The moment you hear it, you’re there in Kowloon. Night Drive leads you on a neon, rain-streaked tour through the Walled City’s microscopic alleyways. Live drums tumble around you; the skyscrapers are set suffocatingly close. Synth notes suggest danger, distending lazily. The denizens of the town are an age-old portrait of vice and fear. In 70’s Hong Kong, the Walled City is ruled by the Triads. The bassline snarls, throaty and insistent: a smouldering threat. In the track’s final minutes, a delicate melody cuts through the darkness: have you just found the person you’re cruising for? Have you made it to safety, the city’s menace briefly at bay? It’s up to you: with their imaginary soundtrack, KWC 92 just give you the tone. The narrative is all yours.
Brooklyn tastemakers L.I.E.S. have shown a new interest in the album format in 2013, with excellent offerings from Gunnar Haslam and Marcos Cabral, but Dream Of The Walled City is the label’s first concept-driven gambit, and it’s a storming success. Taking the ‘OST’ of their title seriously, KWC 92 (Samo DJ and Max Stenerudh) here score a film which will never be shot, providing a soundtrack which beckons each listener to create his individual story. While all music listening is in a sense a collaborative effort, the stimulus of the music interpreted in the mind of the listener, here that mutual act of creation is exposed and encouraged, leaving the listener to research the Walled City and dream up one of its countless stories. The place in question is Hong Kong’s Kowloon, a densely populated fort-cum-city demolished in 1993 due to poor living conditions and a high rate of criminality. The pair could hardly have picked a more fertile subject: sonic suggestion pushes the listener’s imagination into overdrive, as the half-heard muttering of a local in his native tongue, the exotic exhale of a wind instrument, or the ghostly refrain of a synthesiser give you all the material you need to create a true epic.
Sonically Dream Of The Walled City is a vivid hybrid, casting Oriental samples across brooding 80s-inspired synthscapes. Cultural appropriation, when lazily attempted, often proves problematic, but KWC 92 never take the stereotypical approach to their Eastern sound palette, instead delicately working samples into crisp, inviting soundscapes. Dreaming Of You starts off slow, radio crackle, ominous bass and a slow breathing sample drawing the listener into the titular dream. The track’s core itself is tranquil, a longing build of wind and string melodies that strike at an emotional sweet spot. From here on out things get earthier: the darkness take hold over the moody techno of Night Drive, Missing and standout Macau Ferry Terminal as an unnamed threat stalks the regular bass throb and nervy synthlines. It’s consuming material drenched in atmospheric flair, sure to excite the techno-heads as much as the experimental crowd.
Over its final two tracks, KWC 92 draw us through more sombre sounds, KWC 92 melting distant danger into a mournful finale, and Tai Tam Tuk leaving us irresolute, pitting the persistent tension of its heartbeat bassline under ethereal melodies and poignant chimes. It closes a record that deserves to be listened to attentively and openly, whether for its clever details (such as the opener’s lonely woodwind reprised in Missing’s closing moments) or its immersive atmosphere. What KWC 92 have crafted is a sonic space where stories are made, be they frightening, exotic or seductive: the wall’s the limit.