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Quick spins: Robert Soko’s ‘Balkan Beats Soundlab’ fuses tradition, technology

By — Bill Friskics-Warren,

Robert Soko Balkan Beats Soundlab

The brainchild of Berlin-based Yugoslavian immigrant Robert Soko, “Balkan Beats Soundlab” offers lavish proof that gypsy punk and Eastern European dance music are hardly the exclusive province of popular U.S. bands such as Gogol Bordello and DeVotchKa. On these 17 tracks, Soko (a.k.a. the “Godfather of Balkan Beats”) remixes club favorites by just about anybody who’s anybody on the contemporary Slavic music scene, fusing tradition and technology to consistently galvanizing effect.

He reimagines London duo Gypsy Hill’s “Balkan Beast,” for example, by giving it a deeper, spongier bottom and intensifying its surf guitar and Middle Eastern intrigue. He retrofits “I Like to Move It” by Ukrainian accordion-rockers Los Colorados with ping-ponging dance-hall beats, and he adds swirling flourishes to the melody and rhythms of “We Are One,” an electro-pop anthem by the multilingual French four-piece Watcha Clan.

Everyone from Brooklyn’s Slavic Soul Party to Serbian trumpeter Boban Markovic and his son Marko get the remix treatment here, and in tongues including, but not limited to, Bosnian, French, English, Romanian and Spanish. “Balkanalia” is the way the record’s press materials describe its contents, and that pretty well gets it. Whether imbuing Hungarian jug band music with a disco patina or scuffing up Bosnian brass with Euro-trash attitude and beats, Soko’s pan-national mashups are as bracing as they are original. Just as salutary, if not more so, they suggest possibilities for human communion that transcend lines of race and ethnicity for a world that could really use it.

— Bill Friskics-Warren

Recommended tracks

“I Like to Move It,” “Balkan Beast,” “We Are One”

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