We pin down Fatima Al Qadiri one of the fearless four behind east-meets-west avant grime venture, Future Brown.
Fatima wears black vest by NASIR MAZHAR.
To be labelled a “supergroup” with only a couple songs under your belt might sound like a daunting cross to bear, but Future Brown is taking it in their stride. It comprises J– amie Imanian-Friedman, AKA J-Cush, founder of New York City record label Lit City Trax; Fatima Al Quadiri, signed to London label Hyperdub; and Nguzunguzu, the Los Angeles-based duo of Asma Maroof and Daniel Pineda. Unanimous from the start was their desire to produce tracks geared around vocalists they admire. And if the name Future Brown offers any hint, their sound is just that: a futuristic–, globe-trotting mashup of musical influences, pulling from grime, hip-hop, footwork, dancehall, R&B, reggaeton and anything else that piques their interest.
A debut show in November 2013 at New York’s MoMA PS1 saw Brown play in front of a choreographed basketball drill, adding an imaginative, immersive layer to their high-energy beats. Their double single, “Wanna Party–/World’s Mine”, will drop on Warp Records in November, and is the perfect introduction to their mercurial sound. The first is a storming hip- hop banger, peppered with hollow, distorted tones and held together by rising Chicago rapper Tink’s seductive, staccato lines. The latter is an aggressive, grime-steeped track featuring Ruff Sqwad’s Prince Rapid and Roachee of Roll Deep. Two different sounds, but the production on both is deliciously innovative and, at times, devilishly discordant. Over the next week we grill the four masterminds, first up – Fatima.
“You like your music without ideas? That’s not my problem, sorry,” shrugs Fatima Al Qadiri, all cool and collected. “You want to call it pretentious? Whatever, I don’t give a fuck.” It may sound like fighting talk, but it’s anything but. Sat on a well-worn sofa in a shared living space in Stoke Newington on a Thursday night, we’re discussing how narrow-minded people can be when it comes to musical narratives. “I’m interested in stories,” she says. “If they can cohabit with music, what’s the problem?”
Al Qadiri’s upbringing was dynamic to say the least. Growing up in Kuwait meant her first musical encounters ranged from the obvious (trad. Arabic music and western pop – think MJ’s Thriller pumping from the TV), to the more obscure (Russian classical music played by her father). When it came to British chart sounds, Al Qadiri’s summers were spent watching the likes of Duran Duran (“I remember the first time I heard them I was in awe, I was like ‘who are these boys?’”), Tears For Fears, Depeche Mode and INXS on MTV. But it was during house confinement at the time of Kuwait’s occupation that Al Qadiri first tried her hand at making music. She was ten.
“All the synthesisers and technology coming out of western music were mesmerising. It was exciting,” she gushes. Tinkering on what she describes as a “really weird, shitty upright organ”, she found joy experimenting with pre-set rhythms. By documenting her compositions meticulously on analogue tapes (that exist somewhere in Kuwait today), she became fully saturated in music.
Leaving Kuwait aged sixteen, Al Qadiri was subject to a rude awakening upon reaching Pennsylvania. “I literally thought –America– was going to be like Saved By The Bell and Fresh Prince…,” she laughs. “I thought that all of America was Beverly Hills and, of course, only Beverly Hills is Beverly Hills. Even the shows set in Brooklyn are shot there!” On a scholarship at the expense of the Kuwaiti government, Al Qadiri continued her Americana education at five state universities. Next stop was the capital. Then dangerous territory, the majority of Washington DC was boarded up.
The beatmaker found herself caught in the middle of the 1999 protest against the IMF and the World Bank. “The White House was cordoned off to a fifteen block radius, with my college inside,” remembers Al Qadiri. “I couldn’t get out. Anarchy had descended upon DC!” Amidst the chaos, there was one image that Al Qadiri tells us will stay with her for life. “I remember this Punjabi man wearing a turban sat under a cherry blossom tree, whilst gas masked anarchists armed with pepper spray were all around him. He just sat there.”
It was in DC that Al Qadiri found herself as an artist. “I started going to raves and consuming a lot of fun substances in copious amounts. Because it felt like the end of the world in DC, if you ODed, it was okay,” she says. It was a time where billionaires, princes, red-necks and the down-and-outs found harmony on the city’s hallowed dance-floors to the sounds of drum & bass, house, trance and techno (“There was no theft or violence because everyone was on ecstasy. Gay, straight, trans, whatever. There was such diversity in one club.”)
Al Qadiri first encountered grime at the end of 2003. Instantly, she was hooked. “It’s funny,” she says, “because it took me a long time to get into Dizzie’s music, but Wiley — I was immediately floored by his.” Still one of her major influences today, it was the freshness of the genre that pulled Al Qadiri in. “It just destroyed all composition. Wiley was the beginning of me falling out of love with analogue music and production.” With Wiley on her mind, along with the likes of Kano and Roll Deep, things clicked into place when Al Qadiri met one of her now best friends Jamie Imanian-Friedman (AKA J-Cush) — a walking grime encyclopaedia. “I has literally skimmed the surface with it,” admits Al Qadiri. “I’d taken one teaspoon of a mug of tea.”
Al Qadiri fell for the likes of Macabre Unit and grime’s signature track, Treble Clef’s “Ghetto Coyote.” “It was like someone had discovered rap and just knew four artists, then someone unleashed an entire load on them,” she says. But whilst the genre heavily influences her music, Al Qadiri doesn’t believe in regurgitating sounds. “I’ve read that people say I make this kind of grime or that kind of grime, but I would never make that statement,” she says. “Sinogrime [the subgenre she’s often labelled under] is a real thing, but at the same time, it’s not. It was discovered in a laboratory, almost. You could never go to Sinogrime parties, it wasn’t a living, breathing genre in that sense. It was just –Hyperdub founder– Kode9 connecting the dots. He unearthed a pattern.”
What makes the genre so fresh for Al Qadiri? “Less is more. Just instrumentals alone, you can forget about MCs and vocals for a second. For me, I can predict a pop track in one second, but with this I don’t know how they put it together or where it’s going,” she enthuses. “The beats are insane, the sparseness, it appeals to me on so many levels.” Al Qadiri’s recent debut album, last May’s Asiatisch, is the epitome of fresh. The narrative? Western perceptions of China and the so-called “fake china” she encountered in the media as a child. “Whatever we think of China today, it’s a mutant of centuries of projection,” she explains. “It’s been a villain since day one. Whether it’s vilifying Chinese people or their culture, it’s always been vilified.”
“I feel like Wu-Tang, Bruce Li and Jackie Chan started the hype of villainous sounds for kids,” she continues. “It’s very masculine and that’s another thing that I want to fuck around with.” Gender politics is another hot topic. “Country music has much more gender-equality than grime, when it comes to production.” Not that that’s ever going to stop her. “If you close a door on women, they’re going to want to shove that fucking door open,” she exclaims. “Whatever is forbidden, like a drug. If it’s forbidden, you want it.”
Goodman gets it, too. “He really understands what I’m trying to do. He didn’t try to alter a single element of my sound, which sometimes record labels try to do. I’m all about freedom,” she says. Currently working on the Future Brown project with Imanian-Friedman and LA-based duo Nguzunguzu, Al Qadiri merges ethereal pan-pipe soundscapes with trappier climbs. It’s thrilling stuff. “If I don’t have 100 per cent freedom and control, it isn’t going to happen.” she says. “No one can mess with my vision. I will never allow anyone to fuck with that as long as I live. I started making music when I was ten and I’ll stop on my deathbed.” If she’s sure about anything in life, it’s that.
Fatima wears black vest by NASIR MAZHAR.
Words: Brooke McCord
Photographer: Sam Bayliss Ibram
Fashion Editor: Jayson Hindley
Hair: Kieron Lavine using SHU UEMURA
Make-up: Molly Portsmouth using NARS.