The magic of the Sinai has been captivating the hearts and minds of humanity since the dawn of existence. The sound of the sea softly lapping onto the peninsula's sandy shores and the wind blowing through the gaps and crevices of its magnificent mountains has on its own acted as a catalyst for creative output over the years. The literature of Avi Bernstein with his Death in Dahab novel and Mustafa Abdalla's Beach Politics, the consistent spawning of young musicians like the Sinai Lions, the Sinai Project and the many other countless outfits to have formed in Dahab, to the countless visiting musicians backpacking through the Sinai always finding avenues of expression like the now deceased cultural institution known as Rush, to the newly formed Acacia and the crews behind it - in example Sun Network and Synaptik - the Sinai has, in effect, always been the go to destination for international artists roaming the world, finding temporary homes in Egypt's gateway peninsula.
From the far flung reaches of the UK came two boys looking for a warm place to pass the shivering England winter. Arthur Cambridge and Anthony Gillian both found what they were looking for - and a bit more if we may add. Within the span of six months they played a multitude of live gigs, produced a numerous amount of tracks and played a major role in developing a permanent memory in the hearts and minds of visitors of what was surely Dahab's greatest purveyor of underground sub cultures; Rush. Their residency there saw them play alongside some of Egypt's most talented DJs and musicians, delivering a spectacular season that helped set the mood for the last few years in the life of Rush. People from all over the world visiting Dahab were drawn in by their spectacular live set every week, forming a strong and undying following for the true Sinai sound that they were able to portray so well. We caught up with the boys long after they have left the country to find out what was behind the story of their Sinai high times and adventures.
How did you guys meet, and what made you come to Dahab over that winter when we met each other?
We actually met through mutual friends at a tiny festival somewhere in Wales in about 2009/10, spent the weekend laughing and realized we had very similar taste in music. After the summer Anthony moved to Brighton and we carried on laughing and started making music together, but just for fun really, never as a serious project. When we came to Dahab we had just finished uni and fancied living somewhere hot for a bit and living a more healthy life and making music without the English weather and distractions. Anthony and a few people we know had been before and it seemed a logical choice, so we packed up our studios and headed out.
Was it your first time in Dahab and Sinai, and if you can in a few words describe what it was like arriving to the sea side town back then?
Anthony had been a few times with his parents on holidays and spent a few months there during his gap year so knew it fairly well. I’d never really been anywhere outside of Europe so it was quite a change at first, but I settled in quickly. The first time I went snorkeling by the lighthouse though, the reef blew my mind.
How long did you stay and what were your activities there?
We were there for about six months in total. We were mostly free-diving and working on music, separately at first, but later working on products together. We also played Rush fairly regularly, did a beach party in Nuweiba where we met you, as well as a Red Sea boat party and visiting Cairo to play at Goes Sailing. We were mostly just enjoying the slower pace of life, the sun and the sea.
So how many tracks were started and finished over that short stay, and in total how many tracks off your discography were influenced by Egypt regardless of where they were produced?
Arthur: I probably wrote about 20 Little Thoughts tracks during my time there, although I wasn’t really happy with over half of them in the end. There are quite a few though that I still play out. Even if a track doesn’t quite ‘work’ when Ive finished it, I always learn something, or make a sound, groove or melody that I can use in another track. Nothing is wasted. We also finished two Technical Thoughts tracks and wrote half of another one called "Afro Goat" that had our friend Mohammed playing guitar and singing on. This got finished back in the UK, where we had another friend use Serato to scratch with his vocals and make new melodies. We also recorded an amazing trumpet player, so it was true a cross-continental collaboration!
Anthony: I ended up sketching out loads of ideas but only finishing two full tracks as I usually have a very specific end goal in mind with each piece and if it doesn’t meet expectations within a reasonably short period of time I find it better to move on. Similarly to Arthur, I enjoyed the process and the time to develop as a musician although he has always been a more prolific when it comes to finished material, something that has been an inspiration for me over the years.
So Arthur you have been coming back since then, but Anthony has never revisited yet. Can you tell us what it is you both do back home right now?
Arthur: I have been busy starting a festival clothing company in the UK called JackFruit with an ex-partner. we designed and made all the items and started promoting the brand and selling items online and at the festivals in the UK. The festival scene here is massive and people love to look colourful. This took up a lot of my time over the last few years, which meant I didn’t make as much music as I like, but it did help me learn the skills needed to start and run my own business, which I am now applying to my music by starting Dachshund Records, a platform to release all the great music that our friends are making. It has been a long time coming. Anthony and I were kicking the idea around back before visiting Dahab, but now the time is right.
Anthony: I’d love to come visit soon! My time over the past few years has been spent primarily on my electronics engineering degree, which will be complete in June 2018. Other than that I’ve been involved with some research in computational neuroscience and have been doing some recording engineering and sampling work for film and TV bits and bobs including a few BBC documentaries and Annihilation (2018).
Aside from producing music you guys would also perform regularly in Egypt during your stay, in Dahab and beyond. What are some of the most memorable gigs you played while you were here? And if you can, describe a bit about each one.
The Beach party where we first met you guys was pretty special, even though there wasn’t a huge turn-out. It was my first experience of dancing to music in the sun and by the sea and it was a beautiful thing and something I want to do lots more of. It was also great to meet a crew of like-minded people on the other side of the world, who shared the same love that we had for good music. Playing at Gone Sailing on the boat on the Nile was also pretty special and something I won’t soon forget, lots of good vibes and it was nice to play on a proper sound system after some pretty ropey Dahab set-ups! There were also some really amazing parties at Rush, they could be hit or miss, but when they were good and the music worked it's magic and the people united in a shared experience it was amazing, 2012 NYE was a good one!
What are the major things in your opinion hampering the music scene in South Sinai or Cairo, as opposed to back home?
Mmmmm, that is a tough question. I guess part of the reason the scene might be hampered in Egypt would be the authorities shutting down parties etc. I think dance music and the movement that goes with it is quite a scary thing for them, it is about expression and free thought, freedom and escape. Music and the experiences that can be had whilst listening to the good stuff, open your mind and make you question things, it’s a form of rebellion, these are scary things to governments.
Even in England now they are really clamping down on clubs, shutting a lot of iconic venues in London and Bristol, making things more regulated, promoting worse music and nights as people buy more drinks and do less drugs when the music is shit, which equals more profit.
The youth have been expressing themselves and rebelling in England since the 50’s though, so a lot of the groundwork was done by the time dance music appeared in the late 80s, it was easier for a scene to develop. I think also the fact that England is so small probably helps, you can travel end to end in a few hours making it easy for people to travel to events and meet like minded people.
What instruments does each one of you play and please describe your production setup, what equipment and instruments did you guys bring to Dahab? What DAW do you use, and what kind - if any - of educational background do you guys have in music? How do you describe your sound when playing live, when DJing, and producing?
Arthur: I play percussion, a small bit of guitar and piano and use the DAW environment as my main instruments, to bring together small musical phrases into something that is greater than the sum of it’s parts. I am currently working on getting better at piano though, as I feel it is the main thing holding me back musically at this stage.
I think that not having a formal training and understanding of music is a benefit though and has helped me develop my way of working. I’m not mentally restricted by what should work, but on the other hand I don’t have the knowledge of chords and scales that can be frustrating when I have two chords in a sequence and am unable to find the 3rd chord on the keyboard despite knowing what it should sound like in my head. It’s swings and roundabouts.
This is why me and Anthony work really well together as he has formal musical training and is an amazing flute player. Over the last few years he has also taught himself to be a pretty great jazz pianist, although he’ll probably tell you he’s only ok at best! Ha
But the combination of our shared influences and taste in music worked well together. Anthony is able to bring musicality to my grooves and the result is the best of both of our strengths.
When we play live, I can do the DJing and mixing and Anthony can be playing live flute and keys, making a more immersive performance.
We both use Logic to produce.
You started a label called Dachshund Records. Tell us a bit about its aesthetic and what is this affinity for Dachshunds you both have?
Dachshund Records is about promoting the kind of aesthetic we both love in electronic music. Warm, soulful, organic electronica. Music that has that extra depth to it, that takes you on a journey, combines real instruments with synth sounds and textures, or that can’t be defined as a single genre. It is an antidote to the lazy, shallow music that rapes your ears and mind every time you turn on the radio or tv. We are lucky to be surrounded by a lot of really talented friends making amazing music and not getting the recognition they deserve and Dachshund Records is a platform to promote that and help spread good vibes through music.
The dachshund obsession started in Brighton, when we first starting seeing a few in our neighbourhood. We kept seeing them every time we would leave the house and both just found them hilarious. Watching them trot around cracks me up, they look ridiculous, but so proud and oblivious to their ridiculousness. It’s a beautiful thing.
They became a kind of good luck charm. If the day started with a dachshund, we would know it was going to be a good day!
Can you list some of your favourite artists at the moment? And who do you consider a major influence to each of your sounds, and also to your duo Technical Thoughts?
Mmmm, thats a tough one. I have electronic artists that have and continue to influence me and whose music I will play out, but mostly I just listen to older music, soul, funk, afro-beat and 80s classics. I don’t like listening to electronic music when I am writing, as it is too easy to end up accidentally copying something, or being too heavily influenced by it, which results in feelings of frustration at not being able to make something sound as good as whatever got you excited enough to try and write something similar. With ‘real’ non-electronic for me there is no comparison, no analysis and I can listen to it just as ‘music’ and not deconstruct it and wonder what production trick they’ve done to make a sound, or what synth they used.
Producing music is a blessing and a curse, like taking the red pill in The Matrix, there’s no going back! Ha It brings you so much joy, but you never hear music the same again; a whole track can be ruined for you because you don’t like the tone of the kick drum, or think the hi-hat is too loud, or they’ve used an obvious preset or sample, things that a production virgin would never notice.
When we started writing as Technical Thoughts we were very into down-tempo psychedelic music, artists such as Shpongle, OTT, Kaya Project, Kuba and many others. The production skills, sound design and creativity of these artists fascinated us. If you have a listen to these artists, they are so unrestrained by genres, tempo, time signature, or traditional instrumentation and arrangement. They would warp sounds and add ear tickling, other-worldly sounds, combining ethnic vocals and melodies with big beats and warm synths. They were pushing the boundaries and doing their own thing, regardless of musical trends. It was psychedelic music, made with the sole intention of taking your brain on a journey, without genre or dance-floor restrictions. It opened our ears to what music could be and what it could do.
We are also big fans of more accessible artists like Bonobo and Trentemoller, the benchmark they set for production, song-writing and performance is so high. It's a great level to aim for and kept us pushing ourselves.
The Technical Thoughts sound is a blending of these 2 styles, as well as a bunch of other influences, blending the warm textured aesthetic and rhythms of modern UK artists like Bonobo, with the journey and quirky sounds and humour of the more psychedelic music we loved.
If you could spend some time with one person, dead or alive real or fictional who would you both pick?
Rick James; king of music.
What are some of your favourite gigs, or some of the international festivals you have played?
I think our favourite gig was playing at Ozora Festival in The Dome. It is an amazing festival and The Dome is one of the most beautiful places to play, with a great sound system, sand floor, thatched roof, epic lights and projections. We were lucky enough to have a sunrise set and played three hours of our own music to an amazing crowd. The first 55 minutes of our set was made specially for the festival. The energy from the crowd was really something special.
Favourite destination you both visited together?
Dahab, hands down.
Who was instrumental to your growth as musicians?
Bonobo, Trentemoller and Shpongle all influenced us in different ways, setting the standard to aim for in production, musicality and creativity.
What do you have in store music wise, separately or as a duo that we can anticipate in the near future?
Anthony: We are trying to work on new music whenever we can, but it is hard with our different schedules.
Arthur: I am still making music as Little Thoughts, progressing my sound and improving. I am working on writing an album to release through Dachshund Records sometime next year and am playing solo gigs whenever I can around the UK. My next gig is at the infamous Bristol psychedelic night, Tribe of Frog on 25th November!
List some of your favourite tracks, two each, of all time.
Talking Heads - "This Must be the Place"
Lionel Richie - "All Night Long"
Oscar Peterson - "Night Child"
Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers - "Moaning"
Tell us about one scary/surreal/funny/surprising experience that happened to both of you in Egypt?
Getting driven around in Cairo generally feels like a brush with death.
Holding your breath for a bit too long when underwater 'cos everything looks so pretty is also not the best idea haha.
So are you guys ever going to play together again? And when can we expect to hear any of you play here again?
We will definitely be playing again, we are hoping to play at some European festivals next summer, Boom would be a dream come true. We would love to come and play in Egypt again sometime, maybe you could book us?!