The Mandrake root is a mysterious specimen steeped in an eccentric folklore. Resembling the fleshy contours of the human body in form, its caterwauling screams – for those blessed enough to hear it – have been known since Biblical times to endow hallucinogenic insight upon the spiritually enlightened.
Who can say if this magical plant was a calling when the Mandrake Handshake tale began? When London born Row Janjuah upped sticks to Oxford in search of a new direction, all it took was a transcendent Brian Jonestown Massacre gig to turn his head. Right there and then Janjuah ventured to start a new psychedelic project named after one of the aforementioned tracks. Immediately he sought allies to join his cause.
Enter Toronto’s Trinity Oksana, whom Janjuah met while studying at university. Straight from the off a potent creative partnership bloomed. Whilst Janjuah possessed the songwriting nous, the silky guitar chops and an ear for a canny arrangement, Oksana’s vocals offered the perfect accompaniment; her limpid, sky-surfing melodies melded the hard-nosed edge of Grace Slick, the Jazz-borne delicacies of Lianne La Havas, and the prophetic, third-eye intimacy of Trish Keenan into one exquisite package.
As the two dwelt together in Oxford’s suburbs, a shared musical vision developed: they lovingly embraced the luscious textures of Australian Psych, the Samba-fuelled tropics of 70s Brazil, and the tripped-out fuckery of Britain’s 1990s Psychedelic heyday.
Soon however, it became clear the duo needed a band to assist their maximalist sonic intentions. One guitarist? Not enough. With Janjuah on lead, the redoubtable ‘Robot Nick’ was recruited to play those vital rhythm parts. Whilst Oksana’s lead vocals could stand on their own, Tegwen Rattay’s lilting melodies were needed to supply sufficient backing. A tambourine player? They needed two – one called Eris, the other called Elvis – to shake, smash and rattle brains into dizzying trances. Add the rhythm section of Joe Bourdier (drums) and Danny Jefferies (bass), an other-worldly Synth-guru called ‘Moogie-Man’, and the multi-disciplinary David Howard-Baker (organ/flute/tenor sax), and you have yourselves an army of true, Psychedelic-warriors.
As word began to spread and a local Psych scene began to emerge around them, the group took to the studio to record their debut single; a nine-minute krautrock opus titled ‘Hypersonic Super- Asterid’. Inspired by Stereolab’s utopian set at 2019’s Green Man festival, ‘Hypersonic’ marked the birth of a musical style self-dubbed “Flowerkraut”. This was music to dance to with wild abandon or, to meditate on – a fluorescent soundtrack for private investigations of the mind’s inner-worlds.
Having successfully garnered glowing praise from the likes of So Young Magazine, Gigwise and NME, Mandrake Handshake were picked up by cult indie-label Nice Swan Records, and swiftly began crafting their follow up. In what turned out to be a fruitful collaboration, they travelled to Bermondsey’s ‘Press Play Studios’ to record their debut EP with Stereolab drummer Andy Ramsay. This effort resulted in a four-track EP titled ‘Shake the Hand that Feeds You’.
Wholly showcasing the band’s wide-ranging musical ambitions, opening track ‘Mandragora’ acts as their funky manifesto whilst ‘Eclogue 11’, a song built largely in the studio, offers a majestic call-to- arms for environmental conservation. Next comes ‘Gonkulator’ (named after a guitar effects pedal used in the track) to deliver a 60s-drenched pop explosion, before the coming-of-age psych rock epic ‘Monolith’, co-written by Janjuah and Oksana during those early Oxford days, rounds off the set.
With a host of gigs pencilled in for the remainder of 2021, Mandrake Handshake are priming themselves for their highly anticipated return. This is the beginning. This is the Mandrake.