The Joi Interview

Taken from The DesiParty Zone

Over the post three or four years, London has seen the rise of a new form of clubbing - less concerned with what you look like, the clothes you wear or the drugs you take than with your state of mind and, if the truth be told, your sense of 'spirituality'. It encompasses musical genres as diverse as hardcore techno - at the Final Frontier or Labyrinth - Goan trance at numerous clubs currently erupting all over the capital and, for want of a better word, World music at places like Megatripolis and Whirl-Y-Gig.

Its the cool equivalent of the now notorious god squad knees up that shook Sheffield clubbers to the core in the recent nine O'clock service scandal, and, in the hands of people like Joi, who ran the less infamous, but equally effective Joi club in London's East End. It can bring together DJ's and groups as varied as Andrew Weatherall, Mrs. Woods and Zion Train.

The key element in all of this is the sense of spirituality. A sense that music has a purpose beyond simply providing a nice soundtrack to your weekend, that it can reach deep down inside a person and fundamentally, change them, not just throughout the evening but for good. Not so long ago, the thought that a DJ might want to take you on some, kind of a spiritual journey would have seemed ridiculous.

Now, apparently, it is all the rage. Joi have been doing it for years. Joi is a collision of styles, sounds and cultures, formed around the nucleus of brothers Farook and Haroon Shamsher and featuring a range of producers and instrumentalists, such as John Coxon (of Spring Heel Jack - remixers of Joi's Volume contribution). Joi was formed in the mid-'80's as part of the Joi Bangla Movement, which was "A youth movement that set out to promote Asian culture of all forms, doing community work and that sort of thing," according to Farook. Later the pair moved on, released a well received single during the birth of Acid House, 'Funky Asian', under the name Taj Mahouse, signed to Rhythm King, released another equally well received single, 'Desert Storm/Spiritual Get Together', in 1991 and promptly vanished. Since then they have, as the current euphemism goes, been 'working in the studio'. This includes the running of numerous clubs, such as the excellent Joi club and a new monthly night at Bar Rhumba and, surprisingly, soundtrack work for the most English of computer games, the "HG Wellsian", and "The Chaos Engine".

As you might have guessed from their names, the song titles, their backgrounds, or even the photos, Joi are English Asians and their background is important to them. They started out recording music with their father, laying down sessions for the Asian musicians who would come and record in his shop in the evenings, both boys missing school because of too many late nights mixing sessions. It's these 'classical' musicians' sounds that tie up a Joi session, giving their songs of an element of dimension beyond the electro/pop/techno feel that the brothers have usurped. In addition, the range of styles the pair play with is truly diverse, ranging from straightforward pop to deep house and dub.

"Yeah we used to miss school because we'd be up all night with these musicians," laughs Haroon, "and then we'd spend ages selling the tapes. But the whole point of what we're doing is to open up Asian culture to Western people and show people how brilliant this music is rather than be the Asian techno masters or something like that. If we can use Asian sitars in our music to convince people that these are beautiful instruments, then that's a great thing. It's a mixture of Asian music and dance music like breakbeats, rap and electro. We're Asian and Western, with both influences and we've been born and brought up here, but I wouldn't say our music is anything other than the result of two Asian artists making music - it means something to us, it's our art and I feel it goes deeper than simple categorization."

Indeed, just as some clubs have moved beyond simple being rooms to dance in, so Joi are more than just a pair of Asian brothers making music. Their recent night at Bar Rhumba echoed the furious feel of the Joi club, a mixture of Asian/hippie wallhangings, well mixed world techno and lively dancing. Despite not having a record out in four years (apart from the recent Bangladesh Ep!), they've been playing regularly (most notably on the Shamen's latest dates) and had their music featured at Whirl-Y-Gig (DJ Monkey Pilot has regular access to the pairs DAT's) most notably at this years WOMAD festival, after which they were invited down to Peter Gabriel's studio to do some recording.

"That was really great to be working with some of the people we've admired all our lives," Haroon says. "But we had some problems with the recording and I don't think anything got finished, which is a shame. Still it was great to be there, you know, for the experience".

"For the experience" might be Joi's motto. They seem quite relaxed about not having a record out for four years, which for a bond whose total recorded output stretches no further than a couple of 12"s is very relaxed indeed. They seem content to work in their studio polishing up their material, doing the odd bit of soundtrack work and recording material for computer games. The latter is perhaps the most bizarre incarnation of Joi, not least, because their music accompanies a game founded on the most Victorian of English traditions.

The Chaos Engine is the games equivalent of William Gibson's novel "The Difference Engine", a dash of cultures from either end of the century, as computer technology hits Victorian England with a resounding thud. The idea of the soundtrack being composed by the Asian-English brothers is initially puzzling, but once you have heard their contribution it makes perverse sense. Joi are nothing if not quintessentially English, eccentric, cultivated and, above all, themselves.

Taken from The DesiParty Zone and re-edited by Rich (me!)


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