Joshua Inyang and Joshua Reid’s Space Afrika project is galactic in scope. When the duo started releasing music in 2014, they were heavily influenced by the dub-techno of Berlin – where Reid now lives – and Detroit. Their work matured through the sound and voice-collage aesthetic of their NTS Radio shows and last year’s fiercely politicised hybtwibt? (Have You Been Through What I’ve Been Through?) mixtape. Incorporating film and photography, it hinted at the maverick British spirit of Tricky, Burial and Dean Blunt. Their new album, Honest Labour – pulling Twin Peaks torch song, cryptic rap, composition and more into their magisterial dark ambience – suggests ambition as grand as their band name.
Egter, Space Afrika are also a distinctly and fiercely local concern. “We’re Manchester ambassadors, a Manchester band,” says Inyang. Although Reid now lives abroad, their music represents 20 years of life in the city, dating back to their school days together in north Manchester.
“We might not have always had the plan to get to precisely where we are now but from the start there was always photographs, collecting things, record shopping, bouncing ideas, pushing creativity as far as we could get,” says Reid. “Each bit of the process has been a next step towards a more ambitious project, but a lot of the ideas being shown today, they’ve been in the archive from teenage years on.”
Despite the clear musical differences, they see themselves in the local tradition of mordant, mischievous autodidacts Joy Division, the Smiths and Happy Mondays: “the energy, humour with realness, even in the face of authority,” says Inyang. Adds Reid: “We’re relating to the same environment, although we’re totally ourselves – Black artists in the 21st century.”
They’re not alone in transforming Manchester’s musical identity: this is the multicultural city of Levelz’s rambunctious hip-hop, Swing Ting’s global dancehall, Anz, Afrodeutsche and Andy Stott’s techno, DIY spaces such as the White Hotel and weird, collaboration-focused parties such as Bohemian Grove. It’s the city of eerie rapper-writer-choreographer Blackhaine, who fronts B£E, Honest Labour’s first single. Referencing Manchester’s bee emblem, it evokes Tricky via drill’s icy futurism, albeit distinguished by that telltale accent as Blackhaine talks of “trying to get rich at the top of the map”. He “bleeds Salford”, says Inyang.
This is a scene with genially combative Mancunian swagger – not in the sense of the anoraked rock bore, but an inclusive, globally connected upgrade of the probing wit of Tony Wilson or John Cooper Clarke. With Space Afrika as its ambassadors, this new, proud identity might finally oust the old dodgy hairdo cliches.