Portable – My Sentient Shadow
Whereas the dance music most immediately associated with South Africa are the forms that have arisen from the country’s townships and underground spaces, Portable (AKA Alan Abrahams, AKA Bodycode) has taken things in a different direction. Based in Paris, the South African DJ and producer has typically grappled with reconciling Africaness and Eurocentricity in his work, developing a style of acid house and EMB that embraces parts of both simultaneously. It’s in the contrasts that Portable has found his greatest source of inspiration. Like South Africa’s own creolised culture, Portable’s music is informed by a range of styles, in many ways a sonic embodiment of the contemporary South African identity. What locals might dismiss as ‘white music,’ Portable has excavated the coloured origins of Chicago house and Detroit techno and infused these with his own history.
My Sentient Shadow, the artist’s latest album, is an odyssey into the dynamics of light and shade imagined by way of a shadow that is able to think for itself. This conceptual device allows for an exploration of the world from a totally different perspective, with Portable given the freedom to imagine an alternate experience of our lived reality. The wonky funk of acid jazz track The Simulacrum provides an overture of sorts in the world of My Sentient Shadow, which is full of contrasting textures, tempos, and patterns. For all the dynamics at play, the work is gloriously cohesive and stunningly designed. On Foreign to You, a gqom beat is repurposed as a house strut, with squelchy techno synths and alien bleeps. This is paired against the gentle, soothing vocals of NiQ E, a floating piano riff, and waves of bright, optimistic drone sounds. Analogue World takes an afrobeats groove and compresses it, allowing loops of blissed-out spacey synths to ebb and flow, taking the track to celestial places while its earthy percussion keeps it grounded.
Tracks like Cages and Ripple Effect are exercises in texture. The former opens with a collage of ricochetting synths, before unfurling into a looped drone riff set to the tactile sounding beat of a metronome, ticking like the inside of a grandfather clock. Beneath this still, a sea of strange electronic snarls and growls cavort. Ripple Effect is a collage of modular sounds that oozes and reverberates like actual ripples, tripping over its loggy bass pulses as Portable’s own New Wave style tenor chants over it. My Sentient Shadow’s strongest moment comes in its final act. We Exist, featuring Cape Town DJ and producer Mandy Alexander, is an arresting nine minute acid house epic that explores a locale infamous for its contrasts and sentient shadows, be it natural or socio-economic: Cape Town. Against juxtaposing synth riffs and a syncopated stomp, Alexander recounts a monologue about the inherent inequality of Cape Town, an investigation into the coloured identity and the systemic oppression that it faces, apparent by way of Cape Town’s clear segregation. Ominous minor key arpeggios lurk throughout, adding a sense of impending danger and disquiet until washes of distortion consume the track at its climax.
With My Sentient Shadow, Portable offers a look at the current state of dissonance felt in the world from the perspective of an outsider who is always in. The shadow, part of us yet somehow always separate, is the ultimate voyeur, and Portable brings us into its world in vivid, textured, fashion.
Listen to We Exist from My Sentient Shadow below.