The family that plays together stays together, as the old saying goes, and the Mauskovic Dance Band play like they’re in each other’s pockets 24/7. If you’re encountering Nicola Mauskovic, Donnie Mauskovic, Marnix Mauskovic and Mano Mauskovic for the first time, well, to be clear they’re not a literal family. On the flipside, this Amsterdam-based group can claim a collectively cosmopolitan background that informs their suave, agile post-punk funk workouts. Bukaroo Bank, their second album for Swiss label Bongo Joe, finds the Mauskovic Dance Band reinventing both their approach and their sound, while maintaining the rhythm-forward euphoria heard on their debut album and surrounding singles.
Bukaroo Bank is one of those albums that sounds brashly live, like you’re in the room while the jams are being kicked out, but in fact uses the studio very shrewdly. Recorded in 2020, during one of the Netherlands’ intermittent lockdown bouts, for this one the MDB members wanted to step up from their previous homebase, Garage Noord – an ad hoc Amsterdam space for recording, practise and after-hours parties. They chose Electric Monkey, operated by engineer Kasper Frenkel. His stacks of what Nicola calls “very strange equipment”, and ability to sprinkle magic dub dust over everything, suited the vibe perfectly. The results glow and shiver with assembled synth sounds, rhythms spliced and echoed in a way that hails late Jamaican dub great Lee Perry – maybe the band’s biggest influence.
Frenkel’s role in the creative process was just one way in which Bukaroo Bank saw MDB function as a fully-fledged band for the first time. Previously, songwriting was more or less handled by founder member Nicola and brought to the other Mauskovics (keyboardist and electronics man Donnie, synth player and guitarist Marnix, and bassist Mano) to be recorded. This time they began life in the studio, unstructured jams firmed up by discipline and edited down to the 12-song result. One facet of the songcraft which has remained in place, though, is the tendency to build everything from the drums up.
There’s an equitable division of labour in the current version of MDB, and it shows – this is music without ego and with space for everyone’s talent to be heard. If the four core members are distinguished by standout personality traits (Donnie is the romantic of the band, says Nicola, who describes himself as firey and brisk; Marnix a calm anchor; Mano cheerful yet disciplined), these all gel once the amps start to warm up.
The group cite a bond going back to school age, having all grown up in the Amsterdam metropolitan area: Nicola, for example, is half-Dutch half-Sicilian, and was mainly raised in Haarlem, near the Netherlands’ capital. Embryonic teenage chops were later fleshed out by playing weekday jam sessions in Amsterdam bars among “1960s rockers and Latin groovers”. That funk and swing still persists to this day; still, there’s been a rhythmic shift away from the sound MDB minted on their self-titled debut album in 2019, where the influence of South American dance genres like cumbia made it a snug fit for UK label Soundway.
Although Nicola acknowledges he and his bandmates are on a different tip now, that LP still casts a stylistic shadow over Bukaroo Bank, as do subsequent 12" EPs on high-ranking Amsterdam club label Dekmantel. This linkup opened doors for MDB to play on rave-oriented bills, which is very much their bag: small clubs with big bass-heavy systems, to be more specific.
Some sections might remind you of Afro-disco or slightly older highlife, others industrial prototypes like early Cabaret Voltaire, or 1980s On-U Sound mainstays like African Head Charge, or NYC groovers such as Liquid Liquid… there are outbreaks of saxophone, congas, echo units, wah-wah disco guitars, beats that sound programmed but aren’t (a nod to MDB’s industrial side). Bukaroo Bank, the song – which opens the album and is its first single – throws so many of these Easter eggs into the blender and yet always stays coolly minimalist. An ominous bassline, snares cracking hard enough you think they might break in two, sax wail getting its frequent-flyer points between 70s Ethiopia and 80s Bristol… If that sounds fun to you, be assured that Bukaroo Bank is an irrepressibly fun album – but one that contains multitudes.
This, undoubtedly, is ecstatic music for the body, and can be escapist if you wish it to. Yet Mauskovic Dance Band have a dark underbelly, too. Take Face, Bukaroo Bank’s next single, with its chiming highlife-adjacent guitar and conga shakedown. The stuff of parties – but there’s an icy unease in the vocal chants and refrains, a strange melancholy in the early electro-styled synth melody. Nicola feels this side of the album reflects the ambiguous, often taxing period in which it was made, and that his lyrics – often subject to heavy mixing desk treatment by Frenkel – stem from fomenting anger at the “sneaky, liberal” Dutch government and Amsterdam’s corporate class. The dub reggae greats were especially adept at packaging similar messages in joyous packages, he further notes.
All of which is to say that if you want to hold up the Mauskovic Dance Band as an entity who make ‘music for our times’, or similar, they are equal to the task; but it’s equally true that Bukaroo Bank works with a timeless sound, or several of them, and delivers results to match.