Shantel (Germany) & Dunkelbunt (Austria) – Balkan Hot Step

Back in 2003, N.O.H.A. released a crucial 12″ in the development of contemporary Balkan music – crucial in that it finally gave a name to a growing movement, ‘Balkan Hot Step’. As an ardent fan of absurd sub-genre tags, I warmly welcomed this new linguistic offspring – it commands a greater allure than the standard ‘Balkan Beats’ catch-all. Of course, it all means the same thing – a reinterpretation of traditional Eastern European music, aimed at winning new hearts and new minds, as well as clinging to a sufficient amount of the original spirit to appeal to the die-hards.

This new wave of Balkan music has been voraciously consumed with great intensity over the last few years – more so that almost every other emerging global genre founded on the same paradigm. The reason for this appears simple – the source material is already the most outlandish and most immediately gratifying ‘party music’ on the planet. Every time a traditional Balkan or klezmer tune is dropped, an infectious wave of movement seems to sweep the room – it remains a physical impossibility to stand static and unmoved in the face of the rasping urgency of Balkan brass and wild accordions.

Former Berlin techno-phile Shantel remains the poster boy for ‘Balkan Hot Step’, still surfing an ongoing wave of popularity generated in wake of his 2003 single, “Bucovina”, and the subsequent “Bucovina Club” album and club nights. Shantel followed those with a series of remixes in the ‘”Bucovina” vein (often called “Bucovina Club Mixes”) for the likes of Romania’s Taraf De Haidouks and Mehala Rai Banda (on the superb ‘Electric Gypsyland’ albums on Crammed Discs), Netherlands group Amsterdam Klezmer Band or London’s Oi Va Voi. Shantel’s productions were instantly accessible, radiating swathes of warmth and joy, yet still they represented something quite audacious and profoundly genre-warping. While the hearts danced, the mind attempted (usually unsuccessfully) to unravel the myriad of styles at play in the production.

His latest release ‘Disko Partizani’ not only perpetuates this sprawling and indiscriminate assimilation of influences, it also strives to confound our expectations even further. With a long contributor list stretching its way around the map of Europe (including Filip Simeonov from Taraf de Haidouks, musicians from Israel’s Boom Pam and Berlin MC Mantiz), and vocals in English, Romanian and Serbian, the album is deliciously unique in its scope and scale.

‘Disko Partizani’ is released on Shantel’s Essay Recordings, co-founded originally in 1995 with Man Recordings honcho, Daniel Haaksman (who has also been active in the Balkan remix front with reworks for Shantel’s “Disko” single, OMFO, Boban Markovic Orkestra and more).

Whilst we’re talking Balkan two-step, the name also found its way to Austrian DJ Dunkelbunt, who used the phrase to christen his long-running Viennese club night. His 2007 album, ‘Morgenlandfahrt’, follows collaborations and mixes for Balkan Beat Box, Eastenders, and !Deladap amongst others, and fuses the same spirit of defiance that infuses Shantel’s work with a further rubdown of dub, ragga and hip hop. Dunkelbunt is currently in Australia for a number of dates in both Sydney and Melbourne – check his MySpace for details.