Besides their release this year in beautifully packaged vinyl editions, and use of Mediterranean field recordings, Mutamassik’s album Rekkez, and Savage Republic’s Varvakios LP, don’t seem to have a lot in common. However, both come from an aesthetic of fatalistic, yet rebellious, sonic energy, fuelled by an urgency to burst into a future weighed down by ancient history.
Savage Republic started honing their post-industrial ritualized rock back in the early ‘80s in L.A. The band distinguished themselves sonically with their heavy percussion, jangling surf guitar, and Middle Eastern-tinged melodies. They also became known for the fine letterpress packaging of their releases and gig flyers in a style that evoked a vaguely exotic early-20th century, pan-Mediterranean nationalism.
After sitting out most of the 1990s, Savage Republic reformed in 2004. Varvakios is that reformed lineup’s second album. The band recorded it during a short visit to Greece in February that also saw massive protests about the recent elections and related issues like austerity and staying in the Eurozone. That tension flows through the album’s eight tracks, from the anthemic opening vocal track “Sparta” through to the dramatic closing tune “Anatolia.” In between, cuts like the cavernous exploration “Pigadi” contrast with tunes like “Hippodrome,” which reflect aspects of the band’s past early-Cure-meets-Dick Dale instrumental style.
Former Tuxedomoon member Blaine Reininger’s violin provides an elegant flair to the rocking proceedings, offering up gorgeous flavor on traditional-Greek-sounding cuts like the title track and the reflective “Poros.” Overall, the album finds Savage Republic at a creative peak, producing an intense artifact of unrest and emotion.
Mutamassik is the sonic guise of Giulia Loli, a musician/producer born of Italian and Coptic Egyptian parentage. Loli watched from Italy as the Egyptian revolution blew up in her former hometown of Cairo, and resulted partly in electoral victory for the Muslim Brotherhood and attacks on her Coptic community. Her 2012 album Rekkez finds her combining traditional percussion instruments like the riq, the mazhar, and the douf with cello across digital beat and noise arrangements. Loli herself calls the album
…a collection of tracks resembling pages torn from a tormented diary, with a complex array of emotions (anger, angst, gloom, pride, faith, isolation, anguish, etc).
Loli’s music rests on beats, but not in the clean, mechanized style that rules post-hip-hop electronic dance music. Her beats—both digital and hand-pounded—contain a physically and politically tangible ambience, as if you might find them resounding throughout a tumultuous Cairo marketplace or propelling a demonstration in Tahrir Square.
Uniquely, you can almost approach Rekkez from the outside in, in that parts one and two of the title track are like harsh percussive fortress walls at the beginning and near-end of the album. The heart of the LP is no less intense. The “Dr. Aida”/”Nawal” suite offers up a loping, reverberant boom-bass drum sound with grinding metal percussion, while “Rawa’a”’s rancorous rhythm loops offset the churning cello work and sampled chants on the downtempo “Coptic Guts.”
Rekkez reaches a peak of intimacy with the ambient pieces “In Labs Near Fields” and ”In Fields Near Labs,” both of which blend agonized cello and bells with the field-recorded sounds of footsteps, sirens, and a village brass band playing on a radio in the background. Loli draws you in with these reprieves from the rhythms, and in the process gives Rekkez that much more heft.
“It’s easy to destroy, but now we gotta build…” murmurs Loli at the end of the album. Seems like an ideal aphorism for the 21st century Mediterranean.
Photographs courtesy of the artists