An album densely besotted with a modern approach to media, politics and sound, Fatima Al Qadiri’s debut collection ‘Asiatisch’ quietly struts between those three authorities with remarkable dexterity and a singular vision. Deftly moving from Kingdom’s New York-based, Night Slugs-facing Fade to Mind imprint to Kode9’s ever empirical Hyperdub label makes for a natural transition, considering the latterly mentioned label’ head’s proclivity for dabbling in post-millennial ‘Sinogrime’, and the obvious interest in Oriental sound motifs so apparent in much of that producer’s earliest output.
It’s a tricky and culturally bespeckled path to pick through when a collection of music is so front-facing to appear almost as (for wont of a better phrase) a ‘concept album’. Yet despite the obvious references to an “imagined China”, the most striking offering here is the music itself. Despite the deeply affecting palette on offer within the initial Fade to Mind-issued ‘Desert Strike’ EP – a 4 track release named after the experience of videogame playing during the first Kuwait/Iraq war – as a Hyponik journalist it seems a disservice to delve into anything but the sounds present.
The colours on offer are monochrome, cold and stylistically set. To such a point that throughout the course of the album, a larger picture of dense synth waves, sparse percussion, atmospheric, beatless timpani-meets-snare loops, snatched Cantonese words and affecting silence meld together to manufacture a highly realised, at times paranoid grace. Having sent the album to a Chinese colleague to help translate the two “skits” offered in ‘Loading Beijing’ and ‘Jade Stairs’, – only to find that country’s internet activity restrained by Li Keqiang’s government – only helps to reaffirm the fact this record is a standpoint on a fancied world that neither myself nor Fatima Al Qadiri have ever visited.
‘Shanzai (For Shanzai Beinnal)’ is a cover of the Prince-written, Sinead O’ Connor-performed ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, complete with lightly finger-played synths and choral dread. ‘Wudang’ is the kind’ve beat you’re desperate to hear the likes of Grime MC’s old and new, Brazen and Novelist, go over hard. The parallels between ‘Misty Cold’-era Grime and the frosty delivery of that genre’s very best productions are fully on show, yet coupled with the beautifully oscillating work of tracks like ‘Hainan Island’ and ‘Forbidden City’, touch upon the furthest reaches of that same discipline. ‘Shanghai Freeway’ stands alone as a lesson in dramatic-yet-stripped songwriting, in which the most physical of synths spike their way through the speakers over tripled melodies that leave you wanting – a perfect exercise in the classic ’05 Youngsta tension/release aesthetic.
‘Shenzen’ acts as a warning shot across the bows (complete with gunshots and re-loaded glocks) of a Western dilution of Chinese culture that can perhaps be difficult to understand, whilst ‘Dragon Tattoo’ stands alone as the best example of Al Qadiri’s songwriting prowess, due to a two minute, 12,000 leagues deep intro, backed by half-step heavy-hitting snares, subs and kicks. “I’ve got a dragon tattoo on my arm / and I mean to cause you harm / speak Chinese if you please” never sounded so strangely intriguing.
‘Asiatisch’ acts as a singular, purely realised distillation of Grime, arpeggiated melodies, space, calm and violence, all wrapped up in some of the finest album artwork 2014 has managed to produce thus far. Rhythmic ambience, cold-hearted alarm and unforgiving one mindedness pays off in a collection of tracks that may take on politics, but are ultimately the musician’s tool for unrelenting expression. An “imagined China” that appeals to the keenest of music fan’s imaginations, Fatima Al Qadiri’s ‘Asiatisch’ shows a hauntingly individual artist freely at play, and could potentially be the most keenly achieved Hyperdub debut since ‘Burial’.
‘Asiatisch’ is available now via Hyperdub. Buy it here.