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Source of Denial Skye Butchard , October 3rd, 2023 07:55

The blistering second album from this electronic/percussion partnership revels in cultural exchange as an act of defiance. Reviewed by Skye Butchard

Nihiloxica’s existence feels like a miracle. Bugandan percussion collective Nilotika Cultural Ensemble join British electronic musicians pq and Spooky-J to make intense, dizzying jams at the intersection of traditional and experimental. It’s impressive that anyone made it, to begin with. Realising the barriers placed upon them just to physically be in the same room makes their magic even clearer. 

With rising costs and precarious travel options, touring life has gotten tougher for all. It’s harder for people from countries like Uganda who work as part of a global outfit. Slow and intentionally convoluted immigration practices make it near-impossible for musicians to work freely across borders. Nihiloxica had a whole UK tour cancelled in 2022 because of visa issues, overseen by a profit-driven ‘service centre’ which manages queries for a growing number of countries. The process was debilitating for the band, and dehumanising for its members.

In response, they make Source of Denial , a tense and compelling suite of tracks which challenges the detached and evil immigration systems in Britain and beyond.

There’s a potent physicality to their playing. The heady interplay on a track like ‘Asidi’ underlines their bond as a group, while the off-grid fluctuations in tempo and wild releases of energy are downright rapturous. Produced at Nyege Nyege HQ in Kampala, there’s also a sense of the physical in how it’s recorded. The group contrast this visceral presentation with interludes featuring disembodied AI voices on intrusive calls with immigration centres. 

“I just have a few simple questions and we can move right on”, says a warbled voice on ‘Interrogation/Welcome’. “Have you ever engaged in any other activities which might indicate that you might be considered not to be a person of good character?” it asks in a polite English accent. The questions get more invasive and distrustful. The band answer these questions with the following title track, a flurry of noise and anger. They lean into the metal inspiration, hinted at with the new logo adorning the album cover. Toxic synths churn in a steady march while pounding drums circle overhead. 

The band rarely take an obvious approach. ‘Postloya’ is a slow-motion epic which grows new percussive arms and legs in each moment. A single synth melody rings out like a church bell. ‘Trip Chug’ is even more menacing and nocturnal, though the band find space for reflection on a wide-open synth passage in its middle section. Then, there are fierce songs like ‘Banganga’, focused on gratifying polyrhythms and bliss through discordance. 

The band revel in the joy and power of cultural exchange. You wish to experience them live, hoping those barriers are dismantled. They finish with a mess of static and repeating tones, which puts you in the mindset of being left on hold – one of the many tactics used to stop cultural exchange from finding a way. Nihiloxica show that despite the odds, it always finds a way.