Music industry conversations: Hicham Chadly

Cairo-based record label Nashazphone is now in its 11th year of operation with 23 albums (and counting) released under its roster. Founded in 2006 by its director Hicham Chadly, the label’s sonic and visual aesthetics shape a dark and noisy breeding ground for artists and listeners across a spectrum of niche genres, including but not limited to noise, punk, psychedelic and free jazz. With musicians from Alan Bishop’s Sun City Girls to Sam Shalabi’s oud and tape productions, to Islam Chipsy’s early lo-fi recordings, Nashazphone continues to release vinyl records from the avant-garde.

For our second industry talks conversation, 43-year-old Chadly, an Algerian-born Egyptian who is a mechanical engineer by day, sheds light on how Nashazphone works. We also discuss many other things, such as music formats, from vinyl to cassette to CD to digital, and how they have impacted music consumption, production styles and the fantastic disarray of the global music industry. And there’s a playlist at the end.

ME: How did you get into music?

HC: Like millions of other bored teens in the 1980s, I listened to a lot of things — from Michael Jackson to reggae to heavy metal to the Rolling Stones to, to, to…bumped into punk rock which pretty much changed my life. I became obsessed and quickly started to go deeper and deeper (and weirder) through the late 1980s and 1990s until I graduated from the American University in Cairo.

ME: What was it about punk and hardcore music that drew you?

HC: The raw energy of it — I thought it was no bullshit. But in retrospect I find it a bit absurd, while metal, which I sort of found pathetic back then, is really great. Wearing war paint and a bullet belt and running through a Scandinavian forest in sub-zero winter is in my opinion much cooler and more fun than singing and protesting about some hippie governor in California. But anyway… I quickly became completely and rabidly obsessed with the much noisier and weirder ends of punk rock, like the Butthole Surfers or Flipper or Big Black. Further down the line, I became really interested in labels and fanzines.

ME: Can you give some examples?

HC: Forced Exposure, of course. They are still around, but not as a magazine — the last issue was in 1993. They’re a big distributor now. I started to write to the labels – keep in mind this was pre-internet. We were in total obscurity here in Egypt, so what we’d do was read magazines that remotely covered these types of music and make lists of what seemed vaguely interesting. Then you’d give a $20 bill to anyone traveling to the west and ask them to get anything from that list. You would end up with great music, like Black Flag, or Spacemen 3. Or real horror, like the Afghan Wigs — it was really terrible. Then I got a bit bored of rock and roll — I think it was a 1990s thing — and got into weirder stuff, like noise, harsh noise in particular. It was the mid 1990s with the explosion of Japanese noise. I was also slowly becoming very attracted to free jazz, 20th-century neo-classical and avant-garde electronic music – got really deep into that. Obscure stuff from the 1960s started to emerge, like private-press rare psych and psych-prog reissues. Krautrock obscurities also started to emerge, outside of better known stuff like Can or Faust. And of course the internet was starting to happen and the increasing amount of information available made a huge difference.

I was writing to labels, and reading magazines like Bananafish, Muckraker, Grim Humor and Crank. I used to write to the artists and buy the vinyl directly because it was cheaper – you would just ask the person to write “printed matter/catalogues” on the parcel and it would pass as reading material or a magazine. Because with CDs or cassettes, customs would open the package and charge you about LE80. The CD was about $15 and vinyl was about $12. As long as they labeled it printed matter then it would pass through customs without any additional charge. It would come to the house unopened. This is how I started to collect.

It was also then that I started also thinking about wanting to do a label. Incidentally, my life took a turn and I went to join the person who owned my heart in Paris in 2003. By then I had established a few contacts from writing to many musicians, labels and magazines in that underground world, including Alan Bishop – by that time I was a rabid fan of the Sun City Girls. I told him I wanted to start a label and release a Sun City Girls album. He accepted, and so I started Nashazphone.

ME: It was just you that launched it?

HC: Yeah, it’s always been just me. It started in about 2004, but the first record, Sun City Girls’ Djinn Funnel, came out physically in 2006. I’ve also had the support of many close people who helped with everything, from just support to audio to artwork to calligraphy to photography.

ME: What drew you to Sun City Girls?

HC: Sun City Girls came out of the womb of punk rock I reckon, but not quite really as they obviously knew what they wanted to do early on and it was definitely not the typical punk “sound.” I guess punk rock allowed many outsider artists to display their work. It offered a stage and a circuit. For example, they opened for Black Flag. Anyway, their very particular and individual sound, which merged psychedelic, ethnic music influences, Dadaism in addition to jazz and free improvisation, was absolutely unique. And it was downright noisy and free and crazy – it was the exact cocktail I needed. In the late 1990s I was completely obsessed by Sun City Girls, Skullflower, Ramleh, The Dead C, Prick Decay, and pretty much anything that was released on labels such as Siltbreeze, Majora, Very Good Records, Chocolate Monk, Shock Records and a few others.

ME: So when you started, you weren’t focusing on music from the region, it was more genre based? Did you find that there was a void in that market where there weren’t enough labels representing noise?

If you take a few steps back, the music “industry” is a minor, minor, minor, nonsensical episode in the history of music

HC: No, it just started out as wanting to release stuff that I liked. I was almost clueless. It has always been a passion project. You see, I’m a terrible musician — I tried for a few years, it was horrible. It’s good for everyone that I stopped making music. I guess the label was the only way I could express myself. Meanwhile, I grew to understand that a label can be something other than a sugar daddy for musicians to release music. A label can have its own personality and aesthetic. The dream was at some point people can trust the label and discover something obscure through it.

But later with punk rock I saw the SST logo on album jackets (I am almost sure the Nashazphone logo is subconsciously inspired by the SST one). SST released Black Flag, The Meat Puppets, The Minutemen, Husker Du, Saccharine Trust, The Dicks, The Bad BrainsDinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth which are or have been some of my favorite bands at some point and the label was the common denominator. Another label that was really important to me was Touch and Go, which released records for The Butthole Surfers, Negative Approach, Die Kreuzen, Killdozer, Scratch Acid, etc.

When I got into free jazz and discovered labels such as BYG/Actuel from France, or ESP-Disk and Come Organisation or Broken Flag for industrial music, the idea that a label could have a definite personality was really anchored in my mind.

At first when Nashazphone started, I didn’t think I would be able to do vinyl because it’s in the realms of connoisseurs and I was completely ignorant.

ME: Knowing how to print proper vinyl quality and package it and such?

HC: Yeah, it’s a process. In the beginning I wanted to do CDs or a homemade CDR, but then Alan Bishop said what the fuck, let’s do a vinyl! So I thought what the hell, let’s try, and ended up continuing with vinyl and that’s all Nashazphone has ever released.

ME: How do you know how many copies to cut?

HC: It’s always a really bad decision. It’s always too little or too much. It’s tiring and always changing. Generally speaking I think the music industry is dead. It’s pointless in a way to make a label – no one really buys vinyl, except for middle-aged people.

ME: But it seems they’re making a comeback, I’ve read some articles on vinyl sales increasing.

HC: No, it’s bullshit. No one that’s 15 or 20 years old discovers music through vinyl. It’s just hype.

ME: They don’t discover, but they collect.

Music from beginning to end is a live experience, and listening to a recording is a commodity that had its charm

HC: No, it’s just the big labels destroying things once again. This vinyl revival is possibly harming music and smaller vinyl labels, because what happens is that the big labels start selling The Beatles Sgt. Pepper for the 15th time. They’ve managed to sell it through vinyl, 8-track, cassette, CD, and vinyl again to the same people with different packaging, more notes, thicker vinyl and fancier jackets. But what they’re doing is that they’re invading the limited number of press plants with massive reissue programs. Producing vinyl used to be affordable for small labels and the timescales were reasonable; the plants used to be able to deliver in three weeks or something. Now you have to wait six months. When I go and tell them I want to print 500 copies of Islam Chipsy’s album, they’d ask me to be patient because Blue Note wants to reissue their entire Miles Davis catalogue in big quantities — thousands.

What made vinyl survive through the 1990s, during the CD establishment, was small labels (noise, punk, metal, avant-garde, etc.) and most importantly techno DJs. All those are parked on the side now and have to suffer crazy timescales and cost. Also, recently, people are being served music on vinyl that we never dreamt of seeing: really obscure psych, impossible to find free jazz private presses from the 1970s, obscure punk rock or European hardcore from Finland, Yugoslavia, Italy, etc. So people are buying what’s a confirmed value. Long gone is the time where there was only 50 copies remaining of some psych-monster LP holy grail and pretty much no one could hear it, pre-internet. Now I can buy it for $20 on vinyl. So someone will go buy the beautiful Madrigal or Anonymous Inside the Shadow LP reissue, but not the new Porest or Sam Shalabi or ELG records, which they’d just check out on SoundCloud.

Porest: Modern Journal of Popular Savagery

So it’s makes it very, very difficult to release something — and more particularly from Egypt. Unless you publish records by Islam Chipsy, which is completely left field, new, amazing, crazy … then no. That’s why lately I’ve been apologizing a lot lately to people whose music I really respect but have to turn down. It’s a costly process. If I do for example 300 to 400 copies of X and it takes like five years to sell them all, then I’m really sorry I can’t. Nashazphone is financed by my day job as a mechanical engineer, so for it to continue money has to return within a reasonable period to be able to make more records.

ME: So when you look at artists to represent, how do you choose, what’s the process? You find a new artist or album and decide, hey I want to release their new album? Is there a contract? What do you offer them?

HC: Now I can somewhat afford it because Nashazphone is slightly established. There’s a tiny base of followers who look out for new releases to discover. I can tell now what will sell quickly and what will stay on the shelves, but in the very beginning I released records for bands that I liked a lot. I definitely do not regret having done that, but it sold really slow. It gave some sort of radical edge to the label, but commercially speaking not at all. So from the very beginning, after the Sun City Girls LP, I would contact bands directly to release something, but I’m also open to bands sending their work to me.

For example, recently, an artist from the north of France, Olivier Brisson, got in contact and sent me his tape work, which completely floored me. Hopefully, there will be an LP on Nashazphone within 2017.

In general, I really don’t care if it’s hi-fi or not. In fact, I actually prefer lo-fi, homemade recordings.

ME: Me too. Maybe its because I grew up on the cusp of analogue into digital. My adolescence was mostly tapes, but then in high school it changed because I went to school with Sean Parker, who invented Napster. So we were all over that shit from day one, it became an epidemic at my school.

HC: Yes. I just much prefer something homemade and personal. So usually they send me the master, I release the record. I try or rather insist on carefully selecting artwork—I recommend artists or ideas, or do it myself sometimes. When the record is out, I give the artist 20 percent of the pressing delivered to their door from the press plant, which is in Germany. I used to press in France, but now it is Germany — since I came back to Egypt in 2009, it’s become much more difficult to monitor the process, so I switched to Germany because the quality is definitely higher. While I lived in France, it was easy to drive to the press plant if anything was wrong, but now I can no longer do that and I am paying a little more for more reliability.

So usually I give the artist 20 percent. The artists sell the records at retail price via mail orders or on tour, and I sell at wholesale. Nashazphone is distributed exclusively by Forced Exposure in North America, which is a big honor really. In Europe, I’m distributed by a small jazz and improvisation distributor in France, Metamkine—they’re cool about keeping the unsold stock, which helps and I’m really grateful. In England, it’s Cargo Records.

ME: And where do they distribute to? Everywhere from the Virgin Megastores to the mom-and-pop shops?

HC: Yes, I guess. I’ve seen Nashazphone records on Amazon! When I was living in Europe I would write all the stores, distributors, mail-order platforms and ship their copies myself. For 500 copies, I’d keep a couple hundred at home which I’d sell myself, and send 100 to Forced Exposure, 100 to Cargo, and 100 to the distributor in France. Now I can’t sell that much from Egypt. I beg them to take 150 each, on consignment.

ME: How fast? What was your most successful, fastest moving album?

HC: Sun City Girls and Islam Chipsy — the live one especially. It sold out in three weeks — 500 copies in three weeks. And more recently, Alvarius B vs Abdel Baqy Byro in Cairo, Skullflower and Kleistwahr are very fast sellers.

ME: Who’s your audience? When you’re choosing these artists, do you have the audience in mind?

HC: When it’s an Alvarius B LP, you almost know all the audience by name because we’ve been buying from each other and from the same sources forever. But Islam Chipsy opened up a whole new channel of the “world music” spectrum that I wasn’t really exposed to. I’m not sure I really connect with that world though.

ME: I’ve never understood the term “world music,” it’s so imperialist. It’s like, “Ok, let’s put everything that isn’t English or American in this one giant ‘other’ category.”

HC: I didn’t want to get into that, but it’s neo-orientalism. It’s complete bullshit.

ME: Can you tell me more about your experience with noise/experimental in the region?

HC: The mystique is gone to find such projects, at least for me. It’s not like Japanese noise in the 1980s and 1990s, or Finnish hardcore or Brazilian thrash metal or Norwegian black metal where a new language was developed slowly. It’s more like perfecting an existing style, which is nice but somehow pointless, as it stays in the realm of its genre. In general, it feels less special in 2017 — with the exposure everyone gets, clicks away — to find a power electronics Lebanese project such as the excellent ultra right-wing KOUFAR, which is beautiful musically but kind of pointless in 2017, or power-violence hardcore Algerian band Demokhratia.

There are obviously exceptions, such as Abu Lahab from Morocco, mainly because he’s pushed the limit and conquered new grounds sonically, but in general, I’m more interested in very particular and individual original and raw sounds such as Konono No.1  or Islam Chipsy. And yet the uber-hype craziness around them, mainly due to modern-day over-exposure, kind of slowly kill them. Ideally someone like Islam Chipsy would push the envelope further, but that will never happen. A dream is that he’d do to Egyptian shaabi what Suicide (Rev/Vega) did to rock’n’roll and rockabilly. That’s something I definitely dream of, and not necessaraly on that confrontational level some local westernized bourgeois artists would want to duplicate. In fact, adopting a confrontational attitude is bland and literally mainstream nowadays, especially in the wake of money-sponsored “activism.”

ME: Speaking of money, back to the agreements with your artists. What kind of contracts do you sign?

HC: Almost no releases were made through a contract because I don’t own the artist’s music. It’s not mine. The vinyl is released on Nashazphone, it’s sold, they receive the royalties and copies, and that’s it. It’s all handshake deals. It’s total punk rock somehow. It’s 50/50. The only time I did a contract was with Islam Chipsy, and it was after the LP release. He had done a big sponsor contract with Pepsi and I got scared. I worried they’d say they owned the music and that I didn’t have the rights to print it, that they’d charge me, and I don’t have the power to fight the battalions of legal sharks they might have. So I asked Islam in this case to sign something authorizing me to release the music, which he generously did. And that’s only because there was a third party that could be a vampire.

ME: From my understanding, Sony signed 100Copies and/or some artists on distribution or licensing deals. For example the mahraganat music 100Copies produced was under an exclusive licensing by Sony, for example, but I don’t understand whether it’s distribution deals or licensing deals with artists from the region.

HC: I don’t think major labels do A&R (artist and repertoire) anymore — where they find an artist or band and them make them sing something sellable. Major labels will find your stuff to be cool and just make it up to sound more commercial, they’ll compress the drums, and all that studio time. Records sales aren’t their bread and butter anymore, it’s all about concerts, merchandise, online streaming.

With Nashazphone, artists send their music. I might not like it as much as their other work that attracted me initially, so it’s always a very sensitive moment when a master is sent. But, and I usually explain this clearly, if I ask an artist to send me a master, even if I don’t like it I will release it anyway because I wanted to put something out for them. But I will tell them honestly my opinion, even if it’s not positive. In general, there’s usually a middle ground where we can adjust everything, such as moving track positions and rearranging the sequence.

ME: But you don’t interfere with the music itself? Like a producer.

HC: No, but if I don’t like it I’ll say. As for the artwork, I propose stuff to keep a certain art direction or aesthetic for the label and it’s pretty much always OK. Islam Chipsy is the only one who refused an artwork — it was too abstract or weird for him I reckon. It was done by my friend Robert Beatty from Hair Police and Three Legged Race. He’s quite an established artist now and does covers for many indie bands. He’s very recently done a cover for The Flaming Lips. But often it’s me doing the artwork. Just a stupid collage, or using an image or painting I have.

ME: Tell me about the label’s name, “Nashazphone”.

HC: If I were to name it today, I’d probably pick something different. Do you know what “nashaz” is? “Nashaz” is a false note — dissonance — it was also playing off the old labels here, like CairoPhone, MisrPhone, therefore Nashazphone.

ME: Have you released anyone else from the region?

HC: I did Studio Sardena (Electro-Shaabi Mahragan), I’m very happy about that one. I think that’s the only one that’s electro-shaabi.

ME: And arguably Chipsy.

HC: Sardena is mahragan. I’m very happy about it, but it’s surprisingly a terribly slow seller.

ME: What about female presence on Nashazphone?

HC: We haven’t released any women yet as solo artists, but Smegma has two essential members who are women (Rock’n’Roll Jackie and Amazon Bambi), half of Blood Stereo is a woman, half of Hototogisu is a woman, half of Ashtray Navigation is a woman, and half of the mighty Skullflower is now a woman. My ultimate dream is to release a record for Elaine Radigue, who I adore.

ME: Do you engage much with the scene in Algeria? What is your and the label’s relationship with the country?

HC: I was born there and go at least once a year. I left as a small child, though I still have family and friends living there. There’s no real scene. It’s very small like here. It’s not very rooted. Mostly bourgeois kids, and their interpretation of what they like — of the weird, now that the weird is accessible on the internet. I do like a few artists though, such as Hohner Comet or anything by Redha Moula. I also collaborate with Sublime Frequencies, Alan Bishop and Hisham Mayet’s label. I put together two Algerian 1970s compilations for them, one covering the early Rai and the other folk-psych.

ME: One thing I’m trying to understand through these conversations, as Sarah El Miniawy and I discussed, is whether there is a scene here in Cairo or not. We can’t say there isn’t an alternative music scene here, there are quite a few bands, a handful of venues — I mean nearly 20,000 people went to one of the last Red Bull events with Sharmoofers, Cairokee, and all those pop-rock bands. But clearly no one is buying records — as Sarah said, there’s no industry.

This is something I completely admire about Egyptians and music: they are not fetishists

HC: The industry is dead everywhere. You cannot create it here because it’s not established. But this is something I completely admire about Egyptians and music: they are not ishishists. Once cassettes came about and everyone could trade music, it was pretty much the mass method of consuming music until the USB card came and overtook it. I really like that, it’s not materialistic, it is just down to the music.

As for the scene, I don’t want to sound like a reactionary old fart or anything – I mean there is a lot of talent here, I was recently blown away by Amr Al-Alamy / 1127, we might be doing an LP on Nashazphone – but in general musicians here don’t release enough, although there are dozens of really, really interesting small bedroom projects that I only wish published more music. I really wish people like Cherif Al-Masry, Adham Zidan, Nadah Al-Shazly, Sammy Sayed, Youssef Abou Zeid and many others would be more prolific and publish more.

[UK band] The Fall is releasing its 35th album soon I think. They just release pretty much every year. They don’t care if you like it or not, even when it was a big deal then to record an album in a studio. Now you have all these bands that take like two or three years to release anything on SoundCloud. They need to live their art more, to release and keep releasing, especially with the internet and all these platforms to publish music on. I think we are living one of the weirdest periods in music. There has never been so much good music out there, but no one knows how to find and apprehend it. There’s no frame anymore. There’s no real established record labels because no one gives a shit anymore. Everyone bypasses the established framework. No one reads music magazines anymore to be guided. It’s just through social networks, with an attention span of 30 seconds.

ME: I call it the millennial skip culture.

HC: We’ll see what happens. If I was 20 or 30 years younger I would definitely be browsing BandCamp every day and just using keywords to search for artists and listen. Whenever I actually have the time to do that, a few times a month, I’m always blown away by people from all over, these guys from Ukraine or Uruguay or Bangladesh doing crazy weird free sounds. Why would they release it in the end on a physical product? I don’t know, maybe at some point this device [points to smart phone] will turn into something that will display artwork in a nicer manner so I’m walking around listening to this super cool band from Bosnia, and really gazing at the artwork, completely immersed in it. But the hardware isn’t there yet for a unique experience.

ME: I think it’s hard to geographically separate these terms, “global music industry” and the “regional music industry,” because the industry as a whole, as we said, is struggling. It’s like media, now that media is online no one expects to pay for it, and while we believe information should be free, we’re all scrambling to monetize. How do you still create an economy around knowledge-based creation?

HC: I don’t think in the beginning there was supposed to be an economy around music. Sharks just took over youth culture. “Investors” saw the number of people at Woodstock, all they saw was money potential. If you take a few steps back, the music “industry” is a minor, minor, minor, nonsensical episode in the history of music. Music from the beginning to the end is a live experience, and listening to a recording is a commodity that had its charm. Now we’ll see what’s coming next.

ME: And what do you have coming up for release soon?

HC: There’s about 10 albums scheduled for release. Two by Skullflower, which are part of the trilogy that started with the recently released The Black Iron LP, the previously mentioned tape work by Olivier Brisson, the forever coming Egyptian shaabi compilation This is Cairo, Not the Screamers, 1127, a Scorpion Violente LP, hopefully other Porest and Sam Shalabi LPs, in addition to a few others.

The other recently released LP, alongside Alvarius B and Skullflower, is by Kleistwahr, which is the solo, very bleak, electronics project of Gary Mundy of Ramleh – another idol of mine along with Alan Bishop and Matthew Bower of Skullflower. He used to do one of the greatest labels ever in the history of noise, called Broken Flag. The cover art photos [for our LP] come from this project by two German photographers, called Sinai Hotels. It features unfinished hotels in Sinai, like the structures you see pretty much anywhere in Egypt. I adored the photos and proposed them to Gary, which he liked. I wrote to the photographers and asked if we could use the photos, and they graciously accepted.

ME: Let’s talk more about noise. I know you are quite involved with what’s coming out of Europe, but is there anything exciting happening here? Is noise a thing here?

HC: Not really, except for early live shows by Islam Chipsy which really flattened me, when they were playing on overload and bad PAs. It was super loud for an hour and a half. It was noise. And totally my zone. But then again, that is not necessarily what Chipsy’s band EEK wanted.

ME: That was some of their charm, their lo-fi sound when they came out. End of the day, I don’t care where the music goes or doesn’t because its totally up to the musicians, but I was excited about mahragan. Largely because I’m a techno kid, I love rattling bass and dance floor tracks. With mahragan I felt like Egypt finally had its own, honest brand of electronic dance music that wasn’t DJ/producers ripping off the west. It was so Egyptian and perfect for the dance floor.

HC: Yeah, but these guys want to make it big. They want to fill stadiums, they don’t want to play in an underground basement — and that’s 100 percent their right. That’s when we get into the whole neo-orientalism sickness of it all. In my humble opinion, I think the revolution, regardless of how excited we were about it and all our hopes, destroyed the music scene. There was an art dynamic and momentum that was building during the end of Hosni Mubarak’s regime that made a quantum shift in the local creative output – it gave us all these art spaces, it gave mahraganat, and all these underground micro-scenes that gravitated around 100Copies. There was an acceleration in 2005 under Mubarak because it was in fact the only way to really vent artistically. Maurice Louca, for example, came out of that very fertile period. And suddenly the revolution and this subconscious self-awareness happened where certain musicians started to think they were the sound of the revolution, or the sound of change. Add to that the focus and money that came from abroad and sprayed all these artists, and made them think this is the way it should be.

There was an art dynamic and momentum building during the end of Mubarak’s regime that made a quantum shift in local creative output

Before thinking what scenes abroad want you to sound like, I suggest you play and play and play locally – again. Just like the Ramones in the early 1970s played for five years in small clubs in New York until they mastered 50 songs, and then went to record. But they played for their friends every single day for years. Why don’t people start more house parties with bands? Like the really inspiring Canale Undici events recently organized in Maadi by Alberto Boccardi and Ismail Hosny. Play live and publish! There are some labels like John Olson’s (of Wolf Eyes) American Tapes. It’s a psychedelic improv noise label and one of the best. John Olson is one of the greatest artists alive. His label published 1000 releases in a few years — he does the artwork himself. He does editions of 10, or 50 or 100. All handmade. He doesn’t care if you like it or not. Just don’t take yourself too seriously.

ME: You’ve released a lot of jazz on your label — tell me about that.

HC: Well it’s not your traditional jazz, but weirder. I released three or four of those. One is a midwest US duo called Slither — it’s Heath Moerland and Chris Pottinger from Michigan. I love what they do individually. Chris with his Tasty Soil label and Heath who does one of my favorite labels in the past 15 years, Fag Tapes. Heath has a solo project, Sick Lama, which is equally fantastic. It’s basically tape noise in addition to a clarinet and an alto saxophone played through effects pedals. Nashazphone also released a record by the Cincinnati, Wasteland Jazz unit — it’s two saxophones running through a mess of effect pedals. It’s super noisy. There’s also two LPs by a French free improvisation giant, Jean-Marc Foussat, who masters the VCS3 synthesizer. One is his duo with Sylvain Guerineau on tenor saxophone (Aliquid), and the other is with Aurelien Brousseloux on alto saxophone and guitar. I also consider Sam Shalabi to be jazz, although it’s via oud and tapes.

Sam Shalabi – Isis and Osiris

ME: I loved his show here at ZigZag a couple months ago with the Dwarves of East Agouza. It was one of, if not the best live show I saw in Egypt last year. The project online is excellent, but even better live — talk about developed musicians.

HC: Yeah, they have three heavyweights in that band.

ME: That’s the thing, the band culture seems to be dying out a bit with the technology leading everyone to solo projects and synthesized instruments. I miss the band feel, instead of just watching one person.

Since you’ve been consuming music through various forms, be it cassette, the CD, vinyl, do you see any new form coming about through digital platforms?

HC: I’ve asked myself before, why are musicians still releasing “12-track albums” or “EPs” on SoundCloud and Bandcamp? Why don’t they play with the form or length more? It made sense when albums were being printed on vinyl or tape or CD that the time was limited, but now that most artists are releasing directly online…? In the past, the support dictated the length, since it was really imposed by the industry. The 8-track and cassette brought recorded music into cars. The 12″ 45 rpm allowed extended disco tracks and mixes. CD on the other hand was sold as a superior sound quality support, which isn’t really true, but its global success is mainly due to its practical size and the fact it could carry longer times. Anyway, good music is good music — whether it’s 140 minutes or three.

Playlist: noise music, free jazz, and the avant-garde with Nashazphone:


Maha ElNabawi 

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