Review: El Mahdy Jr. – Gasba Grime EP [DN003]

Amidst the protest crackdowns and continuing Internet censorship in Turkey, contemporary electronic music has flourished again among the ecology of fear that has followed, and paradoxically it’s because of the Internet’s ability to create artificial loop holes, planes of escape, and temporary cyber inter-zones from the realities of the pitched street battles that we know names like El Mahdy Jr. Appearing alongside his contemporary Gantz on the ‘Spry Sinister’ deep medi plate, it’s El Mahdy Jr’s constant sonic experimentation that defies any logical attempt to pigeon hole his music into genre terms like ‘hip-hop’ or ‘dubstep’, allowing the strength of each arrangement to stand on it’s own two feet so to speak. Because of this willingly disregard for what I would call the ‘floor component’ or more generally a rhythmically friendly song that gives dance music it’s magick, El Mahdy Jr delivers the masterful and thematically coherent ‘Gasba Grime’ EP. Another collection that builds upon an increasingly crucial discography filled with rare import gems, one off white labels, and other wax that fetch high prices on Discogs. Much like the much-beloved Muslimgauze before him, El Mahdy Jr pays homage to his roots – the bridge between what was called ‘West’ and what was called ‘East’.

Mined from old flip-phone recordings of desert jam sessions, ‘Zarga’ blossoms with low audio resolution, like a still from a 90’s VHS recording, muddled with digital noise. It’s a beautiful lo-fi drone that shifts and morphs with tonal fluidity of hypnagogic visions. Broken fragments of a rhythmic structure appear only to be subsumed by the washed out drones. Voices from the ether caterwaul, while snatches of sazs and bağlamas punctuate the humid blanket of air created by the drones. The title track ‘Gasba Grime’ is sounded by hollow horn or flute like tones, until an obligatory dub siren cracks the void. A lurching beat is anchored eerily by a concentric ‘Memories of the Future’ era Kode-9 melody plundered from British Radiophonic Workshop archives. Voices – English, Turkish, Jamaican form a homophonic tapestry, tongues from Babel dubbed out. Grimy bass squelches keep things a tad rude given the mournful nature of ‘Gasba Grime’.

For all the dubsteppers, ‘Lost Bridge’ fulfils your 140 addiction. While not brimming with the ever-present sub-bass, ‘Lost Bridge’ makes up in atmosphere and tone, reminding me of later OM records or Al Cisneros’s mystical dub 7 inches on Sinai Records. Built upon a loping, loose half-time riddim, ‘Lost Bridge’ gives space to the tribalist percussion as soaring clips of Anatolian strings caress your cheeks like warm desert wind. Studio-trickery warps what sound like sitars backwards, coalescing into a thick gel of exotic melodies that turn your mind to jelly. In between this strange sonic brew, a voice urgent, zealous, premonitory intones in a language my ears do not know. It becomes another element, devoid of context, that raptures above the rhythmic foundation, and I find myself with goosebumps on my arms. Buried within the heady mix-down is a barely there string drone from an instrument unknown that will quietly coax your third eye open. The second half is counterpointed with swelling strings that ramp the energy levels up and overall melodic tension until they don’t resolve properly, collapsing back into that dubspace filled with splinter melodies.

‘Crack-Addicted Belly Dancer’, sounds like, well a crack addicted rap beat – fractured, tense, anxious, fidgety. A rough sketch of a beat – a few well placed kicks and some rim shots zombie-lurch everything forward, but you’ll really get lost in a hash haze with the discordant organ drones/tones that remind me of Shackleton’s more transcendent moments. A more apt description would be if Cannibal Ox reformed, moved to the Middle East and started cranking out beats on AKAI MPC 400. Saving the best (IMO) for last, Young Echo members Killing Sound tackle the stand out track (IMO) ‘Lost Bridge’ trimming the fat and creating a show-stopping tune that induces dread with the absence of what makes people move. Utilizing that heart of sleeve vocal cut and applying some time honoured dub science, the vocal becomes a cloud made of dubspace. Everything is exposed as snippets of the melange of melodies are refracted and looped. Skeletal percussion strikes like the slow hands of a clock as an ever -present sub bass circles likes carrion crows. Another, more feminine vocal cracks the empty space left in the wake. Sleight of hand dub trickery throws one or two odd ball sounds to perhaps release the oppressive atmosphere. Again, the yearning vocal that made ‘Lost Bridge’ is used at the end and once again diffuses towards dubspace.

In total, El Mahdy Jr’s ‘Gasba Grime’ EP explores more sonic terrain than his colleague Gantz in a tour de force journey that captivates the imagination and stuns the senses with it’s lack of genre constraints and wider experimentation. Given the current political climate in Turkey, the ‘Gasba Grime’ EP seems to re-invoke those feelings of urban decay, societal breakdown and overall malaise that early dubstep captured so well in the early ‘naughts. Only it’s filtered through a whole other horizon of understanding, which makes for an interesting take on how to release anger, confusion, resentment, hopelessness through a more culturally appropriate form that the forms of D&B or 2-step Garage. It’s another gem in an progressively vital discography that I imagine, in the near future, Discog sellers will charge exorbitant prices. Best be quick and snatch it up while you can!

Gasba Grime is out now and available from Redeye, Juno, Boomkat, Bleep and Rewind Forward.

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