Buzzing beyond the mainstream

The experimental collective Tse Tse Fly is the perfect antidote to the UAE’s commercial music scene. Iain Akerman talks to founder Simon Coates ahead of a new album release

This time last year Simon Coates was busy preparing for the inaugural Tse Tse Fly club night at Casa Latina in Barsha’s Ibis Hotel. It was to be an exploration of sound art and experimental noise, but perhaps most importantly it was to offer an antidote to the commercial music scene of the UAE.  

Now 12 months later, the sound art collective prepares to release its debut album on the UK-based label Must Die Records. It follows a year in which the collective has launched a regular radio show, curated and performed at the opening night of the Other Worlds Festival in the UK and organised a number of events across the UAE.

“I guess it’s quite something to get as far as we have in less than a year without corporate sponsorship or much regional, structured organisational support,” says Coates, who launched Tse Tse Fly as a platform to support sound artists and experimental musicians in the region.

“From the start we kind of knew that people might not get what we’re doing, so we’ve managed our expectations ever since,” he adds. “We’re all artists and/or musicians in our own right, as well as forming the vague Tse Tse Fly collective, and we’re all driven by the same quasi-incontinence that most other artists suffer from. We have to make stuff whether we feel like it or not. So what we’re doing is, by default, the very opposite of what happens in Dubai: we’re wilfully and knowingly putting on free events that expose people to sounds and performances that they might never have come across before. 

“It’s not commercial because we’re making the kind of stuff we like, we’re not trying to tempt a broader audience. However, in the process, it’s great to see that people are getting it and are open-minded enough to listen. These are the people that see Tse Tse Fly as a natural alternative to the mainstream. That said, someone once demanded we refund their cab fare as they weren’t prepared for what they described as a night of the kind of noise usually heard on a construction site. It’s only an uphill struggle if we let it become one.”

The album is called Easy Listening Vol.1 and will be released in September. It includes contributions from various members of the Tse Tse Fly collective, including Bahrain-born Hasan Hujairi, Abu Dhabi-based US multi-media artists Jonny Farrow and Isaac Sullivan, Lebanese artist Nour Sokhon, Dubai-based noise producer Black Line, and Tse Tse Fly founder Coates, who has collaborated with vocalist X under the name Visqueen.  The vinyl version of the album will also include exclusive artwork from members of the Tse Tse Fly family.

It’s like putting your hand into a cereal box and pulling out a whole load of fire-crackers that are already lit and about to go off 

Simon Coates, Founder of Tse Tse Fly

“There’s no theme to the album and we didn’t want to impose a particular sound or mood,” admits Coates, who lives and works as an artist in Dubai. “One of the tenets of Tse Tse Fly is that the people involved work in whatever way they feel most comfortable, so we’ve ended up with a set of tracks that are diverse and surprising. It’s like putting your hand into a cereal box and pulling out a whole load of fire-crackers that are already lit and about to go off.”

Those fire-crackers include Farrow’s Android Sea Chanty, which was created using a self-playing patch on the wall-sized EMU modular synthesiser at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Visqueen’s track is a cover version of the theme song from 1960s German/Yugoslavian TV show Ferien in Lipizza, while Kumah’s Elsidi is a cyclic meditation on the elusive memories of empathy and its decay.