ZULI has spent the past five years bringing us morphing, visceral tracks from the harder edges of club music, in the process becoming a fast favourite among UK experimental staples like Lorraine James, Shannen SP and AYA. After 2018’s Terminal, in which ZULI, real name Ahmed El Ghazoly, combined his experimental approach with ambient soundscapes, delicate synths and Egyptian and Middle Eastern rap, All Caps represents an unequivocal return to club oriented tracks for the Egyptian producer. For the uninitiated, El Ghazoly’s long term collaborator Lee Gamble, whose UIQ Records have released much of ZULI’s music including this EP, is a good reference point: tough, relentless music, designed to reward those willing to delve deeper into the concepts and ideas behind the swirling breakbeats, chopped vocal samples and heavily manipulated synths.
Easy listening, this is not. But what ZULI does so well is to keep each of All Caps’ 6 tracks uncompromising and brimming with ideas, while retaining the musicality and pure club energy that can so often go missing from more experimental electronic music. There’s even a healthy dose of humour, particularly on the EP’s final cut Bro (Love It!), a high energy drum workout which, around the two minute mark, is conspicuously interrupted by what Western audiences might consider the ‘classic’ (read stereotypical) sounds of Middle Eastern and North African music: the mizmar (a conical wind instrument usually played in accompaniment to belly dancers) and what sounds like the doumbek or ‘chalice drum.’ These elements are, in turn, greeted by a vocal sample exclaiming “Oh my god, this has Egyptian music all over! Love the Arabic fusion, bro!” in an American accent, a reference to both El Ghazoly’s frustration with being pitched as the representative of some mythical, musically cohesive Egyptian ‘scene’, and to an actual incident in which El Ghazoly was approached by a party goer complaining that the producer had stopped playing North African influenced music, when he had in fact been playing the British/Portuguese hard drum.
In his desire to not be defined by nationality, El Ghazoly borrows liberally from a number of genres with strong links to the UK. Tany and Where Do You Go are hard edged takes on jungle in the vein of Shanghai’s hyph11e. The latter track particularly impresses with its menacing, discordant bass and pin point drum programming, reminiscent of UK master Sully. Bassous sounds like a minimalist, industrialised take on footwork, eschewing that genre’s hip hop and soul samples in favour of something more raw and decidedly non-human, the track filling your ears with noise as it reaches its crescendo. Meanwhile, Penicillin Duck is somewhere between a supercharged Lamont track and Jennifer Walton, the almost horror movie-esque synths adding an ethereal energy to ZULI’s go to combo of huge bass hits and stuttering vocals. If there is a weaker cut on the EP, it’s Keen Demag, a machine gunning rhythmic track which seems to edge on something without, in my opinion, quite getting there.
This is a hugely exciting project, one that manages to be both challenging and accessible, human and forward thinking all at the same time. A rare gem from one of world dance music’s most fearless producers.
All Caps is out now. Buy here.
3. Where Do You Go
4. Penicillin Duck
5. Keen Demag
6. Bro! (Love it)