ZULI

The Exchange is a periodic in-depth look at the artistic motivations of musicians and collectives. We try to approach this from a more cultural and societal perspective, aside from the necessary musical one, because we cannot deny the influence of modern age bringing ideas from all over the world which broaden our horizons. It is a fact that we can learn a lot from movements that are foreign to us.

The Exchange is a periodic in-depth look at the artistic motivations of musicians and collectives. We try to approach this from a more cultural and societal perspective, aside from the necessary musical one, because we cannot deny the influence of modern age bringing ideas from all over the world which broaden our horizons. It is a fact that we can learn a lot from movements that are foreign to us.

 

ZULI, Cairo

The age in which it was hard to penetrate exciting scenes from abroad is over. Various forms of communication, of which the internet springs to mind first, have contributed to a rapid exchange of information. In this case, the internet has put us on the paths of ZULI. Hailing from Egypt, ZULI connects sounds and visual material from the homeland with influences from different genres like IDM and hip hop, overlaying it with a very distinct contemporary feeling. It is therefore no surprise that ZULI has been releasing on the forward thinking UIQ label as well as paying tribute to the scene in Cairo by connecting artists in Kairo is Koming, hosting events through VENT, and also more recently curating an installation at CTM Festival.

In this interview we talk with ZULI about his inspirations in music, transnationalism, texturizing time and context in music, and reshaping cities by creating spaces for music.

 

Z – Thank you for this interview! Music is, as all arts, a field where politics have great influence on. Who has access to certain types of music, what reaction such music catalyses. Due to the earlier mentioned digital possibilities, music is in theory better accessible for people in all layers of society. In which way did the come up of digital spaces within the wider internet interact with your personal route in music? How did it help you form connections in between genres and with people abroad who could appreciate your music?

From the very beginning (around the year 2000), the internet has been everything, really. It’s how I learned almost every single music skill I know and use today. From discovering pretty much all my influences that helped form my own musical identity, to finding Queens of the Stone Age tabs for Guitar Pro and cracked versions of Fruity Loops 3. Say what you will about Napster, but for someone living in my part of the world – a region where record shops are non-existent and at a time before the concept of buying digital music was a thing – piracy was our only option. My taste in music was entirely formed through browsing other people’s shared folders and discussions on Soulseek chat rooms and online message boards like echoingthesound, RA and even Tranceaddict and the GU forum.

Fast forward a couple of decades and I’m still primarily online but now we have platforms like Bandcamp and SoundCloud that make it possible to connect directly with other people whose music you come across and like. Digital releases and online music stores like Boomkat also created a simulated version of crate digging, one that is closer to what I actually grew up on (Napster to Soundcloud and everything in between). Besides the Rap stuff, people who are into my music have always been from other countries outside Egypt because the scene here is tiny and it only really sort of took off quite recently, I don’t see the scene I operate in as one tied to a specific geographical location; one of the perks of instrumental music I guess.

As far as politics and class go, the internet has been accessible to virtually everyone in Egypt for a long time now; the government set up a bunch of free dial-up services around 1998-1999 and then when broadband hit Egypt I think it might have been subsidized because it’s always been very affordable…and now with 3G and 4G, internet buckets are more popular than phone lines (there are 90 Million cell phone subscribers in Egypt, that’s almost 90% of the population). There’s never been any censorship on music online either.

 

Z – Going back to the Egyptian scene you just mentioned, what kind of electronic music future could be there realistically? Do you think that efforts like yours will cause people to pay attention to Egypt. And do you think that it is important for artists to keep representing their home country once they get a podium for what they do on the internet or abroad?

I think it’s important for them to utilize said podium for the promotion of any other artists who might be underrepresented, being in their home countries or anywhere, really. Like I said, I feel most of these communities exist online rather than specific geographical locations. You’re of course more likely to meet people who live in the same city/country as you, but I’m not a massive fan of national pride, and I think it makes even less sense when it comes to music and the arts. In my DJ sets and on my NTS show, I do my best to include music by artists who are less represented than ones who already have a following. A big portion of whom are from Cairo because that’s just where I live and know most people.

Z – Yet, these digital spaces cannot wholeheartedly replace actual physical spaces where these communities can congregate. What was your experience in bridging the people you brought together in real life spaces with the connections you made online?

I met people like MESH and Lee Gamble on Soundcloud, as well as most of the local rappers I work with now. As a promoter, all my bookings (local and international alike) have been people I’ve discovered online in some way or form. KIK also came together after I discovered “Wetrobots <3 Bosaina” online and reached out. Most of my communication with other artists happens on these platforms to this very day, even the ones I have personal relationships with. That changed a bit when VENT was still a full time music space because we had a place where we would all meet up to see some of us perform or international artists we’re fans of, then we end up hanging out. We still do that whenever VENT or any other like-minded promoters organize shows, but otherwise our interactions are mostly digital.

 

Z – In this sense, cities or urban fabric is being reshaped by sonic influences from a wider area. I can imagine sounds from commercials, bombings, or old tapes with more traditional music belonging to these influences. In the years in which you have been active as a musician, which major sonic perforations have formed their way in some sort to your music?

I turn 34 next month, so a comprehensive list would be a bit too long to put together, also because I’ve always been interested in multiple genres simultaneously. So I was there for whatever was going on the mid-00s across different types of Electronic music (dance and non-dance) attempted to make pretty much every style I liked, you also have Rap and all its different transformations and incarnations its seen during the past 15-20 years. Nine Inch Nails and then Indie Rock and the Post-Punk revival too…I’m sure I’ve picked up all sorts of stuff from all these different genres/styles. But I try to avoid thinking about these things or putting them into words because doing so often hinders the process…and existing outside the verbal realm; that’s one of the things I enjoy most about making music.