Taken from the album Opaques.
This is crazy! I’d never heard Muslimgauze music from this early in Bryn Jones’
musical development, so it was a surprise to hear how much more musically
sophisticated it is than the later stuff we all know and love. The dubby drum
machine and weird tape manipulation at the end are great but I’d never have
expected to hear Jones use a synth tone that reminded me of Boards of Canada.
So why do I like this song as much as I do? I suppose it’s that I perceive his core convictions as at odds with his art. The Englishman’s fiercely black-and-white politics steamrolled Israeli humanity with such gusto that the texture and polyvalent reality of Arab life was flattened as well. Muslimgauze’s music is too weird, too intrinsically vague to serve any political purpose. We face an awkward possibility: to hear Muslimgauze, we must not listen to Bryn Jones.
For Clayton, thinking about Jones in the terms of identity politics is a dead end; it’s more interesting to consider how Muslimgauze is a space which clarifies and exposes our perception of the Arab world. Read on for a hilarious anecdote where Clayton’s perception of Muslimgauze — “glorifying the ambiance of war, taking pleasure in simulating a Western media-fantasy of the Middle East” — clashes with his Moroccan bandmate’s.
Comptoir Libanais, in South Kensington, is kind of like Muslimgauze: The Restaurant. It aggressively coopts a revolutionary aesthetic, but transplants it to the unfamiliar context of a “design-focused”, mid-scale chain restaurant.
In this gratuitous photo of myself, I appear alongside a giant, gun-wielding Arab; the restaurant’s backdrop is a huge print of a similarly-iconic woman who may or may not be in hijab. Longtime readers will know that I’m normally into this sort of thing, but in a dining context its complete disconnect from anything beyond pure aesthetics makes me kind of uncomfortable. Oh, and the food — it’s pretty carby, but I suppose it takes a lot of energy to fight, or to appropriate, a revolution.
(This photo is from Rana Salam, who designed the interiors.)
Taken from the album Zuriff Moussa.
Zuriff Moussa is, song for song, probably the best Muslimgauze album I’ve heard so far. Made up of 24 shortish tracks, it features a degree of dynamic variation that Bryn Jones’ weaker, brutally simplistic material lacks — even if, by any other artist’s standards, this’d be a shockingly unsubtle record. The songs are mostly lacking in narrative development, but even the relentless pounders tend to begin with mostly-unprocessed folkways recordings, and there are a few refreshing ambient interludes.
Speaking of that percussive grind, and the aesthetic abrasion of Muslimgauze’s aggressive politics: even though we’re dealing with track titles like “Anti-Arab America” and “Why Iraq” (which you can listen to above), the approach here feels surprisingly playful. This is partially due to the lighter sonics: on Muslimgauze’s really caustic albums, like Wish of the Flayed, you can practically feel the tape melting from the heat of the distortion and Jones’ indignation. On Zuriff Moussa, on the other hand, there’s little harsh clipping noise and fewer aggressive dub interventions. “Thief of Aqua” basically sounds like a Four Tet song.
This playfulness extends to the song titles, too. “Hindustani Wireless Blackout” is actually overtly funny: after a couple seconds of a vigorous beat, the song cuts to near-silence. For a few minutes all you can hear, just above the threshold of audibility, is the brittle, ghosted remnant of a hand-drum part — until there’s a jolting glitch and we’re in the middle of a wailing, ecstatic groove. The title of the song is perfectly literal. On a more uncomfortable front, “Fond Memories of Idi Amin“‘s subcontinental instrumentation acquires a queasy irony in light of Amin’s expulsion of Indians from Uganda in 1972.
This more humourous approach makes Zuriff Moussa more listenable at first, but ultimately more questionable: while the more sonically abrasive records force you to immediately accept the violence as a ‘price of admission’ to their sonic worlds, Zuriff Moussa’s surface appeal takes away that distance, and makes you more complicit in the music’s ultimate brutality. It’s a disturbing effect and I’m still not sure how I feel about it.
Every once in a while when I defocus from the aggressive politics and industrial strength Orientalism, simultaneously dubious and alluring, I’m floored by the force and originality of Muslimgauze.
This piece, based on shuddering manipulations of voice samples, is an outlier in Jaal Ab Dullah’s world of shredded-speaker percussion. Even so, it’s constructed using the same mesmeric repetition. Looped, spliced, and juxtaposed, the speakers’ voices and the roaring background noise become a slow-motion doom-metal grind. It’s intense music, evocative of arid heat, tar-smelling asphalt, the smell of gasoline; but the decayed-tape sound and occasional digital beep add some aesthetic distance — this track doesn’t have the same visceral feeling of other Muslimgauze pummelers, which seem as if they intend to immerse you in rebellion and violence. Instead you feel removed from this song, almost in a documentary sort of way; it’s an unusual effect, and more subtle than usual for this white-hot artist.
Weird, I have been listening to this very album quite a bit lately (this is extra weird w/ Muslimgauze b/c he has something like 150 albums). And there is some amazing stuff on it, including this track. I have nothing to add here except that I agree with this take on it.
Well, this explains the coincidence: the summer I was getting into Muslimgauze, listening to records with names like Vote Hezbollah, Hussein Mahmood Jeeb Tehar Gass and Abu Nidal, I picked up Jaal Ab Dullah after reading your Resonant Frequency piece. Anxiety of influence!
Understandably for a artist who worked at the pace of a Twitterer rather than a novelist, a lot of Muslimgauze records sound like extended dubbish remixes of a small number or source sounds, like Vote Hezbollah’s exploration of echo-heavy house beats and melodica interjections. Jaal Ab Dullah, on the other hand, is particularly compelling — at least among what I’ve heard of those 150 records. It does a lot of the archetypal Muslimgauze things in one convenient dose, like the clipped-out jackhammer beats of “Old Bombay Vinyl Junkie”, jarring surges of volume in “Bright Shadows”, or queasy electroacoustic ambience in “Possess A Poppyhead”. Before I go on vacation this weekend, I’ll hopefully make it to Earwax in Williamsburg and pick up “Zuriff Moussa”, which is apparently also pretty powerful.