Saturday, March 22, 2008


(cover of Muslimgauze's Izlamaphobia)

I've been fascinated, intrigued, and puzzled by Muslimgauze since my friend David first taped me one of his CD's, back in 1992. (I can no longer remember which one.) Now, finally, I've found an informative article about Muslimgauze, published in the irreplaceable Bidoun, and by Jace Clayton of the band Nettle.

Muslimgauze was the one-person project of British experimental-electronic music artist Bryn Jones, who died in 1999. Much of the music is loaded with samples of Middle Eastern music, and of music he played himself on various Middle Eastern instruments. Some of the music is quite obscure, all electronic beeps and bleeps, but a lot of it is very creative and difficult to describe samples and loops that are heavily Middle Eastern and highly avant-garde. He was extremely prolific--180 releases at last count, and more to come.

When I first became acquainted with his music, I assumed that the titles were more provocation than representative of Jones' actual beliefs. I've downloaded a number of Muslimgauze titles from emusic (a great Muslimgauze source), and here are a few: "Izzedin Al-Qassam" from the album Alms for Iraq (Qassam was an Islamic militant who ignited the 1936-39 revolt in Palestine; the rockets that are fired on Israel by Hamas militants are named after him); "Army Of Females Wearing Latex Gadaffi Masks"; "8am, Tel Aviv, Islamic Jihad," from the album Gun Aramaic; the album Hebron Massacre (a reference to Baruch Goldstein's slaughter of 29 Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994); "Lion Of Kandahar," from the album Iran (a reference to the Afghani anti-communist jihadi with the National Islamic Front, Haji Abdul Latif),; "Curfew, Gaza," from the album Zul'm ("oppression," in Arabic); "Believers Of The Blind Sheikh" (a reference to the late Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Yasin); the album Vote Hezbollah, and so on. It turns out that all these citations were not just punk provocation, but actually indicative of Jone's actual political beliefs. He was a hardcore supporter of Palestinians and critic of Israeli actions, to the point of asserting that he wouldn't talk to any Israelis, and expressing admiration for the likes of "leaders such as Arafat, Khomeini, Qaddafi, Saddam, Abu Nidal, etc, as well as organizations such as the PLO, Hamas, and Hizbullah."

Jace Clayton suggests that
"Muslimgauze's music is too weird, too intrinsically vague to serve any political purpose. We face an awkward possibility: to hear Muslimgauze, we must not listen to Bryn Jones...Nor pay much attention to his cover art."

(cover of Hamas Arc)

And here's Clayton's judgment on the music:
"Listening to songs like '8A.M., Tel Aviv, Islamic Jihad' helps one understand the strange genius of Muslimgauze. He had no interest in making Middle Eastern-sounding music. Jones was after Middle Eastern-sounding sound. He fetishized the poor (re)production quality of its cheap cassette tapes, obsessively reproducing those sonic effects. He made audio environments instead of songs."

Unlike another of my favorite provocateur musicians, Aki Nawaz of Fun'Da'Mental, Jones' politics were retrograde, unsophisticated, and reactive. Luckily, and also unlike Aki, Jones didn't actually participate in any political movements. Instead, he was a recluse who, given his amazing output, must have spent most of his waking hours producing music. The music, the sound, however, is well worth checking out. I recommend getting on to, where you can listen to 30 seconds worth of every Muslimgauze track they have available (at present, 27 albums, plus some EPs and compilations.)

The authorized Muslimgauze website is here; wikipedia on Muslimgauze here, with links to additional articles.


Anonymous said...

So we've got an Englishmen (a dead one, thank Allah) who celebrates the murder of Jewish civilians for no reason other than some sort of vague sadism? Is this really what you should be doing with your Ph.D.?

Ted Swedenburg said...

There's no evidence whatsoever that Bryn Jones celebrated the killing of Israeli civilians, nor any evidence that he held his political beliefs for sadistic reasons. Politically, the problem with him, as I see it, was that his sympathy for the Palestinians translated into a kind of blindness, one that led him to support uncritically anyone who seemed to be struggling on the Palestinians' behalf. As I said in my post, the politics are problematic, the music rather brilliant. And I didn't need a PhD to figure that out.

Anonymous said...

My favorite part of the Wikipedia article:

"Born in Manchester, England, United Kingdom, he never visited the Middle East . . . "

How many armchair Arabists/orientalists would have had the courage to be that armchair?

nabeel said...

Hi Ted

I gave a talk on Muslimgauze at EMP in Seattle a few years ago and have not had time to write it up properly but I'm not sure I completely agree with Jace Clayton (whose work I really respect) about the politics not having anything to do with it. I'd agree that the orientalism of Muslimgauze, very like the label Sublime Frequencies, is in the recorded media culture sound of the Middle East and South Asia (Pakistan, India etc., but there is a political imaginary there too. I'm trying to think about that in relation to the militant Islamochic of the sleeves, the sometimes sloganeering, sometimes ironic titles for tracks, and the documentary sound bites, the dub and distortion aesthetics. I was raised as Muslim in England and though I'm an atheist now, I recognize the way that Jones' visual-sonic markers tap across ethnic identity into a transnationally mediated sense of Muslim identity for some young Muslims, in particular in the north of England. Of oppression and victimhood, of resistance and hate, of belonging to a dispersed ummah. It's religious diasporic, as Bobby Sayyid would put it. I think Islamists work this seam in their work. So it's weird for me to see and hear it in the work of an Englishman (of Welsh descent?) who never went to the Middle East. But then neither have many of us. So I'm trying to work out how we can think about music and political affect across borders. Have you seen Timothy Taylor on Muslimgauze in his book Strange Sounds. Love your fez and turban posts. Sound like really great projects.


Ted Swedenburg said...

Nabeel, thanks so much for your inciteful comments. I think in my post I was being overly cautious, as is Jace Clayton, in saying, hey, don't let the titles and images of Muslimgauze and the politics they seem to intimate put you off of the MUSIC. But of course the politics need to be attended to, and the resonances you note for BrAsian Muslims make absolute sense. I haven't looked at Taylor's book yet but I'm going to check it out this week, at your suggestion.

I don't think I'm giving away anything by identifying the author of the previous comment as Nabeel Zuberi. And I'm posting the abstract for Nabeel's lecture at EMP in 2004, which I found at

"Islamopop: Listening to Muslimgauze after September 11, 2001"

I don't know if one can describe September 11, 2001 as a “magic moment,” but the events of that day forced many Muslims in “the West” to ask themselves “What is a Muslim?” As Guru raps in Gang Starr's track “Who's Gonna Take the Weight,” “I was raised as a Muslim praying to the east.” However, as a born-again atheist and British-Pakistani against the war in Afghanistan, I became interpellated as a Muslim and thus a potential enemy of “freedom”and “democracy.”

As someone who regularly puts together mix tapes and CDs in order to help the music of the past and present make sense of the contemporary moment, soon after 9/11 I juxtaposed the early 90s Brit 'ardcore of Messiah's “There is No Law” with Detroit Techno artist Andre Holland's “City of Fear,” the ‘70s experimental electronics of Cabaret Voltaire's “Voice of America/Damage is Done” and Throbbing Gristle's “What a day.” But the sounds that captured the terror and paranoia of the moment most graphically came from Muslimgauze.

Muslimgauze is dissonant electronica that samples and processes music and voices from the Islamic world and packages it in confrontational art work that arguably places Islamo-chic alongside Islamophobia. Muslimgauze is actually the late Bryn Jones from Manchester, a non-Muslim. What are the implications of such transnational Islamic and possibly Islamist imaginaries in British popular music culture? And ones performed by non-Muslims at that? This presentation builds upon and contributes to debates about British Muslim identifications.

I look forward to seeing a publication!

nabeel said...

thanks Ted, Jeez I hadn't looked at that abstract for ages. I will write that stuff up soon, after I'm done with M.I.A. It's that distance between recognizing and not agreeing with certain aspects of the 'politics' of music and really liking the sound that is the question for me. It's like listening to some hip hop when you wince at the homophobic or misogynistic rhyme but then also really loving the music.

icastico said...

You don't need to agree with the political point of view of a piece of political art to benefit from it. It is the ability to spark discussion that is the primary value of political art.

In the case of muslimgauze, the fact that the songs are instrumental makes them particularly effective in this sense...imho...

Toby said...

Muslimgauze is a musical genius. Bryn Jones' politics only shores up my belief that the man had the kind of integrity that spawned a new sound that was dynamic and radical.

If the downloads are anything to go by, Muslimgauze is no longer a fringe electro-cult.