‘Instruments Of The State’ is an excellent collection of tracks from experimental musicians of Middle Eastern, African and Indian heritage, put together by the Tse Tse Fly Middle East collective. Now based in London after an initial period of activity in Dubai, Tse Tse Fly Middle East curates events that combine film, live performance and DJ sets and whose foci are political as much as they are artistic. By giving a voice to cultural producers from these regions, the collective challenges the stereotypes and dominant narratives in place in the West, while helping to decolonise the global underground scene.
While absorption in Tse Tse Fly Middle East’s work and preoccupations is strongly recommended, ‘Instruments Of The State’ serves as an excellent entry point. Although comprising just 11 tracks it manages to cram an admirably wide variety of styles and approaches into its relatively brief runtime. So, the abrasive Gulf futurism of ‘Golden Lion’ from the UAE ‘s Black Line sits alongside the electronic distortions of Dushume’s ‘Predictive Noise Remix’. The scratchy no-wave grumpiness of The Untied Knot’s ‘Body Angles’ is a great contrast to ‘Today’, an acerbic feminist polemic from Bangalore artist and poet Indu Antony.
A particular highlight is Freya Edmondes’ ‘Topology of An Inner City’, which juxtaposes interview recordings about life in Lebanon with spluttering bursts of electronics to present a fractured, impressionistic view of the country. The fact that this interview is filtered through translation software ups the ante on an already-disorientating soundscape, with the words of Edmondes’ un-named male protagonist rendered – occasionally incoherently – into American-accented English spoken by a ‘female’ voice. The overall effect resembles a half-awake shuffle through a wrecked hall of mirrors, in which the way out is obscured by a vortex of contradictory perspectives beamed through piles of shattered glass.
Less hectic, but just as compelling, is ‘Water Must Dance’, from Wirephobia, a noise artist hailing from Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Field recordings of liquidy gurgles and sploshes are the backdrop for brooding, low-end drones, their slow arcs somewhere between the woody throb of a cello and the slow groan of a mysterious wind instrument. Here, subtle restraint builds a gradual, simmering tension that resists any kind of payoff, its sudden fadeout no release, merely a temporary suspension of pressure.