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Use Knife
The Shedding of Skin Antonio Poscic , September 30th, 2022 08:04

With the addition of Iraqi musician Saif Al-Qaissy and guest spots from Radwan Ghazi Moumneh (Jerusalem in My Heart), the former duo from Belgium rise to propulsive new heights, finds Antonio Poscic

The first release by Use Knife came out while Belgian musicians Stef Heeren and Kwinten Mordijck were still working as a duo. Their (2020) Tropentarn EP was a satisfying albeit familiar collage of synthwave, post-punk, dark ambient, and industrial aesthetics, constrained by the luscious pop-inclinations of Depeche Mode and Duran Duran on one end and the darker transgressiona of Throbbing Gristle, Coil and Tropic of Cancer on the other. While listening to their debut full-length The Shedding of Skin, one is overwhelmed by the sensation that Use Knife’s actual history is just about to begin as a new member, the Brussels-based Iraqi musician Saif Al-Qaissy, introduces a vital energy and sense of rebirth to the group.

Now, Heeren, Mordijck, and Al-Qaissy operate in a territory occupied by few. Instead of merely collecting and layering influences from the East and the West, they coalesce the disparate cultural and artistic strains into new expressions that belong to both worlds but are bound to neither of them.

Take the opening cut ‘Ptolemaic’, for example, which rides in on a pumping techno beat, only for its steady drive to be joyously broken up by polyrhythms constructed from looping doholas, kishbas, and other Arabic percussion instruments. Longing susurrations and manipulated bits of melismatic singing hang over this supremely danceable concoction of synthetic and organic sounds. These vocal lines provide a mournful undercurrent to the music before uniting in gorgeous singsong that bounces off the sparse accompanying instrumentation like an echo of a religious oration against walls.

Over the next few songs, the trio swing from club-oriented passages reminiscent of French cross-cultural duo Taxi Kebab to the hermetic electronic experiments of Saint Abdullah, Sote and artists from Tehran’s bustling electronic music scene. The former style is most easily heard on ‘Coupe d'état’, a bumpy, psychedelic disco banger complete with claps, serrated synths and trembling textures that drip with neon. The latter’s spirit then possesses ‘To Feed the Gentry’, the album’s longest track and pièce de résistance.

Bookended by a gorgeous reworking of a traditional Iraqi song ‘Ed Wana Ed’ and the scorching big beats of closing ‘The Shedding of Skin’, the piece opens as a patient drone contemplation led by Jerusalem in My Heart’s Radwan Ghazi Moumneh. His buzuk’s phrasing is fractured and distorted but resolute, comforted by a fragile layer of voices that sound like faded photographs. Then, a rhythm appears. Soft at first, constructed from silky acoustic hits and humming synths, it soon crystallises into a hard pulse. Surrounding whispers become shouts. “We will feed the gentry cobblestones”, Heeren repeats this emphatic class credo with biting conviction as a propulsive symphony of beats marches him forward.

With Europe increasingly plagued by the success of political parties openly flaunting their xenophobia, the existence of acts like Use Knife and labels like Viernulvier – a recent offshoot of the eponymous art centre in Ghent – become critical. Not just to reinvigorate multikulti and other past platitudes, but to be a living, breathing, singing, and dancing proof of a better path forward.