Track By Track: Etyen – Untitled
You don’t get the nickname ‘wizard of electronica’ for nothing.
Lebanese artist Etyen has earned this title through his work over the last ten years down to his unique, genre-bending approach to the genre.
In his home base of Beirut, he plays a pivotal role in the local music scene, fervently nurturing the community around him and championing culture and collaboration with passion and authenticity.
His own imprint Thawra Records has played a part in that. It’s given him a platform to spotlight forward-thinking electronic music from Lebanon and the surrounding regions, helping to showcase a wealth of artists who are pushing the envelope.
Of course it’s a home for his own output too, the most recent of which – Untitled – was released at the end of November and is intended as an “an emotional reflection on life in Beirut”. And emotive it is, in all senses of the word.
An introspective, personal study of sorts, he poses a philosophical question on the “‘dispositional’ nature of human existence”, exploring themes of connection, love, loss, grief and his experience of bring an Arab person raised in Beirut.
Recorded over a six year period in different places and spaces around the world, the music itself blends organic and synthetic instrumentation, layering hazy, looping guitar riffs, piano sequences and dreamy vocals over moody atmospheres and found sound.
With so much to unpack, Etyen gives us an insight into the motivations, origins and themes behind each song, from sonic love letters to moments of solitude and internal conflicts…
…which means I’m sorry, is one of the first tracks I wrote around 2015 and inspired the idea of the album sonically. It was after a period of having dived deep into electronics and hadn’t really picked up the guitar or played the piano or sung in something like a year, after having grown up playing instruments and singing my whole life. I was sat in my tiny music studio/apartment at the time and playing whatever until I inadvertently came up with this guitar riff melody which is the central hook of the song. Kept it looping while I was jamming and the whole song came together in one sitting, and it felt so natural marrying this new electronic part of myself with the musician that I was while growing up. Thematically, it’s a love letter asking for forgiveness, inspired by a personal relationship but really about forgiving ourselves and accepting that we are not always in control. I think best enjoyed on an Autumn drive or walk on the coast, somewhere you can look far and rest your eyes and let your thoughts wander.
Colour: Hazy orange example
Everything was worth it.
This is probably the 2nd song I wrote actually, and it continued the sonic theme started in Lo Siento. The first version of this song was actually also based around a guitar riff melody and had a lyrical line throughout that went “Everything was worth it, and it was perfect”. I actually performed it live with my band a few times over the years, and when it came to completing the album, I decided to go a bit more electronic with this one, feeling like the guitar version worked better for a live song. Thematically, it’s about looking at a relationship or a period of time, like the end of a magnificent Summer, and while it may have had sadness and loss, and while it is coming to an end, it was still beautiful and all worth it in the end. It’s really about recognizing the ephemeral nature of things and coming to terms with it, best enjoyed in a lonely setting.
Colour: Purple-ish Red
…is the title track, and is actually the last song I wrote before finishing the album. The center of the song is again based on this main guitar riff here which I came up with when I was still in university (something like 12 years ago), and it was something of a joke I would do in gatherings with friends, where I would play that sad melody and ask someone to narrate their day or something mundane that happened and it would just sound hilariously sad no matter what they said ha. Once I had formed a full idea of what the album will be, I went back to it and it naturally developed into the core track, because I think it grasps perfectly the sonic and qualitative theme of the album, which is inspired by a philosophical questioning of our existence, by reflecting on the personal individualistic moments, and transcending above the subjective to realise that we’re not special and the only thing separating any of us is pure circumstance. I think like most of the album this would be a fall/winter setting, maybe when the snow has covered everything and we’re able to look beyond the minuscule.
Colour: Snow White
…is for me personally a song about not belonging, it’s about going home, but home isn’t home. I took a very lo-fi approach with this one, and while the main melody I wrote also something like 10 years ago, I only completed in the last couple years while finishing the album. Sonically I wanted the elements of the song to parallel that notion of home but not home, with the arrangements working together while having this dissonance somehow and imperfections, like the kick is just a super detuned bass boom, the soft mallet is on its own circular journey while the synth is abrasive and trying to lead us somewhere. It’s a dysfunctional mess that somehow still works, just like my home, and for better of worse, it’s part of who I am.
Colour: Cloudy Sky blue
Interlude (je t’aime)
Like the rest of the album gravitates around a simple piano melody which I wrote and recorded in my mountain home in Lebanon one snowy winter morning. Much like the song arrangement, thematically it is about a moment of solitude, reflecting on compounded meaningful experiences, love, loss, and gloriously taking it all in. I tried to capture that sonically with the gradual rise of energy while the piano melody keeps relentlessly circling again and again, a sort of metaphor of the never ending circle that is life.
Colour: Light pink
…is about the birds, the trees, the water, the sea, end of Spring turning to Summer back home, but also the people that are there, who come and go like birds migrating throughout the seasons, meaningful relationship cut short, potential loves lost. I wrote it in Beirut one morning waking up slowly with my partner at the time, while she laid on the couch and I tinkered in the studio, on a nice sunny day, I was looking over and thinking how satisfying something as simple as a pleasant morning can be, and how it never lasts, especially back home. Best enjoyed near the sea.
Colour: Sun washed blueish green
…is a sort of angry song in a way, hip-hop and trap inspired sonically while also being based in simple piano melodies and ethereal soundscapes, and for me it manifests a sort of inner conflict, with the sound wanting to be glacial and harsh, while at the core soft and gentle, a parallel to my own personal experience as an Arab man. It’s the most upbeat track on the album and I wrote it something like 7 years ago. Definitely more on the Winter side.
Colour: Harsh Grey White
Sparkles and Wine
…was inspired by a meeting I had one night, with a person with whom I shared a fleeting but sweet moment, something like 7 years ago. It’s one of those moments you know is just now, and there is no reason to look forward or back, and I wrote the song a few days after with a little sadness and thinking about what might’ve been. I’m not sure I remember where I was, but I think the ideal setting for this song to be heard would be in the car or commute back home after an unsatisfying night out.
Colour: blueish Red
…is the last song (outro being its outro) on the album, and is about losing a person that I loved, I wrote it after a breakup, and was literally weeping while I tried to sing and ended up just emoting weeping sounds, which are in the final song. It really helped me deal with the end of that relationship and it symbolizes for me now any grave loss and the transformation we go through to come out at the other end and leave the person we were behind. Sad and lonely situations favorable here.
And the outro…
Untitled is out now on Thawra Records.