The Belgian duo's debut confronts identity with frenzied grooves and laughter.
It’s a brave artistic pursuit to try and find the sweet spot between the jarring, unnerving and chaotic and the more comforting and conventional aspects of music, such as rhythm and melody. But it’s right in the centre of this Venn, pulling in two vastly different spheres closer, where Belgian-Carribbean singer Charlotte Adigéry thrives. Just take the industrial fever dream of her 2018 single ‘Paténipat’, which throbs and thumps hypnotically to a frenzied climax whilst still begging for the depths of the dance floor.
Key to this balance is her partnership with Bolis Pupul, who had been working as a studio hand at Studio Deewee (a crucial hub of Belgian music as the headquarters of legendary DJ duo Soulwax), when he met Adigéry as she worked on a track for the 2016 film Belgica. Pupul’s productions had dark, thumping bass and retro-electro aesthetic, but they also had a sense of space that seemed to be calling out to be filled by the singer’s playful and experimental style. That it was, and in the following years the duo became inseparable, producing a string of EPs and playing the festival circuits.
The culmination of their creative partnership, their debut album Topical Dancer is finally released today. (Though it may seem a small detail, it’s the first release using both of their names together.) True to their founding spirit, the debut snarls, laughs, prods, snaps, floats and thumps while again dancing along a jagged line of delirium and all-out groove.
‘Haha’ is perhaps the record’s biggest head-nodder, yet features only Adigéry’s laughter, garbled and cut together over a sultry, late-night bop that together feels quite intense, as though it creeps closer to squeeze a laugh out of you. It’s one side to the Ghent-based duo’s humour that at other times shows its face through irony – ‘Ceci n’est pas un cliché’ is a pure medley of pop music platitudes like “Things aren’t always what they seem” and “You’re cold as ice” – or simply Adigéry repeatedly trying to get in to the studio on opening skit ‘Bel DEEWEE’: “Hallo? Het is Charlotte!”
This opening also neatly introduces the theme of identity, which feels a common thread amongst the electro/art-pop weirdness. On ‘Esperanto’, Adigéry offers advice with a pinch of salt that sounds all too familiar to the singer, who has Guadeloupean and French-Martinique ancestry, whilst Pupul is of Chinesedescent: “Don’t say ‘But where are you really from?’ /Say ‘I don’t see colour’ /Don’t say ‘Nice pair’ /Say ‘I love the symmetry of you'”.
On the electro ripper ‘Blenda’, Adigéry is at the receiving end: “Go back to your country where you belong / Siri, can you tell me where I belong?”
Throughout Topical Dancer humour and energy may often soften the blow and even empower, but always her experiences and self-reflections cut through with a clean, direct sweep.
Topical Dancer is released today. Catch Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul in the UK in April.