The Amsterdam group's debut album is a thumping and diverse delight that blends Afro-Carribean influences with a Latin American edge. Thomas Smith meets the Mauskovic "brothers" as they prepare a funky onslaught at Glastonbury
Imagine you’re in Arctic Monkeys‘ ‘Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino’, the fictional resort on the moon that the Sheffield band willed into existence on their 2018 album. Alex Turner’s persona waxes lyrical about documentaries and technology gone wrong – it sounds like a Black Mirror episode that went a bit awry. Next door, though, there’s a party going on. There’s a big beat thumping through the walls, as well as manic howls and chants from the crowd. That’ll be the resort’s late-night entertainers, The Mauskovic Dance Band.
They’re similarly inspired by the intergalactic, but it’s a far funkier affair. Blending Afro-Carribbean beats alongside Latin American genre-touchstones such as cumbia – more of which later – the Amsterdam group have their own cosmic brand of space-disco. Reader, it doesn’t really sound like traditional disco music at all.
“Space-disco sounds a bit funny and weird, so that’s why we like it – I like the word disco in general because it means way more than just boogie or disco music,” band leader Nic Mauskovic tells NME down the phone, adding that the synthesisers and “dubby-delays” take them into the stratosphere.
There’s plenty of proof of that in the delightful self-titled debut album, out now via Soundway Records. Opening song ‘Drinks By The Sea’, is a disjointed and slow-burning jam best suited for relaxing by the resort’s poolside bar, and to be paired with the pounding ‘Space Drum Machine’. There are some more ‘down to earth sounds’ on guitar-led groover ‘Dance Place Garage’, while ‘Late Night People’ is a melting-pot of looped chants and wicked rhythm sections.
It’s no wonder that the album’s artwork appears to play into that fictional location, but comes with a tropical twist much like the album’s influences. “I didn’t want a cover with monkeys and trees on to represent the tropical aspects of this record, we wanted this cosmic, ‘70s drug lord house-vibes, and I think it gives the image of what the music sounds like. People sometimes only see our music as really happy and sunshine but it’s not always that. The cover is an empty room, which adds to the loneliness in the paradise.”
There was no sense of isolation when NME first caught them at Brighton’s The Great Escape in May. We witnessed the band tangle up the sweaty crowd in knots with their squiggly guitar parts and hypnotic basslines. It’s led by songs from their debut album, but often divulges into funk-led wig-outs that are just as intoxicating, though they know there is only so far they can push it.
“I know jams can be fun for yourself, but you can get sucked into it,” Nic says. “We have to avoid that and need structures and hooks, so it’s partly improvised but there’s always hooks that come back.”
Into it? You’re in luck. The band are heading to Glastonbury in a couple of weeks, bagging a slot on the West Holts Stage for one of their biggest shows to date. A festival main stage is not usually their vibe (Nic: “We much prefer playing sweaty clubs”), but they’ll make it work.
They’ve been doing that since their inception two years ago. Nic began the Mauskovic Dance Band purely as a bedroom-project, before the Bongo Joe Records store in Geneva, Switzerland invited them to play their first live-show, despite their member count being just one. It forced him to recruit some of his pals, Marnix (guitar, synth), Mano Mauskovic (bass), Chocolate Space Donnie (vocals, keys) and Juan Hundred (drums), who all adopted the Mauskovic surname to solidify the family ties.
“Our studio? It’s a dirty spot with strange people, but it gives these great vibes” – Nic Mauskovic
The band bonded over their passion for genres such as cumbia, (a percussion-led sound that has its roots in Colombia and other Latin America countries) and some of the artists Nic was performing with live, including Turkey’s psychedelic-folk star Altin Gün and “cinematic Balearic disco” duo, Bruxas. Nic also acknowledges New York’s no-wave groups such as Suicide and Liquid Liquid as key influences, though it’s a blessing and a curse to pull sounds and attitudes across the globe.
“Sometimes it can be too much of a melting pot which can be distracting,” he says. “I’ll be going for a sound and then I’ll hear something and think ‘this is really amazing, what I just made sucks, it should be more like this’. That’s how you lose your focus.”
It’s not a surprise that the band lost their focus every once in a while – the album was recorded in Garage Noord, one of Amsterdam’s hottest bars. Once he realised the bedroom studio dynamic was not quite sustainable for five members, Nic set up a studio in the bar with the help of his friends, who run the venue. By day, they’d be tinkering away with these devilish beats and by night, they’d wander into one of the city’s most exciting raves: “I can hear the club night through the wall when it starts and my studio would always get used as the after-party spot. It’s a dirty spot with strange people, but it gives off these great vibes.”
Amsterdam is the perfect place for the Mauskovic brothers to exist. The city’s exuberant nature and diverse population has lead to a unique music community, Nick reckons. “Berlin is known for his techno and Amsterdam definitely has its own sound now – it is more organic and diverse,” he says, citing the programmers and lineup builders with keeping it fresh. “There are so many festivals that blend the lineups better than most electronic festivals do elsewhere in Europe.”
With Amsterdam seemingly conquered, this shape-shifting band will shoot for the stars. If they happen to be landing in a city near you this summer, don your space-suit and get set for a fantastic voyage. If this is the first thing the aliens hear from us up in outer-space – well, it’s not a bad first impression.
– The Mauskovic Dance Band’s debut album is out now via Soundway Records