Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Old reviews for PopMatters: dZihan & Kamien, Refreaked

Another one from 2001.

dZihan & Kamien
(Six Degrees)

by Ted Swedenburg
PopMatters Music Critic

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Refreaked is a collection of remixes of tracks from dZihan & Kamien's successful Freaks & Icons from last year. The remixes, mostly by artists who are personal friends of dZihan & Kamien, do not range too far from the originals. But even if you've already got the original, it is still worth your while to get re-freaked. 

Based in Vienna, dZihan & Kamien produce a brand of Eurodance that is chilled-out, down-tempo, and very easy on the ears. For the most part, the tracks on Refreaked will work just fine as velvety background music. But repeated close listenings reveal a level of complexity, and even subversiveness, beneath an apparently glossy sheen. 

A large portion of both the intricacies and the understated resistance of Refreaked can be traced to dZihan and Kamien's intense interest in Middle Eastern, and particularly Turkish, music. Vlado dZihan hails from Sarajevo in Bosnia, home to a substantial Muslim population, while Mario Kamien, raised in Switzerland, has a Turkish girlfriend. For several years the duo have been recording percussion tracks from musician friends in Turkey, and many of these were used to construct Freaks and Icons. Once they had composed the basic tracks of Freaks and Icons, they then went to Turkey to record live musicians on top. The remixed versions on Refreaked manage to preserve the Middle Eastern feel of the originals. 

But what is truly impressive is how these songs are so subtly given an "Eastern" tinge. Unlike so many "East-West" musical hybrids, where you can immediately hear the discrete "Eastern" and "Western" elements working, and often grating, together, on Refreaked the Turkish drumbeats and Oriental flutes blend together seamlessly with all the other musical ingredients, to create a lush, integrated texture. You really have to listen carefully to hear those "foreign" components.
Take, for instance, "Homebase", a tribute to dZihan's natal home of Sarajevo, the scene of obscene (and for the most part, anti-Muslim and anti-multicultural) violence in the '90s. Remixed by UFO, it opens with a vaguely Eastern-sounding, moaning sample, which is later joined by a simple and melancholic "Western" keyboard riff, repeated over and over. The song builds slowly, adding bass, and then the rhythms of the Middle Eastern derbouka. It continues for over eight minutes, achieving a kind of chilled intensity, as other samples, some recognizably Eastern, others Western, others unidentifiable, weave in and out. All in all, a very low-key yet effective tribute to Sarajevo's multi-ethnic, Euro-Levantine heritage, and an understated lament for the heavy blows it has suffered. "Carta de Condução", as remixed by Butterkeks, is another standout. Opening with a lush and dreamy keyboard sequence, it commences to kick ass with a funky, fuzzy bass and drum riff. A couple of minutes in, the bass and drum are joined by the Eastern derbouka, and then those dreamy keyboards chime in. Then it's chill-out time, no percussion, a moment of repose with bubbly, reverie-inducing keyboards. The bass-and-derbouka kick up another storm, and the number ends with those soft, dreamy keyboards. 

What makes this all so subversive is that dZihan & Kamien simply insinuate all these Eastern elements into downtempo Eurodance without you hardly noticing. It's an insistent, insidious infiltration of the Levant, a resurrection of the spirit of Sarajevo. Coming from a country where an ultra-right, racist, fascistic-leaning and anti-immigrant party (Jörg Haider's Freedom Party) is a partner in the national government, dZihan and Kamien offer an alternative vision of a tolerant, cosmopolitan Europe, one that honors rather than vilifies its Islamic and Levantine elements. And it goes down smooth, like the perfect martini. 

Time to get re-freaked!

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