ABADIR (Rami Abadir) is a music producer and sound designer who was born in Cairo, Egypt. His work focuses on experimental, club, glitch and ambient music, and he’s one half of the duo 0N4B. ABADIR holds an MA in Digital Media Design from the University of the Arts, Bremen. His latest album, called “Mutate”, is out now via Svbkvlt.
When I hear the dramaturgy of your tracks, the bass and oscillation between suspense and release, wrapped in an ethereal haunted vocal veil, I imagine a world that has passed us by, with its lingering Mark Fisherian ghosts. Can you talk about the aesthetic and conceptual worlds that your music stems from?
My approach to each album is different. Every project has its own context and depends on several factors, like personal experience, how I’m feeling, the change of the seasons, what I’m reading and what I’m listening to. The context is always important, so, for instance, I couldn’t deliver a club album in the middle of the pandemic, so I was more into making music for listening. But the common element in my music is connecting with people/listeners, it’s about communication, and I tend in my music to combine what is familiar, weird and possibly unexpected. There are not so many conceptual worlds or critical issues I’m trying to tackle or solve in my music, although I’m very much into theory when it comes to reading. The only exception was my master’s thesis project, which is related to nostalgia in late capitalist societies, and there are some concepts related to Grafton Tanner, Nick Srnicek and a bit of Mark Fisher (from his Postcapitalist Desire phase); it’s a 45-minute sound piece, hopefully, to be released next year. In a nutshell, my music focuses more on communicating with listeners, and I think it’s also emotionally charged.
My aesthetics are usually heavily influenced by the very wide selection of music I listen to, which is why I don’t like to stick to a single sound. The club influences in my latest album, Mutate, are quite obvious. In other works, like Pause/Stutter/Uh/Repeat, I created epic sounds using choir, organ, harsh synth, and heavy drums and glitches in between. On a different occasion, like in Liminal, I chose to make an ambient, contemplative sound. Speaking about Fisherian ghosts, my use of the archive is entirely unrelated to hauntology. On the contrary, it’s to create new sounds. I’m actually not a big fan of hauntology’s mournful sense and connection to the failure or the cancellation of the future. This could have been valid in the 2000s, but in my opinion, the future has been completely uncancelled in music over the last decade, and especially during the last years. In addition, the whole theorisation behind hauntology, lost futures and the cancellation of the future is based mostly on a local British context, and I think the failure of the future or the disappearance of what is new isn’t applicable in other regions.
Then again, you also mentioned in an interview you are “absolutely against nostalgia.” Are the future and futurism things you are interested in? How to make sounds that are unheard?
That was a big statement, I guess, haha, I wouldn’t say that now. I think my old point of view against nostalgia was a reaction to the rise of a nostalgic wave in Egypt from 2013/14. Broadly speaking, there are of course very negative aspects of nostalgia, but we can’t totally avoid it, we are humans with memories and emotions, and the question is how to use nostalgia or engage with the past in a subversive way and without mourning. In his book The Hours Have Lost Their Clocks, Grafton Tanner deeply analyses nostalgia, its bad corporate and political side, but also acknowledges it and offers a way to deal creatively with the past.
I’m not interested in futurism anymore, I’m rather living the present, creating stuff and getting inspired by others in the present and trying to push forward the potential embedded in the past without mourning it, and using it creatively with the aim of creating something “new”. I think the whole relationship between what is new and the future has become exhausted; this relationship is not even new anymore and I think there must be more factors determining what is new rather than tying it to the future. The whole theorisation about futurism and the future was for me dated after COVID. COVID was a turning point for me, as it proved that the future isn’t guaranteed; we speculate a lot, get obsessed with the future, and then an event comes to destroy all of this. However, many artists and players in the scene still continued with their futuristic themes. For me, this seemed like escaping to the future, which is similar to escaping to the past.
The idea of the future has become a cliché, especially when it comes to understanding and decoding various non-western cultures. According to the Western mindset, a “new” or an unheard or unseen thing in Asia, Africa, or the Arab region is perceived or imposed as the future, and the reason is that many perceive it as an alien coming from a different dimension, so the easiest way to think about their music or art is to brand it as “Future cyber-African post-you name the rest”. This shows a lack of effort to ask, learn and understand and trace the origins and the various factors behind this music and art, (theoretically it’s very idealistic rather than materialistic) and a failure to perceive it as music that belongs to a certain geographical region, where artists use their cultural (and internet) influences through common technology. When it comes to non-western electronic music, the use of the term “future” is reduced to an alien artist doing weird things, or simply the “other”. This “future” is forced on artists whose concepts and music are not even future-based.
In order to make sounds that are unheard, I think one needs to do one’s best to listen to a very wide spectrum of music from different times and regions; passion and curiosity are the key elements here. So, being an expert sound designer or producer is never enough.
Have you been influenced by Cairo’s sonic topographies – in terms of its “natural” sounds of the city (car horns, clacking, chattering, the daily hustle and bustle, basically) to its musical (e.g. Mahraganat, etc.).
In terms of sound, I think I must be unconsciously affected by Cairo’s natural sounds. I felt this so much when I moved to Germany and I realised I can’t stand small (or relatively small) cities like Bremen, partly because of their quietness. Recently, I’ve been using samples related to Egypt and its music and implementing natural sounds from Cairo, as they are full of life and unpredictable, especially in busy areas. You can hear them in El 3ataba Interlude and Ya Nasim from Mutate. I’m personally more into Egyptian music from the 90s and before, and yes, I like Mahraganat. To what extent all this has influenced me, I’m not sure.
You studied digital media design in Bremen. How has this influenced your sound design and its deconstruction?
Studying digital media played an important role in conceptualising my music. Before, it was leaning towards formalism. I didn’t resist conceptualising my music, but I was very aware of not forcing any narrative on my music and not compromising my music for the sake of narrative. This was refreshing, inspiring, and opened many doors for me in making music and enhancing my sound design.
You have been connected to the Arab sonic world. How do you see its development (although it’s clear it’s not a monolithic scene), and what are some of your favourite producers or projects?
The Arab region is now very active, thanks to a rise in the number of producers and DJs. There’s a big lack in the number of venues in each city compared to big cities in Europe, but this doesn’t stop the electronic music community from growing. Every year there are new names, from Morocco and Tunisia to Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine, for instance. You can check some of this new generation of great producers from Egypt in the latest compilation by Irsh, such as ltfll, Qow, Postdrone, Ashrar, Yaseen and Assyouti. There are also many other favourite producers, such as Ismael, ZULI, 1127, Onsy, Kareem Lotfy and 3Phaz. I also like a lot the latest projects by Julmud, Liliane Chlela, Najib, Nancy Mounir, Toumba, oldyungmayn, Van Boom, D3M0R, the ambient stuff by FRKTL, Pie Are Squared, Obay Alsharani and the crafty sound design of Disektor.
You have a new album called “Mutate” on SVBKVLT. “ Instead of ‘deconstructing’ or generally looking beyond club music, I made some fatty, straight-up dance floor music” is how you described it. Can you elaborate?
I recorded Mutate with the mindset of making an accessible club album. I find deconstructing club or music, and post-club is just another way to label music as experimental or adventurous. But I can sense some level of elitism in this neologism, trying to make the music output more exclusive or special. Of course, there must be some level of experimentation in Mutate, but my aim is to create a link between what is popular and what is experimental, making adventurous music accessible to everyone and, on the other hand, bringing pop or accessible elements to those who are into experimental music. The result is straight-up dance floor music devoid of any labels or fancy elitist terms.
Mutation and the ability to change is something crucial in any artistic field. What does mutation mean to you?
It took me a while to reach this ‘mutating’ approach. I got interested in electronic music from the 2010s and I noticed two things; 1) the exoticisation of Arabic elements in music by western media, press, audience and labels; 2) artists making fusion music, i.e., a bit of very common electronic music layered with kitschy vocal or Arabic music samples. The exoticism made me very self-conscious about using Arabic elements, because I didn’t want my sound or identity as an Arab to be subject to exoticisation. As a reaction, I avoided Arabic influences, which isn’t fair because I grew up in Egypt and, of course, I absorbed a lot of Arabic music, and it doesn’t make sense to shy away from using its sonic elements in my music. There’s no way to completely escape exoticism, but there’s still so much potential in Arabic music that I can reclaim from exotic narratives instead of my old knee-jerk response to Arabic influences in electronic music. Then I found the music of 3Phaz and TSVI and other examples from different regions, like 33EMYBW, Hyph11E and Bungalovv, using their cultural heritage or local music creatively. Their music is adventurous and not fusion oriented. I started to think about an alternative to fusion and then came the idea of mutation; while in fusion the used elements can be easily detected and separated, in mutation the output is a melted piece that cannot be broken down into its separate inputs; it’s as if I add two components together and the result is a new product. Then the Arabic rhythms are mutating those club genres and maybe refreshing them, and vice versa.
And, last but not least, what are your dreams?
Just simple stuff, continuing to do what I like to do – making music, learning new things, eating nice food, reading, laughing.
Interview by Lucia Udvardyova