By Gonçalo Cardoso’s own admission, his label Discrepant’s output can often appear frantic—scattershot even. “Someone once described the label as like a crazy dog running in every direction,” Cardoso says excitedly over Skype. “I kind of see it that way, too.”
Since Discrepant’s 2011 inception, the label has released a slew of willfully strange but no less captivating records from artists around the globe. The synth and guitar experimentations of Beirut’s Charbel Haber rub shoulders with the haunted loops of Turkey’s Koray Kantarcioğlu. Syria’s Rizan Said, a trailblazing dabke musician, sits next to the washed-out beat collages of Istanbul-based El Mahdy Jr. Mastering duties are handled primarily by Rashad Becker at Berlin’s Dubplates & Mastering studio, who preserves the individual grit and rawness of each recording. Despite such sonic differences, it’s possible to trace a line—even if it zig-zags and doubles back on itself—throughout Discrepant’s nearly 10-year history.
To peruse the label’s discography is to peek into the frazzled, playful mind of Cardoso himself. Indeed, as a one-person operation, perhaps it’s no surprise that the records hold a mirror to the idiosyncrasies of his personality. “It seems to go through phases and reflect my musical tastes at the time,” he explains. “When I first started, I was very much focused on the Southeast Asian field recordings of King Gong. From there, I started getting involved with the Lebanese underground, both avant-garde and more jazzy stuff. I can tell, just by looking at the catalog, that there are clear periods.” Most recently, Cardoso’s tastes have taken him to South America, where he’s unearthed the grainy dub of Panchasila and the bizarre folk-inflected psychedelia of Los Siquicos Litoraleños. Releasing a four-tape run (dubbed “New Weird South America”), Cardoso chose to emphasize the region’s joyful, whacked-out experimentations.
What might sound like a fractured approach on paper is bound together by a shared sensibility between Cardoso and the label’s carefully curated slate of artists. Discrepant, above all, is united by a relentless curiosity for new sounds. Cardoso describes the records as inhabiting the same world—a label metaverse if you like—with its own guiding logic, exemplified by two of Discrepant’s most foundational artists: Mike Cooper and Spencer Clark. He describes the arch-experimentalists as world-builders, explaining to me that while their music is different, the two artists occupy the same freewheeling, gonzo ground. Importantly, each turns traditional notions of Cardoso’s beloved exotica music on its head, creating dense, often fantastical tropical sounds with only a cursory nod to reality. “I’m a huge fan of the genre of manufactured worlds, almost like a science fiction thing,” he says. “There’s no place on earth that sounds like exotica. It’s like a dream.”
Over the last year, the rate at which Discrepant has released music has become ever more furious with the establishment of three sub-labels—Souk Records, Sucata Tapes, and Farsa Discos—each dedicated to different corners of the globe (and Cardoso’s brain). The most recent release, Anthology of Atypical Portuguese Music Volume 2, mimics the look and feel of an ethnographic Smithsonian Folkways record, but sounds nothing like one. Artists were given free reign to reinterpret the traditional songs of Cardoso’s home country of Portugal; this results in tracks like Síria’s somber drone jostling for attention with tracks like Random Gods’ sensitive rhythmic workout. The result is a thrilling subversion of traditional sounds and ideas, cutting to the core of Cardoso’s end goal: “to deconstruct, distort and reassemble the lore of (un)popular music around the world.” Here’s an overview of some of Discrepant’s best releases.
A relative oddity in the generally rough and ready Discrepant discography, this nine-track release from Bosaina is a sweet, pop-inflected reflection on both the Egyptian artist’s time in New York and a book of the same name. Crystalline keyboard melodies and delicate vocals wander through the Vent affiliate’s personal field recordings, creating an album of rare, genuine intimacy. “It’s like a moment frozen in time,” says Cardoso, admitting that it’s probably the record he listens to most in the label’s catalog. “Even if it doesn’t make total sense, it’s got a very particular mood.”
As part of the Ramallah crew in Palestine, Muqata’a has been responsible for igniting and nurturing the region’s beat-driven scene amidst violent, political circumstances. His debut album is a heady mix of nostalgic U.S. hip-hop-style sample-chopping with cold, grimy beats. Sampled vinyl scratches bleed through on many of the tracks, so as to render distortion commonplace, but there is a clarity to Muqata’a’s work that sets it above much other instrumental hip-hop: “Taqamus Muqawim,” in particular, crunches with devastating kicks, skittering percussion, and a clipped vocal refrain. On a big soundsystem, this record’s power is almost unlimited.
“The main thing about this record is that it’s not classifiable,” says Cardoso. “You don’t know what traditions are in there. Is it Arabic or North American or Italian?” Certainly, Giulia Loli’s biography helps explains the record’s amorphous qualities: She was born in Italy to an Egyptian mother and Italian father, and raised mostly in the United States. Symbols Follow is another multi-layered, textural gem in her output, verging between cacophonous jazz-inflected noise and traditional folk melodies. Remarkably, Loli played every instrument on it, a practice she describes in opposition to “sampling ghosts of my ancestors, whose names I did not even know.”
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
Mike Cooper is 75, yet he still travels around the world with his guitar, loop pedal, and recorder, cooking up strange, disquieting soundscapes. The first eight tracks make up a long, unbroken stream of fidgety guitar textures, twinkling synthesizers and rumbling drones, digging into Cooper’s own ideas of a Global South ruthlessly exploited by colonialism. The last track, “Legong/Gods of Bali,” meanwhile, is 17 minutes of gently resonating gong chimes, seemingly sourced from a Gamelan orchestra. In fact, the septuagenarian sampled the sounds from audio snippets hosted on a gong-selling website. Nothing on Discrepant is quite as it seems.
People Like Us & Porest
This split release brings together Vicki Bennett’s alias, People Like Us, and Mark Gergis’s Porest project with fascinating, strangely life-affirming results. Each track, around 20 minutes in length, is described as a parallel broadcast, spliced together from shortwave and FM broadcasts. Well-known pop songs, long-forgotten commercials, and radio static are all wedged together disorientingly. This also shines a light on Cardoso’s fondness for wave-based transmissions. “I love the radio. It’s an object that defines a place,” he says. “You never get a perfect sound, you always get interference.”
Romperayo kick-started Discrepant’s relationship with South America on their 2015 self-titled debut. The foursome—made up of Pedro Ojeda, Eblis Alvarez, Ricardo Gallo, Juan Manuel Tor—arguably make some of the lightest, most playful music yet to grace the label, creating rolling synthesizer-led cumbia music from the Colombian coast. Cut-up loops join live percussion and guitar in a heady mix that radiates with sunshine. Cardoso says he listens to this record a lot in the car, the propulsive beats seemingly a perfect match for long, winding journeys.
A surprise hit for the label, Félix Blume’s Death in Haiti offers a moribund panorama of funeral marching bands interwoven with field recordings of mourners. The brass sections are both jubilant and melancholy, occasionally interrupted by the upsetting cries and screams of those grieving for their loved ones. Listening to these songs feels almost voyeuristic, and yet, the sheer emotional intensity of the material quickly pushes such a response to the background. It’s both a deeply moving record and a fascinating window into what Cardoso describes as “a very particular way of celebrating death.”