INTERVIEW: Mariam Rezaei Interview | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Mariam Rezaei is a mainstay of the Newcastle underground music world. She kicked off her career using turntables and vinyl records to create hip-hop beats. Having played many competitions, where her and her opponent try to outdo each other with their skills and techniques, and performed live across the region, Rezaei has now been at the forefront of the local scene with her recent experimental studio releases.

I don’t envisage myself going back to wanting to compete or impress audiences in a hip-hop ‘competition’ sense at all.” She explains. “I say this, but I work very hard on my scratch and beat-juggling techniques and they are a very intricate part of my performance. My skills are tight as when I’m on the decks I work hard, and it’s an important value for me.”

She further adds: “As I say to other musicians, it’s all well and good people wanting to learn how someone else makes music, but the ones that really innovate will push hard in their own direction. I don’t want to be the next DJ Shadow or Kool Herc. I’m me. There isn’t anyone else like me.”

Turntablism, as a genre of music, involves taking samples from vinyl records and using a turntable, along with a varied number of techniques to manipulate them into brand new tracks. These tracks can lead into either hip-hop or experimental soundscapes, with the songs becoming a brand new entity. A great example of this is Rezaei and Stephen Bishop’s collab album, Veil, from April of this year. The album features eerie and mellow tracks such as Bulgar Rose, but also harsh and nasty sonic environments, such as Abacus Core.

I think good turntable music is something I haven’t quite expected to hear before, made on a turntable

I think good turntable music is something I haven’t quite expected to hear before, made on a turntable. I really value the musicianship and skills of making music behind turntablism. Good turntable music is a hard-earned title, as well it should be, like all other good music.”

An important element for musicians to consider when creating music is the space in which the music is played in – whether it’s through headphones, live or in a competition. I wanted to find out how it effects Rezaei’s approach to constructing music.

For me, every piece as performance is unique and important.” She says, “I’m not interested in repeating the same performance again and again. I have written pieces that were for specific audiences and for specific settings. I wrote a piece called Wolf’s Tail in 2019 which was performed in an atrium for Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. The piece fucks up speech from Margaret Thatcher and plays in Scottish MP Mhairi Black, talking about the need for food banks and child poverty. By isolating those two politicians and speeches, I wanted to demonstrate the horrific legacy that Thatcher left in the north and how young politicians, like Mhairi Black, are working hard to help us recover from these atrocities. I had the speakers positioned out across the atrium, like huge horns, blasting out from a politician’s podium. When the Thatcher speech was scratched into a hellish noise, the crowd cheered. That northern town understands the post-industrial hell we’ve been put through in the North East too.”

But when working in a studio, Rezaei takes a slightly different approach: “Working in the studio is a completely different frame of mind, but has similarities in that I am concentrating on how the audience experience the sounds I produce. Working with turntables in the studio is my most familiar territory, especially over the last 18 months. I suppose the biggest challenge in that sense is how does someone make work that is so visual in real life, or as engaging as it is when it was recorded in the studio.”

Mariam Rezaei will be performing at Brave Exhibitions, a festival held at The Cluny from the 19th – 21st November. This year sees the event place an emphasis on safe spaces. It’s a subject Rezaei is passionate about, as talked about in her 2019 TUSK talk with Derek Walmsly. In this talk she mentions that during competitions she would receive remarks like ‘alright for a girl’. I asked Mariam about her opinion on the festivals and concerts starting to place an emphasis on creating safe spaces.

Safe spaces are vital for everyone. It’s so sad that we have to keep bringing this up, but there is a real problem, and it starts in our home towns, and for all of us. Any man that challenges me at something as ‘being a woman’ is gonna hear the sharp end of my tongue. I was being polite in that interview.”

She further added: “I’m old enough now to not be bothered by this but that doesn’t mean everyone else is. It’s important that we are allies for all our sisters, brothers and siblings. We also need to remember the importance of intersectionality and that a safe space does mean hard work for everyone. Safe spaces are vital to any performance, venue or festival so that everyone is safe. There’s no question of that.”

Fans of Rezaei should be excited for what’s coming next. “I don’t do quiet and I don’t do ‘not busy’. I’m not glamourising being busy, I just don’t know how else to be. I’m working on a couple of new ideas at the minute, particularly on live effects with vinyl, live sampling and finding a ‘melting point’ for sound in turntables between electronics and the sound source of the samples. It’s gonna be loud, fast and full of energy.”

Mariam Rezaei performs at Brave Exhibitions Festival at The Cluny, Newcastle on Sunday 21st November. She has recently released a brand new single with opera singer Alva Al-Sultani titled SISTER.


cafeOTO · TR193 – Alya Al-Sultani & Mariam Rezaei – ‘SISTER’ [excerpt]

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