Sep 26 2017

Audio Émigré: Tse Tse Fly Middle East Debuts in London

by Ned Carter Miles

Performance by DUSHUME. Courtesy Tse Tse Fly Middle East.

Tse Tse Fly Middle East—named after the deadly insect native to tropical Africa—was founded in Dubai in 2015 by British artist Simon Coates. Having noticed a certain homogeneity in the city’s nightlife, which was limited to clubs playing commercial pop and dance music, Coates saw potential for something new, and organised a new experimental sound art event with fellow artist Ram Nath—according to Coates, it was the first of its kind in the Arab Gulf countries. One of Dubai’s less fashionable clubs was deliberately chosen for the first night, which welcomed around 200 people looking to see and hear something more chaotic and unconventional than what had been available, and in the two following years Tse Tse Fly became a monthly occurrence with its own associated radio program, featuring the sound art scenes of many Middle Eastern, African and South Asian countries.

Coates originally moved to the UAE to be with his wife, who had taken a job there, and when the time came for them to leave, he took Tse Tse Fly with him. Consequently, this September, London welcomed the platform’s debut in the UK, hidden behind a city farm near Waterloo Station at IKLECTIK, a creative space that showcases experimental music. Now that the project is operating in the UK, Coates is free to use it to support more than just sound art, in a way that wasn’t possible in Dubai. In addition to featuring sound artists and musicians with Middle Eastern or South Asian heritage, the event also promoted several human rights organisations, including Amnesty InternationalIndex on CensorshipForward UK and Labour Behind the Label.

The evening’s program began with a series of short experimental videos screened in quick succession. The first was an erratically edited short documentary following the development of an apparently clandestine experimental sound art festival in Iraqi Kurdistan, consisting of what appeared to be hidden camera footage shot in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah. The film progressed quickly and, in narrative terms, was largely unintelligible. Its purpose, however, was to promote contemporary art in Kurdistan, and the inclusion of brief and intriguing shots from various performances—such as that of a man and woman lying below a low-hanging ceiling fan, allowing it to hit lengths of wire held in each of their hands and generate violent and rhythmic noise—did just this.

WIREPHOBIA, Untitled, 2017, music video: 3 min 55 sec. Courtesy the artist.

NOUR SOKHON, Forest Frequencies, 2016, video: 7 min 51 sec. Courtesy the artist.

Other works included a music video by Iraq- and Kurdistan-based experimental artist Wirephobia, in which the gray screen ceded to an inner rectangle of throbbing static, moving to a grinding soundscape of heavy crackles in various pitches played over a continuous, swooping high note—like the sound of a falling bomb in a cartoon. This kind of raw, chaotic aesthetic featured heavily throughout the evening, but there were quieter moments too. Forest Frequencies (2016), a film by Lebanese artist Nour Sokhon, consisted of extreme close-ups of a forest floor—wet and visceral—combined with footage from a sea voyage and other sylvan explorations, accompanied this time by a breathy but increasingly distorted ambient aural environment layered over a foundation of deep bass.

The videos were followed by a Q&A with Coates, explaining the origins, ideals and aesthetics of the project to its new London audience, and then a series of live performances. The first of these, by experimental noise artist Dushume—aka Amit D Patel—was every bit as vociferous as the earlier videos, and consisted predominantly of a glitchy, repetitive thumping noise whose speed the artist controlled by a combination of professional and homemade equipment. As the noise became more intense, and layers of screeching static were introduced, at least three members of the audience left the room, but in the true spirit of experimental music going back to industrial artists such as COUM Transmissions (1969–1976) and Throbbing Gristle (1975–2010), this seemed like an appropriate and not entirely undesirable response. On a more melodic note, another highlight was a performance by Kareem Samara, an artist and musician who recently performed as part of London’s Shubbak festival, and who specializes in playing the oud and other instruments through a series of looping and effects pedals, creating unique, regionally inflected compositions.

The first UK instalment of Tse Tse Fly had the distinctly irreverent, DIY feel that you might expect from a night dedicated to experimental noise music and sound art. Where it goes from here remains to be seen, but with the spotlight it shines on overlooked art from the Middle East and beyond, Dubai’s loss is surely London’s gain.

Tse Tse Fly Middle East’s debut in London took place on September 9, 2017, at IKLECTIK creative space.

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Performance by KAREEM SAMARA. Photo by Ned Carter Miles for ArtAsiaPacific.