Lebanese band Gizzmo speak to us about their debut EP and their city’s renaissance
Gizzmo is the sound of Beirut’s vibrant indie music scene
It is official: Beirut’s indie music scene is thriving. A string of quality albums have been released from the cosmopolitan city in the past 18 months: we have heard everything from Tania Saleh’s Intersection, which is a mash up of 20th-century Arab poetry with electronica, to the swaggering rock of Distant Rendezvous by Who Killed Bruce Lee and the stirring Chance Meetings by veteran duo The Bunny Tylers.
Another group indicative of the city’s creative streak is Gizzmo. After turning heads with their powerful live shows, the trio have released their debut EP, System Failure.
The six-song collection is a fine distillation of their work, which is a compelling and somewhat disorienting blend of electro, funk and riff-heavy rock. Basically, if Nine Inch Nails were commissioned to compose a piece for a circus, it might sound something like Gizzmo. The various personalities when encountering the band at a coffee shop in Beirut’s bustling Al Hamra district seems to exemplify the trio’s eclectic sound.
Joy Moughanni, who is the band’s guitarist, drum-machine operator and vocalist, exudes a punkish energy as he arrives from the mountains complete with a black-and-lime snowboard. Alex Chahine, who looks after keyboards, synthesisers and also vocals, has the reserved persona of someone who studied piano academically. Meanwhile, Camilio El Khoury, who plays bass and what the band’s bio mysteriously labels as “low frequencies”, prefers to lurk in the background and allows his bandmates to answer most of the questions.
“It is really a good time to be a musician here,” Moughanni says. “I think that what happened here in Beirut is that you have this generation of former musicians here that are now running the music events and the clubs. They come from a music background themselves, so they know what they are doing and they are interested in what’s happening in the scene, which is a lot – bands are coming out with different styles and discussing different topics.”
It is from this environment that the group formed last year. The ever-active Moughanni was involved in a series of punk bands and El Khoury played with oriental and fusion groups. Chahine entered the fray when he hit it off with Moughanni after they met on a camping trip.
Intrigued by their differing muses, the trio decided to jam and see what happened.
“We enjoyed the fact that the sounds that were coming were very diverse, wide and free,” Chahine recalls.
“It is like a jazz approach in a way,” El Khoury adds. “We would constantly look at each other while performing and then see where we go next. We would go heavy at some moments and then we would just enjoy the mellow ambient stuff that we fall into.”
It is on the lyrical front that the group display a strength of purpose. System Failure often speaks of a dystopian future where the relationship between humans and technology is blurred.
“There is a story to the whole project,” Moughanni offers. “It is set in a post-apocalyptic world where the people find a machine dating back millions of years to a prior generation. We, as humans, then try to impose our will on it as opposed to learning the stories from the past.”
Where the ominous yet funky landscape of the opening two tracks detail that discovery, the follow-up, Debug, with its off-kilter rhythm and futuristic bleeps, is essentially a conversation on power and its abuse. Moughanni says the track – with its elegant refrain (“Pull the lever and make it work”) – stems from an interaction that the band had with a noted Lebanese music personality who wanted to manage the band.
“He was telling us how talented we are and how we will destroy the world and do all these huge and great things,” he recalls. “But he told us we had to sign this contract – essentially to pull that lever – which would allow him to take advantage of us and even make investments under our name. It’s the kind of abuse that you still see in the Beirut music scene today.”
That said, the group agree that local rock groups are getting savvier in their approach to the business side of things. And Gizzmo are experiencing a new wave of popularity after the group were featured on the regional version of Apple Music.
With two new songs recorded, the group are aiming to release their debut album later in the year. That is if they can get away from their own side projects: El Khoury continues to play with other groups, while Moughanni and Chahine have teamed up to launch the DJing team Pomme Rouge, which sees them accompanying their electro music selections with live basslines and percussion. The band are forced to take their leave because Moughanni and Chahine are playing in a club in the tourist hot spot of Ashrafieh later in the evening of our interview.
“It’s a busy time for a lot of us,” says Moughanni, reaching for his snowboard. “But this is great, people are excited and want to hear new things – this is all that we want really.”
System Failure by Gizzmo can be streamed now on Apple Music