Hopefully you read the papers and take some interests in current affairs (and anyone who thinks music and current affairs shouldn’t be linked is an idiot). Cyrus’ latest project is a download single ‘Precious Little.’ As he explains on his website:
“I’m releasing this track to raise money for Medical Aid For Palestinians (MAP), an organisation currently engaged in a humanitarian effort to help innocent people caught in a terrible crossfire. The track costs £1, but please give more if you can, and please do share the link around.
All proceeds will go to MAP, a UK charity that has been working in the region for more than 30 years, and is currently being stretched to the limit in the unfolding medical emergency in Gaza – providing support and training to embattled Palestinian doctors and nurses, stockpiling and distributing medical supplies, and responding to emergencies on the ground. You can find out more about MAP’s work via their website: www.map-uk.org.
Artwork for the track has been provided by my friend Spencer Murphy, who has donated an image from his recent series of bird portraits, Traces: bit.ly/X9so5E.”
If this doesn’t move you, shame on you.
As the track has now raised over £1,500 so far, Cyrus has made this track available as a free download:
Cyrus Shahrad, maker of the Festive Fifty no.1 last year ‘Insurrection’, records as Hiatus. He has been responsible not only for some fine music, but also videos in the promos for ‘Save Yourself‘ and the aforementioned ‘Insurrection‘ (the latter featuring the vocal talents of none other than Linton Kwesi Johnson. Videos that move this writer to tears.
He has just released the mightily fine three-track EP Change Up. This features vocal talents from his friend Matt Falloon of Smoke Feathers. The two of them have known each other for many years -and in fact were in a band together at University called Holy Smoke, which also featured none other than Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip on guitar.
This is the video for Change Up: narrative, and not a little sad, but not without hope, either:
Stream the whole EP here. Seriously. What else were you going to do with the next fifteen minutes?
I might have been expecting a brief ‘thanks-really appreciate this…’ Instead, I got a very thoughtful, eloquent reflection on the track and how it ended up being not just a historical reference, but also a lesson to the present and future.
” ‘Insurrection’ was always more than just another Hiatus track, but there was a point this summer when it turned into something else altogether. I was having dinner at the Highbury home of my friend Spencer – whose photographs grace the covers of all my releases – and we ended up glued to the television as the riots swept across London, the images of blazing buildings and looted shops almost indistinguishable from the footage edited together for the Insurrection video a few months earlier.
The next morning I woke in Brixton and went for a stroll around those parts of town that weren’t blocked off by police tape, marvelling at the boarded up windows, the shattered bus stops, the still smoking shell of Foot Locker. I recalled what several black residents of Brixton had told me in March, when I was researching a story on the anniversary of the riots for the New Statesman. With rents doubling in the refurbished market, black-owned stores closing to make way for upmarket coffee shops and one-bedroom flats costing on average £300 more per month than their equivalent in neighbouring Streatham Hill, there was a sense that Brixton’s much lauded regeneration was turning into a whitewash.
“The only people that can afford to stay are the affluent whites that Lambeth Council desperately wants to attract,” said Senior P, who works at the Blacker Dread record shop on Coldharbour Lane. “Some say Brixton is being regenerated, but for the people who live here and fought for these streets, the feeling is that the town is being taken away from us.”
Blacker Dread was one of three local record stores that I inundated with hundreds of free Insurrection promo CDs. I’d originally put the track together with a sample of Linton reading his seminal poem on the 1981 riots, Di Great Insohreckshan, afterwards getting in touch with the man himself and asking if he’d mind me releasing it as an official collaboration, which he was happy to do. The track went down well: a panel on Steve Lamacq’s roundtable (including James Lavelle) voted it their single of the week on BBC 6 Music; it featured on Kibwe Tavares’ animated sci fi reimagining of the 1981 riots, Robots Of Brixton, which recently screened on Channel 4; and it attracted a number of notable remixes, including a monstrous dubstep makeover by Rebel Sonix.
But the real legacy of that track for me is here in Brixton. For all the progress made since the travesty of the police reaction in 1981, there remains a simmering sense of unease, of a problem being wilfully ignored or swept under the carpet. Working with so powerful a voice and so profound a subject was a huge blessing, but it also created a sense of responsibility, especially after the events of this summer. I only hope the track serves as a reminder to all those quick to condemn rioters that for every bewildered teenager grabbing trainers there are those driven to destroy their own neighbourhoods through a genuine frustration at the impossibility of making life work in the modern world.”
When I first wrote about this song, I said that the video had reduced me to tears when I saw it back in February. I’ve pretty much known since then that it would be my ‘track of the year’ and so it has proved.
What a difference thirty years makes…or perhaps it doesn’t. To whit: a Royal Wedding making all the headlines, frustration about unemployment, revolution abroad…is 2011 just too close to 1981 for comfort?
This week marks the release of a truly remarkable single ‘Insurrection’ by Hiatus. The vocals on the track come from the legendary Linton Kwesi Johnson, and deal with the riots that happened in Brixton in 1981. The video for the song features footage from the time, the poverty of that area of South London, the unemployment and the unrest which characterised day to day life for many in the area. Linton Kwesi Johnson had come to Britain as a child, and still calls the area home today.
As does Hiatus, the name that Cyrus Shahrad records under. I called him up for a chat about the single, his experiences of Iran and how film-making is as much a part of what he does.
First up, then, why the choice of name? ‘When I finished Uni,’ he reveals, ‘my first ambition was to start a magazine. The word [‘hiatus’] first came to my attention through a skateboard magazine. It just sounded…otherworldly.’
With the idea of a break, or a pause, almost Pinter-esque?’ I ask, thinking of the late playwright whose use of pauses characterised much of his work.
Cyrus’ family fled Iran at the time of the revolution and have lived in the UK since then. Telling him (without I hope, sounding too sycophantic) how great I think the single and video are), I ask him what his experiences of Brixton then and now are. I ask him about the riots of 1981.
‘I don’t really recall the riots…I was three,’ Cyrus points out. He adds that a lot has improved in Brixton since the 1981 riots, and he speaks warmly about his experience of living there Living there, he’s noticed a sense of pride in the area. He recalls how living in one block of flats on the border with neighbouring (and still more affluent) Clapham, the residents were adamant that they lived in Brixton, not Clapham. He also recalls how as a teenager, the area still had a pretty harsh reputation. Attending a Beastie Boys gig at the legendary Brixton Academy, he confesses that his father waited in the car outside.
The track ‘Insurrection’ – built upon from the version that appears on his debut Ghost Notes, from last year – accompanies a video made by Cyrus himself. I ask him what it was like to make the video, pointing out that the final version is one of only two to ever nearly reduce me to tears (the other is ‘Hurt’ by Johnny Cash).
‘It was intoxicating to work with that sort of footage,’ he says thoughtfully. ‘You see stuff in it that you wouldn’t normally see.’ As for the vocals from Linton Kwesi Johnson, Cyrus says: ‘For better or worse, I’ve been very rooted in sample culture. [the vocal] came from a recital [Johnson] did in France, I think.’ The two have yet to meet. ‘He was cool with it,’ Cyrus says of the poet, whose work is a massive insight into the experience of the Afro-Caribbean experience in the UK. ‘He’s sadly unwell at the moment, recovering from an operation.’
‘Insurrection’ isn’t the only amazing video that Cyrus has produced. The video for the first single ‘Save Yourself’ is made up of astonishing footage of how life changed in Iran in the twentieth century, finishing with the Shah leaving Iran to go into exile, and the return to Iran of Ayatollah Khomeini. As he says on his YouTube page it’s made ‘using archive footage of the last century of social and political upheaval in Iran: from the industrialisation program of Reza Shah to the revolution that unseated his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and led to my family fleeing Tehran when I was barely a year old.’ Astonishingly, the video for this really only took a few hours. ‘It was made in a morning on iMovie.’ Really? ‘Genuinely done by lunchtime.’ the video is dedicated to his father who, he says, was genuinely moved by it.
In the UK, of course, the Middle East is barely out of the news, and often for all the wrong reasons. Cyrus seems perfectly happy living in the UK, but he had always felt a link. ‘I’d lived there as a baby,’ he reveals, ‘but my Dad didn’t think there was a future there for us. At twenty-four I got this insatiable urge to go back. Anyone with two cultures,’ he says thoughtfully, ‘ is doubly blessed.’ In 2004 he made his first visit to go back there, and he’s been back every year since then.
I ask about how he sees Iran as being represented in the UK media, even from the point of view of someone who is a journalist.
‘The media portrayal of Iran is as the bogeyman in the Middle-East. 70% of it is rural and poor. Journalists go to Tehran (the capital) and assume that’s what the country is like.’
It was whilst there covering the Iranian 2005 presidential election for the Sunday Times, that he found himself exploring at his Grandmother’s house. Amongst the things that he discovered was his Father’s record collection of music, much of which was banned by the revolutionary government. Having Djed through his teens and twenties, he returned to London, and started mixing the music of his Father with that of his own experience growing up in the UK. It would still be another five years before he felt ready to release an album, the aforementioned Ghost Notes. It mixes UK bass culture with Middle-East melancholy, drum’n’bass and reggae.
And the future? ‘At the moment, I’m in transition from being a full-time journalist to being a full-time musician.’ He tells me that he’s hoping to start his second album in July. He’s in talks with Iranian musicians in London and anticipates that it will be less sampled-based.
Whatever Hiatus does next, it’s sure to be worth waiting for.
OK folks, as you’ve probably picked up between the lines here, we are shortly about to have a baby, so that means that the blog may well be on the backburner for a bit.
However, there are treats coming your way. Including:
An interview with Hiatus! Yes, Cyrus who is responsible for the frankly awesome ‘Insurrection‘ video and this video for ‘Save Yourself’ chatted to me for half an hour, so will be writing that up when I get a moment. Check out Hiatus’ album Ghost Notes if you get a chance. Actually, sod that: check out his album!
I’ve heard more than sixty new releases so far this year (which is quite good going, I suppose), and I have posted a number of reviews here on the blog.
I flagged up Kurt Vile last week; Two very different releases I am also enjoying are the art-metal of Earth’s new album Angels Of Darkness Demons Of Light and the gorgeous indie-pop of Acid House Kings’ Music Sounds Better With You. the former is out now; the latter is due at the end of the month.
Here’s a track from each (bear in mind these are very different styles and may induce a negative reaction in narrow minded folk):
There’s very few videos that have ever reduced me almost to tears. One is ‘Hurt’ by Johnny Cash (if that doesn’t make you wanna weep, you have no soul). The other is this by Hiatus.
This track is called ‘Insurrection’ and features vocals from the legendary dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson (absolute legend -actually met him him at the Edinburgh Book Festival in 2002!). This track remembers the Brixton Riots of 1981. Both Hiatus and Linton Kwesi Johnson call Brixton home. Though the area has changed over time, when people go on about 1981 being the year of the Royal Wedding of Charles & Diana, they should remember that the folks in many cities had more pressing concerns: Unemployment, racial harassment, police harassment, inner cities burning…plus ca change la meme chose, as the French say.
This video looks like it’s from news footage of the time, and if this doesn’t make you burn with righteous indignation…God help you. The Tory politician Norman Tebbit had the insolence at the time to say that ‘My Father didn’t riot. He got on his bike and looked for work.’ (Screw you, Tory scum.) My A-Level Politics teacher used to say that ‘Riots are the ballot box of the poor.’ She was unquestionably right.
Hiatus’ album Ghost Notes is out now. ‘Insurrection’ is out on April 11.