- Unplaceable IDM, rap and ambient on Lee Gamble's label.
- On three weighty EPs for Haunter Records and UIQ, Ahmed El Ghazoly has asserted himself as an individual rather than a member of a tribe. Hearing his heavily textured, abstract club 12-inches, you can sense why he's keen to present himself as ZULI, rather than "the Egyptian electronic producer ZULI." The music media's fascination with Cairo's maghranat and electro chaabi styles probably says as much about our desire for novelty and exoticism as it does about the city's electronic scene. ZULI's music is divorced from the country's folk traditions.
Ghazoly spent his childhood in the UK, but as a Cairean he has become an important figure in the city's tiny scene, having cofounded the short-lived but influential VENT club. His destabilised rhythms, bleary collages and obsessively intricate textures have a certain British wonkiness about them, nodding to heavy-but-clever music by Autechre, Cut Hands, Hessle Audio and UIQ's Lee Gamble. This year's "Trigger Finger" single—the jungle one that scares you into thinking your speaker's just blown out—manages to be gloomy, punishing and ecstatic all at once. But on his debut album, Terminal, El Ghazoly branches out from the club to present a sprawling moodboard of bruising IDM, noisy rap and ghostly ambience.
Early on, a cluster of tracks provide a logical continuation from his EPs: the mashed grime of "Bump" with its "rude boy" sample, ghost-in-the-machine IDM antics on "Wreck" and "He's Hearing Voices," and a near-cinematic sense of urban desolation on "Stacks & Arrays." Other tracks crack into the rest of El Ghazoly's abilities as a producer. The opener, "Nari," is heavy as a battle tank, levelling the ground with a battery of bass blasts. Through the murk, you can make out the warped raps and grunting ad libs of Cairo rappers Abyusif, Mado $am, Abanob and R-Rhyme.
It's Abyusif who takes the limelight on much of the record, first on "Archimedes," a stop-start trunk-rattler. His phlegmy raps add a specificity to the project, like a voice calling out on the street. (That many listeners won't understand him seems to be acknowledged in advance, as El Ghazoly applies a sticky smear of vocal processing.) On "Mazen," the rapper is just an instrument, a pained gargle echoing through an abyssal beat. No longer in braindance territory, we're now closer to the brazen decibel-chasing of The Bug, or even the gristle and noise of Death Grips.
With the exception of the eerie posse cut "Ana Ghayeb," which slots into the current wave of emo rap as Mado $am, Abanob and Abyusif let their voices crack and crumble through AutoTune, the second half of the album mostly dissolves into eerie ambient collage, not all of which feels essential. The piano loops and sparse rustlings of "In Your Head" recall Ryuichi Sakamoto's pensive atmospheres. "Vulnerbody" is a crumbling monolith of fractured, Tim Hecker-esque drones.
Terminal, with its sense of ending, is a funny name for a first album. But there's also the airport kind, where the journey starts—a sense of possibility. For an artist who's already proved himself capable of making innovative, thoughtfully executed club music, Terminal introduces ZULI as a more idiosyncratic personality. That's most obvious on "Kollu l-Joloud," the album's haunting centrepiece, where stuttering Autechrian clicks provide an uneasy platform for MSYLMA as he sings a lament in Arabic. You don't need to understand the words to appreciate the emotion.
01. Nari feat. Abyusif, Mado $am, Abanob, R-Rhyme
02. Archimedes feat. Abyusif
05. He's Hearing Voices
06. Stacks & Arrays
07. Kollu l-Joloud feat. MSYLMA
08. Akhtuboot feat. Abyusif
09. Mazen feat. Abyusif
10. Follow Your Breath
11. Ana Ghayeb feat. Mado $am, Abanob, Abyusif
12. In Your Head