Chasing the Shadow

Muslimgauze: Chasing the Shadow of Bryn Jones.

How it all started...

Categories: music art books

In the early 2000’s, I was writing music journalism for various publications, both on-line and in print, including Exclaim! Magazine, who dub themselves “Canada’s Music Authority!” and for a while was my main source of promotional recordings for review. I received about 30 titles a month. Among promotional items was Melt by Muslimgauze released on Portland, Oregon’s dub-wise BSI label run by Ezra Ereckson. Rather, I received a CD-R with the Melt tracks burned onto it in a vinyl record sleeve, no doubt a cost-cutting measure. This was surprising as Bryn Jones alias Muslimgauze was hospitalized late 1998 and had passed away in January 1999.

Melt by Muslimgauze promo from BSI

I can still recall the shock when I got the news on the radio, University of Toronto’s CIUT FM, as mainstream stations rarely played his music. Muslimgauze was always one of those artists I was curious about from the provocative album covers, titles and track dedications. I had printed out the interviews-to-date from Muslimgauze: The Messenger site and recall the visceral, near frightening experience of reading them. As someone who grew up on mainstream news, Jones’ support for so called ‘enemies of the West’ seemed shocking. Also overwhelming was the prolific musical output and discs at import prices, well out-of-range for my meager income. The scant few releases I could afford were from used CD bins, the first being Zul'm (1992) on Extreme.

On receiving Melt, I suggested to Exclaim! editor James Keast, that a feature be written on Muslimgauze. This was an intriguing artist, not to mention someone though he had passed away, still appeared to be releasing music. Keast was adamant that beyond reviews, he had no interest covering an artist who was dead. He thought it best to focus on the living. (Keast later posthumously featured the late Johnny Cash, so some dead are worth more than the living, it seems). The real reason was likely politics, and a somewhat mainstream publication would not touch an artist inspired by such divisive subject matter. It was a couple of years later where I got encouragement from Jewish editors, Jason Gross (of Perfect Sound Forever) and Darren Bernstein of (EI Mag) to write about Muslimgauze. While the “Goyim” would not touch the subject, the Jews were less afraid. In fact, Bergstein even sent me his Muslimgauze collection after watching the Speilberg film, Munich (2005), saying that he would rather give it to me to write about rather than destroy. Thanks Darren, there were some nice titles in that parcel you sent.

Muslimgauze: Speaker of Turkish CD, paper mache edition

In the process of writing the articles, I soon realized that I had far more source material than any articles could encompass. Not to mention that the E/I Mag piece, Equations of Eternity was a two-parter and the publication went under before the conclusion hit print. Shortly after, the Perfect Sound Forever Muslimgauze piece was published . The idea of a book on the topic occurred. After some research, I settled on UK-based SAF publishing as they put out books on Coil, Cabaret Voltaire and Kraftwerk, so it seemed a good fit. After crafting a proposal, SAF agreed to publish straight-away. Their pay was not so good, three hundred pounds sterling and maybe a tiny cut of sales, which altogether, would not even cover airfare to get to Bryn Jones’ hometown. A combination of meager savings, credit card, and family/friends helped finance the research trip to the UK, Europe, and Middle East as I gathered info. Beyond the trip and transcribing tapes, research continued via phone interviews and library trips to learn context. This spanned several years. Not to mention listening to and learning from the vast discography.

While writing the book, about a year in, SAF Publishing went under, (to later surface as a publishing house that covered gambling strategies). Things looked bad until Soleilmoon, one of main labels for Muslimgauze, offered to publish the book. In fact, Plazm, the graphic design firm that made several Muslimgauze album covers would do the layout for the book. Plazm began a beautiful magazine-style and in the midst of production lead designer, Josh Berger, suffered a terrible bicycle injury where he sustained head trauma. Soleilmoon label runner, Charles Powne, insisted on waiting for Berger’s recovery as he believed no one better suited. While I agreed, the uncertain time frame of recovery was problematic. It looked indefinite and after a year, saw no end was in sight, realized it was time to move on.


Design was continued by Eric Kessel under direction from Simon Crab. Simon Crab ran Recloose, Bryn Jones’ first label that put out E.g. Oblique Graph (Jones' earliest known musical moniker) releases and early Muslimgauze including Buddhist on Fire (1984). Crab became an award winning designer and as someone who worked worked with Bryn in the early days, seemed an excellent fit. While Plazm set the template for the book, Eric Kessell did the heavy lifting design work.

Simon Crab circa 1984

Enter Vinyl on Demand (VOD) who agreed to finish off where SAF and Soleilmoon left off. Will Long, (of Celer fame) used to work as a copy editor for a newspaper and he went over the text. In addition, several people reviewed the text and we did our best. While some errors slipped though, we did pretty well for a first edition. It is my hope that the errors can be noted, organized and corrected for the updated re-issue. VOD released the book as limited edition hardcover, 500 as part of a 10 LP box set and 500 stand alone. All books came with a Muslimgauze compilation, A Putrid Oasis . The box set sold for hundreds and the stand alone book, for $80 USD. There were complaints of the price for the hardcover edition and I understand. VOD wanted to keep the title strictly limited, to boost marketability, and did not want it reprinted when the vinyl box was re-issued as a CD set. Good enough for the copies to mostly sell out in a year and get good reviews from publications like The Wire.

Muslimgauze: Chasing the Shadow of Bryn Jones book

It is a shame that only an expensive edition of the book was made available as the book is ripe for an affordable softcover edition yet no less collectable. While VOD has releases great as fetish objects, they are not book publishers nor do they have interest to be such. VOD saw an opportunity to re-issue early Muslimgauze and the book would be a value added bonus. This is not to say VOD are a bad record label, rather, books are not really their passion. To that end I approached several book publishers to see if they would be interested in an updated re-issue. Unfortunately, the topic is too niche for a conventional book publisher and would not begin to know where and how to market something like this. Even if demand is strong. Again, unless the publisher is familiar with the subject matter and the politics that inform it, to them, it is best avoided.

Hardly a week goes by when I do not receive an email from someone looking for the Muslimgauze book, mostly from younger people who were not even born when Jones had passed away. I find this heartening. Also women are now interested in the book and subject, breaking the topic out of the 'boys club'. I assert interest is strong enough that pre-sales are likely to cover costs, provided the price is more accessible. An example of affordable yet collectable book (when first published) would be Wreckers of Civilisation: The Story of Coum Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle (1999) by Simon Ford (also long due for reissue). Wreckers... is a nice, well designed softcover book. By aggregating corrections and updating the text, choreographed with other images an newer experience can be had. Same with record labels that know how to master and package recordings, the layout, edit, and printing books are beyond their experience.

Wreckers of Civilisation: The Story of Coum Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle book

I am looking for other ideas to get the book out. While some suggested I just post a PDF of the original book somewhere, this is not what I want. While I am proud of the effort that went into the first edition, the text and subject matter is important enough to me to warrant a rework. During discussions with designer, Josh Berger, while the book was in production, he suggested that if a digital version was to be put out, it ought to be designed for such a medium. That digital and print are read and experienced differently. If something is to be released as digital, it much be designed as such. Same goes for print. At this time, I wish to revise and update the text. My understanding of the so-called Muslim-world conflicts have changed and deepened. Same for the Israel / Palestine conflict and the text needs to reflect that. I have also changed as a writer and while the text was acceptable to me at one point, I have since grown beyond that.

Muslimgauze: Chasing the Shadow of Bryn Jones from Cultures of Resistance Films on Vimeo.