The Trippin Mixes, Vol. 28: ZULI
The sound designer and producer knits together almost an hour of amorphous, brain-melting electronics and serene textures.
ZULI – real name Ahmed El Ghazoly – heads up Trippin’s flagship mix series with an entry that’s both club-focused and built for the tranquil morning that the night segues into. The producer began garnering critical attention for his debut full-length Terminal, released via Lee Gamble’s label UIQ, in 2018. Years later, in 2021, he followed up with the All Caps EP via the same imprint. Formerly known as XULI, it’s under these two monikers that he creates snarling, ferocious electronics mixed with brooding hip-hop; a hybridised sound that warps together elements of jungle, drum’n’bass, footwork, trap and grime into experimental contortions that feel best suited for the dimly-lit recesses of the club at 5am. Or, at an Aphex Twin show (ZULI's music has previously been played out by the pioneer).
The shapeshifting artist has also produced under the hip-hop alias Swag Lee, and co-founded the arts and music collective Kairo is Koming and platform irsh. In his home city, Cairo, he’s opened the live music and club space VENT.
On his Trippin mix, he continues to show how much of an unpredictable artist he is. It veers from club-adjacent rhythms and blistering noise to something more ethereal; mining the darker corners of the dancefloor and then shining a light into the nocturnal space he’s created.
This week, on 8 September, he’ll be inaugurating our new series of immersive experiences titled Undercurrents. We’re launching it with an evening of film screenings at London’s Corsica Studios, followed by a club night of global electronic sounds. Undercurrents sets out to examine how the cross-pollination of cultures has led to new sounds, moving images, genres and ideas. The films we've selected zoom in on local figures and cultural traditions around the world. They also dive into some of the issues affecting marginalised communities today, such as gentrification, the distribution of economic resources and social mobility.
ZULI is on the club programme alongside the likes of Príncipe-affiliated producer DJ Narciso, sound artist Flora Yin-Wong, Manchester legend Tom Boogizm and the Beauty Blender duo A.G and Manara. Appropriately, the artist will be playing into the later hours of the night, and in the lead-up to the event he writes to us from sunny Gesundbrunnen in Berlin, by the canal. Whilst watering the plants on the balcony of his sublet (he’s moved to three different spaces now since February), he types out his thoughts on the communities and underground artists operating within Cairo and across its diaspora.
Walk us through your mix. What’s your thinking behind it?
For this mix I wanted to play at least one track from each of my favourite artists from the different Cairene microscenes I operate within.
What’s special about the Cairo underground scene in 2023 compared to the past decade (or on a wider historical scale)?
There’s been a significant rise in the number of musicians and, consequently, music fans. So, unlike before, there are actual communities surrounding these artists and sounds, each with its own distinct identity and ecosystem
Sonically and aesthetically, is there anything tying the scene together?
I'm not sure there is. I feel like we're beyond that point now and each microscene has its own sound that is more similar to its counterparts in other cities around the world than to each other.
Can you highlight two artists from your mix doing something new and forward-thinking?
Wagdy Yachter is at the centre of a new, small group of rappers who are the antithesis of the big rap superstars dominating the mainstream. He makes sample/loop-based hip-hop that references Egyptian popular culture, and the rappers he works with often use lyrics that would never make it through censorship and into Vodafone or Pepsi ads.
The artist ltfll is making club-adjacent, rhythm-focused music using sequencers and other devices he builds using Max/MSP that helps create micro rhythms and Arabic grooves if used in a straightforward manner, but then (like most tools) you can push them beyond how they’re "supposed to be used" and the results are entirely unique. His sound design is amazing too.
What are misconceptions people in other countries have of Cairo’s music scene?
That it represents most Egyptians when, in reality, it only represents the voices and tastes of the privileged few who the unprivileged aspire to be like and mimic through their own art.
What do you think can be done to give emerging artists in Cairo more opportunities internationally?
To stop thinking of us as "Egyptian" artists; we are just artists who happen to be Egyptian. Quotas often backfire; a lot of the time the only reason you're unable to work with someone whose music you're a fan of is because you've already filled the Arab quota for that particular project. By reducing us to our nationality we become numbers on a spreadsheet. Even if you disagree and think quotas are necessary, we don’t need special treatment. We are good enough to be held to the same standards as everyone else. Give us equal opportunity and we'll come through.
What's been your most life-changing trip?
I’ve only ever travelled for work (gigs) so I rarely get to spend more than one night anywhere which, sadly, hasn’t ever been enough time for anything life-changing to happen. However, I remember playing at Norberg Festival in 2017 and there was this one venue with crazy acoustics. It was an abandoned iron mine where you navigate through the venue vertically via metal staircases that lead to metal platforms that resonate with the sound, so you would feel the soundwaves as well as hear them. The live sets that were commissioned obviously had to be designed with the venue's acoustics in mind, which was really interesting. That was one of the most inspiring trips I’ve ever been on.
What's been your favourite destination to travel to so far this year and why?
I did a residency in Aarhus, Denmark, with Croatian Amor earlier this year at this really cool commune called Institute for X. The people there seemed like a real family and were all very passionate about what everyone else in the community was doing, even if they weren't part of it themselves.
What other music scenes around the world are inspiring you right now?
The "Baile 2.0" scene in Brazil where all the sounds are super saturated. Also because a lot of it is performed on a DJ setup, so there’s this hip-hop, turntablist feel to it.
Wagdi Yachter ft. Muhammed 3eryan & Alaa Brany – Shobra
3Phaz – Drum Track
ABADIR – Sacraments
ZULI – Bombardino
1127 – 8918
Postdrone – Dumear 166
Ashrar – Lockjaw
Assyouti – Marham
Cheb Terro – el embratoreya (Azzouni Remix)
Siete Catorce & Amazondotcom – A Party That Fits in Your Pocket xxx FLEX (ltfll mess)
Granul – Aksayan (Hassan Abou Alam Remix)
Onsy – Damn On$$$
Lahab – esm awal
Seleem – monster2killed
Kareem Lotfy – Chromosome
WTTBH – _V1.1 – musicforstrangebyrds
PANSTARRS – Shaf Batee2
Nadah El Shazly – Mahmiya (Protectorate)
Karim Elghazoly – Demaghy raa7et menny
Qow – lazem a3eesh