The Sator Arepo, or Sator Square, is an ancient word puzzle comprising five palindromes that’s etched on various historical sites throughout the Western world. Its origins are unknown, but the square has long been thought to hold magical properties, used as a charm against illness and evil, to cure insanity or to determine whether someone was guilty of witchcraft. Self-styled “punk ethnomusicologist”, acoustician and musician Julien Hairon uses this mystical symbol as the starting point for his debut Judgitzu album in an attempt to reconnect with his Celtic heritage, exploring how its hallowed messages might harmonize with contemporary Tanzanian dance music.
Hairon has been traveling across the world for over a decade, collecting field recordings from countries such as Indonesia, Australia, Cambodia, China and Bangladesh, and presenting them on his Les Cartes Postales Sonores label, re-issuing any curious cassettes and CDs he came across on the PetPets’ TAPES imprint. It was during this time that he became fascinated by rituals that involved spirits, prompting him to examine his own ancestry when he returned to Brittany. “Many artifacts in the landscape remain,” Hairon explains, “and the power of spirits is still palpable.” He represents this Celtic mysticism on ‘Sator Arepo’ with murky drones and magickal synth tones, using xenharmonic scales (tuning outside of standard 12-tone equal temperament) that reach back to the ancient world. These sounds are augmented with fast-paced, sci-fi rhythms informed by his time in Tanzania; “Singeli has contaminated me,” admits the producer.
The most astonishing example of this is ‘Miracle’, a thrusting soundsystem experiment that layers serpentine, bagpipe-esque electronic wails over extravagant clusters of blocky percussion. Driven by the frenetic 175BPM pulse that echoes through the streets of Dar Es Salaam – popularized globally by forward-thinking producers like Sisso, Duke and Jay Mitta – Hairon opens up a rare conversation, seeking to draw parallels between today’s most urgent dance forms and the archaic rituals of antiquity. On ‘Vitalimetre’, Hairon drives his sonic palette into the red, harmonizing with Dutch hardstyle and gabber, and splaying distorted drones over maddeningly blown-out kicks and ratcheting percussion. ‘L’or Des Fous’ takes a more meditative route, prioritizing Hairon’s eccentric tonality with expressive sheets of pitch-warped sound that ghost walk across energized, rattling beats.
If you heard Hairon’s last Judgitzu release ‘Umeme / Kelele’, described by Boomkat as “one of 2019’s deadliest dancefloor sessions,” then you’ll know how mindboggling this material can be. And with ‘Sator Arepo’, the French producer deepens his reach, grasping a world that we’ve almost forgotten and juxtaposing it with a landscape most of us barely comprehend.