groove is in the heart for sadaf, new york's new no wave star

Sadaf is an abrasive blast echoing the musical experimentation of New York's no wave lineage, her voice possesses the high pierced intensity of a sonic weapon, cutting through thumping, homemade beats.

by Joe Roberts
17 February 2015, 10:50am

We first came across Sadaf performing at The Spectrum, a Brooklyn after-hours queer performance space housed in an old strip club, and she's recently been playing alongside guitarist Arto Lindsay from legendary no wave band DNA, a major influence on Sadaf alongside the unfiltered outpourings of outsider musicians like Daniel Johnston and Wesley Willis.

Born in Iran, but raised in Canada before moving to New York, Sadaf's background is in visual art (she's also currently studying performance at NYU). But it's as a singer and DJ in New York's once more effervescent nightlife scene that she's making the biggest impact. With an EP on Brooklyn/Atlanta label HOSS and an album in the works, we ventured to her live-in warehouse space to find out more.

What's your creative process like?
I don't really practice before shows. It's really a process of vocal improvisation. I recycle the beats I make a lot. There are layers and layers of loops. I don't work with a grid very often, so often they fall off the grid and don't always match up! That's why there's dissonance. I work with a lot of distortion. When I was in Montreal, the shows I would play would be with noise artists, so that was a big influence on me. A lot of the DIY mindset too, I don't like to collaborate on beats. I've been conditioned by being in that scene - you do it yourself. The vocal improv, I've always done. I'm more comfortable with that then performing songs. What comes out is more interesting as I get less nervous, it's really bizarre... When I'm on stage I feel certain things and there's a level of intensity I can reach if I'm improvising.

How does that work when it comes to releasing music?
A large percentage of the vocals were improvised in the studio, just trial and error, and not too many times. There are times I try to write things down and use them, but it's rare.

You've said before that you're more influenced by visual art...
That's my background. I place the same importance on both aspects, but music is always easier for me, community-wise. I can't even explain it. They're different communities and I always feel more at home in the nightclub. That being said, I've performed in galleries before.

A lot of your work is about the body. Why?
It's very intuitive and it's therapeutic in a way. I do a lot on constraint and anxiety, or frustration and containment. But again, they come to me through improvisation. So you have to look at it as a psychoanalytic tool, almost like performance as a therapeutic tool, where you work through certain things you don't even know are there.

Then afterwards, you can ask 'why'? I always return to representation, the body as subject and object, and also limitations. And a certain kind of confrontation that is uncomfortable sometimes. Then I'm very into vocals, but a very physical kind of vocals. I don't normally like pretty vocals, though sometimes it happens...

Have you tried them?
Yeah, sometimes I'll listen to something romantic and be like, I want to write a romantic song! I tried it for the EP, the second side is more sentimental... and so for months my label has been like, 'Can we just get this out'? And I'm like, 'I don't know, I'm having an anxiety attack about the sentimental songs'! They feel weird.

Is that anxiety part of the limitation of your own body?
Of course. There's also so much limitation to improvisation. The goal is to leave your body, or experience something that is not expected of you on stage. For me, that's really interesting. That's something Diamanda Galas works with, for example, you let it come to you and then you channel whatever it is out. You're accessing something that you're not always aware of and you get into a trance like state. That's really interesting to me, when people let themselves go into an unexplained space on stage. And that's a lot of time done by something repetitive, chanting, and I don't mean that in a new age way at all. That's a body thing too, when do you access that, when don't you? There's also the writer's block, when you're blocked and you can't do anything because you haven't prepared!

Who are you inspired by at the moment musically?
It's weird, right now all I'm listening to is Yusef Lateef, which is jazz... He was from the same time period as Miles Davis. Also, Marikena Monti. She's Argentine, and has this very operatic, tragic way of singing. It's almost like lounge cabaret. It's bizarre. I also like, in the same genre, Ingrid Caven. She's also an actress and she was in a lot of Fassbinder's films. I'm obsessive about him. She'll do Edith Piaf or Marlene Dietrich covers. It's very specific!

We've heard that you have a thing for Chechnyan music when you're DJing?
That's another big influence, any music that comes from the Kavkaz, which is Georgia, Chechnya, that part of Southern Russia. I found it on YouTube, because I play a lot of Middle Eastern stuff. I think it's the most underrated music. It's so fast, it's really electronic, it's for the club, but it's got this traditional Lezginka thing. It also comes from the fact that I think that DJing should be more curatorial, than craft oriented. When it's genre specific, it become almost fascist.

Does you feel that a lot of music and art takes itself too seriously?
In the art world it's either people sticking shrimps to Doritos and installing them in a gallery or it's super didactic. There's nothing in-between, there's no dialogue.

How do you deal with that in your work?
I play a lot with humour, laughing at myself at some points. Sometime it's funny when I'm very serious about it. People laugh. When you push tragedy to its extreme, it comes out the other end as funny. That's just the way it is.


Text Joe Roberts

New York
no wave
Joe Roberts
music interviews