Lenhart Tapes


Balkan folk meets tape manipulation on this second album from Vladmir Lenhart and co

Few records made this year will be as masterful as Dens, and even fewer will have been made from the unwanted tape detritus from Belgrade flea markets bought by the kilo. Vladmir Lenhart’s Ethno-Noise outfit Lenhart Tapes is a project that started life as Pamba with his brother Stevan around the time of NATO’s Yugoslavian bombing campaign in 1999, predicated on a pair of Sony Walkmans and an endless stream of discarded cassettes. To get to this point from those humble beginnings seems as unlikely and as counterintuitive as the Big Bang, and yet here we are.

Dens is the culmination of a half-century of experimentation mashing together looped beats and submerged Balkan sounds. You probably won’t see it in many end of year lists, but make no mistake, this is a genuine masterpiece of musique concrète and cassette tape manipulation. Lenhart Tapes’ bandcamp page runs with the following slightly out-of-date description of what’s on offer: “One guy, 4 walkmans. goat and sheep dialogues, Muslim chanting, loops, e-bow instructions, turbo-folk anthems, language lessons, satanist rituals, heavy metal guitar for beginners,” which only illustrates how difficult it is to nail down exactly what Vladimir Lenhart does. In more recent times, he’s taken to labelling his project “Ethno Noise”, which is closer than Apple Music’s “klezmer” classification, though you can see how they got there too.

Significantly, on this second official release, one guy has become two. Everything is augmented and improved by the significant contribution of Tijana Stanković, vocalist, violinist and ethnomusicologist, who brings clarity to Lenhart’s (by his own admission) dilettantish, scattershot vision. The way in which her voice interacts with her own heavily manipulated violin motif on the Gorani traditional song ‘Mejremo’ starts to sound like a dialogue, while the rest imbues the listener with a similar dark energy found within the abysmal depths of the Velvet Underground’s ‘Venus In Furs’.

Stanković’s vocals, often doubled up with a close harmonic backing, temper the unkempt and unpredictable tape turntablism of the live shows without losing any of the edge, while extra musicians shore up the sound, whether that’s dubby bass or skronking saxophones, all adding to the joyous melange. The beats too are far more cohesive and consistent than on 2021’s Duets, and even when there’s a wild card sample such as the surf guitar on ‘Džamahirija’ – a song inspired by the Libyan (by way of Belgrade) band The Green Wings – it somehow all fits perfectly together. Dens, specifically, works so well thanks to the uncompromising modus operandi where traditional Balkan folks songs meet and are counterbalanced against the grimy industrial noise and sonic mayhem.

‘Što si glava’ sounds as heavy as Dälek before Stanković ushers in the traditional Gorani song of the same name, and the Serbian ‘Žuta žaba’ becomes a surprisingly warm amalgam of big beat folk. And then opener ‘Vodu brala’ is a traditional Slovakian folk number, though thanks to the magnificent treatment it receives here, it’s now a banger for the ages. These regional and obscure songs passed down orally from generation to generation have been transformed in ways that would be far beyond the comprehension of the original authors, whoever they might be, but the fact they survive at all is down to some elemental virality infused within them that makes them almost impossible to kill. Here these songs have simply adapted, mutated and gone global, and Lenhart Tapes is the vector. It’s a fever you’ll want to catch.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today