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For many of us in the English-speaking world, the Middle East remains a mysterious and misunderstood place. For those of us who love music, exploring artists from a different region can be a way to deepen our understanding and make the world seem a bit bigger and more expansive when it starts to feel small and repetitive.
Electronic music is arguably the most international genre, its basic forms and sounds able to be infinitely adapted to a variety of different influences and contexts. In this article we’re shining a light on five of the most exciting and experimental electronic artists in the Middle East right now. Engage with what’s here not as a novel “difference” from the mainstream, but rather as a sign of the future where music-making is interconnected and accessible to more people than ever before.
1. Deena Abdelwahed
From her native Tunisia via France, Abdelwahed made her name playing sets in places like The Boiler Room and Berghain. Her work fuses gritty urban dance rhythms with unconventional textures; it’s ambient, industrial, and traditional Arab music all wrapped up within an experimental techno framework. In an interview she poses a question that summarizes her artistic vision: “If the people who invented house and techno were Arab, if they had grown up with our rhythms and our instruments, what would it sound like? Would it be the drum and bass, house and techno we know today? I don’t think so.” Abdelwahed’s latest album is Khonna, released in November 2018.
2. Ash Koosha
He’s a virtual reality pioneer, a software humanist, a former rock musician and student of classical music. No surprise that Koosha’s current experimental electronic music embraces paradoxes. It’s chaotic, but reveals deep compositional intent. It’s futuristic while feeling nostalgic. It’s kitsch as well as sincerely melancholic. Born in Tehran and now based in London, he courts a vaporwave aesthetic and is firmly in the sonic vanguard of ambient sound. He has a bunch of stuff up on Bandcamp and the latest Stamina is a good place to start.
Syrian-American and with a voice gorgeous enough for radio, Káryyn entered 2019 running at full speed, with her full-length debut The Quanta Series earning rave reviews. The album is a meditation on memory, loss, and connections. Káryyn was compelled to write it after losing relatives in Aleppo in 2011. Her productions evoke the sounds of contemporary electronic music, but morph and shift to evoke the grief her music is channelling. Through it all, the music is held together by a core of great songwriting and Káryyn’s exceptional singing. You can listen to the album here.
With three heavy-duty club EPs under his belt, the Cairo-based producer dropped his debut full-length Terminal in late 2018. It’s a dense, intricate listen that meshes hip-hop, IDM, and ambient music. ZULI’s skills as a producer are constantly on display through his unique choice of textures and his intricate, obsessive rhythms. He never loses the streetwise attitude though.
You can listen to Terminal on Bandcamp, and he’s also worth reading: “When people talk to me, whether it be the press or peers in the scene I operate in, I am often approached with a preconceived notion of pretty much everything from my influences and taste to my politics and lifestyle, solely based on my nationality. It is a caricature that has proven very marketable, one that makes for a more interesting read/conversation/booking, apparently, than a multi-faceted (hence unique) human personality just like each and every one of us.”
His guest spot on ZULI’s “Kollu l-Joloud” brought his haunting voice to the forefront, and now Saudi Arabia’s mysterious MSYLMA has released his own debut record. Dhil-un Taht Shajarat Al-Zaqum draws lyrically upon pre-Islamic and Quranic poetry, exploring themes of existential angst over a backdrop of abstract, grimy beats. It’s not a conventional listen in any sense, but even without being able to understand the Arabic lyrics, there’s something immediate and emotional about MSYLMA’s plaintive vocals. You can grab the album through Boomkat.
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