Bryn Jones Speaks: Muslimgauze

Bryn Jones did not practice Islam, and he never ventured to the Middle East. Nevertheless, his works under the alias Muslimgauze positioned him as one of the Western artists who overtly supported the Palestinian liberation movement. Jones could have been a potentially controversial figure had his releases been available in anything other than extremely limited editions — typically consisting of fewer than one thousand copies for each title. Despite not achieving widespread recognition, Jones’s fusion of found-sound Middle Eastern and South Asian atmospheres, characterized by heavily phased drones and intricate rhythm programs, stood out as one of the most astonishing and distinctive contributions within the realms of noise and electronica underground. The Muslimgauze project came to a tragic conclusion in 1999 with Jones’s sudden passing due to a rare blood disease.

Bryn Jones
Bryn “Muslimgauze” Jones

Bryn Jones, in the early days of his career as Muslimgauze, is asked all of the questions that Roger Richards, Director of Extreme, wanted to know as both a fan of his music and as the director of a label that was instrumental in making Muslimgauze infamous to this day.

The origin of the band?

Well, the band Muslimgauze started around 1983 when I was a member of another band and I left to pursue my own musical ideas which were politically influenced by certain events that were happening around the world.

The source of the name of Muslimgauze or the name of the word Muslim?

It’s not only a type of religion but also a very thin material, which is gauze. Putting these two words together feels quite natural. Muslimgauze also reflects my interest in its particular area of the world — a very troubled area of the world. An area of the world that will, quite soon, in the very near future, affect virtually the whole world when that particular area really explodes.

Babylon Is Iraq
Babylon is Iraq

What musical background finally surfaces Muslimgauze?

Well, the whole music is politically influenced before a sound is made, thus the background. I think I would make some sort of music if it weren’t for the political situations but they do influence the type of music I do. The sounds I use, the ideas I use. They are affected by personal beliefs.

What came first, the music or the political interest?

Muslimgauze in particular is a political interest. Perhaps I should say the political interest is the Palestinian situation, the Afghanistan situation, Iran, and the Gulf War. Those are the main three political pillars or backbone of Muslimgauze. It’s trying through music to bring these situations more in prominence to people. Say somebody who likes a piece of music buys the album and sees the titles and the influences of the music pointing to these themes. Then these people just may look into it and hopefully change their ideas about it because I think people seem to have media-fed images of these places. I need and want people to start thinking about these political and world areas. Start thinking about them more because they really, really are important.

Sulayminiyah
Sulaymaniyah

Numerous releases, when and how were they financed?

Each release finances the next release. If an album does not sell, that is it I think. We work on a very tight shoestring budget, it really is. It’s one release finances the next. We paid for the whole pressings, all the sleeves, and everything from Limited 1, 2, and 3. And from Limited 4, 5, and 6, we’ve secured a manufacturing and distribution deal with the [unintelligable] in England. Which really does help out.

Limited 4, “Hajj” brought a distinct change in your musical refinement. What caused this?

Yes, I think we started to find the path that we were searching for musically on the “Hajj” album. Before that, I did feel that each album was a bit patchy and some of the ideas were not too refined, as you say in the question. But now from the album on, the last two or three albums, we’ve found and improved upon the area of music I want to produce. And particularly the new album, we’ve started to hit the nail on the head I think. I think we’re starting to produce the type of music that Muslimgauze wants to release. And I do like the new album, it is the best material that’s been released so far.

Is each album a progression of ideas or musical development?

Certainly, it is, yes. We have progressed, the band Muslimgauze has progressed. Musically definitely, there’s no question about that. And also in putting over a political message, I feel we’ve resisted the preaching approach, which I really did want. There’s nothing worse than somebody preaching, that’s why I feel that we benefit from there being no songs or lyrics where you can preach at people. There’s a piece of music and it’s been given a title that points you in a direction. It doesn’t tell you to think a certain way about a piece of music, you can just take the piece of music and leave it at that. But I do hope that the title points you in a certain direction and that you’re interested in that direction.

Can you explain the album titles?

Well, each piece of music is influenced by a certain event, Gulf War. In certain countries like Iran, Libya, and Afghanistan, there are definite themes behind every piece of music. Every album title, the whole thing that Muslimgauze produced, there is something behind it.

Hamas Arc
Hamas Arc

Does Muslimgauze perform live? Have you ever wanted to tour, and if so, possibly Australia?

Muslimgauze has only ever done one live performance, and that was last year in Holland. The only reason we agreed to perform was because we were asked to do so, specifically asked to perform at this particular three-band event. And one of the bands played with me as Muslimgauze. It was a very, very weird experience, the first time live. I don’t particularly want to play live again actually. It was a detached feeling, where you have to think about so many things at once. It was a confused blur and I can’t remember much about it. I don’t think it was that good, because the preparation just wasn’t there. I mean, I would have liked large backdrops and projections and some sort of a dance troupe and things like that. But I mean the expense was just too much and it was a pretty hastily put-on event. I didn’t think much about it. I don’t think we’ll perform live, not in the near future anyway.

Has recognition grown with the passing of time or has the same audience been maintained?

Recognition, not so much recognition, no. We’ve not grown that much. There are particular areas where we’ve found a brick wall being put up in our way, particularly America. Where we’ve experienced some, well I wouldn’t say it was censorship, but something quite similar. Posters are not used, distributors dropping out, and people having trouble selling things. Again, things like this, tapes or written interviews, just not being able to find anyone. You know, anyone that will use them. It’s been quite tough there. But other areas, certainly Europe have increased interest. Seems to be quite a wide open area there where certain unusual ideas are more accepted.

Are you solely a musician or do you work for yourself?

Yes, at the moment we are solely a musician, solely releasing what we do. Not making that much money out of it, virtually nothing. But again, you can’t be in this area of music and expect to make money because you just don’t. Because it’s just self-financing. If you make some money, you tend to plow it into recording the next album. Most of the… Well, all of the albums so far have been 8-track. Recorded 8-track bar one, which was the Jazz Rattle Arab album, which was Limited 5, the last album. It was recorded 24-track and was mixed digital. That took quite a bit of money to do. It was something I felt we had to do, was to try and step up the recording facilities and the quality. In actual fact, the end result wasn’t that a great improvement on an 8-track. 8-track is very, very raw and spontaneous. You tend to plan more when you’re working 24-track. And my music is quite spontaneous and quite a, the ideas are in a live situation, quite live. And the clinical planning of the 24-track plus the digital as well, I don’t think it’s improved our music.

Bands that have influenced, and bands that now influence your musical style?

Well, I don’t tend to listen to all that much of other bands. Certain areas of music have influenced me. Obviously, the Arabic music and Indian and ethnic music. Also the famous German bands of the mid-70s, which probably all know about. I still do listen to those. But as far as music which is made this year, no. Because it’s such a bland, well everything’s the same, it’s really depressing actually. I mean living in England, there’s so much bland music coming out actually. It’s quite depressing. And to find things that are interesting is quite difficult, actually.

What instruments do you use?

Well, we use virtually anything we can get our hands on and everything that is of use. From top quality instruments down to bits of percussion. I mean you can hit anything, really. You can use anything. And I use anything, anything that’s in the studio, anything that I can pick up. I don’t own anything, no instruments, nothing. We stay quite flexible in that. And if there are any top-quality instruments, I hire them. It’s better because if you commit yourself to buying a piece of equipment, not only have you used the sounds all the time, you can’t bear them. You’re stuck with it. And there’s also the technology side, where technology is changing all the time. And it’s quite stupid to buy anything, actually.

Is a drum machine an important factor in your music?

Yes, we do use a drum machine, or we did. I mean on the early recordings we did, we used a drum machine quite heavily. And on the first album I did, As Muslimgauze, which was “Kabul” in 83, we used nothing but a drum machine to see if we could produce a music which used just one drum machine and nothing else.[…] We use it much less now. It’s more of a first step, a backbone of a piece of music. And we use acoustic rhythms and sounds a lot more now. Hopefully more so in the future. We’re always trying to try something different. I mean there’s nothing new, but we always try and approach a rhythm from a different angle. Or use something on top of it, change it around. It’s certainly important to us, the drum machine. It’s important to virtually everybody I think. I mean even the bland, uninteresting music. Everything you hear on the radio uses a drum machine. So it’s an important part to everybody. And I use it. We use anything that we can get our hands on.

What is the foundation of your musical sound? Is it the rhythms and the Arabic influence? Is it becoming constrained to your music?

Constraining? No. No, because there’s so much to choose from. I mean I don’t want to produce Arabic music because there’d be no point. I use the Arabic sounds or style of music only at a starting point. To produce something which you can buy on record, produced by the ethnic people themselves, would be a waste of time. I mean you can steal ideas and rhythms and bits and pieces from different cultures to produce your own music. Certainly, in that respect, it’s a foundation, it’s a starting point.

What do you hope to achieve musically?

A different, certainly interesting music which has a political edge to it, a political backbone. But another area to the actual music itself. Achieve, well we’re not really hoping to achieve anything really. We’re not producing music to achieve anything. I mean, you produce music because you want to produce music. I mean, some people might produce music to make money or to get famous. But I mean those two ends will never encroach upon Muslimgauze, will never make a lot of money, will never achieve widespread fame.

What do you want people to feel when they listen to your music?

I want them to feel that they’re listening to something which again, is worthwhile that they find something to go on to and listen to the music: the political ideas, the situations, why Russia invaded Afghanistan, the reasons behind it, what they’re doing there, the people they’re killing there. Why there’s a Gulf War, why Iraq started it, etc. Why the Gulf situation is happening. Areas like this they can think about from the music, they can listen to a piece of music, see the title, wonder what the title is about, find out what the title is about. Or the album cover artwork or the title of the album, find out what it’s about. Think about why it’s called such a thing. Investigate that area, hopefully. Whether people do this or not, I have no idea. You just hope that people find a different area to your music.

What do you hope to achieve politically?

Well, you just hope that the political situations resolve themselves. But certainly, I hope that we’re doing some good that some good can come of a person making music which is politically influenced. That maybe can change, if not all, then some people’s attitude towards a media image of these places.

Do Palestinians and other Arabic people have access to your music?

Well, the Palestinians have very little access to anything. The areas of their own country that they live in, in squalor, in virtual concentration camps that Israel has set up for them. People in their own country, in camps, in squalid conditions. So, I doubt very much whether they want to, which is another thing. Maybe they probably would not. I think they feel they’ve probably got other things to do and fight for, and to listen to some Western music. They’ve got their own country to fight for.

Are you listening to those countries’ old or new or bold music?

New? Well, no. Not new music which is coming out of those countries. No. Old, certainly. We listen to a lot of music, very old music from those areas of the world. Certainly. And it certainly influences what we do. We don’t copy it. We don’t sample it and pinch it all. We certainly don’t pinch ideas in that way. Hopefully, they influence rhythms, but we don’t actually listen to something or I’ll nick that. I’ll pinch that idea, I’ll sample it. I don’t do that. I don’t sample rhythms in that way.

Is there a high level of creativity in England or is it experimental music? Or is it still a cottage industry in the light of conservatism?

The creativity has always and probably will always be high in England. There’s a lot of people making music. A lot of people have their own ideas. Experimental music is still a cottage industry. Yes, it is. Yes. And again, it probably always will be. Because the majority of people’s musical outlook seems to be going backwards rather than forwards in England. There’s a lot of dross, a dreadful amount of boring music around. It’s sad to see. Again, if you look hard enough, you’ll find the good music. There are people in every country that are selling the most interesting music from all over the world. You’ve just got to find them. But again, you’ve got the bands themselves, you’ve got to be in touch with the bands themselves, the people who are producing the music, to get the records off them.

What is the future for experimental music in England?

Hopefully very good. There are the bands that you know about, and hopefully, there’ll be even more bands coming up that will stay in the experimental field. […] I’m being told all the time it’s hard to categorize Muslimgauze, which is great. People don’t know which pigeonhole to put us in, which is just terrific. And again, you get stuck in the experimental pigeonhole, though. But the future… Again, it’s hard to say. It’s always been quite difficult to sell music in this field.

How does the future look for Muslimgauze?

Well, hopefully we will continue to improve on the music side. If the album, the next album, the album after it doesn’t sell, then the support won’t be there and we may stop. But I really do want to continue producing political-influenced music, because those political facts are still there. The political situations which influenced me two to three years ago haven’t been resolved and don’t look like they will be resolved for years to come. In particular, the Palestinian situation, which is a time bomb. It is not going to get better. I can only see it getting worse, because when the people are in their own country and they don’t even run it, they’re in camps and bits of land stuck away in the bad parts of town, like Gaza. I mean, the places in South Africa which attain a high level of interest from people in the media, like Soweto. Those areas are luxury compared to what the Palestinians are living in. I mean, Gaza, the West Bank, are truly dreadful places. And there are now parts of Afghanistan through the bombing, which is just the same. And these are facts, and these are the facts which influenced the work of Muslimgauze.

The future, how does the future look for Muslimgauze? Well, not very good. I mean, there’s still only a very small set-up. Again, there’s good and bad in that. I mean, you can keep control over everything that you do, over quite a small set-up. When you get larger, you tend to lose that. The feeling of being in control of virtually every aspect of a release. It’s our decision what comes out. So, again, I hope the music does continue to improve, because I think it has. And we’re still very excited about what we do. We put everything into it, not only an album, into every piece of music. We put whole feelings and whole ideas and influences into it, into producing, hopefully, a meaningful piece of music.


The Interview

Bahadırhan Koçer (Music Producer & Music Sciences PhD)
This article originally appeared on Medium (November 8, 2023)

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