Like the traffic-clogged streets of his hometown of Cairo, Hussien Sherbini brings technology and soot together into something dark and cloudy. His music sounds like the disjointed echoes of beats and bass bouncing from the walls of a black hole. This fourth-dimensional cave music could easily be a blend of high-minded bass labels like Hessle Audio or Fade To Mind with the weirder sounds of synthwave and noise music.
He's not alone in this borderless vision and reps WETROBOTS, the Kairo Is Koming collective, and Epic 101 Studios as partners. These days he and his ilk are either locked away in their studios at night under curfew, or charming their way past checkpoints to meet up. Below, he talks to us about the city's apparently shitty sound systems, sneaking around to party after curfew, and trying to play electronic music to confused local crowds.
THUMP: How has the turmoil in your country affected your music?
Hussein Sherbini: It has forced me to stay in the studio more and finish more music. Also, it kind of pressured me to start getting things out there before things get much worse in the country and it becomes too late to reach out. At times like these you really can't tell what's coming next.
Also, it became a trend to buy these lasers and point them at the military choppers from Tahrir Square during the recent protests. Like the day President Morsi was removed. I bought one of those lasers when I was in Tahrir. When I got back to the studio, I was playing around with it and realized that it would be visually insane if I used it in the EP artwork. So I experimented with it for a while and all sorts of ideas started happening. I wanted to do a cover photo with me in the dark with green lasers. I'm planning on integrating the artwork concept as live visuals.
Has the mood changed at your shows recently?
Not at all. Egyptians have always had this urge to party. We make a party out of anything.
With curfew in effect, does that mean you're throwing daytime parties?
[Laughs] Yeah. But we throw parties after curfew as well. But not like gigs, more like house parties and stuff. We just meet at someone's place and get booze and blast music.
You have to stay there until morning?
Yeah. We get stopped at army checkpoints after curfew. But they just search us and let us go. You're not supposed to be out on the streets from 11PM to 9AM. Because that's when the "bad guys" are out. It's just because things have been getting really violent recently. You could get arrested if you seem like you're out to make trouble. That includes of course carrying weapons or money bags. Also, if you're drunk or if you have possession of alcohol or drugs, they will arrest you. But we're usually very polite and obedient when they stop us, so they just let us go. We're never really out to cause any form of trouble anyway.
What type of music do you listen to?
I listen to everything, but I have been recently listening to a lot of British bass music. It sounded interesting I guess, like these people weren't following any specific rules. I find this stuff mainly through the internet—blogs and social media.
I do have to say though that recently I've been listening to a lot of local hip-hop and what is known as "electro shaaby." My sound and their sound comes from the same place. We're independent musicians making loud music that comes straight from our environment. Specifically the traffic. I think that I spend 70 percent of my day in Cairo traffic.
When I look at the sounds I choose and the way I design sound in general, there is always this pattern of trying to make things dirty and detailed. Traffic in Cairo is so horrible, yet, somehow people are getting used to it. There is so much detail in how you survive daily traffic. From the way people park, the way microbus drivers sew through traffic, and how little teens on rented chinese bikes perform stunts and wheelies in the midst of all this.
How has Western music influenced you?
A huge part of why I got into music was my dad's musical taste. He's a huge fan of the Bee Gees, The Eagles, Elton John, Super Tramp, and Don McLean. I used to love family road trips as a child because he'd have all these mix tapes with amazing music. My dad works at IBM and my mom is a house wife. But they're very supportive of what I do, even though they don't really understand what it is. They still think I play the guitar.
I was so influenced by how records like Michael Jackson's BAD and Thriller were made. Basically, the way the drums sounded in the mix. The way background vocals from the 90s had so much detail, with the use of effects. You'd have songs like Michael Jackson "You Rock My World," where the chorus vocal is almost whispering, yet it's still in your face.
So you're very deep into the technical side of things?
Yeah. I studied audio engineering at Musicians Institute in Hollywood. I've always been inspired by how engineers came up with tricks in the analog days. Like figuring out a way to correct the pitch without using autotune so you get this flanger effect.
There's one sample on the track "Fairchile" where I sent the signal to a mini guitar amp just to get that spring reverb and then recorded it, panned it hard right, and used it only during the chorus. Just little details like that no one ever notices. There's so much layering, EQing and panning involved in my EP. That, added to weeks of cross-referencing mixes on all kinds of speakers including laptop speakers, iPhone speakers, car stereos and shitty portable speakers. I'm honestly still nervous about my debut gig. I don't know what it's going to sound like on big speakers.
But soundsystems in Cairo are shit—with an exception being 100 Copies. They always hire professional people with professional gear. In Cairo, some people just don't get our music so they stand there puzzled. International crowds respond way better to our sound.