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Bands to Watch: Soopar Lox

About a month ago, I remember being at Cairo Jazz Club, bopping my head to some refreshing electronic music that was blaring out of the speakers. It only became so much more penetrating when I realized that there was no DJ; a band was playing the music, and with a fixating amount of enthusiasm.

Being an extremely pessimistic person when it comes to finding good live music in Cairo, I was swept off my feet by the strength of the band: aesthetically, artistically and even in their underplayed sense of professionalism.

Seeing the band for a second time at their show Monday night, again at the Jazz Club, confirmed my initial impressions.

Soopar Lox is a band that cuts straight through all the usual tiring, aesthetic baggage of many “artistes,” and just gets straight to the point – having fun.

The name Soopar Lox is a tongue-in-cheek joke about the way Egyptians stereotypically express themselves in English; initially they opted for “Soobar” with a “b”, but admit they didn’t want to alienate anybody. Finding a band with a sense of humility is always refreshing.

You’ll also notice that the band is in no way trying to win over their audience with fashion gimmicks or disproportionate visions of self-importance; they simply walk in looking like they just drove back from Sinai, and play to their hearts content as if they haven’t heard music in months.

The music, simply put, is electronic dance music. But not simply put, is much more difficult to define, as is most good music these days.

The band reluctantly defines their music as oriental, deep house music; but the reason for their reluctance is obvious because the term could imply anything from cutting edge music to pure cheese.

On the other hand, one can’t help but hear a massive amount of influences leaking through, from the UK band Faithless, to free jazz, techno, and straight up grunge inclinations. The set started on Monday with a tune that sounds like tribal, uplifting vocal house, and ended with another that sounded like what Joy Division would if Rumi, the Persian poet, was the lead singer rather than Ian Curtis.

But the professionalism of the band is one of their most striking elements. The band members are definitely no space cadets when it comes to music and they have all been heavily involved in the business for a long time – most of the band members are in their thirties – which is why, though still in its infancy stages, Soopar Lox has the sound of a band that has been playing together for years.

“Soopar Lox was initially conceived last October, but it never really gelled until the beginning of January,” says Akram al-Sherif, one of the founding members. “The idea was to be a band that could play at large techno and house clubs with zero compromise coming from the limitations of traditional instruments. Thankfully with the revolution and all, our jobs being slowed down, we had plenty of down time to practice and just really put ourselves into it.”

The band is made up of five core members, however, various guests also seem to alternate throughout the set. The core band members are  drummer Negmeddin Shaheen, bassist/guitarist Akram El Sherif, the electronic technician on laptops and fuzzboxes, Mahmoud Refaat, a female vocalist who sings in English, Sheila Scribner, and a male vocalist who sings in Arabic, Bassem Wadie. Among the guests that night were other percussionists, electronics whizzes and a violin player.

The essence of the music is a driving bass rhythm and a solid, stomping drum beat, as is with most electronic dance music. The electronics section then adds various, bizarre textures that morph and warp the sound, with guests and other features popping in along the way. But, what is strikingly obvious straight away, and is definitely the selling point of Soopar Lox, is that the musicians know how to play their instruments very well and can make it look so simple, fun, easy and interactive, yet churn out complex and bizarre rhythms.

Soopar Lox has yet to release a recording of any kind, having only been around for a few months. There are some demos floating around, and the band has penned about 18 songs, but it is definitely safe to say that the best way to hear Soopar Lox, now, or in the future, will most certainly be live. 

The tracks are generally a bit too long to be classified as simply pop, and very fleshed out, with section breakdowns that can last minutes at a time and buildups that operate likewise. A couple of times, I saw the percussionist guest get so involved in the sound that he dropped his drumsticks; however because each member holds their part so well, it sounded almost intentional.

The band will continue to formulate its intended direction throughout the summer, though they claim their conceptual direction is one that follows the sounds of the music, rather than trying to adapt to a certain kind of genre. They also intend to take their live performances throughout Europe, believing that scenes abroad can be much more accommodating to the life and health of a band; which is why they opted to incorporate Arabic textures and vocals.

Usually when one hears a Cairene band use words like ‘tour Europe’ or ‘incorporate Arabic textures,’ it is a signal to roll the eyes or walk away. But with Soopar Lox, this definitely seems like a possibility, and I strongly suggest getting out to see this band while it is still in its formative stages, because it is just so much fun.

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