Rock duo Amir Samman and Sherif Sami talk to us about their fresh sounds, and why they're content with music for music's sake.
Instrumental music is a dying breed around these parts, as most would be much happier jumping on the dance-music bandwagon, or hopping on stage with a laptop and a few wires. Thankfully, for the sake of keeping Egypt's alternative soundscape multifarious and prominent, Amir Samman and Sherif Sami AKA Go! Save The Hostages! are still tenaciously rocking out. Saying this, we probably shouldn't put them in the same category as Egypt's more established performers, as they garner a bitter taste towards the superficial media attention that artists have been securing since, and thanks to, the revolution. The duo talk with the sort of insouciant ‘we're-not-selling-out’ attitude you'd expect from a couple of Punk rockers, but thankfully they have the tunes to back it up. A fresh blend of ambient sounds with a Rock edge, cooked up in their living rooms, leaves the listener thoroughly engaged. It really is a trip to listen to their music, and it was an even bigger trip talking to them...
How did Go! Save The Hostages! get together?
Amir: We met through a mutual friend with whom we had an extremely short-lived punk band called The ShibShibs. We wrote one terrible song together called Bitches before deciding that we could perhaps do a bit better.
Where does the name come from?
Sherif: About a year and a half ago there was controversy over a children's plastic toy gun. It had lots of flashing lights and would say "Go go go... pull over and save the hostages!" when fired. Somehow word got out and the recording was misheard by some Islamists who insisted that the ordeal was a Shi'ite conspiracy plot where the recording actually said: "Kill the Prophet's wife," and thus, the issue was brought up in Parliament. We thought that it was ridiculously hilarious and sad. We were forming the band at the around the same time, so we thought, why not?
Where have you gigged in Egypt so far?
Amir: My living room! We're only two people and write music for a full band, and so playing live hasn't been a luxury as of yet. We're not keen on playing to backing tracks either. We're in the process of getting new band members, and we're almost there. We've been having difficulty finding someone who plays the strings (Dear readers; if you know of anyone who might like to try out, let us know!).
International media attention towards Egyptian music after the revolution. Good thing, or bad thing?
Amir: I suppose it was inevitable seeing as music and arts usually reflect the feelings of society at large. I would imagine that most bands here would think that it's a good thing, as it seems that almost everyone would jump at the chance to get out and play abroad. But I personally think it's a bit sad that local musicians feel that they have to be accepted by Europeans or Americans before they feel worthy of accomplishing anything. Saying this, I probably shouldn't complain as having a wider audience benefits us as well.
Sherif: It makes me unhappy that very little local media attention is directed towards artist and musicians in the country, which almost leaves local artists stranded in a desert, completely unexposed and buried with no alternative but for someone abroad to "save them".
How would you describe the Rock scene in Egypt at the moment?
Amir: The same as pretty much anywhere really. Cold and dead on the surface, but there's a pulse if you're willing to dig deep enough. 'Rock' used to be synonymous with 'exciting', but this is not the feeling that I get from most bands who claim to play the genre here. Acoustic guitar wielding singers / songwriters are the bane of our world.
Sherif: I feel that while there might be a huge pile of talent, it's just a big bunch of bands scattered all around the place with no sense of 'scene spirit' or 'unity' of any sort, if that makes any sense...
As emerging artists in a country that lacks a diverse musical taste, how do you see yourselves ‘making it’ on a bigger scale?
Amir: To be honest we've not really thought about anything like that. We weren't even sure that this project would make it out of the bedroom. I'm personally happy just hanging out in Egypt and making music; I'm not someone who equates my accomplishments by whether the Western music scene will accept me and view me as worthy enough to rub shoulders with them.
Between the both of you, how would you describe your songwriting process?
Sherif: We usually record a riff and then jam on top of it and record loads of variations until we think we have more than enough for a song. Then we start stripping it back down till we're left with something that we’re satisfied with. Sometimes we'll transcribe what's left for different instruments, other times we'll write specifically with that instrument in mind. It all starts with the guitars though, and everything is built around that.
There's a big sense of journey when listening to your first EP. Was there a specific theme or experience you had in mind when constructing it or was it all natural experimentation?
Amir: We didn't have a specific concept in mind when recording the first few songs. Most of them came from ideas we already had before starting the band, but we tried to give it a sense of continuity by using the same instruments and guitar sounds. One of the driving forces behind the band however, was the desire to create genuine soulful music to use as a shield against the commercially inclined pop rock status quo of those who are still trying to milk the 'revolutionary' cash cow.
Have you thought about involving a vocalist in the band?
Amir: A vocalist would upset the harmony of the instruments working together in balance. Vocals usually tend to dominate a track and steal the focus.
Who are you listening to these days?
Amir: As it's been getting colder, I find myself listening to heavier and harsher things more frequently than in the summer. So I've been listening to a lot of sludge, bands like Omega Massif and Warhorse. In the electronic world, I've been listening to the new Autechre EP and Jilk. Sam Shalabi has also been very inspirational with his seemingly carefree, yet highly organised and focused pieces that range from the sweetest oud sounds to a beautiful cacophony of electronic tomfoolery.
Sherif: I've been listening to a lot of the Broadcast album, Tender Buttons, lately; some old Urinals stuff as well as some noise rock; Lightning Bolt, Hella, and the new Melt Banana in particular.
Who are your favourite local bands/artists?
Amir: We were at Telepoetic's album launch last night. They played a great show and sound unlike any other band in the region. I have a bit of a crush on Youssra El Hawary, and of course there's Islam Chipsy who's like a god to us. There's also CellarDoor who makes the most chilled beats ever, and we’re lucky enough to have him mix for us.
Sherif: Object Obscure makes great ambient instrumental music. I'm looking forward to the next Invisible Hands record. They have a relentless enthusiasm which I find inspiring. I also like stuff like Theskyis256k and Stagnant Nebula.
With the way the Electronic scene has developed, have you thought at any point, fuck it, I'm downloading Traktor...
Amir: I make more electronic music than guitar music! I've been doing it for the better part of ten years under the name 'Hector Osbert'. I am on a label called Bit-Phalanx and have had stuff out on One Little Indian. I also make 80s throwback synthpop under the name, 'Unit δelta Pus', and do noise / drone as 'Corrupted By Angels'. Sherif also does his own thing as 'DLRTY'.
Sherif: Actually, we're more electronic than you might think, the computer has proven to be an indispensable part of this band.