Parasang: a new London series marrying electronic and live music with weekly improv jams

Credit: Amy O’Brien

For all the pressures and hardships that London life brings, there are few cities that can rival the creativity and risk-taking of its music community; trying new concepts just for the music’s sake and building ideas from the ground up with no safety net. New weekly, improvised live series, Parasang, is a case in point, and the kind of unhinged idea that could only happen in London.

Started by Iranian sound artist Pouya Ehsaei (Ariwo) and MANANA//Records founder, Harry Follett, the idea is to assemble a new band each week for a one-off collaboration “that explores the diversity and depth of musicians found in London”, Harry and Pouya tell us. “We’re trying to create a platform to gather musicians from different cultures and let them express themselves freely however they want. We want to represent the openness of London to different cultures and ethnicities.”

Each week – a mere £5 at Redon in Cambridge Heath – is based on a different musical theme, which Pouya researches in depth before a brief practice and discussion with the artists. The rest is completely improvised on the night.

Past guests  include Ethiopian krar player Temesgen Zeleke, Afro-Cuban percussionists Hammadi Valdes and Oreste Noda, Moroccan lute player Boujemaa Bouboul, jazz pianist Sarah Tandy, James Mollison from Ezra Collective, Tim Doyle (Maisha/Cykada), dancehall/reggae drummer Marley Drummond, saxophonist Idris Rahman (Ill Considered) and MC Trim (who’s recording is available, in part, below).

For the Parasang #9 on Thu 21st Feb, our own Aaron L has helped curate a lineup of Shirely Tetteh (Maisha) on guitar, Nick Walters (Ruby Rushton) on trumpet and Patrick Boyle (Seed Ensemble) on drums, alongside Pouya on electronics. He’ll also be playing records between their two sets. Before then, we find out more about the ambitious concept from Pouya and Harry.

What sparked the idea for Parasang?

Both of us have had a lot of fruitful experiments with the collaborative projects (i.e. Ariwo, Manana festival) we were involved in. We are confident that we have developed a unique way of integrating electronic music with live musicians on stage. In Ariwo, Pouya has a system that interacts with the amazing Afro-Cuban musicians in the band. The intense reaction from the musicians and audience to this dialogue made us want to explore it in different contexts too.

At the same time we were feeling that it’s tough for musicians new to London to integrate and access the right networks. Our hope was that linking these musicians to the electronic scene of London would be a positive thing for music in this city and lead to a lot of exciting new projects that have a life beyond London and the UK. We truly believe that London has a lot of potential to contextualise different cultures inside it’s own culture and that electronic music is a great umbrella to explore this through. We’re trying to create a platform through Parasang to gather musicians together from different cultures and let them express themselves freely however they want.

Parasang is trying to get away from the hype by not necessarily following common trends but being inclusive of all types of music whilst remaining true to the spirit of improvisation and dialogue. We’re surprised every week at where the music ends up and feel that really translates in the feedback we’re getting from audiences that come down each week. Everyone is open minded about where the music will lead and always ready to dance. In the end the music always ends up hypnotic and psychedelic. It always takes some exploration before we end up there though!

Parasang improv

The next Parasang improvisation (Thursday 20th Dec) features Sarah Tandy (Maisha), Latin Grammy winning Afro-Cuban percussionist, Hammadi Valdes (Ariwo) and Pouya Ehsaei on modular and electronics.

Posted by Parasang on Wednesday, 19 December 2018


How does the collaboration work each week?

Harry researches musicians every week and we discuss the musicians he found interesting together to find the right fit. Then we’ll try to add the rest of the musicians according to the theme that we have for that week.

The musicians usually have a very brief sound check, long chat and 1/2hr jam early in the week to prepare for the show. This is led by Pouya who directs each collaboration and is on stage riding the modular and dubbing the acoustic instruments. Pouya is doing quite detailed research every week into the musical genre he is working with. For example, one week we had Moroccan Gnawa musician, Boujemaa Bouboul along, so Pouya had to create melodic and rhythmic ideas with his modular that worked with gnawa, giving all musicians the freedom to improvise.

Usually we have two 45 minute sets with DJs before, in-between and after the show.

A weekly improv series with different artists each week is no small task. What do you hope to achieve with it?

Yes, we knew from the beginning that this is an ambitious project. It’s like forming a new band every week. Most of the musicians we worked with so far had not had any experience improvising with electronic music. It’s a bit different when sounds are coming out of a box that doesn’t listen to anyone, having no visual feedback from the electronic sounds (other than Pouya banging his head all the time) can be tough for the musicians.

The idea at the moment is to use Parasang to create electronic collaborations that explore the diversity and depth of musicians found in London. We want to represent the openness of London to different cultures and ethnicities. At the same time we want to show our passion for electronic music and investigate the true possibilities of live improvised electronic music as opposed to your normal DJ and horn setup that you often see in this context.

Credit: Amy O’Brien

The current run of shows finishes end of March, we’ll be taking a short break, then announce future shows shortly after. We are starting to get requests from festival to create Parasang stages this summer, so look out for that too.

Any plans to release some of the new music you are making?

We have multitrack recordings of all the shows, so will be looking for the right label to release through once we found time to sit down and listen to everything. We were also thinking of getting in the studio with some of the musicians that we connected with the most throughout the series. Hopefully this can all happen soon. First another six Parasang to go!

Shirely Tetteh, Nick Walters, Patrick Boyle and Pouyo collaborated on Parasang #9 – 21st Feb at Redon. Info and £5 tickets.

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