Seb Jenkins and Liam Nolan first met whilst working at Ninja Tune, a project started back in 1990 as an attempt to break the monopoly of commercial record labels and to showcase alternative international sounds. After spending several years in Bogota and Berlin respectively, Seb and Liam have since reconnected through Big in Japan, a label channelling that same drive to shed light on different sounds from exciting places. One of their first releases is an EP from native Columbians Cero39, hailed as one of the country’s most up-and-coming acts. In 2016 Thump Colombia listed their album ‘Moni Moni,’ on their favourite releases that year, and the group played at this year’s Glastonbury festival after being spotted by a booking agent in Bogota. The duo’s ‘tropical alternative’ vibe falls somewhere between Hip-Hop, Latin and Dub Reggae, with infectious results. ‘Moni Moni,’ is a sunkissed, creatively produced album which fills your mind with Latin-Caribbean flavours, whilst guest vocals are varied and engaging. The spliced production style fits its cross-cultural identity, a natural fit for Big in Japan’s mission statement.
Cero39’s offering to Big in Japan, ‘Mi Tierra,’ or ‘My Country,’ presents itself as a tribute to their native Colombia. With each track named after a different part of the country, not much is left for us to speculate over what the EP is trying to accomplish: a holistic picture of Colombia’s bustling variety, conjured by a diverse array of drum patterns and production methods. Bearing this in mind, it’s quite surprising how little actual substance there is – this release just doesn’t seem as characteristic as the group’s other work. Granted, between the languishing guitar-chords of ‘Boni Veloni’ and the dub-fused trap beat on ‘Colmado’ there is musical variety, but compared to Cero39’s earlier work something does seem to be missing. ‘Murcura,’ the EP’s opening track, seems confusingly under-produced when not accompanied with any vocals. There is a faint hint of Cero39’s colourfully energetic Latin flourish on ‘Bacalao Imperial,’ which is definitely a highlight on the EP, but it seems hindered yet again by stripped-back production which at times sounds very commercial, like beach-bar electro-house.
A sense of narrative is not totally lost throughout ‘Mi Tierra’, and as the album’s increasingly diverse use of synths and live instrumentals come into play, it does make for an interesting listen at times. The somewhat forced attempts to contextualise itself do detract from the group’s strengths, and for a better representation of Cero39’s sound, it’s definitely worth checking out other releases or catching them at one of their many festival appearances this summer.
For a debut EP on an adventurous new label, Cero39’s contribution is logical: it represents what Seb and Liam want Big in Japan to be all about; bringing fringe styles of music to the fore. It may take a few more releases to hone this down into subtler forms.
Released June 2, 2017