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Omar Al Fil 13 Oct 2014

The Persistence of Electronic Music in Lebanon: Radio KVM’s Debut Album “Issrar”

The state of electronic music in Lebanon has undergone a shift in recent years. The late 2000s were ablaze with live performances by local and international talents (I’m talking monthly, even weekly here), with the occasional album being released. The emphasis was on live performances and parties, rather than aspiring for definitive recordings and career-determining albums; the occasional SoundCloud upload not included.

Lately however, the live performance scene has almost completely dried out, though many of the artists from the “heyday” of the scene have been taking the time to finally lay some sounds down for prosperity. OkyDoky released his electro-hip hop masterpiece Boombox a year ago. Liliane Chlela is said to be putting something together. And now, Sary Moussa a.k.a. Radio KVM returns once again with an album of his very own: Issrar.

(Photo by Tanya Traboulsi)

The album opens with “Navid,” an eerie, ambient, beat-less track which would serve as great background music for a particularly tense scene from a film; not a huge leap of the imagination, considering that Radio KVM has done work for soundtracks and theater performances in the past. The track bears a closer resemblance to the type of thing you’d hear coming out of the Irtijal improvised music circle: no beat, not much melody, only abstract sound, which is fair enough for an album opener.

Luckily, everything following that slides right into the realm of what most could more easily identify as electronic music. Those familiar with the heavier more dubstep-inspired material Radio KVM used to play live during the late-2000s alongside OkyDoky will notice a drastic shift from that sound here. The track, “Breeding Clones,” actually does have a beat going, but it’s nothing too wild; just steady thumping kicks with hi hats accompanied by layers of synth melodies building up over one another.

“Six” continues along the same vein, with no overbearing beat, just a steady succession of kicks and percussive sounds. The approach to synths is not too dissimilar from the previous track, though the sound of a woman drawing in breathe does come into the equation. A lot of these sounds were generated through unconventional means and picking up on these nuances is its own reward.

“Alpha Apparatus” goes further down the path of formlessness with an even more subtle and subdued, albeit persistent and mechanical, beat driving it, while the accompanying electronic elements become more atmospheric and less melodic. I can’t really write this one off, though, because the album’s primary release format happens to be as a vinyl record (which is very cool), meaning that this would be the opener to Side 2, and as with “Navid,” its inclusion does serve a purpose.

Just when I thought the remaining two tracks would be more of the same, or plunge even deeper into amorphism (like a track where it’s just this one deep drone with some reverb handclap samples or something of the like), “Hysteresis” proves me wrong. This track has more traditional breakbeat style drums, like you’d hear in something by Aphex Twin perhaps, and though the synth and effects work is not that much different from “Breeding Clones” or “Six,” the more upbeat tempo and drum treatment saves it for me.

(Photo by Tanya Traboulsi)

Finally we arrive at the closing track, “Silvershine,” which did not disappoint. Here we see Radio KVM tapping into the part of the brain responsible for producing dubstep (the dubsteppial lobe, if I’m not mistaken) for the rhythm on this one, which I wholeheartedly approve of, and I’m not even that into dubstep really, but the variation is welcome. Even the accompanying sounds this time have something new going for them: there’s eerie female vocals, a constant digital string-section type tune, and even some bass wubs (that would be the dubsteppial lobe again). I can see why this track was saved for last, and I’m glad the record ended on this high note.

Issrar is a meticulously and diligently crafted album that could potentially appeal to just about anyone, depending on one vital factor: context. In other words, it hingest on when you listen to it, and what you’re looking to get out of it. If you’re looking for something to blast through your car sound system while you cruise around with your buddies, you won’t have much interest in this. But if you’re looking for something to fill the void of silence, something not too distracting but still engaging enough to keep you active while reading, studying, working on miniatures of WWII era fighter planes, or whatever, then this will probably do the trick for you.

Get the live treatment on Wednesday night as Radio KVM holds his album launch concert at Beirut Art Center starting at 8:30 p.m. For more information, head to this link.