Muslimgauze was the moniker of Mancunian musician and producer Bryn Jones, whose famously prolific and short-lived career produced a discography of over 2000 tracks, around 100 albums and countless 7″, 12″ and DAT-only releases. With reissues and new material beginning to surface once more, Stuart Leath of Emotional Rescue introduces Muslimgauze and JD Twitch of Optimo Music lists his favourite ten records.
Words: Stuart Leath / Keith McIvor
Vehemently pro-Palestinian and endlessly fascinated by the Muslim world, there has always been an air of controversy surrounding Bryn Jones’s prolific and guardedly political output. Sparked by Israel’s conflict Lebanon in 1982, his interest in the politics of the Middle East became an obsession that confounded everyone he knew, including his own family. Having begun his career recording as E.g. Oblique, his political calling led him to change his nom de plume to Muslimgauze.
By the time of his premature death in 1999 at the age of just 37 he had recorded so much music that nearly 15 years later, “new” releases are still surfacing. Indeed there has been a bit of renaissance of interest in his music in recent years and echoes of his work can be heard in the music of many contemporary artists including the likes of Shackleton and Vatican Shadow. To a small number of people he is one of the greatest producers / musicians to come out of this country; as unique, single minded and inspiring as the likes of Aphex Twin.
However, Jones only performed live about a dozen times in his life, the majority of these being in the years just before he died. These were also the only times he ever left the UK with a couple of visits to Germany, Sweden, France and Japan. He never visited the Middle East.
With a knowledge of roughly 60 Muslimgauze records we are only scratching the surface of his music and these choices can only reflect that. Ask other Muslimgauze fans to pick their essential releases and they might produce a different list entirely.
Hunting Out With An Aerial Eye (Limited Editions 1984)
This 12” was my first encounter with Bryn’s music, which I found in the “Industrial” section of my favourite record shop in Edinburgh aged 17 and bought based on the sleeve art. While Muslimgauze did come out of the late 70s Industrial music explosion it would be a big mistake to regard his music as Industrial. He created his own niche that really wasn’t like anyone else and went on to endlessly refine and re-define his sound. The stand out track “Empty Quarter pt 1” is a signpost to what would follow over the next 15 years of his life as he began to dabble in percussion.
Flajelata (Limited Editions 1986)
Jones’ early records were famously hard to find and this is the only other release of his I was able to locate until the early 90s when a mass of Muslimgauze releases became available on CD. While Flajelata has more in common with “My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts” than with any of his Industrial contemporaries, it’s a lot rougher around the edges and has a techno primitive feel, echoes of which can be heard in Shackleton or Vatican Shadow records. Bearing the dedication “Side A is dedicated to the Occupied Lands of Afghanistan and Palestine. Side B is dedicated to all dissidents from the Soviet Union”, these early references to the oppressed peoples of the Islamic world hint at the cause that would come to define Jones’ music in the years to come.
Zul’m (Extreme 1992)
I wavered about including this one as Extreme apparently never paid Jones, but it’s so good it had to be in there. Superbly produced, Zul’m is an ideal entry point for those curious about Muslimgauze in that it tones down the rhetoric a little, and is generally more accessible. It also contains perhaps my favourite Muslimgauze track “Afghan Black”, which is 9 minutes of mesmerising, hypnotic and percussive joy.
An early user of breakbeats, Bryn eschewed computers and samplers in favour of the more laborious process of tape-looping. I have a CD-R he gave me that was allegedly recorded in the mid 80s that sounds like a proto 2 Bad Mice track, only a lot crazier. Where “Indian Summer of Benazir Bhutto” contains and continually looping breakbeat, Jones’ later recordings would feed the breaks through endless effects creating broken rhythmic collages, equal to those of any sampler savvy electronic producer.
Vote Hezbollah (Soleilmoon 1993)
Around 1993, Jones hooked up with the Soleilmoon label in Portland, Oregon and Staalplaat in Amsterdam, both of which would go onto be staunch supporters of his output, releasing countless albums over the next two decades. Beginning a long and intense working relationship with Manchester sound engineer John Delf, Jones started to exploit echoes and delays to give his sound a more dubbed out character, using Delf’s expertise to push his studio work to the outer limits.
Hamas Arc (Staalplaat 1993)
Bryn would endlessly remix himself and this release features a couple of radical re-versions of tracks from “Vote Hezbollah” as well as several new recordings including the sublime reworked “Zindabad”, one of many tracks to feature sampled tape loops of Islamic voices. In fact, it remains somewhat of a mystery as to how he found so much of this material pre-internet when he had never left Manchester. Hamas Arc also features the supreme, bottom-heavy dub of “Khan Younis”, exemplifying how Jones loved to work with extreme frequencies, both low and high. Although remaining an underground figure, it was around this time that he began to court controversy due to his choice of titles and artwork, which on this release featured two veiled Iranian woman engaging in target practice. Several retailers refused to stock his releases.
Blue Mosque (Staalplaat 1994)
A double album meisterwerk! While Jones never moved out of his parent’s house, he practically lived in the studio often recording an album a week, and Blue Mosque is where things start to get a little freaky. Many of the tracks seem deceptively like ideas or bare-boned sketches that only draw you in by virtue of repetition, the extreme distortions and harsh electronics sometimes being almost too much to bear. Becoming truly psychedelic in places, it can be hard to imagine that this music was made by a man who didn’t drink, smoke or take any illegal substances.
Bandit Queen / Druse 12″ (Pi Recordings 1996)
A bit of self-aggrandising here as I put this record out. In 1995, myself and my friend John put Muslimgauze on in Edinburgh. I had talked with him quite a lot on the phone discussing the details of a 12″ of his music I wanted to release, and being aware that he had recently made his first forays into performing thought I would chance my arm and see if he would come to Scotland in the interim to play and talk more about the release. He was delighted to be asked and took the train up along with a load of his exotic drums. There were about 6 people at the gig but he didn’t seem to mind at all. We stayed in touch right up until his death and talked about working on other projects, the result of those conversations being I have a load of DATS and CD-Rs of his music. Sadly we never got to do anything else together.
Azzazin (Staalplaat 1996)
It is often said that Jones’ music is always both the same but, reassuringly (or disturbingly) different. This release definitely falls into the latter category and its pure electro-acoustic nature could happily have found a home on Raster-Noton. Despite packing a sub bass capable of causing an inner-ear infection, Azzazin is also beguilingly hypnotic, the electronics pulsing as disembodied voices collapse deep in the mix. Unlike almost anything else he made, it is sparse, almost digital (although certainly made on analogue gear) with almost no trace of his trademark percussion. Intense and quite beautiful in places, it is a wonderful two-fingered salute to those who pigeon hole him as “that weird ethno-dub guy”.
Uzi Mahmood (Soleilmoon 1998)
While most Muslimgauze releases are CD only, there are also a host of vinyl releases among which this 12” on Soleilmoon is about as DJ-friendly as he got. The sub-heavy, breakbeat driven “Uzi Mahmood 8” even turns up on a Gold Panda DJ Kicks mix. For me though, “Uzi Mahmood 1” is the one. It is perfect for fitting into a late night DJ set and mixing it in and out of techno tracks, with its booming 808 bass drum, call to prayer samples and imperious percussion.
Al Jar Zia Audio (Staalplaat 2013)
Jones passed away in 1999 aged 37 after contracting a rare blood disease. His parents were with him at his bedside as was Geert-Jan Hobijn from Staalplaat, who had worked so tirelessly to release his music. Geert-Jan phoned me to tell me the sad news and also told me that Bryn had recorded so much music that there would be “new” Muslimgauze albums released for many years to come. There have been subscription only series of DATS, 7″s, 4x LP box sets as well as countless other CD releases, with many more still to see the light of day. When I listen to Al Jar Zia Audio I pretend to myself it was something Bryn just recorded rather than something that was made 15 years ago. He always seemed surprised that anyone bought his music and patently made it for his own edification rather than for any other reasons. He simply had to do this.