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LISTEN: Stream Zun Zun Egui's Album
Christian Eede , January 19th, 2015 16:03

...and read the band's track-by-track guide for second album Shackles' Gift

Bella Union-signed experimentalists Zun Zun Egui are gearing up to release Shackles' Gift, their first album since 2011 debut Katang, and you can now stream it exclusively above.

Produced by Fuck Buttons' Andrew Hung, frontman Kushal Gaya says that the album's initial creative sparks stemmed from a visit to Mauritius in March 2013. Speaking to John Doran recently, ZZE's Stephen Kerrison said: "We got quite obsessed with the songwriting process, studying certain albums and songs and really listening hard to what exactly it was that made them so amazing and timeless." You can read the rest of that interview here and check out a track-by-track guide to Shackles' Gift from the band below, with their upcoming tour dates at the foot of the piece.

Rigid Man

We chose to start the album with the field recording you hear to set the tone of the album's overall concept and vision. She's explaining who she is and that she has worked on a plantation since she was a child and she has worked for that plantation family all of her life. We wanted Shackles' Gift to have a mechanical, industrial feel to it, but incorporate very traditional rhythms. We felt the drum and percussion intro to this song is a great example of the drum, percussion and production elements working together to make a sound that, despite being based on a relatively simple afrobeat rhythm, ends up sounding quite 'other'. This is one of two songs on the album to feature Menwar, a truly great Mauritian percussion player who we were very honoured to have come record with us. The lyrics come from an obsession with Ayrton Senna, engines and motor racing.

African Tree

This is one of our simplest and most immediate songs, one that came together pretty quickly and required a lot less labouring than most songs we write! We had two separate riff ideas kicking about that became the verse and the chorus. They were so rhythmic on their own that there wasn't much room to deviate from the groove that was so obviously coming from the guitars so the drums and percussion came very naturally and ended up sounding quite New Orleans funk. We put quite a lot of time in the studio getting the guitar tones sounding really good and 'African Tree' is a really riffy, 'guitar-y' tune. We also spent almost as much time perfecting the sound of the keyboards in the breakdown and outro sections. Luckily, Yoshino [Shigihara, keyboardist] has the patience and dedication that prevents her from going insane long after everyone else has thrown their toys out of the pram. 


This whole song came from a vocal melody over a percussion sample and a bassline. The bassline was actually contributed by Chris Amblin, who was a great collaborator on this song, both in pre-production and initial structural suggestions. We laboured for a long, long time over how to flesh out this idea, wrote so many versions and variations of this song that we honestly thought on occasion we might never finish it! In the end, after months of frustration, we of course realised that the melody and the rhythm was the song, and anything else we added would be merely decoration. It almost became an exercise in how to convey all of the melodic information that was needed in the most minimal way possible. It was also a new thing for us to work from loops and then try and re-create them as a live band, especially from a drumming point of view. To try and replicate, or at least interpret the original drum and percussion samples using a completely different drum kit, rototoms and percussion was an interesting and challenging process. It's the first time a Zun Zun tune's been written over samples like that and the first time someone outside the band has been involved in the conception of a song, leading us in a direction we've not been in before. 

I Want You To Know

Hard to imagine now I guess, but this song started life as a pretty straight-up Chic pastiche. In hindsight it was ridiculous. Of course it wasn't quite working, but we were really fond of the melodies and riffs so we were reluctant to ditch it altogether. I can't remember why now, but we decided to see what it sounded like played at a much slower speed and it immediately became pretty close to the version that exists now, or at least the first half anyway. As soon as we added a reggae 'one drop' feel to it on the drums, it started coming together. We were listening to a lot of Soul Jazz compilations around then! The second half of the song was just born out of jamming and just having fun in the practice space, channelling James Brown. The song is for everyone to remember that untamed place that is inside everyone. Listen to your body, it speaks volumes about what you should do. Return to that wild state, it's an powerful tool to find your ground and to cultivate sanity in a society where most people define themselves with external constructs rather than looking inward for who they really are. The percussion on this song is particularly great, really colourful and playful. Satin Singh played percussion on every song on Shackles' Gift and he did an incredible job. Such a great guy to have in the studio too, he's a really energetic performer and brought a real vibe to the sessions. 

Soul Scratch

'Soul Scratch' is based on a seggae rhythm, which is a Mauritian fusion of sega and reggae. We started with a groove Kush wrote on a drum machine, then Kush, Stephen and Adam wrote the melodic parts all together over the groove on an exceptionally hot day in South London in Kush's bedroom. We concentrated on the dubby element but were still really trying to keep that industrial rigidity to the playing. The intention with which you perform makes such a huge difference to the way the song sounds, and with this song in particular that was something we constantly had to keep in mind. You can play the same song note-perfect twice in a row, but if the second time you don't really mean it or believe it, it'll sound shit. The magic is in the stuff you can't even hear a lot of the time and this song is all about the silences between the bars. As with 'Ruby', interpreting the initial drum machine rhythm on a real drum kit was very interesting. Learning something someone else has written is always great for increasing your musical vocabulary, and in this case that verse pattern, and its feel informed the grooves for the whole song. Lyrically this song is about brown and bearded people, Muslim or not, increasingly getting heat for the way they look in many places in the world. It's about this new stereotype that neo-bigots seem to love and how it's fucking tiring.

Tickle The Line

The chorus and in particular the middle section of this tune are definitely, undeniably influenced by Beyoncé, although lyrically it's all about Ayrton Senna and his description of tunnel vision. Tempo was the key to this one, too fast or too slow and the whole thing sounded wrong. There are actually subtle bpm changes between each section, which I'm sure you, the listener, noticed straight away. To get the bell sounding just right, we ended up sending Eli Crews, who mixed the album, a YouTube clip of Snap's 'We Got The Power'. He very patiently and surprisingly didn't tell us to fuck right off.

The Sweetest Part Of Life

Another riff-based tune, the two complimentary guitar parts forming the backbone of the song. In a couple of songs on the album we doubled the basslines with synths, and in this tune the bassline which runs repetitively through the song is doubled by a guitar with an octave pedal almost all the way through. The noisy guitar solo towards the end is a particularly mental overlapping composite of a whole bunch of different atonal solos. We had loads of fun with that and if I remember correctly broke at least one expensive pedal in the process. Also, this is the other song on the album to feature Menwar's impressive percussion skills.

Late Bloomer

The fastest song on the album (155 bpm, tempo fans!) and another with heavy sega and seggae influences, we tried to make this one a pretty straight-up dance tune. Despite some potentially complex rhythmic stuff going on up top, that 4/4 kick drum keeps it locked on the dancefloor. We've started really having fun live with the breakdown in the middle, theoretically you could be looking at hours and hours of frenzied percussion. I think the tune 'Destin Maloya' by Kiltir was a big influence on this song, purely because it was the first time I think most of us had heard that kind of high-energy Maloya feel and we were keen to get involved! 

City Thunder

This is a homesick song, but also one that celebrates a love for a big city like London and how moving from a small community to a big city changes your life in so many ways. The second half of 'City Thunder' really shows off how incredible a job both Andy Hung and Eli Crews did with their production and mixing respectively. We asked Eli to mix the album specifically because we thought his mixing of tUnE-yArDs' w h o k i l l album was so creative and interesting. He brought such a personality and depth to the mixes, as a "headphone" album I think there's so much detail and subtlety that hopefully Shackles' Gift should really reward repeated listens.

Mon 2 - De La Warr Pavillion (studio), Bexhill
Tue 3 - Portland Arms, Cambridge
Wed 4 - Bodega, Nottingham
Thu 5 - Harley, Sheffield
Fri 6 - Stereo, Glasgow
Sat 7 - Fulford Arms, York
Sun 8 - Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
Tue 10 - Exchange, Bristol
Wed 11 - Musician, Leicester
Thu 12 - Cafe OTO, London
Fri 13 - South Street Arts, Reading
Sat 14 - Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham