700 Bliss discuss their debut album Nothing To Declare
After a four-year hiatus, DJ Haram and Moor Mother revive 700 Bliss, a collaborative project marrying forward-thinking noise rap with experimental club sounds
“There’s a shared spirit of rebellion that isn’t tainted with too much resentment or jadedness,” says Zubeyda Muzeyyen, a DJ and producer who operates as DJ Haram. “It’s not always easy to thrive in the present while remaining engaged with important topics, but we try to find a balance between the two.”
Muzeyyen is describing the creative bond she has with Camae Ayewa, aka Moor Mother, a poet and sound artist blurring the lines between hip-hop, noise and punk. The pair first met through Philadelphia’s thriving DIY scene almost a decade ago, and have been collaborating, albeit intermittently, ever since.
Adopting the moniker 700 Bliss, the collaboration began in the form of a live project. Already prolific and well-established on the Philly circuit, Ayewa was on the lookout for a DJ to complement her hip-hop sets. Muzeyyen, who had been turning heads with her experimental approach to the craft, appeared to fit the bill perfectly. “What’s the essence of hip-hop if not a DJ and an MC?” says Muzeyyen, with a smile.
Before long they were making music together and the maiden 700 Bliss EP, Spa 700 followed in 2018. Meshing abrasive, politically-charged spoken word vocals with pulsating club sounds and beguiling Middle Eastern rhythms, the record was emblematic of the duo’s shared desire to both push the envelope, and make music informed by their activist backgrounds.
“I’ve been interested in anarchism and the Situationists from as far back as middle school,” explains Muzeyyen, who was previously a part of the Occupy movement. “That overlap of art and politics has always been intriguing.”
After a four-year hiatus, Ayewa and Muzeyyen have now revived 700 Bliss with Nothing To Declare, the project’s debut album and largest body of work to date. Out on Hyperdub – the label responsible for releasing DJ Haram’s acclaimed debut EP, Grace, in 2019 – the LP builds on the frenetic, genre-eschewing energy of Spa 700. It also introduces a host of guest collaborators into the fray, ranging from avant-pop polymath Lafawndah and Palestinian experimentalist Muqata’a through to Philly RnB talent Orion Sun and Alli Logout of Special Interest notoriety.
The ability to attract such a wide-ranging list of guest features is illustrative of the rise in stature both artists have undergone in the time since their last release. Ayewa, in particular, has become something of a global jet-setter – at least in pre-COVID times – with Muzeyyen admitting to being proud to watch “this beautiful elevation of her career.” That said, “everyone on the record is a friend,” Ayewa insists. “We may have met on the road but, more importantly, we felt a connection with them.”
Like much of Ayewa’s output as Moor Mother, Nothing To Declare is an uneasy listen at times, with lyrics ruminating on domestic violence and slavery vying for space amidst agitated beats and layers of sonic distortion. It would be easy to point to the seemingly never-ending catalogue of global crises that have characterised the last four years as ammunition for the record, but in reality most of the tracks were started long before that.
“We’ve been working on this album for a long time, but once COVID hit I was able to sit down and wrap things up pretty quickly,” explains Ayewa, before modestly suggesting that her powerful lyricism is merely her “responding to the beats” that DJ Haram crafted for her.
Nonetheless, a recent arson attack on LGBTQ-run Brooklyn nightclub Rash – on the same night that Muzeyyen was due to perform at the venue – highlights the stark reality that many artists from marginalised groups are still faced with. It reiterates the importance of making music that tackles social and political issues head-on.
“I was on my way to the club and suddenly received a message that was like ‘wait, don’t come – there’s been an attack’,” says Muzeyyen. “[I] quickly realised that this wasn’t a false alarm. It’s so surreal for something like that to happen not only in my community but at my own show.”
Although a man was charged with the attack, a motive was not given. But Muzeyyen stresses the importance of not jumping to conclusions, noting that “the queer and trans communities don’t need any more fearmongering.” Regardless of the reason, though, it’s an undeniably harrowing situation that’s shaken the local club scene to its core. “New York City feels very ‘Gotham’ right now,” she adds uneasily.
Looking ahead, a return to the experimental festival circuit is next on the horizon for 700 Bliss. An exciting prospect off the back of a two-year live music blackout, it feels only right for one of the freshest, most forward-thinking collaborative projects on the scene to showcase their sound to a wider audience.
Nothing To Declare is released on 27 May via Hyperdub