How Lebanese band Kozo fuses architecture with powerful rock music
The group’s debut album is inspired by a Japanese architectural movement
If you want to know what’s truly happening in Beirut’s thriving indie music community, forget spots such as The Grand Factory in the Karantina district or Beirut Radio in Mar Mikhael. A true representation of the scene can be found inside Bourj Hammoud’s Moucarri Building, 10 kilometres from the city centre.
Don’t let its slightly dilapidated state fool you, though. Located off a main road, this ragged structure is home to plenty of administrative offices and up and coming businesses. One of which is Tunefork Studios, set on the seventh floor. It’s a grungy recording and practice space for a slew of bands such as the new wave crew Postcards and edgy rockers Flugen and Kinematik. But the band we’re interested in is Kozo, a thundering post-rock group who recorded their brilliant debut album within this space.
A chat with the five piece, however, is not the typical music interview. The half an hour they spend with The National in Beirut is full of references to philosophical principles of light, shade and utility. This is not totally surprising, as this is what happens when a rock band is formed of three architects. Buildings and the way we use space play key roles in their recently released album Tokyo Metabolist Syndrome. The name denotes the architectural movement that swept Japan from the 1950s to the 1970s. Influenced by Marxist theories, architects from this school emphasised the need for buildings to be viewed as organic cells that could sustain themselves.
This is a concept guitarist Andrew Georges, drummer Elie El Khoury and bassist Charbel Abou Chakra are all too familiar with – all have day jobs sketching physical landscapes for various companies in Beirut. “We all studied in architectural schools and it does have an effect on the musical creative process in a way,” Georges says. “For one thing, everything needs to have a purpose and design process. So I don’t feel comfortable writing something unless there is a certain idea that I want to convey.”
The other two members that make up the group come from different angles, so to speak. Kozo was formed from the well-received experimental group Filter Happier. Three years ago, both Georges and Abou Chakra (who were gigging in cover bands at the time) were so impressed by what they heard at a Filter Happier Beirut gig (which featured Khoury and the band’s two other guitarists, Camille Cabbabe and Georgy Flouty) that they reached out with plans to a form a new group.
“We did come from a completely different musical background, especially me and Camille,” says Flouty. “I was just playing in bands and even then I remember hating punk music until I met her. This shows that in a way, we in Filter Happier wanted to explore new things.”
But how did they may make the creative leap to instil architectural principles into their work? “It was kind of done organically,” Georges says. “It is actually a quiet visual process in that we imagine the physical space as a sonic space. So, we do these aggressive crescendos and small nodules of notes, which becomes physical spaces for us. It’s almost like a mental map.”
The best advice on how to listen to Tokyo Metabolist Syndrome is to put on a good pair of headphones and get subsumed into what is a deeply immersive 35 minutes of sonic drama. The guitars rise like monumental obelisks in Sky House, while Project Japan, with its skeletal guitar riffs and pensive drumming, summons images of a claustrophobic neighbourhood with walls on the verge of caving in. But how you interpret or “visualise” the songs is up to the listener, Georges says, “because the most architectural parts of the music are really the structure.”
“The structure comes predisposed with spaces that are up to interpretation,” he says. “And this is where [non-architects] Georgy and Camille come in. They just get to do that and play in between the space created.”
That kind of chemistry took a while to master, Cabbabe admits. “We had to learn to play within that gap and not over each other,” she says. “I had a tendency to do that. I would join in and play at the same time and the sound got too full at points, so I had to step back.”
One thing that has been highly complimentary to that deep sound is the building we are in. Kozo’s quality output on the album is a testament to the creativity that permeates Tune Fork Studios. Run by owner and in-house producer Fadi Tabbal, the space has gone on to form a scene of its own.
“This place is very important for us,” Georges says. “It has a great collaborative spirit and a lot of bands that play here have collaborated. The best part is that no one is here at the weekend, so we all pretty much get to do what we want.”
Updated: January 5, 2020 02:41 PM