Ifriqiyya Electrique are a French/Tunisian quintet whose sound is a dense, chaotic and deliberately overpowering blend of Western industrial rock and North African traditional/ritual music. Initially, guitarist François Cambuzat and bassist Gianna Greco, who also played together in the duo Putan Club (and occasionally backed Lydia Lunch) traveled to Tunisia to witness and document the banga, an extended musical and spiritual ritual with a reputation for driving audiences into ecstatic trance states. They were hoping to come away with some field recordings, and perhaps an understanding of how this music affected people the way it did. They wound up, after a long period of immersion in the local culture, joining forces with three local vocalists and percussionists — Yahya Chouchen, Fatma Chebbi, and Tarek Soltan — and forming Ifriqiyya Electrique.
The group’s sound is a blend of postpunk, industrial, and traditional North African music. The dominant elements are shouted male chorus vocals, massive distorted bass guitar, and ritualistic percussive patterns, with a heavy focus on the tchektchekas (the clattering hand cymbals common to the desert). Their debut album, 2017’s Rûwâhîne, sounds like field recordings being remixed into a massive roar, but what’s fascinating about it is that the music is clearly being made for an African audience. It follows no verse-chorus pattern that would please a Western ear; instead, it seems meant to inspire trances over the course of a very long, endless night. Tracks transition seamlessly from one to the next, and the hand percussion, when combined with the apocalyptic booms provided by the Frenchmen’s electronics on pieces like the nine-minute “Annabi Mohammad/Laa La Illa Allah/Deg el Bendir,” creates an overwhelming impression, like Maleem Mahmoud Ghania collaborating with Treponem Pal.
The group’s second album, the new Laylet El Booree, expands the group’s range a little bit without fundamentally changing what they do. The first track seems to pick up directly where the last album left off; it’s a short but hard-charging stomper with male-female call-and-response vocals, a gigantic guitar riff worthy of Mad Max: Fury Road‘s Doof Warrior, and multiple layers of percussion, some real and some electronic but all massive. The second track, though, is a change of pace. Anchored by a piano riff that one might hear on a Marilyn Manson album, “He Eh Lalla” is almost desert blues, but with the relentless tchektchekas becoming almost maddening at this point, and a repeated passage of drum thunder like an avalanche in the distance, it could be walkout music for a professional wrestler playing with the whole “savage desert tribesman” thing.
Other tracks lean more toward industrial; “Moola Nefta” begins with an endlessly ticking hi-hat that recalls Ministry‘s “Stigmata,” but instead of booming drums, we get a distant, echoing vocal that seems to be calling across a sea of dunes. Only after an endless-seeming 90 seconds does a real beat come in, bringing piercing electronic noises with it, and it’s not until three minutes that we get a guitar, or something like it, followed by a keening reed flute pumped through electronics to make it even more piercing. It’s such a slow-burning build that it feels like it should be endless, but when it ends at 5:50, you’re left as spent as if you’d been whirling in circles all night. This music, which is not “appropriation” but rather a collaboration between cultures, a ritual reshaped by electricity and amplification, is overpowering, because it’s meant to be. It should be heard through speakers the size of apartment buildings, all night long. To quote the legendary jazz label ESP-Disk, you never heard such sounds in your life.