A ‘Byrd’ singing disco of our time

Chitra Kalyani
6 Min Read

Since marketing his first single when he was 15, electronic artist Neobyrd has figured out the formula. “To get signed you need to spend 40 percent [of your time] doing music, and 60 percent marketing yourself,” said the artist at the launch of his album “Transbyrd” at Cairo Jazz Club on Monday.

It was almost a decade ago when Neobyrd’s track “Mad Jack” found its way to a local radio station in Manchester. “I remember there was no website to upload stuff,” says the artist, who sent emails to DJs, producers and record labels to shop his music around. Nine years later, he is now releasing his first album. Sites like YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and SoundCloud have made marketing much easier.

Neobyrd — “because it is neo-classical, with the fantasy of the bird” — is the alias of 24-year old Egyptian musician Wael Alaa. The former explains his musical proclivities; the latter elucidates his quirky choice of headgear. Having played the piano since the age of nine, Alaa is drawn to classical music, a liking that shows in “Grand Day Piano,” an earlier digital release.

The onomatopoeically-titled number “Oooh Oh” opens the new album, beating with an ever-rising rhythmic pulse reminiscent of Daft Punk’s “One More Time.”

Tunes on “Transbyrd” sit comfortably with each other because they echo the familiar. The artist would happily label himself as pop mainstream — “Maybe I don’t care about experimental music because I’m at the other end.”

Neobyrd calls his work “the disco of this time — modern disco.” The description on “Transbyrd” calls it “music for the neo generation.” Just as “funk is modern jazz,” he explains, “his music is “modern funk.”

The roots are classical, according to Neobyrd, when jazz morphs into funk which is then modernized into disco.

In both word-choice and music, his tracks reveal his “ultimate influences”: Depeche Mode and Michael Jackson. “Spill Your Sunshine” and “Twisted” are reminiscent of the English band, while “Got Your Love” and “Chick in the Nest” carry the funky beats of the King of Pop.

“I like the groove of this guy,” Neobyrd says of Quincy Jones’ productions of Michael Jackson. But in his compositions, it is the work of Depeche Mode, Herbie Hancock, and Freddie Mercury that attract the musician. The operatic feel of Mercury’s music is evident in “My Sweet Heartless.”

Not all the music on “Transbyrd” would make you move in a disco hall; only four or five of them are fit for dance, says Neobyrd. Some of them, like “Stranger in Love,” have the broody overtones of Mercury and Depeche Mode.

Alaa has previously digitally released two extended play versions of his music. At age 17, he was signed by German Pulse records to digitally release “Bumble Chords.” In 2010, he released “Naughty Boyz” independently.

Iconic German band Kraftwerk pioneered the robot head, and inspired Depeche Mode. It was his early searches that led Neobyrd to both musicians. “The other side I’m into,” says Neobyrd, “is distortion.” He simplifies it for Daily News Egypt as “the headache music” that is heavy on metal.

A taste of metal and lots of distortion is provided in “Twisted” and “Lick My Tiesto.” The latter is so titled, he says cheekily, because “I think this track is better than Tiesto.”

While he calls his own taste “mainstream,” it is the eclectic nature of his sound even within his first album that strikes the listener.

Music has been the sole track of Alaa’s life. “It’s my seventh year in college,” he bemoans. “Maybe it’s because I’m a perfectionist, if I’m into music, I like music,” he explains his undivided focus.

Yet Alaa is more than just Neobyrd, which he calls “just one project.” Sometime in the near future, he hopes to release a work in the “opera disco” genre, a jazzed up version of classical music. He also provided the live accompaniment to the play “Tahrir Monologues” and the soundtrack for a dance performance choreographed by the French Florence Moutin.

In house, at Cairo Jazz Club, Alaa prepares to play different spontaneous renditions of his tracks. “For myself, I want to hear it with different arrangements. It’s going to be boring for me otherwise.”

“Headache music” is a selection he saves for his in-house performances. “Transbyrd” is surprisingly catching, its beats carrying one through the drone of summer. As for the artist, even within his genre of choice, Wael Alaa remains a bird of many electric-colored feathers.

For more information on the artist visit http://www.neobyrd.com/. “Transbyrd” is available at select locations announced on the artist’s fan page for LE 35.

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