the emptiness of modern living. That’s no longer a compulsion just afflicting middle-class, middle-aged progressives but also an element of the bright young bourgeois, hip to the exotic beats that are somehow more valid than their own.

Life is just that kind of record: set to fill the spiritual void that community centres, surf clubs and supermarkets cannot. African and West Indian elements such as floor toms, conga drums and dub rhythms are present here, but they’re filtered through PiL, New Age Steppers and Dorothy rather than the clubs and dancehalls at their source.

The sports whistle on ‘Bust Body Move’ feels like Carnival, and a simulated steel drum conjures the water’s edge of a Carribbean port town in ‘Fa Foma Fi’, but they’re feelings that you can’t quite grasp for the lounge-room carpet underfoot. It captures the weirdness of suburban living with wavering sine waves during ‘100% Viscose’ and swaggers through a wobbly No Wave funk in ‘Telepathic Body’. There’s even the eerie keyboard vocal tracking and a synthesiser tone that is almost identical to the one used on that timeless X-Files theme song that no doubt played through many an Australian television when NO ZU were growing up, except that it would have featured in more UK and US households too.

I hate to harp on about ‘authenticity’ but as one of many hybridised Western-culture-meets-‘other’ bands gracing the dance floor in the wake of a trail blazed and left desolated by LA and Not Not Fun, it’s hard to see the creative or cultural relevance of NO ZU as a band in its own right. Even the tag ‘New Weird Australia’, as so lovingly applied to them (and also the label for 2011 EP release New Age) is a term first pinned to a US movement –‘New Weird America’. NO ZU even go to great lengths to ground their intentions in the disenfranchised urban drift of Melbourne’s outer suburbs in the 30-odd seconds of percussion on ‘Prstn F’ever’ (that’s a vowel-averse, partial pun on ‘Preston Forever’, for those who don’t know) or by declaring “Life’s a trip to the IGA” in their press sheets. Stylistically, though, there’s a distinct sense of re-appropriating the already appropriated; where native spirituality, musical tradition and hyperbole is trapped in a disintegrating loop of a fast encroaching global culture, devoured by it’s own disconnection from anything of purpose.

The thing is, I like this sort of music, all of it. I’d even play Life at my party. Once. Maybe twice. What I’m trying to say is, I like NO ZU’s style and I’d probably buy the record but that doesn’t mean I haven’t heard it all before.

: Sensory Projects
Release date: August 2012