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Fresh Kicks 176: Julmud

Julmud stands in a field of yellow flowers, in front of a mountain and blue sky, holding the hood of his blue sweater over his eyes

Ramallah-based rapper and producer Julmud serves up sounds from the Palestinian underground and beyond in his Fresh Kicks mix, and speaks to Theo Kotz about the local scene and his debut album, 'Tuqoos | طُقُوس'

“I removed the frets from the guitar and started fucking with it because I was bored of the scale — like, the Western scale — and I didn’t have an oud."

This is the story of ‘Urاور’, the closing track from Tuqoos | طُقُوس’, the debut album by Ramallah-based producer and rapper Julmud جُلْمود, who reworks the sounds of the Arab world into a twisted melange of dense beats and mantric flows. The track is an outlier on the record; a freeform jam recorded on a phone that is described as “Bahraini country” by El Far3i, a friend and familiar face in the Jordanian/Palestinian scene. But it encapsulates something essential of Julmud’s approach.

‘Tuqoos’ is a bubbling cauldron of sonic exploration; a barrage of samples broken down and moulded into equal parts industrial clatter, celestial dreamscape, head-bobbing groove and dubwise alchemy. Julmud’s whims feel groundbreaking and evoke the astrological roaming of Adrian Sherwood or Lee Perry at the controls.

He is as much a scholar as he is a technician, though, taking inspiration from YouTube rabbit holes and always drawing lines across cultures and traditions. Take the first single, ‘Falnukmel فلنكمل’, a maelstrom of clanging beats and rapid-fire bars described by Pitchfork as “industrial trap”. 

“This is straight-up sawt music from Kuwait or Bahrain,” he chuckles. “Even the distortion. Most of the recordings you’ll find are distorted, and in ‘Falnukmel’, that’s part of the sound. I wanted to get to the point where you might think of it as hip-hop, but this is much older than hip-hop.

“It’s about my music, my culture,” he continues, explaining how in Palestinian music “you find this reggaeton groove”, or how in Morocco “they’re making trap music better than the shit I hear in the US”. But rather than being Western music made by Arabs, it’s about how Arab music can be interpreted in a new way.

Real name Mohammad Nofal, Julmud is speaking from his bedroom in Ramallah, Palestine. He is cosily hooded, with speakers, pieces of gear and a small, Persian-patterned rug dotted around the room. He laughs easily and is fond of proclaiming that the subjects we cover have changed his life, be that sampling, grime music or his friends.

Many of his friends feature in Boiler Room’s 2018 Palestinian showcase and the subsequent documentary produced with Ma3azef. His Saleb Waheb crew play a starring role, along with Jazar Crew, BLTNM, Oddz, Sama’ Abdulhadi and Muqata’a. It’s a tight-knit scene that reaches across stylistic confines.

The scene owes much to Muqata’a, a veteran of Palestinian hip-hop since the Second Intifada, when he co-founded the group Ramallah Underground. “I don’t want to say they set a standard,” Julmud muses, “but there’s a type of sound that comes out of Ramallah, a thing we belong to. Muqata’a and the Ramallah Underground have had a very heavy influence on us as a scene.”

Bilna’es, the label and platform releasing ‘Tuqoos’, is run by Muqata’a, along with the visual artists Ruanne Abou-Rahme and Basel Abbas. The latter is Muqata’a’s brother, himself a former member of Ramallah Underground. Indeed, it was Abou-Rahme and Abbas who convinced the meticulous Julmud to put out a debut album after more than 10 years of making music.

Ramallah is a small city, and in the West Bank, neighbours are bonded by more than just proximity. Much of the knotty texture and fluidity of ‘Tuqoos’ was created in response to restriction, repression, and the threat of violence. “We live in a political situation every day,” says Julmud. “That’s me. That’s my everyday life. So, it’s going to reflect [that] without me thinking about it. This is me translating it into sound.”

 Understandably, that sound is complex. There is anger here, harshness and pride. So too is there joy and relaxation. Often the mood on the record will flip on its head almost without notice. Ultimately with ‘Tuqoos’, Julmud invites us into his world: rich, dense, and full of possibility.

Tracklist:

Gharmy Mint Abba ‘ENWARA’
Haykal x Asifeh ‘Unreleased’
KTYB ‘Benna Benna’ (Prod By FEDDINI)
ABUL3EES ‘Asayef Wil Waa't’ (Prod. Julmud)
Fawzi & Al Nather ‘Hajmeh’ (Prod. Al Nather)
Lil Asaf x BA ‘Abattel’
rknddn x Malkom ‘Shar Saafi’ (Prod. Big Murk)
MARWAN PABLO ‘BARBARY’ (Prod. by Hady)
RAMI x Dodongull x Xkbeer ‘Unreleased’
Makimakkuk ‘Tartaqa (Julmud Remix)’ [Unreleased]
Shua x Dakn x Haykal ‘Unreleased’ (Prod. Julmud)
HUSAYN ‘76’
Julmud  ‘Harti’
Shabjdeed x Al Nather ‘MTAKTAK’
Julmud x ACAMOL x Haykal ‘Unreleased’
Julmud x Dodongull x Haykal ‘Unreleased’
Alaa x Jiks × Al Rawees ‘Olli Keef (Julmud Remix)’
Big Murk x Dakn x rknddn 'Unreleased'
Muqata'a 'Thakirat Al-Ma’
3Phaz 'Procession'

Want more? Check out Fresh Kicks mixes from Thea HD and J-Shadow

Theo Kotz is a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter @theokotz

Photo credit: Ruanne Abou-Rahme & Basel Abbas