Ghent, Belgium-based electronic duo Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul exploded into the national and international scenes with the release of 2019’s critically applauded David and Stephen Dewaele-produced Zandoli EP, which featured Paténipat” and “High Lights,” tracks that received airplay on UK Radio and were playlisted by BBC Radio 6.
Adigéry and Pupul’s official full-length debut as a duo, Topical Dancer was released earlier this year through Soulwax‘s own label DEEWEE. Co-written and co-produced by Soulwax and the acclaimed duo, Topical Dancer is deeply rooted in two things: The duo’s perspectives as Belgians with immigrant backgrounds with Adigéry proudly claiming Guadeloupean and French-Martinique ancestry — and the wide-ranging conversations the duo have had touching upon cultural appropriation, misogyny, racism, social media vanity, post-colonialism.
While being a snapshot of their thoughts and observations of pop culture in the early 2020s, the album also further cements their sound and approach: They manage to craft thoughtful songs that bang hard but are centered around their idiosyncratic, off-kilter take on familiar genres take off familiar genres and styles. “We like to fuck things up a bit,” Pupul laughs. “We cringe when we feel like we’re making something that already exists, so we’re always looking for things to combine to make it sound not like a pop song, not like an R&B song, not a techno song. We’re always putting different worlds together. Charlotte and I get bored when things get too predictable.”
And as result, Topical Dancer’s 13 songs are fueled by a restless desire to not be boxed in — and to escape narrow perceptions of who they are and what they can be. “One thing that always comes up,” Bolis Pupul says, “is that people perceive me as the producer, and Charlotte as just a singer. Or that being a Black artist means you should be making ‘urban’ music. Those kinds of boxes don’t feel good to us.” But they manage to do all of this with a satirical bent; for the duo it’s emancipation through humor. “I don’t want to feel this heaviness on me,” Charlotte Adigéry says. “These aren’t my crosses to bear. Topical Dancer is my way of freeing myself of these issues. And of having fun.”
In the lead up to the album’s release, I wrote about four of Topical Dancer‘s singles:
- “Thank You,” a sardonic, club banger featuring skittering beats, buzzing synth arpeggios and Adigéry’s deadpan delivery destroying mansplainers and unwanted, unsolicited and straight up dumb opinions and advice from outsiders.
- “Blenda,” a club banger, centered around African-inspired polyrhythm, wobbling bass synths, skittering beats and Adigéry’s deadpan. Informed by Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, “Blenda” focuses on colonialism and post colonialism through Adigéry’s experience as Black immigrant in an extremely white place.
- “HAHA,” a track built around a chopped up sample of Adigéry making herself laughed paired with twinkling synths, skittering beats and a relentless motorik groove that feels improvised and unfinished yet somehow simultaneously polished.
- “Ceci n’est pas un cliché,” a slick dancer floor friendly bop centered around a strutting bass line, finger snaps, skittering beats and glistening synth arpeggios paired with Adigéry cool delivery of clichéd pop lyrics in a series of non-sequiturs that’s surreal yet displays a weird sense of logic.
The song’s title is a winking nods to one of the most copied sentences in art history, originally by Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte. “This song is an accumulation of all the cliché lyrics so often used in pop music. It came about when we were touring and heard a song on the radio opening with ‘I was walking down the street’ which made us strongly cringe,” the duo’s Charlotte Adigéry says. “But the thing is, cringing is a shared passion of Bolis and I. So we passionately made a song out of it called ‘Ceci n’est pas un cliché’. Even more passionately we performed ourselves into a video about all the clichés we see in the magic world of musical genres. The musician in all its glory, capturing momentum and delivering a top notch performance, gazing into the light that’s called inspiration. And so for once and for all, please leave Magritte alone…!”
The acclaimed Belgian duo shared Soulwax’s remix/reworking of “Ceci n’est pas un cliché” simply titled “Cliché.” Soulwax delivers a euphoric the on the Adigéry and Pupul original, pushing up the tempo and energy in a club banger centered around tweeter and woofer rattling four-on-the-floor paired with dense layers of oscillating synths and chopped up samples of Adigéry’s vocals. Much like the original, it’s surreal yet wildly accessible.