Muslimgauze: The Beat of Revenge
He is not a Muslim, an Arab or even a descendant of the Middle East. In fact he has never even been to Palestine, and has no ambition of ever going at all. He doesn't even maintain any contact with Arabs in and around his home town of Manchester, England. Through all of this, Bryn Jones, the brain behind the industrial-tinged ethno ambient music of Muslimgauze, has fuelled more than his share of the Arabic fire in the last half of the decade.
Musically, Muslimgauze is quite difficult to nail down for the most part. Sometimes it is very thick with rabid percussion and Middle Eastern themes. Other times, it is very stripped down and almost ambient. Then comes the dense industrial ended releases that throw you off even further. In the same way he disassociates himself from Arab culture, he is equally isolated from the musical world. He doesn't listen to other people's music, it is that simple. So, how does such an isolationist keep a fire burning that has resulted in well over 30-odd releases over the last few years? Unfortunately, questions like these never seem to pop up in many interviews with the band. The pre-occupation with the group's pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel political beliefs always seems to distract many interviewers into a totally one-dimensional article. This time around, let's find out more about the releases and music itself and leave the politics to a dull roar.
What about the split with Extreme?
With Extreme, there was trouble with money and a problem with them releasing things when I wanted them released, which is important. If I am in a position where I want something put out, it's put out when I say. I've been lied to; unpaid since 1990. I've spoken to one other [Extreme] band and they're not being paid, either. I told Extreme they performed badly and I was leaving to join up with Staalplaat and Soleilmoon, who had been tracking us for awhile. I know of about four others that have left since we did. The Vote Hezbollah CD was supposed to be released on Extreme but it went to Soleilmoon instead, and that's where it all started. The contract we have with Soleilmoon/Staalplaat states we can release with other labels, it just depends. That's a clause they worked in because they knew there was going to be a lot of material, so it's up to me, really. I've just given one to a Belgian label called Silknoose. I'm much happier now to say the least.
Would you ever consider trying to re-release those titles somewhere else where you would get paid?
Most of the master tapes are lost; virtually everything was, actually. With things going around the world, you can't really keep track sometimes. I know you can press off a CD nowadays so I suppose it could be possible. It's best to release a new one rather than to release an old one, anyway.
Your releases are often thick with remixes and alternate versions of some tracks. Is this because you can never fully commit to one mix?
They're not really "remixed." When a track is recorded, we usually do eight different mixes of it. We try to get a different angle on each mix between me and the engineer. I do four mixes and the engineer does four. They're listened to later on and the best ones are picked, maybe two or three depending on the release. It's all quite on purpose. With this you must realize, every release could be a double CD. The tracks we use are those that tend to jump out. If you've got a group of four to six tracks, then obviously one, two, or three of those will tend to do so.
What about the appearance of a shortened version of "Hebron Massacre" on Salaam Alekum, Bastard?
I put that on there because I didn't know "Hebron Massacre" was going to be a limited edition. I put it on when I found out so people who couldn't get the limited edition could have it. Again, we didn't "remix" the track, we just used one of the other original mixes. Even though "Hebron Massacre" is close to a half-hour long, we still did six to eight mixes of it.
Have there ever been any exceptions to this?
It was different with Emak Bakia. That wasn't me, it was Concrete Productions who did those mixes. I'd like to say we gave them permission to do them, but we really didn't. It was an old German album that somebody got hold of and passed it on to Concrete, I suppose. The material is more than five years old but I still consider it to be okay. I would never go that far back myself. Once something is done, we don't go back to it because we always have so many new ideas to work with. It isn't really creative. If someone else wants to, it depends on the results. The Infidel release was quite good. People are just starting to ask first now. We had a Canadian phone last week who was using a sample off one of the CDs and wanted permission which was fine by me. Someone else just recently remixed "Bandit Queen" as well.
Vote Hezbollah is one of your darkest recordings to date. What made it so much more sinister than the rest?
At the time, I think Hezbollah were standing for election in Lebanon. So, it was based on the feeling of them getting to power and using the power to pass it on to the people. They were gaining wide recognition for what they were trying to do. It was my point of view from the outside.
Will you ever try to repair the tracks from Zealot that were ruined by the distortion?
No, the distortion happened while they were being pressed so it can't be re-pressed. It's a high-register recording so it just made the equipment go crazy. Those ideas have already spread into the new stuff so that's it! We're told that there are too many releases as it is. I make the time to put out so much material because it's so important to me and there so many ideas. It's the output of my life, the final thing. People also say they sound the same, too. The difference in releases is incredible, I think. You can't compare Zealot to Salaam Alekum, Bastard, they just don't sound the same. I like all of my releases but certain ones stick out. Betrayal and obviously Salaam, as well.
What about the political edge of Muslimgauze?
It all started with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon about 11 years ago. When I hear of a violent act committed against Arabs by the Israeli government complete revulsion and disgust sets in. It's such a vile regime, the Arab culture is so creative as opposed to what Israel does. The "invisible hands of revenge" [as mentioned in the sleeve notes of Salaam Alekum, Bastard] refer to anyone that kills Palestinians, it's that simple. If you kill someone you deserve what you get. As you know, all of the ideas in Muslimgauze are based on political facts involving many things such as the occupation of Palestine. It just fuels what we do. What people think of that as a whole, I don't know. You can just listen to the music or you can throw it into the political ring. It's entirely up to the individual, really. We sometimes get idiots that send "hate" letters about our beliefs. They're just abusive notes that get read once and put in the bin. You can't really sit down and worry about what people think about you. You'll drive yourself nuts on it so you just carry on.
What about some of the people with which you've worked?
Of the engineers I've worked with, I think John Delf is working out well. I know we'll be working more in the future. Right now, it's just me making the music, it's my brain. This way it's my fault if something doesn't work right. A lot of people tend to put just my name on reviews which I'm not really keen on. It's unimportant who gets credited, which is why there are no photographs. We don't play live at the moment. It just seems like a dead medium, really. Maybe in the future we'll do it with some film or video, which does make it more interesting than just standing there. I tried that once and it was a complete disaster. We do a lot of playing at the Abraham Mosque which is a community center for teaching theatre groups. I just go in between lessons and thrash about.
What about the instruments you use?
The bell and the Arab drum would probably be the key instruments used. We don't sample things, they all come off cassettes taped from radio. I hate samplers, each beat is hit live without being looped, we don't steal things like other people do.
How about the reaction to your music around the world?
There's no response in the UK. It's all America and Europe, we're just ignored here. We see very little, just the odd review here and there. We don't get many fan letters and we don't do many interviews. There was no interest for awhile, really. I don't know if it's the politics or what, I don't know why. Things are picking up slowly, though. Between now and last year, we've done about four interviews and before that there was just one. It's happening all over the world, people are just popping out all of a sudden.
You've experimented with a number of different formats from DAT to colored vinyl and 3" compact discs. Who's idea was this?
It's down to the labels and distributors. Nobody touches vinyl anymore which is why the music is mostly on CD. I suggested different sizes to Staalplaat but they never really took me up on it until Drugsherpa. The labels also do all of the album art themselves. They usually listen to the music and then adapt images they know I'll like. I'm just too busy doing music, really. I was particularly impressed with the Veiled Sisters cover.
What got you into playing music and what did you do before Muslimgauze?
I just tinkered about before. I didn't have a band, I just played around. The more famous German bands are what we listened to before we decided to start making music ourselves. Now, we just like getting in our own sort of cocoon and concentrate on what we are doing. It just barely supports me financially. I'm not making this kind of music to make money because you don't. Getting paid has been a nightmare to this point but we still don't sell enough. I have no interest in other people's music and don't listen to much of anything other than Muslimgauze. I'm very introverted in that way.
Interview by Aaron Johnston
Reprinted from Carpe Noctem™ Magazine, Volume II, Issue 3
© 1995 Carnell