Formed in 2011 as an American sister label to Night Slugs just as the previous year’s hype was starting to dissipate, one could be forgiven for thinking Fade To Mind might end up an unfortunate casualty of fashion trends. Just over a year later and its clear just how wrong this prediction was, with Fade To Mind on course to usurp its older sibling’s status and perhaps even surpass 2010’s creative highs. Following Massacooramaan’s hyperkinetic “Dead Long Time” is something of a left field move for the label, passing the dancefloor by with Fatima Al Qadiri’s “Desert Strike EP”– a continuation of a conceptual approach to electronic music that has so far produced two excellent records on leftfield labels Tri Angle and UNO respectively. Having grown up in Kuwait and thus experienced the Gulf War directly as a child, as a backdrop to the record Qadiri has described the feeling of having such a traumatic event recast just one year later as an interactive game world in which you control avatars of those who attacked your home. The game in question lends itself to the EP’s title – Desert Strike: Return To The Gulf – and contributes overarching themes that have been permeating through avant garde music recently: virtual worlds, the depersonalisation inherent in technology and a nineties-based retrofuturism.
Stream: Fatima Al Qadiri – Ghost Raid (Fade To Mind)
At first blush “Desert Strike” shares a striking number of similarities with its predecessor “Genre Specific Xperience.” Once again we have street music recast as quasi-religious wordless prayers in some 32-bit parallel universe to our own, and Qadiri utilises the same chants, steel drums and distorted bass swells that characterised her previous release. It’s hard to say whether the difficulty in distinguishing between the two is a demonstration of her success in developing a distinct voice or failure in integrating her conceptual wont into her sonic worlds. The fact GSX was designed to project particular genre workouts through her idiosyncratic lens inclines one to the former, with the subtle tweaks to her sound palette representing a decisive step forward perfecting an environment Qadiri has already carved out rather than a repetition with diminishing returns. Befitting of an artist in the thrall of nineties video game unreality, here the sequel is an upgrade rather than a reinvention: better CGI graphics, improved character models, more immersive. Projecting into the future, we’re seeing the evolution of a crystalline architectural object gradually building in intricacy and design. Thus, “Desert Strike” is a streamlined release: more hi-fi with extraneous elements eradicated.
The most obvious result of this process is a general moratorium on drum workouts, but this rhythmically minimal guise suits Qadiri. While the more volatile tracks on GSX employed lumbering and clunky percussion, the few kicks and hats here are gracefully skimmed stones, unobtrusively skipping across the tracks though losing nothing in effectiveness. Given a professed grime influence, these stripped down tracks imply faint lines of continuity between this record and the currently in-vogue eski sound of yesteryear. Unlike the vast numbers of producers throwing out “Ice Rink” samples and calling it a day, Qadiri seems to be relating with early grime on a more conceptual level, adopting a Wiley-esque compositional ethos but never stooping to superficial mimicry. And though the distance between James Ferraro style uncanny valley horseplay and East London grime seems huge, Qadiri has created an intriguing bridge between the two. Given that early grime was heavily video game soundtrack inspired and even utilised the Playstation has a production tool, there’s an incidental way in which both worlds’ aesthetics collide even if their intents diverge. Hence gunshots and camera clicks find their way on the tracks and its impossible to decide whether to attribute them to the video game setting or an adherence to grime tropes, though the subtle square wave synths give more than a clue.
Stream: Fatima Al Qadiri – War Games (Fade To Mind)
These are just pieces of a puzzle that connects Qadiri to Fade To Mind’s world. For another, take the clear similarities between her work and that of Art Of Noise, the eighties group behind “Moments In Love.” Given that the label’s obsession with the incredible lineage it birthed led associate Nguzunguzu to create a mix comprised of nothing but tracks sampling it, its not difficult to see how the “Desert Strike” EP fits with what is becoming a fantastically diverse yet coherent label discography. Where her labelmates take such outre influences and incorporate them onto the dancefloor, Qadiri inverts the process, inserting winking nods to dancefloor tropes whilst remaining firmly in the leftfield. Peers with similar tactics often end up with a slightly dull dance-music-rendered-undanceable, but Qadiri is working towards something singular and exciting. It will be interesting to see not only how future instantiations of this project live up to the promise shown here, but also how far out Fade To Mind will be willing to push.
Fatima Al Qadiri – Desert Strike EP is available now on Fade To Mind.