Egyptian Hip Hop - Interviews - Soundblab

Egyptian Hip Hop

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

Egyptian Hip Hop: four lads, still in their teens, from Manchester who, since late last year, have managed to gain a remarkably strong toehold in the mainstream media, with several mentions in NME, the Guardian and a Radio One session under their belts all before they've even dropped their first single (the awesome double A-side featuring the punk-funking 'Wild Human Child' and the more electro-poppy 'Heavenly'). All this is terribly heartening since it makes you think that maybe the mainstream music press still knows quality, ingenuity and inventiveness when they hear it, although the regulation name-checking of famous Mancunian bands like Joy Division, The Smiths and The Happy Mondays which keeps cropping up is somewhat wearing.

But more on that later. Right now, Soundblab has grabbed some time with slightly weary-looking EHH drummer Alex Pierce (polite, eloquent, wears a weird cloth mask and short shorts during the gig) and guitar/keyboard playing Louis Stevenson Miller (spends most of the interview intently rolling a fag, wears a top and two t-shirts on stage) just after their soundcheck at Nation of Shopkeepers in Leeds. They're a few dates into their first proper UK tour, co-headlining with London's Is Tropical, another band creating a bit of a buzz. So, how are they finding the tour so far?

"It's interesting," says Alex. "It's a bit tiring though because we can't really afford accommodation. We have to keep going back to Manchester after every show."

"We've been getting back at, like, half five/six in the morning," chips in Louis.

Alex finishes the thought: "And having to get up at about three in the afternoon or something."

You definitely sense the two are a little… frazzled, maybe? What's been their favourite gig so far?

Alex turns to Louis: "I think yesterday, wasn't it?"

Louis rolls the Rizla thoughtfully. "Oh yeah, it was Manchester. I really like London as well. London, we played in this venue that you wouldn't expect us to be at. It was a classic pub with, like, a fire."

"With really shit paintings on the walls," laughs Alex. "It was just a pub and it had locals in it."

"It felt like Eastenders!"

"And then they (the locals) left and it got completely packed cos it was free entry. It was 200 over capacity."

Likely lads

In their current incarnation, featuring Alexander Hewett on vocals, keyboards and bass and Nick Delap on guitar and bass, Egyptian Hip Hop have only been going for just over a year. The group coalesced gradually though college, with the magic happening once Nick jumped ship from Copy Cats, a band he'd been playing in with Alexander, to join the other three. Their first gig as a foursome was on March 21st 2009 and since then things have been happening quickly. Does it feel that way?

Louis starts: "I'm surprised with how much, like, it's a bit… " He tails off.

Alex picks up the thread: "I've still not really gotten used to the fact that people come to our gigs to see us."

They both laugh. "Yeah, I find that weird," Louis adds.

"We're so used to being the support band," explains Alex, "and then we're headlining and people are there for us - it's strange. It is going fairly fast."

Oh, Manchester, so much to answer for

Being a band from Manchester, it seems to be a rule that Egyptian Hip Hop must get compared to other prominent bands to have emerged from that great city. It's a strange one: when a new band from London garners some attention, no one assumes they must sound like The Clash. No one was fazed by the fact that Klaxons sounded nothing like The Libertines despite both coming from the same city, probably because it would be ludicrously naïve and reductive to expect two bands from such a large city to sound similar. But such rational thinking seems to fly out the window as soon as you talk about a band from Manchester.

Perhaps it's the southern bias of much of the music press, or the almost mythical status afford to the city of Manchester - its legend actively stoked by figures like Tony Wilson (who cited his biggest flaw as "an excess of civic pride") - but people seem to want to believe there's a lineage, a tradition which Manchester bands follow in; as if there's a traceable continuity between the yearning punk pop of The Buzzcocks, the pioneering dance of New Order, the funky indie of The Stone Roses and the trad rock of Oasis. And, of course, in terms of social history, you can make this theory work; many of these bands formed connections and had contact with each other. But it's more than that: music fans continue to invest belief in a 'Manchester sound': the idea that somehow the city itself gets inside its inhabitants, inspiring them to create music in its image.

It's one of the enduring myths of British pop; one which Egyptian Hip Hop have increasingly been on the receiving end of, even though (to Soundblab's ears at least) their eclectic mix of funk bass, proto-metal klang and viscous electronica doesn't have much in common with any of the above named bands, sounding more like, if anything, mutant disco pioneers Liquid Liquid. But what do Alex and Louis think? Is it fair enough, you getting compared to these old Manc bands?

"It's not fair enough," says Louis tetchily.

"It's not, no," says Alex, "because it's getting a bit tiring that people try and drag it back to something that was, like…"

In the past?

"Yeah. It's something that maybe, maybe, can be seen as something new now. It's not like we're the only band coming out of Manchester right now; there's all this stuff. Hopefully it'll develop into a new thing. People won't have to go 'Here's this band from Manchester, they sound like Joy Division.'"

Louis: "People are kind of taking note now because you asking that question straight away identifies the fact that we're not… so I think it is working."

Do you feel part of a tradition?

Alex: "People always try and make out bands from Manchester are somehow very Mancunian in their sound but we haven't really used the city as an influence in anyway. The dreariness of the north hasn't really influenced our sound."

This charming man?

Speaking of bands inspired by northern dreariness, one thing that's added grist to this particular mill is the story that Smiths guitar legend Jonny Marr acted as a kind of patron to the band early on, even going so far as to give Nick a pair of shoes. True fact? Well… kind of.

Alex decides to clear this one up. "Nick was in a band with Jonny Marr's son Nile when he was, like, 14-"

"Thirteen or something," interjects Louis.

Alex: "Thirteen, yeah. And, er, inevitably, he ended up going to his house at some point and Nick's a huge Smiths fan so Jonny taught him a couple of Smiths songs. We don't know him!"

And that's it?

Louis thinks for a moment. "He did once give him, like, shoes."

They're are clearly quite capable of refuting these instances of lazy journalism, but when, the day after this interview, I open the Observer Review to find a small piece on EHH which mentions their 'Mancunian sound' and the patronage of one Jonny Marr, I can't help feeling that the band has got a fight on its hands here…

Making flippy floppy

So, escaping Manchester's looming shadow for a moment, who do EHH cite as influences?

Alex: "It's hard cos we've just ingested all things and not specifically one band we want to try and sound like or anything. We always say Talking Heads are a big influence because they managed to do pop but it was different from everything. We feel like trying to do that, but obviously we don't actually sound much like them."

Maybe not, but have a listen to 'Wild Human Child' and 'Heavenly' on the band's MySpace if you haven't already. Don't know about you, but 'pop but different' sounds like a pretty good description.

So what's next? Louis and Alex don't seem to be too clear on that. There'll be another single, maybe they'll play some of this summer's festivals and then, if their current upswing continues, an album. Alex voices the vague hope that they'll come into some money soon.

But for now you sense these guys aren't thinking much beyond playing a barnstorming gig tonight (which they do), getting home before dawn and grabbing a few hours' precious kip before repeating the whole exercise. You find yourself hoping that EHH get some time and space to develop. Their sound is already so rich with possibilities, seemingly always on the verge of another interesting mutation. Who knows what kind of music they'll be making in six months time?

Richard Morris

Is Tropical/Egyptian Hip Hop/Yuck @ Nation of Shopkeepers, Leeds 06/02/2010

There's a palpable buzz hanging around Nation of Shopkeepers tonight. Men with fashionable face fuzz and check shirts mill around the stage area, converging for brief meetings before scuttling off. Several photographers lounge around, fiddling with their equipment. Unfortunately for Yuck, tonight's opening band, the attention and kafuffle isn't for them, but they still attract a fair size crowd for their fuzz-toned Americana. The problem here is that Yuck don't bring anything new to the mix, being seemingly happy just to rifle through the best bits of Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Teenage Fanclub and Pixies. While on the likes of upcoming single 'Georgia', with its boy/girl harmonies and dirty romantic swoon, this isn't much of a problem, elsewhere the whiny vocals and schlocky lyrics really begin to grate. In their minds, Yuck are living the 90s junkie-bum slacker dream. The reality falls some way short.

As Egyptian Hip Hop shuffle insouciantly onto the stage, it becomes clear what the crackle of expectation which has been building throughout the night has been in aid of. After a protracted, rather embarrassing wait while technical issues are sorted out, they launch into a moody, bludgeoning instrumental during which they turn their backs to the audience, a stance they will repeat for much of their set. The insular, almost autistic vibe on stage contrasts sharply with the vibrancy and diversity of the music. The explosive punk-funk bass and eastern-tinged guitar of 'Wild Human Child' is sandwiched between abrasive, near-metal riff-fests and more ambient, keyboard-heavy songs like 'Heavenly'. If EHH seem barely aware of the fuss surrounding them - interaction with the crowd is non-existent and they often appear to be playing just for each other's benefit - there's still enough energy coming off them tonight, coupled with a surfeit of musical inventiveness, to make sure they stay in people's minds long after they slouch off stage.

Something which you imagine might be slightly galling to final band Is Tropical. But if that's the case, they don't show it. The, by now, well-oiled crowd are in the mood for dancing and Is Tropical, with their two-pronged attack of synth and bass, are happy to oblige. Their propulsive first track and striking look - leather jackets, bandanas hiding faces - make it seem we're in for a kind of 21st century retooling of The Prodigy's techno-punk. Following this, the band settles into a fuzzy, rocky sound not a million miles from London hiperati faves The Big Pink but with added electro sparkle, proving a nicely galvanizing dénouement to the evening's entertainment.

Richard Morris

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